‘Game of Thrones’ Creator Talks Sexual Violence: Egalitarian Utopia Would Be ‘Boring’
As has increasingly become the case with each Game of Thrones season, the HBO series’ frequent reliance on sexual violence against women dominates the conversation. This year added Sansa Stark’s plight to last year’s muddled take on Jaime and Cersei, and series creator George R.R. Martin has again come to defend the show’s inherent brutality, suggesting an egalitarian utopia would make for “a boring book.”
Martin has frequently found himself a defendant in each subsequent HBO outrage, despite never having written the scene eliciting said tension (showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss adapted Sansa’s storyline from a smaller character in the books). Still, the oft-rushed author spoke to Entertainment Weekly of the series’ reflection of medieval Europe, in which “Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want.”
In particular, Martin spoke to a plethora of strong women observed through the Middle Ages, whose heroism hadn’t stemmed from inherent classism and misogyny. The author also reminded that his stories focus on the “cripples, bastards and broken things” who never fit society’s rigid definitions of them, yet still offered worthy role models:
I have millions of women readers who love the books, who come up to me and tell me they love the female characters. Some love Arya, some love Dany, some love Sansa, some love Brienne, some love Cersei—there’s thousands of women who love Cersei despite her obvious flaws. It’s a complicated argument. To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society? That’s not in our history; it’s something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn’t egalitarian, either. There are still barriers against women. It’s better than what it was. It’s not Mad Men any more, which was in my lifetime.
And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.
No doubt Martin has grown somewhat exasperated with defense of current storylines depicted outside of his control, stemming from novels published years, even decades earlier, though he makes some reasonable points about keeping historical horrors in focus, while still developing dynamic characters.
Two episodes remain in Game of Thrones Season 5, plenty of time to stir the controversy anew, while Season 6 continually gears up for production, but has Martin officially quieted complaints? Does Game of Thrones’ latest round of controversy belong to the filmmaking choices, or do they reflect a historical truth inherently uncomfortable to acknowledge?