As we enter the final episodes of TV-changing epic Game of Thrones, it’s impossible not to look back at the Emmy-gobbling HBO drama's long history. That’s why there is a horny 32-part sex scene bracket dedicated to the nudity-loving fantasy series as well as harried recollections of its most iconic, biting quotes.
However GoT hasn’t been all hot sex and thoughtful turns of phrase over the last eight years. The genre-smashing show has also found itself embroiled in a multitude of controversies since premiering in April 2011. Some are painfully indelible, like the sexual assaults of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Others have been swept under the rug in favour of shipping and romanticized YouTube videos.
Yet they all made Game Of Thrones exactly what it is today. Keep reading for a full refresher on the controversies that brought GoT to its eighth and final season, down to their respective episodes. And one surprising finding: Thrones season 5 was its most polarizing batch of episodes yet.
The Entire “Is Jon Snow Dead?” Saga
As we head into season 8, it seems obvious Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen — heroes and Westeros’ final true Targaryens — were always meant to figure out this whole winter apocalypse thing together. But, just a few years ago, GoT tried to trick fans into believing Jon was really dead after a Julias Caesar-style betrayal. Jon’s portrayer, Kit Harington, had to give interviews swearing as much.
But, of course, Jon was resurrected by the time season 6's “Home” wrapped. Harington was driven to therapy over the deception and its feverish coverage, while fans were left insulted by nearly a full year of gaslighting. We all knew Jon would return — why lie about it?
Sansa Stark’s Rape
There are a number of reasons Ramsay Bolton’s (Iwan Rheon) rape of Sansa Stark is controversial. Thrones spent the first half of season 5 finally raising the eldest Stark daughter out of the victimhood that plagued her since day one. At last, she escaped King’s Landing, was rid of her unstable aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie), slapped her bratty cousin Robin (Lino Facioli), and tricked the noble people of the Vale. Sansa Stark was poised to be a free woman and power player.
Then, she’s married off to Ramsay and raped on her wedding night. The narrative choice was a cruel backslide made even worse by the directorial choices around Sansa’s assault. Hypothetically, the scene could have been about Sansa realizing no matter how far she clawed her way out of sexist hardship, the men around her would be conspiring to break her.
Instead, Sansa’s rape is built around Reek, Theon Grey’s (Alfie Allen) traumatized persona, and his perspective of the attack. An attack, for the record, that does not happen to Sansa in the books Thrones is based off of, George R.R. Martin's Song Of Ice And Fire series. No wonder countless viewers quit GoT with “Unbroken.”
Cersei Lannister’s Sexual Assault
Episode(s): Season 4’s “Breaker Of Chains”
Sansa Stark’s rape came off especially tone deaf in 2015 because Thrones had already dealt with a controversial, non-canonical assault a year prior. In the ASOIAF book series, Cersei and Jaime Lannister have passionate sex next to the body of their murdered son Joffrey. It’s creepy and complicated, but extremely consensual.
In the show, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei kiss next to Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) corpse until Cersei rebuffs her brother. “You’re a hateful woman,” he tells Cersei before grabbing her hair and throwing her on an altar. She begs him to stop, crying and saying “It’s not right.” All Jaime says in response is “I don’t care” while forcing himself upon Cersei. It’s a horror show that nullifies all the growth Jaime experiences during his just-finished journey through Westeros with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
The Entire Dorne Plot
Episode(s): Seasons 5 through 7
Westeros’ kingdom of Dorne is a thriving state with a rich culture and the only people of colour on the continent. In the ASOIAF series, it comes with its own sprawling cast of characters, some of whom are given protagonist-level point-of-view slots. In HBO’s Thrones, however, Dorne is reduced to nipple-adorned armour, forgettable characters, and a bunch of interchangeably horny, bickering individuals. A true waste.
Episode(s): Season 4’s “The Children”
In HBO’s Thrones world, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is a political genius and a hero. He’s someone we’re supposed to root for. Yet, in a fit of jealous rage, he brutally murders the woman he supposedly loves, sex worker Shae (Sibel Kekilli), for daring to betray him. It’s a violent act no one ever reckons with — unlike Tyrion's murder of estranged father Tywin (Charles Dance) that same evening — that only furthers the dangerous stereotype that sex workers are expendable.
Daenerys Targaryen & Khal Drogo’s Early Marriage
Episode(s): Season 1’s “Winter Is Coming” and “The Kingsroad”
Dany Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) have one of the most beloved relationships in all of Game Of Thrones. By the time of Drogo’s season 1 death, it is clear the arranged marriage has flourished into a powerful partnership of mutual admiration.
Yet, the couple's series premiere wedding and subsequent consummation is dripping with misogyny and sexual violence. Not only is the wedding introduced by Daenerys’ creepy brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) fondling her, but Drogo later rapes Dany as she sobs on a rock. Considering the inevitable romantic highs of Dany and Drogo, this is an origin story many try to whitewash.
Episode(s): Season 7’s “Dragonstone”
As a treat for star Maisie Williams, Thrones bosses David Benioff and D.B. Weiss found a cameo opportunity for her favourite singer, Ed Sheeran. The result was a strange singing interlude in the long awaited season 7 premiere, “Dragonstone.” Considering just how seriously Thrones takes itself, and every moment of the series, fans rioted.
Stannis No Longer Being The Mannis
Episode(s): Season 5’s “The Dance Of Dragons”
While Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) never had the flowing locks of Jon Snow or the lightning fast wit of Tyrion, he was still a fan favourite. Then, he allowed his beloved young daughter Shireen (Kerry Ingram), the most gentle girl in all of Westeros, to be burned at the stake to better his own chances of attaining the Iron Throne.
Although Thrones once suggested the murder of an infant in season 2, the HBO series had never before shown such obvious, prolonged violence against a child. That is why no one wept over Stannis’ execution in following episode “Mother's Mercy.”
The Time Travel
Game Of Thrones has dragons, ice zombies, and tiny magical tree people. Yet, time travel may have been a bit too sci-fi for the HBO fantasy series. Especially since “The Door’s” time traveling, dimension bending climax causes the death of gentle giant Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Yes, the phrase “Hold the door,” can make fans everywhere cry. But, does it really make sense?
One of Thrones’ greatest controversies doesn’t directly involve Thrones. Instead, its creators Weiss and Benioff found themselves in hot water starting in July 2017 over the announcement of their proposed GoT follow-up series, Confederate. The drama would take place in an alternate history, where the Confederacy won the Civil War (and, therefore, American slavery continued for hundreds of years).
Understandably, people were outraged at the prospect. You’ll notice as Weiss and Benioff enter their 2019 Thrones victory lap that absolutely no one is talking about Confederate.