The Red Wedding: Sexual Violence in Game of Thrones

Red Wedding by Dejan Delic Game of Thrones
By Dejan Delic

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted here.  It’s been a month full of a travel, studying for exams, nerve-wracking computer error, excited planning, and frustrating bureaucracy.  I should be studying right now but instead I’d like to address something that came to the world’s collective attention last Sunday.

The Red Wedding.

Let me stop you right here, dear reader, and announce quite clearly that the following will be full of spoilers.  Therefore, if you have not watched all of the most recent Game of Thrones episodes, please do not blame me for the shock you will suffer while reading below.  That is, if you’ve somehow managed not to run across a thousand different spoilers before this. [Trigger warning, sexual violence, rape.]

Anyways, I’ll admit it right off the bat…I am one of those obnoxious types who has read all of the books and feels the need to constantly compare everything that happens in the show to how it occurred in the novel.

My reaction to the red wedding was a disappointed groan about how it was much better (or rather, worse) in the book.  I did not feel that it was adequately traumatizing in the way the hundreds of pages of death and destruction had been.

Sadism aside, there was one change to the Red Wedding that I found both interesting and symbolically important.

This was the presence of Robb Stark’s pregnant wife, Talisa, at the feast.

Her role in the drama begins when Lord Frey examines her in front of Rob and his entourage.  He examines her physical appearance loudly and salaciously, knowing that the King of the North needs him and will be unable to retaliate in a mode befitting a king.

Then, during the Red Wedding, she is brutally, viciously murdered with a knife penetrating her belly where the little “Eddard Stark” of the future is no more.

The major difference between this version of the wedding and the original, is that the violence, the acts of revenge, are all concentrated on mutilating the wife of the king rather than the king himself, visibly and violently ending any possibilities of Robb continuing his line.

The theorization of the knife as a phallus and violent stabbing as rape has precedence in media studies, linked to none other than Freud himself (see Carol Clover’s book Men, Women, and Chainsaws where she develops this far more elegantly).  This means that while we are thankfully spared from seeing such a scene, symbolically, this is an act of rape.

Literal rape, has been (and often still is) constructed in social discourses as dishonorable.  It dishonors the woman who suffers it, it dishonors her husband, it dishonors her family.  Most importantly it threatens the purity of her husband’s bloodline.  Therefore, symbolically, this is a mark of dishonor upon the king of the north, and her bloodline is rendered not only impure, but non-existent.

Although Robb is also killed, this is the most dramatic moment of the sequence the true act of vengeance enacted upon him.  When he is killed, his death is anti-climactic.  He is a broken man.

In short, the book centers much more on Robb and Catelyn’s deaths, as his wife is not present at the wedding.  Now, I’m well aware that most likely a large part of the reason for including Talisa in the carnage is in order to create more pathos in viewers who may not be as attached to the characters as readers of the book are.

However, there is another glaring possibility.  Another trope appears when Catelyn Stark kills Frey’s wife after he states “I’ll get another.”  This sequence speaks to the disposable nature of women, useful only as breeders and bargaining chips, in the game of thrones.

Though I am a passionate fan of the books, and a fan as well of the show, I do think this parallel is worth extending to a distasteful tendency which the show has to fixate on the brutalization of women.  For example, we all remember the scene in which Joffrey has one prostitute torture another.  For the record, that is not in the book either.

Now, as I said, I understand the difficulties that come with adapting an enormously dense book to the screen in order to fit it into 10 episodes.  However, I don’t see the use of that precious screen time as well served by airing more images of sexualized violence.  The vast amounts of consensual softcore porn isn’t exactly my favorite part of the show, but its relatively inoffensive.  However, the fact that Daario comes to see Daenerys holding a bag of severed heads when she’s in her bath isn’t sexy, it’s downright scary, and it’s also unnecessary.

What disturbs me is the fact that alongside the sprinkling of unnecessary sex, the writers seem to feel free to sprinkle in unnecessary sexual violence as well.

Most of all, this use of sexualized violence to achieve plot points is lazy.  The Red Wedding could have been made more horrific by focusing on the relationship between Robb and Catelyn, and her own despair at thinking she has lost every single one of her children.  Joffrey’s demented sadism could be demonstrated, as it was in the book, through his use of the Kingsguard to punish Sansa by beating her.  Daario could come see Daenerys while she is in her tent with her counselors.

While I love the show, oh I truly do, there are moments that I can’t help feeling that the oversexualization has cheapened many of the plot points I truly loved in the book, and the way in which sexual violence plays such a large role is both alienating and unnecessary.  Most of all, it is indicative of our modern world, not a medieval one, in which sexual violence is rampant, and shockingly normalized.

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