Actress Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, and Terminator Genisys’ Sarah Conner) recently gave Entertainment Weekly radio her opinion on the rampant violence against women in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and needless to say we’re not too happy with what she told them.
“I think the thing that’s important to remember is that, sadly, first and foremost, it’s a story that we’re telling that is make-believe — that is based in a fantastical world.” Clarke told E.W.
There may be dragons, warriors who can come back from the dead, zombies, and boys who can see through the eyes of animals, but there is nothing fantastical or make-believe about rape; assault; and sexism, nothing at all. No one is taken aback by the fantastical elements of the show, what we’re concerned with is the grotesque misogynistic aspects of the show that are exploited for entertainment. Aspects that real women have to deal with every day of the year.
Over 290,000 people are raped annually, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. And to make the statistics more specific for you, it’s been found that 18.6 percent of freshmen women had been victim to either a completed rape, or an attempted rape. In other words, one in five women will be raped in their academic life-time. Since Game of Thrones is very popular among college students, there’s a huge chance a large portion of the shows audience is being forced to go through their trauma all over again.
This doesn’t look too ‘make believe’ to me.
Game of Thrones may be the invention of a man at his keyboard, and two men projecting these ideas – and some new ones – onto the big screen, but at it’s heart, the show touches on real life experiences regardless of how fictional the plots and characters are. The problem with this, is that the often does not do the issues very well, in fact, the show seems to use these situations for shock value, and to back up tragic back-stories of certain heroes and villains.
Two examples of how frivolously rape is used in GoT, are the cases of the rape of Cersei and Sansa. Cersei’s rape scene in particular is a frightening case as the creators of the show themselves didn’t even acknowledge her ordeal as a rape, but insisted that the ‘sex’ between her and her lover/brother Jaime soon “became consensual.” Sansa’s ordeal was the last straw for certain fans, particularly since it seemed to serve no purpose, and was not in the original book the show was based on. What did these two rapes even add to the story? Shock, ‘drama,’ and in the case of the Sansa ordeal, it led to Theon/Reek snapping out of his mental imprisonment from Ramsey, but is there not another way to do this without using a female character to forward the plot in such a sick way?
The fact that Clarke still thinks of all of this as mere make-believe, is quite frankly quite worrying.
Rape has almost become background noise on GoT whenever it’s not the focal point of the scene, in many scenes taking place in brothels and bars you can see sexual assault happening in the background almost needlessly. Yes, showing rape on TV is not inherently offensive, it is often shown to depict how grotesque a place or time era is, but when you use it this often as this show does, and refuse to go into a narrative about why rape is so detestable, then there’s a problem.
Clarke went on to tell E.W: “So, whilst there is a political commentary that people can take from the show because that is everyone’s right to do so, I think not taking it too seriously is kind of the key here.”
What Clarke is basically saying here is that we need to adapt an ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude to this kind of issue, which is fine for those who haven’t been through what these characters have been through, but not so fine for the viewers who may be triggered by how casually the show uses sexual assault as a plot device. As usual this kind of ignorance comes from a place of privilege, and unfortunately for some women a sense of internalized misogyny. I wish to make no assumptions about Clarke’s life, or attitudes about feminist issues, but the fact that she is waving this off so lightly shows that one of these factors is to blame.
‘The only way to win is not to play’ is the gist of Clarke’s attitude, which focuses on the privileged individual’s comfort zone rather than the millions out there that the show is essentially taking advantage of. If anything is ‘make-believe’ here, then it’s the mind-set that Clarke is living in; I only hope she will close the story-book and get back to the real world.