Game of Thrones: Why all this moral bankruptcy, blood and gore?

  • Rohan Naahar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jun 03, 2015 11:43 IST

Game of Thrones is no longer just a television show. In recent memory, only a handful of programmes have managed to transcend their immediate fan base and spark a debate amongst casual viewers or even members of the general public who have absolutely no interest in an epic fantasy television show.

It is a show that has cemented its place in popular culture for pushing the envelope week after week, a fact that we, as a people, must celebrate.

We all remember Bran's accident, Ned's beheading, Theon's castration; our synchronised shock at The Red Wedding and our collective mirth at the death of the vile Joffrey.

Stop here. Look at these scenes closely. Indeed, think of every time GoT has prodded an uncharacteristic reaction out of you and take a moment to come to an agreement: that dying is the single worst thing that can happen to a person. And that, was primarily what happened in these scenes, with varying degrees of gore and moral bankruptcy.

But now, we are used to the depravity. We have been conditioned in an almost Pavlovian manner to anticipate the worst every time the dreaded episode 9 rears its smirking head.

There are, however, two exceptions to this list. In a show spanning 5 seasons, 50 episodes and approximately 150 deaths, only two instances have managed to spark undeniable outrage. It wasn't the incest. It wasn't the time a man's head was encased in molten metal. It wasn't the time a pregnant bride was sliced open as her husband was made to watch. It was none of these things, which, once more, let's all agree, are pretty horrible. It was, instead, that unspeakable horror with which we have become all too familiar. It was rape.

Horrific scenes, absolute shock

In the third episode of season 4, following the death of the aforementioned insufferable lunatic Joffrey, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, siblings engage in an act of sex beside Joffrey (who was also their son)'s dead body. What made this all the more horrifying was the fact that Jaime seemingly forced himself upon Cersei, despite her loud and very vocal protests. "No", she pleaded repeatedly. No help came.

The scene became hugely controversial, for perfectly sensible reasons. It was a horrific scene, viscerally directed by Alex Graves. The initial reaction was one of absolute shock. Twitter erupted. This was not the Game of Thrones it was used to. It was all fine until people were dying ghastly deaths, but an invisible line seemed to have been crossed. Also, it didn't help that the director offered no compromise later. He said of the scene, oblivious to the growing outrage, "it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for (Jaime and Cersei) ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle".

The scene changed everything. Slowly, the outrage evolved into a very loud protest as critics realised they were supposed to act more scandalised. Sonia Saraiya of the AV Club called it 'exploitation for shock value'. Dustin Rowles of Salon noted that all bets were off now 'for allowing a terrible person to do something more terrible than our minds will allow us to forgive.' Laura Hudson of Wired described the scene, and the subsequent comments by its director, as "one that encourages the most dangerous thinking about rape imaginable: that when a woman is held down on the ground, screaming for the man to stop, that deep down inside her she might still really want it."

Let us not forget that Jaime has committed incest, murdered and attempted to kill an innocent child.

This kind of reaction is alien to GoT. Until now we had been used to whoops and shrieks of mild disbelief at scenes like The Red Wedding. This was pure, raw anger.

And then it happened again. In the sixth episode of season 5, Sansa Stark, an innocent virgin is raped by Ramsay Bolton. And just when people were starting to come around to the show, it all went south again. Wrote Myles McNutt of the AV Club, '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. It's also that the show has lost my faith as a viewer.' The scene was criticised as being gratuitous and unnecessary, which is an odd critique for a show that inspired the term 'sexposition'.

Of rape and other assorted violence

It is extremely disheartening to live in a world where people react selectively to such evils, remaining blissfully ignorant and/or disinterested in genuine protest until it has already become a trending topic in their social circles. To live in a city labelled the rape capital of the country probably has something to do with it. But then again, people from every part of the world, and not just India, formed this consensus.

Let us not forget the agreement we arrived at earlier: murder is the worst thing that can happen to a person. So why didn't people express outrage during the course of 5 eventful seasons despite having ample opportunity to? It is a sorry state of affairs perpetrated by individuals afraid to be left behind by the bandwagon. It is easy to hate something everyone hates. And everyone hated GoT for a while. But such is the power of true art. The show held a mirror up to our world. It showed us what we have become: heartless robots, capable of anger only when there is an army by our side.

There have been many, much worse rape scenes in movies over the years. Remember Straw Dogs, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, A Serbian Film, I Spit on Your Grave? Remember Irreversible? Or the numerous Indian films of questionable ethics passed as suitable viewing by our much esteemed censor board: the same censor board that shudders at the tiniest glimpse of sensuality but positively thrives on depraved violence.

Celebrating misogyny?

Another frequent allegation leveled GoT is that it is unabashedly misogynistic. There is some basis for that accusation, sure. However, let's take a closer look at the characters.

Would a misogynistic show have such powerful women as Cersei Lannister, a woman single-handedly controlling the fortunes of her tarnished family despite being surrounded by men trying to bring her down? Consider Catelyn Stark, the kind but fiercely protective matriarch of the Stark family, or Melisandre, meticulously manipulating a king. And, of course, Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi to the rest of us, who literally freed slaves. These are undoubtedly very powerful women, who are often surrounded by weak men. Ramsay Bolton, Viserys Targaryen, Jaime Lannister (who symbolically loses his hand), Tyrion Lannister (a man blinded by addiction, to substance and flesh), and Theon Greyjoy, whose literal castration, by the way, was met with the emotional equivalent of a shrug.

Furthermore, observe the men who are the pillars of the show: strong, honourable men in a cruel world. Khal Drogo, Eddard Stark, his son Robb, Oberyn Martell, The Hound and Ser Barristan Selmy. By now you would have guessed the pattern: they're all dead. Let it be known: atrocities committed in the show have not been exclusively reserved for women.

What other misogynist work of art celebrates its women and disregards its heroes the way GoT does? Put it through a Bechdel test.

But the faux-feminists are unrelenting in their attacks on the show, the controversy-magnet that it is. Accepting the herd-minded nature of the average viewer is the first step. Calling them out on it is the second. A protest of any kind, be it in the crazed frenzy of the streets or the comfortable environs of one's living room, hidden behind the anonymity of the internet, is absolutely pointless if the protestor has failed to grasp the tiniest sliver of the principle behind it.

It begs the question: why don't we rush to the streets every time a horrific crime happens, both on Game of Thrones and in real life.

Till then, Valar morghulis (Oh the irony).

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