[SPOILER ALERT: The following article discusses the events of Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 6: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” and includes spoilers for the rest of the series.]
The television show Game of Thrones brings about images of violence, gore, and abuse. The show is explicit and ruthless in depicting a power struggle for the iron throne of the seven kingdoms.
“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” a recent episode which aired May 17, details a tragic turn of events for Sansa Stark, who, after being married to the cruel and torturous Ramsay Bolton, is brutally raped by him on their wedding night, while her father’s former ward Theon Greyjoy is forced to watch.
The scene sparked an outcry among fans who claimed that the scene deviated from the book’s plotline; it was deemed by many as gratuitous and unnecessary. Many argued that Sansa, after having suffered so much in the series, was being set up for redemption and strength this season only to have that character development torn down.
However, while that scene may have been gratuitous, it definitely resonated with audiences. While it didn’t advance the narrative that had been built up for Sansa’s character, the scene was representative of the quiet endurance of women who are sexually assaulted all over the world.
Sansa’s strength lies in her ability to persevere and endure her misfortunes.
Sansa embodies the ideals of femininity — she is courteous, beautiful, well-mannered. She therefore seems somewhat out of place amongst the rest of the Game of Thrones characters — many of whom are skilled fighters or leaders who know how to defend themselves and stand up for what they believe in. Some viewers have even argued Sansa is a useless character because she doesn’t actually do anything to advance the series’ premise.
But Sansa is just as strong as the masculine fighters in the series; her strength lies in her ability to persevere and endure through her misfortunes. She is put into hopeless circumstances time and again, being continuously manipulated by others around her. She watched her father be beheaded, was betrothed to the ruthless King Joffrey, and is now in an equally dangerous marriage with Ramsay Bolton.
But each time she has suffered, she has silently processed her abuse and moved on. This is what so many women who suffer do, and it is a form of strength all on its own. Many victims of of sexual assault keep silent not only out of fear, but so they can survive.
So while Sansa does not brandish a shining sword to slay her enemies, her resolve and perseverance is ultimately what characterizes her. Her rape may have been tough to watch, as she has already gone through so much, but she is still a survivor.
The show’s depiction of sexual violence, while created for shock value, also serves as a sobering reminder of those who constantly endure abuse on a daily basis, and how their resolve may make them the strongest people of all.