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Complaints grow over rape depictions on ‘Game of Thrones’

By Dave Itzkoff
New York Times
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- NEIL DAVIDSON
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie and Lena Headey as Cersei in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

From its very beginnings, “Game of Thrones,” has been riddled with sexual brutality. The franchise, which started as a series of fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin about a bleak, feudal world, has included a warrior king who claims his child bride on their wedding night and a gang rape by “half a hundred shouting men behind a tanner’s shop.”

These scenes and others raised concerns, but this discussion was confined to readers and critics of fantasy fiction.

Now the debate about the series’ sexual violence has grown vehement, fueled by the explosive growth of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series. In its fourth season, the show averages more than 14 million viewers and has become the network’s most watched series since “The Sopranos.”

In the latest episode, women held captive in a wintry shelter are sexually brutalized. In the episode that preceded it, a scheming noblewoman in an incestuous relationship with her brother is forced to have sex with him, despite her cries of no.

Rape is often presented in television plot lines, but critics of “Game of Thrones” fear that rape has become so pervasive that it is a routine and unshocking occurrence.

In response to email, Martin wrote that as an artist, he had an obligation to tell the truth about history and human nature. “Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day,” said Martin. “To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest,” he continued, “and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”

“Sexual assault happens in the world,” said Maureen Ryan, a television critic for The Huffington Post. “It’s something that we process through popular culture. The people making it should really take it upon themselves to bring out all the aspects of that experience – make it at least as much about the person who survives the attack as the person who perpetrated it.

“That’s how you respect the experience,” she said. “That’s how it’s not exploitative.”

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