Why Did This Have To Happen To Sansa Stark?

Photo: Courtesy Of HBO
Let’s say it together: Gratuitous rape scenes do not compelling plot developments make.

What Game of Thrones fans have been dreading ever since Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) was betrothed to Westeros’ sadistic psychopath-in-chief, Ramsay Bolton, has happened. The dread brewing in my gut as she said “I take this man” in the weirwood, and Bolton broke into a smarmy, cruel smile — I’ll hand it to actor Iwan Rheon, he’s good — turned into full-on nausea when Bolton raped her. I was far from the only one.

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Sansa is only one of several characters on the series constantly threatened with sexual violence, and this season gave fans hope that she would gather the strength to strike back. Hands up if you were hoping she had a butcher's knife hidden in the sleeve of her wedding gown.

For much of the show's fifth season, young Stark has been presented as a survivor clawing her way toward agency. She got a goth-girl makeover, has taken lessons from Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen) on playing the cut-throat game of politics, and has grown tougher and more self-assured in her quest to save herself — and possibly avenge her family. 

When Baelish convinced her to accept a marriage proposal from Ramsay Bolton, he said: “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father. Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? Stop running. There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.” 

Baelish’s words, combined with the fact that the show has already put Sansa through four seasons of abuse at the hands of men, made me hopeful that this would finally be the season that we witness her triumph.

Instead, Ramsay violently tears open her gown and rapes her.

The camera then cuts to Reek (another of Ramsay's victims). He weeps as he is forced to watch — an indication that Theon Greyjoy is still alive in there and may break free from Ramsay’s control. Still, in resting the camera on Reek for the remainder of the scene, the showrunners chose to focus on the impact that Sansa's violation has on someone else. She is robbed of her own point of view.  

Some have taken misguided comfort in pointing out that at least Sansa’s rape scene wasn’t as brutal as what happens in the book (to another character; Sansa inherits her storyline in the series). However, the show has a long history of departing from its source material, so that’s not a legitimate excuse for Sansa's wanton victimization. It is possible to write fantasy without falling back on the harmful cliché that an old-timey setting offers a free pass to show women getting raped all the time. 

In a previous interview, showrunner David Benioff explained that because of Turner's strength as an actor, he and his team wanted to give her more dramatic scenes this season, so they intertwined Sansa's fate with Ramsay's. 

We can only hope that there's more to the series' dramatic plan than Sansa being a victim. She deserves so much more.     
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