Hello, friends and bannermen. On Sunday's Game of Thrones,Sansa had an awful wedding night, Jaime met the Sand Snakes, and the Tyrells went to jail. How did it match up with the books? How did it differ?
This weekly chat series is for fans of George R.R. Martin 's A Song of Ice and Fire books, upon which HBO's fantasy drama is based. It's meant to be a safe haven to discuss spoilers and changes from the novels and how they have played out or will play out in the TV series. Hanh Nguyen and Sadie Gennis are longtime fantasy fans of varying levels of geekiness who will sound off on all things Westerosi (and beyond!).
[Warning: If you're a Game of Thrones fan who has stumbled upon this chat and haven't read the books yet, begone! Instead, check out our postmortem for "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" for a spoiler-free discussion.]
Sadie: People are obviously very upset over the show's decision to have Ramsay rape Sansa on their wedding night. A U.S. senator has publicly quit the show and The Mary Sue won't even promote Game of Thrones anymore. And while I understand fans weariness over seeing yet another rape and yet another instance of Sansa's agency being taken from her, I surprisingly don't agree with the vitriol the scene inspired. For the first time in all five seasons, I felt like Game of Thrones treated sexual assault with the gravity it deserved. We have seen countless rape scenes on this show that were gratuitous (Craster's Keep), portrayed as merely rough sex (Jaime and Cersei) or even as the seeds of love (Daenerys). This was the first instance in which I felt as though the show wasn't exploiting the trauma of sexual assault, but attempting to demonstrate the complex experience of a survivor. By refusing to show Ramsay's actions, it sent the message that this scene is not about what Ramsay is doing, but about Sansa's experience. And by only briefly showing us Sansa's face, the show avoided making us complicit in an exploitative, voyeuristic indulgence of her pain.
Of course, there are those who are condemning the scene for returning Sansa to the role of helpless pawn, bystander and victim, but I find that to be an incredibly reductive approach. Having Sansa be raped by Ramsay does not negate all the growth she has experienced over the past few seasons, nor does it mean she no longer has any agency. She is a strong and powerful woman whose agency was temporarily taken away by a man's sadistic actions. But this rape does not define Sansa or mean she is a powerless character. This line of thinking is common in both the way survivors are treated by outsiders and how they view themselves. And as a survivor of sexual assault, I'm excited to see a show explore the way a survivor heals from the trauma, a perspective rarely seen in a culture that savors women's pain and so often ignores their strengths. Because what Sansa is more than anything is a survivor. Yes, there are other ways to hurt female characters besides rape, and I do wish Game of Thrones could be a bit more creative regarding the ways they torment the women of Westeros. But I feel like this is the show's first chance to tackle an issue that is very real and very personal for a large portion of the female population in a way that is actually sensitive and — if done correctly — empowering.
Hanh: It is a tough situation to be in as a viewer because no one wants to see rape happen, but the difference here is that there is no shying away from the fact that it is clearly abuse (versus that argument that Jaime had Cersei's consent since that's the way it went down in the books). There is no gray area, and we are in fact supposed to be disturbed by it. Again, I'm not sure if it had to happen, but I also don't feel that Ramsay would have been "nice" to her either, so I definitely would not have bought that. Do I feel that she will cower away and become a female version of Reek? No. I think the betrayal people feel is that they are expecting that, but she found her strength before falling into Ramsay's sick hands, and that will make all the difference. I actually have faith she will bounce back. Showing her smack Myranda down during the bath with that amazing speech — "I am Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home, and you can't frighten me" — was not some fluke. She is a survivor and will continue to be one. It's why we were so excited to see this deviation from the books in the first place. She's stronger than in the books, and I have faith it will come out. I wonder how it will manifest itself next. So far, she's been able to use her words to powerful effect (which would make her teacher Littlefinger proud), and I don't feel a big show of violence is her style either. I can see her outmaneuver the Boltons somehow. I guess my biggest fear is that they won't have time to show that emotional transition from healing to reasserting herself, that it will be glossed over. There are only four episodes left, and there are multiple story lines to service.
Sadie: Game of Thrones excels in complicated, layered and often subtle character development (with the exception of the Sand Snakes) and Sophie Turner is such a nuanced actress I feel as though she has the skills to do a lot with Sansa's journey in only a few episodes. Think of how much she was able to convey without speaking a word during her dinner with the Boltons and Reek. A bigger concern for me is that the show will use Sansa's rape as the catalyst for Reek rediscovering his strength, which is what many fans interpreted the camera's lingering shot of his tearful face to be hinting at. And while Theon is also a victim in that scene, I feel very strongly that the show is going to do justice to Sansa and allow this to be her journey, not Reek's. Which is a huge change from the books, where the time in Winterfell was all about Reek's self-discovery. But maybe that's just me being too optimistic.
Hanh: Huh. I did not feel that the camera cutting away to Reek was to presage a turning point in him. I actually felt his soul was getting killed more. I feel that instead, Sansa will be Reek's savior. The strength that she's earned will light the way for him. And dammit, I do want him to reveal to her that he didn't kill Bran and Rickon, but that admission may be too much for his Stockholm Syndrome to allow.
Sadie: I also think Sansa's rape brings up a lot of new questions regarding Littlefinger. In the books, Littlefinger was shifty, but you always felt he was protecting Sansa, trying to teach her and help her rise with him. But in the show, Littlefinger arranges to wed her to a sadist and then abandons her to chat up Sansa's worst enemy. Littlefinger claimed he doesn't know anything about Ramsay, but I find that extremely unbelievable. And no matter how much he knew about the situation he was leaving Sansa in, what she has been and will be forced to endure can have huge repercussions on their relationship moving forward. Not to mention how me and countless other Littlefinger fans will now be reconsidering our support of him.
Hanh: This brings us back to how what the writer claims is their intention — Bryan Cogman says that Littlefinger does not know about Ramsay's sadistic tendencies on the show — and if I'm to believe that, then Littlefinger is in the clear somewhat. But in my mind, other than Varys, Littlefinger knows the most about everyone. That's why he's been such a great player because he is an expert on people. Could he possibly not know about Ramsay's proclivities? Maybe. Littlefinger is not infallible, and as much fun as it's been to watch him spin his web, I do see his downfall eventually happening as a result of his hubris and his incorrect reading of people. And just a little hope for those out there who think they may have lost Sansa, I think her physical transformation — back to her red hair and throwing off her Dark Sansa outfit — shows that that she is reclaiming everything about herself.
Sadie: When I read Cogman's statements regarding Sansa's sexual assault, I couldn't help but flash back to the writers and producers saying Jaime didn't rape Cersei. There are times on this show when the writers seem so out of touch with what is happening on-screen. Jaime very clearly raped Cersei and the Littlefinger they have developed would never leave Sansa to marry a man he knows nothing about.
Hanh: What's funny is that I've never really supported Littlefinger, and I do feel that Sansa is playing him as well. Or that's my hope. In the end, I feel he would turn on her when her usefulness to him has expired. But going back to when you mentioned how Sansa's character is so well developed as opposed to the Sand Snakes — ugh! I have to say I was so incredibly disappointed. It's bad enough that the sisters are still caricatures, but I thought that fight was such a mess it was laughable. I really had hoped for something really badass, but instead I got that. I love great fight choreography, and compared to the Mountain and Viper fight, this landed with a huge thud.
Sadie: Despite their offensively laughable introduction earlier this season, I still had high hopes for the Sand Snakes vs. Jaime and Bronn fight. I thought it was going to be Mountain and the Viper times three, but the entire thing felt impossibly choreographed and dull. There was nothing formidable or tough about Obara, Nymeria and Tyene in it. Instead, they came off childish, witless and not even that skilled in battle. To add insult to injury, when Bronn mocks them at the end, one of the women lunges to fight him, but the entire thing was shot to make the Sand Snake the butt of the joke. "Look at how powerless and silly this little girl is for thinking she could take on these two men." Though at least they got a little revenge in the (presumably) poisoned spear wound inflicted on Bronn.
Hanh: They did NOT look like they were good with their weapons at all. Even if it would have seemed strange, I do wish they had taken turns to fight. At least then it would've maybe given them each a chance to shine. And then having one of the sisters just try to drag Myrcella away and not succeeding? Ugh again. And isn't it funny how we can't remember which one (I think maybe Tyene?) lunged at Bronn? Since they weren't really developed, they feel interchangeable. And he was cut by a spear, right? Or was it a dagger? #confused I hope we don't lose Bronn to poison from that silly fight. I know he died off-page in the books, but still that doesn't mean we have to lose him on the show.
Sadie: At least Princess Arianne's plan in the books was smart! I find it baffling how the show seems to have gone out of its way to take away the Sand Snakes intelligence, personalities and skills. We deserve better, the Sand Snakes deserve better and Bronn also deserves better than to be killed by some Xena: Warrior Princess rejects.
Hanh: Agreed. Arianne also had a complex motivation for her scheme to put Myrcella on the Iron Throne according to Dornish law and showed some compassion. She was a fully realized character! RIP book Sand Snakes. I'll remember you fondly as you were depicted in words. Sadly, because the conversation has rightfully been about Sansa and the contrast to the Sand Snakes, I do want to quickly get your take on another deviation from the book — Loras' inquest. Seriously, Olyvar testifying about a birth mark is what did the Knight of Flowers in? As a squire, Olyvar could've seen that birth mark at any time during his duties! How is that proof?
Sadie: See, I loved the way Loras' birth mark ended up being a huge game-changer. When that conversation initially happened, I thought it was another instance of sexposition where the show used their hook-up as a way to teach us a bit about Dorne. But then to have the birthmark — and Margaery's interruption — wind up being what seals Loras and Margaery's fates with the Faith Militant was a great way to build the story in a way that felt organic and exciting. One of the best parts of watching Season 5 has been seeing the various ways characters construct their own downfalls, and I thought it was fun to see Loras and Margaery face the same issues Dany, Jon and Cersei are all struggling with. Now, I especially can't wait to see how Margaery weasles her way out of this predicament.
Hanh: I still feel that setup was a little too neat. If Loras only had a cooler head, he could have talked his way out of it. Anyway, the deed is done. I think Lady Olenna will have a big hand in what happens next. Maybe she can help Margaery turn state's evidence (so to speak) on Cersei's sins. What I do like about the show is that Margaery has proven to be far more intriguing than in the books and is a wild card. I really am not sure what she'll do next, but I know she will try to do something. A few other random thoughts about the episode: 1) The Game of Faces stinks! 2) Sansa would be good at the Game of Faces, and 3) How profitiable is a c--- merchant?!
Sadie: I have a lot of thoughts and feelings regarding the Faceless Men after watching this episode, but I'll save those for another week.
Hanh: Yes, alas, they got overshadowed, but Arya will probably be taking on a new face soon, and we can certainly discuss then. Let's see what the readers thought about the episode.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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