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By Alexandra Kilpatrick
July 1, 2015
Credit : Matt Sayles/Invision/AP.

Game of Thrones has drawn much criticism over the past few seasons for its depictions of sexual assault.

In a May episode, Sansa Stark, played by actress Sophie Turner, is sexually assaulted by her husband Ramsay Bolton on the night of their wedding, while her former foster brother Theon is forced to watch, drawing much criticism from fans and critics alike for the gratuitous violence depicted.

“The issue with the show returning to rape as a trope is not simply because there have been think pieces speaking out against it and is not solely driven by the rational concerns lying at the heart of those think pieces,” Myles McNutt wrote for the A.V. Club. “It’s also that the show has lost my faith as a viewer that the writers know how to articulate the aftermath of this rape effectively within the limited time offered to each story line in a given episode and given season. Three of the show’s main female characters have now been raped and yet the show has struggled to make this a part of their character history.”

On the other side of the coin, Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth film in the post-apocalyptic Mad Max franchise, develops strong female characters in a world where rape is a part of daily life, without having to depict the assault itself. George Miller’s film portrays a group of women seeking to escape from a male captor and his numerous male followers. Most of the women are “breeders” or sex slaves used to bear children, while others are chained to milking machines, supplying breast milk for starving soldiers in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Miller’s world is just as desolate and cruel, if not more, as Thrones‘ George R.R. Martin’s, but the film does not once feature a rape scene. Instead, Max Max features a female driver and fighter working to lead a group of women to freedom and every violent moment is necessary to the narrative of the film.

Game of Thrones is not the only show or film that has portrayed rape for shock value.

Showtime’s Outlander used its season finale to depict a brutal actual of sexual violence, showing adversaries Jamie and Jack in bed together—but from the look on Jamie’s face, he hasn’t gotten any sleep and he looks devastated and ruined.

“I didn’t want to do this kind of nudity until it had a great effect,” Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, explained to Vulture. “Hopefully, it’s a shock, rather than something pleasant to watch. It’s like, ‘Oh my God — what’s happened to this person?'”

Outlander‘s showrunner Ron D. Moore warned viewers that the season would be darker to prepare them for the finale.

“We’re not playing around here,” Moore commented to Vulture. “This is the story. There’s a book that we’re following and this is part of the story that is absolutely necessary to that book. There’s really no way not to do it. This is a horrific situation, so it should be horrific.”

Male rape is rarely shown in pop culture, so Moore admitted that it was a struggle to determine how to portray the scene.

“This is not a place you take your lead male character,” Moore added to Vulture. “I kind of knew, as soon as I read the book, I had never seen this story on film or TV. It felt like we had a unique challenge, a unique story, and it didn’t feel like there was much out there to help us along the way, so it was like, ‘How are we going to figure this out?'”

While Outlander similarly portrayed rape for shock value, the scene was also important to the narrative and actor Heughan implied that the rape was a huge part of his character’s future development. This development differs from Game of Thrones‘ tactic, where rape and violence are often brushed aside to make way for more.

“[Jamie]’s completely changed,” Heughan commented to Vulture. “He’s got this past now and that’s the tragedy. Never again will we see the wedding-night-style new love.”

In The Daily Beast, Amy Zimmerman compared Game of Thrones‘ troubling depiction of rape to that on shows like Law & Order: SVU and named the phenomenon “rape glut,” which she defined as “a crime procedural template that doesn’t allow for the psychological complexities of trauma and recovery and the constant, merciless, explicit exploitation of the theme of women’s disposability in a patriarchal world.”

The main problem with Game of Thronesdepiction of rape is not that it exists but that it seems to only exist for the shock value, not for the narrative or character development. Miller’s world in Mad Max is cruel, yes, but every portrayal of violence is vital to the narrative. Game of Thrones is simply a theater of horror.

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