Game of Thrones: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

Sam T. Cat: “Underling, you attempted to summon me?”

Josie: “Uh, yeah. Like three hours ago. I need help with my Game of Thrones review, and you have a pretty strong track record at perfection.”

Sam T. Cat: “Well, I live to serve.”

[Josie makes a quizzical face.]

Sam T. Cat: “Let your transcript reflect that I said that in the tone of Littlefinger. I admire his brain.”

Josie: “Noted.”

Sam T. Cat: “Now, what assistance could I possibly provide, and why would I bother to do so? I enjoyed this episode, although that scheming Ramsey Bolton is a bit too much, even for me, and it is almost time for my fifth nap.”

Josie: “Well, Ramsey is part of my problem. Game of Thrones always bumps up against a delicate line: it’s based on a fantasy series that, for all of its innovation, still repeats many of the tired tropes of sexism and racism. Yet it’s on a prestige network, and airs in an era of high viewer engagement with precisely these sorts of challenges.”

Sam T. Cat: “Bored now.”

Josie: “No, hear me out: Dorne is racist. It’s straight-up Orientalism. It’s not just the weird and unnecessary accents. It’s the portrayal of the entire place. Think of King’s Landing: government and urban life take place there. Think of Winterfell: government and rural life take place there. Think of Dorne: it’s all leisure and female treachery in a fertile, overly manicured garden. Edward Said would have a field day.”

Sam T. Cat: “The esteemed Professor Said passed away over ten years ago. Why are we talking about him when you could be rubbing my belly, bondswoman?”

Josie: “Well, possibly because I’m annoyed at another rape and my annoyance is contagious. Possibly because this season has been a bit slow, and that lets my mind drift during the episodes. But mostly because I’m right, and this is my week to review the show.”

Duckling: “Meow? What are we doing? What are we talking about? I’m scared of shoes!”

Sam T. Cat: “The human is admitting that her political engagement exists in inverse proportions to her narrative engagement.”

Duckling: “Does this mean I should nibble her toes?”

Sam T. Cat: “She does not deserve such a boon.”

Duckling: “Um...”

Josie: “Yeah... about that toe thing...”

Sam T. Cat: “Silence, serving wench! Do you deny, then, that Arya’s journey is fascinating? Her struggle between her own identity—framed as it is by specific revenge—and the path she must tread, which requires her to deny that very identity?”

Josie: “No, that part’s cool. I liked all the heads in that spooky place.”

Duckling: “I thought they were going to go to a sausage-making factory.”

[Josie laughs, and then briefly ponders how her recent work schedule has resulted in a mild, persistent hysteria. She needs more sleep.]

Sam T. Cat: “Bondswoman, do you deny the pathos of Lord Friendzone, doomed to die of grayscale, only now learning of his father’s death at the hand of mutineers?”

Josie: “No—no! But—”

Sam T. Cat: “But what? A girl is ready to defend herself?” [Extends claws. Fluffs tail.]

Josie: “Okay, okay. Minute to minute, the Tyrion/Jorah stuff is really interesting. But think about it in terms of the big picture: Tyrion is headed for Dany. I suspect he’ll get there. Volantis, Jorah, and now a bunch of slavers (also not white, which is not as subversive as I suspect the showrunners think it is)—that stuff is all delay and worldbuilding, taking up time before Tyrion meets Dany. Or before the slavers ‘meet a cock merchant.’ That, I admit, was a hilarious line.”

Sam T. Cat: “You did not enjoy seeing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, formerly of Lost?”

Duckling: “You still haven’t explained the ending of that show to me.”

Josie: “Ditto the scheming in King’s Landing.”

Sam T. Cat: “How was that racist?”

Josie: “No, boring. We’re building towards something, but it’s taking us a while to get there.”

Duckling: “Bronn said that the ending is the best part! But Jaime pointed out that it takes too long to get there. Which one am I supposed to believe? They both have horses, so it’s hard to decide.”

Josie: “Precisely, Duckling! Game of Thrones is getting meta about its own meandering. That worries me.”

[Pause.]

Josie: "I am also worried that I am agreeing with Duckling."

Duckling: "I am very smart."

Sam T. Cat: “Wench, I may concede your point about the meta-joke. But let’s return to the challenge we continue to skirt around: The White Wedding.”

Josie: “Is that what we’re calling it?”

Sam T. Cat: “I have so decreed.”

Duckling: “I’m going to marry Dora the Explorer.”

Josie: “Last season, Game of Thrones came under fire for showing a rape that they claimed wasn’t a rape. This season, they at least knew what they were doing—rape—but I question its utility for the plot, for the show’s overarching goal, and, if it had to happen, whether or not it had to be shown on screen.”

Sam T. Cat: “Sansa has already dealt with an abusive relationship.” [Licks paw, rubs ear thoughtfully.]

Josie: “Then, as though the show is just attempting to provoke us at this point, they choose to focus on Theon’s face. Poor, tortured Theon, tortured one more time... by Sansa’s rape.”

Duckling: “I feel bad for Theon.”

Sam T. Cat: “Bondswoman, you would prefer that they showed the rape?”

Josie: “No...no. I would prefer that there wasn’t a rape.”

Duckling: “If wishes were horses, we’d be Jaime Lannister!”

Sam T. Cat: “So you have decided not to watch the show anymore?”

Josie: “No! No, I still enjoy it. I’m curious to see what happens when all of these forces converge on Winterfell. I liked seeing Lady Olenna again. And, of course, I still adore Tyrion and Arya.”

Duckling: “But doesn’t it always have to be one thing or the other?”

Sam T. Cat: “No, you idiot. We can think critically about the entertainment we enjoy, and continue to enjoy both the show and the complex thoughts it provokes.”

Duckling: “Really? Am I allowed to have complex thoughts about nibbling toes?”

Sam T. Cat: “No.”

Josie: “Yeah... about that...”

Sam T. Cat: “Bondswoman, silence. I have the problem well in paw. Duckling, nibble! The bondswoman’s brain is tired.”

Duckling: “Yes, master.”

Josie: “Yes, than you, Sam.”

Sam T. Cat: “Ahem.”

Josie: “Ser Sam. Thank you.”

Reminder: The comments on these episode reviews are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our Season Five book spoiler thread.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

13 comments:

Juliette said...

Love the review Josie! Always great to hear from Sam T Cat.

I must admit I'm a bit surprised by all the controversy. I mean, I didn't enjoy watching the final scene and it would be nice to have less rape in general, and I understand why a person might think 'I've had enough of all this rape and sexual violence, I don't want to watch this any more'. But I don't see it as morally or ethically bad on the show's part, or bad writing.

I can understand why there's some concern that the story might become all about Theon - I suppose it's like fridging Sansa without actually killing her. But since we haven't seen the rest of the season yet it seems a bit early to judge on that.

It may have something to do with what I do for a living. My dislike of Ovid based on all the rape in his poetry is shared by exactly none of my colleagues, they all love him. Every time something really horrible happens on Game of Thrones, I'm reminded how few people in comparison watched Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which did this sort of thing pretty much every week. (Or True Blood, in which nearly every main character was a rape survivor by the end). I was a little bit bothered, as well, by some commenters on other websites crying out that Sansa's character arc had been derailed or she'd lost agency - something horrible was done to her, that's not a reflection on her character (I present before the court the entire premise and opening credit sequence of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt).

(I was much more bothered by Breaker of Chains last year because the issue there was that it was the perpetrator's character arc getting derailed, the person who chose to do a horrible thing, and because it was completely ignored in the rest of the season, which I'm sure this won't be. Honestly, Tyrion killing Shae bothers me far more than anything else - I have a problem if I'm asked to like and root for someone who treats women badly or violently, though the TV version made that semi-self defense, which helped. No one is asking me to like or root for Ramsey).

Oh, and I loved Sansa's winter wedding dress. Beautiful!

Billie Doux said...

I don't watch GoT so the context is a bit lost on me (Lost? get it? :) but I always enjoy reading anything by Sam T. Cat. That Under the Dome review is one of my favorite Doux Reviews pieces ever.

http://www.douxreviews.com/2013/07/under-dome-manhunt.html

J.D. Balthazar said...

Lovely review Josie. Using the Sam T. Cat format allows you to analyze difficult and hard to process emotions about controversial content, without ranting for three or four paragraphs about it. Which is perfect for an episode with this kind of stinger.

While I agree GoT does skirt the lines of what we want to watch, versus what the story forces us to endure, I personally feel this was one of those times where we had to see something.

If the show had addressed Sansa's wedding off screen entirely, as an aside from Cercei to Littlefinger for example, people would've immediately dogged GoT for losing its edge.

Alternatively, if they had gone into as much graphic detail as is possible on this show, I think everyone would've started screaming about the content being too extreme for the audience.

This wasn't perfect, I could've done without her screams. Going to an instrumental while focused on Theon's reaction to her suffering. But the scene itself was inevitable.

Ramsey is about as evil as this show gets, and he is a different kind of evil from Jeoffrey. He is sadistic and playful, like a wild animal playing with its prey before killing it for dinner. Ramsey not forcing that consummation of marriage would've been totally and completely out of character.

I really liked most of the rest of the episode, but it was kind of meandering and slow. Jamie and Bronn have been captured, and so have Tyrion and Jorah. I loved Tyrion's wit in tricking the slavers into taking them to Slaver's Bay instead of Volantis.

But of course the Arya plot continues to be my favorite. Her struggle to be the one who needs revenge, butting up against the nature of being a faceless man (shouldn't it be person, because gender also becomes irrelevant?).

Interesting episode, thanks for the great review.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you why I dislike the rape: it was entirely unnecessary and damaged Sansa's character. She's been gradually building to be some player of the game, to leave behind the little girl and become a manipulator poised to take revenge on the Boltons. There are numerous ways the rape could have been avoided: Sansa could have made it consensual in a femme fatale kind of way, truly screwing Ramsay over (although this isn't ideal) or Theon could have done something (it was the perfect moment to push Theon to his limit, after all) or Brienne could have swooped in because that's been massively forshadowed. But no, Sansa was getting too uppity, telling Myranda off and showing her strength. She needed to be broken, like a woman should.

It drives me insane. This show has a terrible track record with rape and this is no better. Drogo rapes Dany and she falls in love with him, Jaime rapes Cersei and the crew are so blind that they don't even see it as rape (which is offensive in a hundred different ways). Now, this. Robbing Sansa of more agency, robbing her of character development, and for what? To break her? She's already been broken, we're in the 'rebuilding' stage of character development. To make us hate Ramsay? The gratuitous torture scenes pretty much did that. To set up Theon's return? What could possibly happen that is worse to make him turn now? None of it makes a lick of damn sense. It reeks of sadism. To have this young, sweet girl with naïve dreams be humiliated, raped, her virginity torn away by a hated enemy in her own home...it's too much.

TheShadowKnows said...

Game of Thrones is a non-heroic fantasy. Outside of the realms of heroic fantasy (Sansa and Theon suddenly become master sword fighters and cut their way to freedom through countless guards), there was no way out of this situation for Sansa. That's why I agree with J.D. that this rape scene, distasteful as it was, followed logically from events and was "necessary".

In general, though, I feel the show has maybe played the "sexual violation/humiliation of women" card a few too many times. I'm not saying the women should be exempt from having bad things happen to them - come on, this is Game of Thrones - but there are plenty of ways to hurt female characters other than rape. Maybe it's time for some variety.

Amalie said...

The scene with Sansa was neither logical nor inevitable. Sansa's storyline (which doesn't even make sense on the show, btw) was changed so the writers could put her in this position. They made an active choice to have her raped. And for what? What is the point other than shock value? As Anonymous said it accomplishes nothing. I am so tired of D&D's misogyny and I'm glad to see that reviewers are finally starting to call them out on it.

sunbunny said...

I wish they hadn't dragged Sansa into this story. So much. In the books, this still happens but to someone else; Sansa is far away and (relatively) safe. I think that's my biggest problem with this episode. D&D excused bringing Sansa in because otherwise she wouldn't have anything to do? Nope. Not only is she doing other stuff in the books, D&D seem to have forgotten that they're writers and if they wanted to write about her growing wings and flying over Westeros like a giant Sansa bird, they could. Even if they didn't want to pursue her book story, there are a hundred thousand different things they could have done with her. Instead they chose to victimize her. Again.

Game of Thrones is a brutal show based on brutal books, I get it. For me, it's more about the pattern than any one incident. They include canonical rape scenes, add non canonical rape scenes, give extra screen time to redeem killers and rapists (or, in Jaime's case, pretend that he's not a rapist, which I'm still really angry about), and minimize the emotional fallout all this trauma has on their female characters. Not to mention all the super unnecessary female nudity. Okay, so they include all this and what do they end up cutting? Characters like Asha Greyjoy (renamed Yara on the show) and Arianne Martell. Lines like "Cunt again? It was odd how men [...] used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued." All context surrounding the Dorne story and the Sand Snakes. I can't help but feel that D&D went through the books with a scalpel, removing as many powerful women as they could while highlighting every single sexual crime against women so they could be sure to include that. I'm so upset I'm mixing metaphors.

J.D. Balthazar said...

What I meant by inevitable, is as far as the show is concerned (I don't know how far Sansa's story has diverged from the books), the marriage was going to end with this situation. If somehow she had avoided the marriage, than yes it could've gone a different way. These characters, in this place, at this time pushes things in this direction. That is clearly the writers choice, and I'm not arguing that they haven't mapped out character arcs poorly, or pushed a misogynistic agenda for reasons that are beyond me. I'm just saying that the story, as presented in the show, flows to this unfortunate point.

Juliette said...

I can understand why D&D wanted to put Sansa in this storyline. Introducing a new character so that she could be raped and motivate Theon would surely be worse? (And that's exactly what happens in the books - yes, we've heard the character's name before, but her only importance is to motivate Theon). Using a character we know and love has us invested in both stories, and surely a horrible thing is horrible whether it happens to a main or secondary character. And Sansa hasn't done much in the books since the point reached at the end of season 4 (one of this season's constant problems is nothing really happening, and the books are far worse in that regard).

I totally understand the thought of 'this is unpleasant, I don't want to watch it'. I used to feel that way too, and I still do about domestic violence in general, which is why I don't watch Eastenders and don't like the Tyrion/Shae story. (And it occurs to me the shows I mentioned above with a very high rape quotient split it more or less evenly between male and female characters, so there's an issue with the male-on-female rape in GoT I guess). And the marriage could have been put off since Sansa's first husband is, in fact, still alive. But I think showing how horrible it is is important if you're going to do it. And considering the terrifying rape statistics in our own society, where forced marriage is much less common, the amount of it on Game of Thrones doesn't seem statistically unlikely. It's depressing, and I kinda wish they'd stop because I don't enjoy watching it, but I don't think it's any worse than the equivalent plot in the books (in fact it's less awful so far).

Miguel said...

Josie I loved the review! Sam T. Cat is such a wise feline.

I agree mostly with what others have said about the rape. I am ready for Sansa to be a strong woman who manipulates those around her instead of falling victim to more cruelty, but I know GOT has very long character arcs so I still have faith she will get there. As soon as she became engaged to Ramsey it was obvious something like this would happen though. To be honest I expected more torture- Ramsey is pure sadistic evil.

But in lighter news, Sansa's wedding dress was absolutely gorgeous!

My22centsworth said...

While I am pleased some storylines from the books are being merged, and some are being dropped all together, this is the first season the writers depart from the books so much that there is a risk they might crash the wagon into the wall all on their own. I felt the rape was logical considering Ramsey's twisted personality, but agree that it could have, should have, been avoided or made into something Sansa turned around and used to her advantage somehow. To be honest I was hoping till the very end she would pull out a dagger and just kill Ramsey, blame it on Theon, and then going on to kill Roose Bolton... Instead we got a reset of Sansa back to her season three arc, which was hardly an improvement on her season 1 and 2 arc... I have to admit that I blamed Sansa for her father's death for quite a while, and could not see her contribution to the story, but lately I've been hoping for something great from her, and this episode left me fearing that won't ever be.

Anonymous said...

Surely it's so obvious Sam is the author and will save the day via "knowledge"? Been coming for an age and love him to bits - but c'mon really no-one's noticed? Am late to GOT and love the production value, sound and shooting, but it ain't Lost yet for confusion, due to it's book parallel, and sometimes improved path? Hey ho - entertainment it certainly is :)

Anonymous said...

P.S. thank the heavens for non intrusive HBO - a la BBC in the good times for commissioning -chapeau