In the offending scene, Sansa meets Sandor Clegane (AKA The Hound) for the first time in years and they discuss her decision not to go away with him back in season two, before she survived everything Ramsay Bolton put her through, including rape. Before she was manipulated and betrayed by that sinister little man, Littlefinger. Before her entire story arc deviated from the books and became a waking nightmare.
The latest Game of Thrones episode was not good for women. The only remaining woman of colour, Misandei, lost her head. Brienne begged Jamie to stay by her side after they’d slept together, only to watch him ride off into the night to find his diabolical sister. And Sansa Stark, Lady of the North, seemed to credit her rapists and abusers for making her into the fierce, strong woman she is today.
“Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” she said.
The implication is that the trauma of sexual assault helped make Sansa the resilient queen she has become.
Fans, particularly female fans, have been quick to object to the implication that rape is character-building or that women must be victims in order to find their strength. Sansa Stark is not strong because she was raped; she is strong in spite of it. Her courage and resilience is entirely her own and does not in any way belong to the men who attacked her.
Perhaps the most famous fan to object to the return of Sansa’s rape storyline is Jessica Chastain. She tweeted: “Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimised in order to become a butterfly. The #littlebird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone.”
We’re with Jessica on this. It’s repugnant and annoying, to use rape as a plot device to define a female character, and offensive to suggest that her abusers made her who she is.
The Game of Thrones show-runners are male – and it shows. The writers are male – and it shows. The directors are male – and it shows. The presence of a cardboard coffee cup was not the most egregious thing done in the latest episode; it was the conspicuous absence of a female perspective in the writing of this epic show.
As journalist Mo Ryan pointed out months ago, the creative leaders who work on Game of Thrones are overwhelmingly male. By the time we finish this season, the show will have aired 73 episodes. They have employed 19 directors all up, just one of whom was a woman – and she only directed four episodes, earlier on in the run. That’s five per cent of all GoT episodes directed by a woman. The last time a woman was credited as a writer on Game of Thrones was 2013. We’ve only ever had two female writers on the show.
AND. IT. SHOWS.
If more women and people of colour had been in the writers’ room on Game of Thrones, then perhaps we wouldn’t have ended up with shallow, offensive storylines for the women we’ve come to adore. Brienne, Misendai and especially Sansa deserve better than this. Even Dany and Cersei deserve better than this.
This show has been conspicuously bereft of female influence right from the beginning. Just two weeks ago, we were celebrating the knighting of Brienne, the confrontation between Dany and Sansa, and the sexual liberation of one Arya Stark. Now, we can only cross our fingers and hope things get better for our favourite female characters in the remaining two episodes of the most controversial show on TV.