The threat of rape hangs over all the women of Game of Thrones, and it is beginning to weigh on the audience. So far, amidst all the think pieces and take-downs in light of Sansa’s treatment at the hands of her sadistic husband, I think that Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post best articulated a defense of the show’s sexual violence in her article “‘Game of Thrones’ has always been a show about rape.” Yet, I’d argue that the question remains as to whether as a show about sexualized violence can succeed. Just one episode after Sansa (Sophie Turner) was brutally raped, another woman is threatened sexually in “The Gift.” While the scene does not play out with the same violence as the previous episode, it is difficult to escape the fact that rape is reduced to little more than a plot device yet again.
The show’s violence against women has become increasingly indefensible, since as a “prestige program” it does little in the way of developing or working its way through the echoes of sexual assault. Game of Thrones continues to feel out of step with the world, and it’s difficult not to compare it to recent action extravaganza Mad Max: Fury Road, which posits sexual abuse at the heart of its narrative without it ever seeming like a device for developing its male characters. There is hardly room to breath in Mad Max, so how can it create a narrative about sexual assault that is not only credible, but a thoughtful exploration of trauma?
Comparing the two may seem counterintuitive, but in doing so, the flaws of Game of Thrones only seem to grow. While something can be said for television still being an intimate medium where dialogue rules, cinema still has the power of the image. One of the reasons for Game of Thrones’ popularity is its cinematic power. “The Gift” even begins with the fundamentals of the image — setting up mood and characters through disjointed editing and a powerful veil of blue — but this is lost almost immediately. Whereas Mad Max thrives completely on the image (conveying and subverting narrative and ideological expectations), Game of Thrones’ reliance on words has long betrayed its ability to transcend the trappings of antiquated narrative structures.
This season is shaping up to be dull at best, and it’s not because “nothing” happens, but rather because “nothing” has meaning. Any promise of weight, insight or theme seems long lost. It undeniably features some great moments and arguably the greatest actors of our generation, but the driving force has been slowed and dulled. After five seasons, two beloved characters meet for the first time, and while some revel in excitement, I can’t help feeling empty. Season 5 has betrayed the worst of contemporary pop culture, as it’s focused more on incidents and carnage than character and ideas.
There are still some episodes left, but it’s difficult to be excited anymore. The journey has lost its meaning, and it’s now a race to the final act so we can all move on.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.
Categories: Game of Thrones