Sometime back, HBO’s Game of Thrones aired an episode that caused some controversy. Of course, this isn’t the first time the show has done this, but apparently some critics took it upon themselves to decide they knew what was in store for the show better than the writers do and decried an incident in the episode as unnecessary.
I haven’t seen the episode. I’m slowly catching up on this show, but it’s not easy. I’m catching up by checking each season out from my local library, and the waiting list is long. So I’m only now going to be able to watch season four after today (July 9). I haven’t read all the books, either, though I started on them way back when the first volume came out. If memory serves, it and the first volume of the Wheel of Time series came out about the same time, and since I love epic fantasy, I grabbed both up.
I long ago gave up on the Wheel of Time. Far too many books. I can’t sustain my interest that long, especially when he overemphasized the whole battle of the sexes thing, in my opinion. I gave up somewhere around halfway through Book Five. And no, don’t comment urging me to finish the series. Ain’t happenin.
Of course, the problem with the Song of Ice and Fire series is that George RR Martin has been writing them so slowly that it has its own form of frustration. Where Robert Jordan fluffed Wheel of Time with the battle of the sexes thing entirely too much, Mr. Martin seems happy to keep his fans waiting, all in the name of “getting it right.” As a writer, I understand that. But getting it a little wrong would be preferable to not getting it at all. Mr. Martin isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and he needs to keep that in mind.
What I really want to talk about here, though, is the aforementioned episode. In it, Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, is raped off-screen. Now, as I understand it, Sansa is being groomed, or so many speculate, at least, to be the Queen of the North. I want you to keep that title in mind.
She’s being groomed, I’m assuming, not so much by any particular person or group—though I supposed that’s possible, considering the rest of her family is either dead or scattered to the four winds in a world rife with factions vying for the Iron Throne—but by life itself. She’s lost her father, her mother, her brothers, and her sister (as far as she knows). At the beginning of the series, Sansa is a romantic. When she has an opportunity to journey to King’s Landing, she sees it as an opportunity to meet princes and knights and take part in the wonders of court life, never dreaming of the rude awakening she has in store for her.
Sansa’s story is that of a journey not only from the cold of Winterfell to the warmth of King’s Landing, but her opposite journey from that of a warm, romantic girl to that of a cold, practical woman. Or, again, so I assume. Mr. Martin has a way of surprising us, as do the writers of the show, so who knows?
Of course, thanks to Mr. Martin’s slow pace at writing the books, the show is veering away from their course out of necessity. So the show’s writers might have a different idea in mind for Sansa than Mr. Martin does.
But whatever the case, the critics who raised the hue and cry over an off-screen rape really should keep their mouths shut. Their primary criticism seemed to stem from the fact that, in their opinions, Sansa has grown as much as she can as a character. She’s hardened, not at all the girl who traveled south from Winterfell, and having her raped after all the other things she’s been through was just too much. Besides, it was offensive. I have a feeling this last counted for more than their supposed critique of the forming of her character.
Unfortunately, that’s a little too much like the apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the Patent Office in 1899, when he said Congress might as well close down his office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Nice thought, Mr. Duell, but a bit shortsighted.
I just want to tell them to get a grip.
Yes, it seems contradictory, but we must keep in mind that these are fictional characters, and yet we must make readers care about them as thought they were real. Will we, as authors, need to start putting a disclaimer on our stories that no real people were harmed in the writing of this book? Do the critics think the general population is so stupid they don’t know the difference between what they see on TV and what’s real?
The development of characters in a story, just as with us in real life, is a complex and daunting task. As writers, we owe it to our readers to make our characters as real and authentic as our skill allows us to do and then some. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is brutal. It’s not the world of, say, The Princess Bride or a Disney movie. It’s brutal, and cruel, and the idea that Sansa could have her romantic notions even as she grew up in the cold north is something of a miracle in and of itself. That she could hang onto such fanciful notions in a world such as this means she’ll have to have some really nasty things happen to her in order to disabuse her completely of her notions.
Being the victim of rape—on top of all the other things she’s had to endure—is more of the writers forging of her new outlook in life. Now, the thing to me is, this could go one of two ways (and probably more, since others out there can see other outcomes for this): either Sansa Stark will become a cold, ruthless queen who will manage to bring Westeros—or at least the north—together in time to resist the Wildlings from beyond the Wall, or she’ll unite the nations when she remembers what it is to be a victim and she’ll be able to rally the common people behind her cause, thus winning enough support to protect the Seven Kingdoms.
Or, knowing George RR Martin, it could be some other outcome altogether. He’s good at surprising us, isn’t he?
Regardless of the final outcome for Sansa Stark, critics who have not seen the entire picture need to hold their criticisms until they’ve seen the end result of all this. Until then, they’re wasting my time and yours with their petty protests, and contributing in a small—or perhaps large—way to the censoring of creativity, because writers will fear taking their characters where they need to go out of concern of some uninformed opinion of their work.