SPOILER WARNING through S5 E6 (and maybe 7) of GoT. No ASOIAF spoilers thus far, just general comments.
So I could have easily put this in "current events" since everyone is talking about it, but I'd prefer a broader discussion than I can get in the usual outlets. The rape "scene" with Sansa has really riled some people up and I'm interested on getting SouthPerricans' take on the inclusion and portrayal of rape in GoT and ASOIAF.
For those interested, I found this article particularly insightful.
I am an avid reader and frequent watcher of the show. For me, George RR Martin's inclusion of ubiquitous rape scenes is just one component of his "realistic" style. The books are effectively set in the Middle Ages and Fantasy novels almost always ignore the gritty details of politics, war, and yes rape during this time period. I found ASOIAF to be remarkably compelling because of these details and the way they contribute to character motivations. That said, they don't always actually contribute to the plot or character meaningfully and merely serve as decoration. There are more instances than I can recall where a minor or even nameless female character is pointlessly raped. And that's kind of the point. Many critics, especially since the show is so mainstream, think ubiquitous rape is fundamentally insensitive and misogynistic. However, this perfectly illustrates Martin's point.
"To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the book: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”
Some of the male characters are evil. Some of the female characters are evil. Many more of them are just people that do "evil" things because of the world in which they live. This isn't meant to be an excuse and I don't think either Martin or the GoT writers are portraying these violent sexual acts as appropriate. In fact the world's heroes like Dany and John Snow are militant (har har) in their opposition of senseless violence and sexual abuse. I actually think that it's interesting that male heroes, especially in GoT, are most significantly (this characterization may get me in trouble) fighting the systemic sexual abuse. The male heroes protect not just one but multiple women from sexual abuse. I can't think of a single instance, off the top of my head, where a female character protects another female character from sexual abuse. I could easily be mistaken in this and it seems like Dany should have done so at some point. But characters like Cersei, who could arguably exert some influence to prevent acts of sexual violence, are the worst (or best) examples of victim shaming. Now it certainly occurs to me that the protector role is more easily filled by men as they control more power in the GoT universe, but the omission of any (?) instance seems telling. Even if I'm not entirely sure what it means in the larger scheme of things.
As I'm writing all this, it now occurs to me that Brianne may turn out to be exactly such a counter example in the coming episodes. We can talk about her masculinity and impotency (oh the innuendo!) as the plot unfolds.
All of the discussion heretofore has been academic. I treat literature and television as both art and entertainment. In that spirit, I recognize the writers' intentions, but cannot ignore the emotional implications. I do react differently to sexual violence on screen versus in print. In ASOIF, the rape (and sex in general) actually became so frequent that I was desensitized to it. I literally skimmed the words, especially if it was only a minor character. On screen however, the violence is both more difficult to ignore and more disturbing. I've never really understood the "trigger" mentality, but I do think there are ramifications to these kinds of portrayals. For instance, I think the GoT characterization of Sansa is FAR more interesting than Martin's because her character actually displays both depth and agency. I really hope she takes matters into her own hands in the coming episodes.
Oh and there's tons of things I could say about the complete neutering of Dorne as a very sex neutral kingdom society in the books and then turned into just another desert in GoT, but I'm too tired to continue at this point.
So the question becomes, what do you think of rape in both GoT and ASOIAF? If you dislike or disagree with the portrayal how would you do it differently while maintaining Martin's intended theme?