5.6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Bryan Cogman, Maisie Williams (Arya) and Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen)
For the most part, I try to keep “me” out of these posts and focus on the show, its internal (lack of) consistency, its (complete failure as an) adaptation, etc. So I hope you’ll indulge me just a bit as I get a little personal before getting into this episode.
When season five was airing, I was mostly unemployed; I taught a class for an online university, but that was it. I’d get up on Mondays, check in with the class, grade a bunch of stuff, post that week’s introduction to the new material, then go watch Game of Thrones and fold laundry or cross-stitch or something. In between grading items, I’d often check my RSS reader to have a quick decompress and clear my head. So I knew about this episode before I actually watched it.
Which is what stopped me from watching it.
From this point forward, this is no longer a rewatch. It’s just a watch. Because, like The Mary Sue, I stopped watching Game of Thrones at this episode and didn’t start again until I had to in order to write my book. After all the other horrors this show had thrown at us, above and beyond what we’re exposed to in the books, I couldn’t sit through Sansa being raped. For me, it was the culmination of the terrible choices Benioff and Weiss (and team) had made in adapting the novels, the complete lack of respect they have for Martin’s story, vision, and worldbuilding (no matter how much lip service they pay to all of that), their lack of respect for women as characters and people, and their inability to do anything actually new (rape as a way to give women “character” or “motivation” or to add drama is wildly overdone). I had been disturbed by their choices long before this (as those of you who have been reading since the beginning know), despite what a lot of people say about how nobody cares about rape in the show until it’s Sansa (Peter Dinklage *cough*), but this was the absolute last straw.
More happens in this episode than just Sansa’s marriage and rape, of course, but it’s what this episode is infamous for, so we may as well start there.
Trigger warning: rape and sexual abuse
Myranda comes in to help Sansa bathe and dress and to scare her some more with stories of the dogs. Sansa sees right through her and asks how long she’s been in love with Ramsay, then says Myranda can’t frighten her because she’s Sansa Effing Stark and she can bathe herself, so get out. On the way to the Godswood, she won’t let Theon touch her, even though Ramsay ordered him to take her arm and he starts to have a panic attack about not being able to follow Ramsay’s orders. Roose presides over the ceremony, and there’s a long pause when Sansa’s asked if she takes this man, though she finally does. Myranda’s clearly upset and still showing way too much skin for the apparent temperature out here.
After the wedding, Ramsay takes Sansa back to the bedchamber, asks about her sexual history, orders her to take off her clothes and Theon to watch, then rips her dress open down the back, pushes her face-down on the bed, and rapes her. The camera pushes in on Theon, who is horrified and crying while Sansa’s cries of pain echo through the room.
There is so much wrong with every aspect of this; it’s the culmination of a season of bad choices on the part of the showrunners and exemplifies every problem they’ve ever had with plotting and their treatment of sex and sexual violence. In the scene itself, the focus on Theon takes away from Sansa’s suffering and makes it about Theon’s reaction to having to watch it. Not only does the narrative decentralize Sansa’s agency, the cinematography does, as well. To Bryan Cogman’s credit, he does apologize in the commentary; he claims that this cut away was done so they wouldn’t show the actual attack (fair) and that they never meant to make the rape all about Theon.
More broadly, the showrunners have taken three abuse victims and pitted them against each other instead of having them potentially work together against their abuser. Sansa’s disdain for Theon, while initially understandable, goes against her book persona—which is generally nice and caring—when it’s sustained for this long. Book-Sansa wouldn’t react to Theon like this. The dynamic between Myranda and Sansa is even more troubling; as I mentioned in the last post, the showrunners overemphasize Myranda’s sexuality (because she’s evil) and Sansa’s innocence, setting up a very traditional (and very tired) Madonna-Whore dichotomy. Not only that, but it ignores the fact that Myranda is just as much Ramsay’s victim as anyone else. While there’s no point in speculating about her motivations for starting or continuing the relationship with Ramsay because the showrunners don’t give her that much depth, the scene from last episode when Ramsay threatens her, warns her against boring him, and shoves her against the wall to have sex with her (despite her struggling and pushing back) clearly shows that their relationship is not as equal as the showrunners seem to think they’ve made it. The narrative treats her as Ramsay’s partner in crime, just as sadistic and bloodthirsty as he is, but that one scene (unintentionally, I’m sure) undoes all of that groundwork while showing that the showrunners don’t understand how an abusive, manipulative relationship really works. Ramsay has all the power in this relationship, and while Myranda is often indulged and allowed a long leash, if she ever pushes back, Ramsay yanks on that leash and reminds her who’s in charge.
Even more broadly, this storyline shouldn’t be happening in the first place. Not just because it doesn’t match what happens in the books (though if you’re going to claim to adapt a work, you should damn well stick as close to that work as possible), but because it makes no sense internally. Petyr’s complete lack of information about the Boltons and their brutality makes no sense (they have a flayed man on their banner, for the Warrior’s sake). His willingness to send his most valuable playing piece into a situation he knows he doesn’t fully understand (not to mention abandoning her there) doesn’t line up with his established character. Sansa needing to marry the Boltons to take back Winterfell when she has the entire Vale army behind her makes no sense. Putting Sansa, who they’ve constantly said is no longer a victim but a burgeoning player in the game of thrones, back into an abusive relationship and making her a victim again is just bad plotting. Cogman still doesn’t think that this choice “took Sansa’s story away from her” or that she was “shoehorned into Theon’s redemption journey,” but that’s exactly what they did. Book-Sansa has her own story arc focused on consolidating power in the Vale so she can rule both the Vale and the North (with Petyr to help, of course). Sending Sansa North to replace Jeyne Poole is the definition of taking her story away from her and shoehorning her into Theon’s redemption journey, because Jeyne Poole is a tool in Theon’s redemption journey. Reducing Sansa to that tool instead is insulting to the character and the viewers, especially those who have read the books.
This storyline not only goes backward, it echoes the one she already lived through in King’s Landing. Once again, she’s a pawn in a marriage meant to create power for someone besides herself, the marriage arranged by the patriarch (Tywin/Roose) with his son, who has no real input in the matter (Tyrion/Ramsay), but already has a lover who’s super jealous of Sansa (Shae/Myranda). We did this already. Not only is this whole story cliché with its treatment of women and sexual violence, it’s not even unique within the show.
What’s also immensely frustrating is the way Cogman keeps talking about this as “realistic” and “natural”; of course Sansa would get raped if she married Ramsay, and why would we think otherwise? What he’s failing to realize is that this is a fictional world that he helped create. Yes, maybe the rape “logically” follows from the story, but they created the story. They put Sansa in this position in the first place. They decided to send her to Winterfell. There is absolutely nothing in history or in Martin’s novels that requires Sansa to go North at this stage, to marry Ramsay, and to get raped. They made these choices, and then they refuse to own them. And I say “they,” but really it’s all Cogman, because just like the Jaime-Cersei scene, Benioff and Weiss completely bowed out of the whole conversation and left it to Cogman, Podeswa, and Sophie Turner to field the questions. I refrained from calling them cowards back in “Breaker of Chains,” but I won’t anymore. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are utter cowards who have a clear inability to own the narrative choices they make and face the consequences for them.
(End trigger warning)
Other things are happening in this episode! Like Dorne! Let’s talk about Dorne. (If we have to, because dear god save me.)
Trystane and Myrcella are walking in the gardens again, and he says he’s going to ask Doran to allow him to marry her tomorrow, and Myrcella, honey, what is that dress?
|Hideous, is what it is.|
Doran and Aero discuss how Myrcella’s going to need protection because he’s not stupid enough to think him telling Ellaria to back off means she’s going to do it. Indeed, Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, Jaime, and Bronn all reach the Water Gardens at the same time, and what follows is just utterly, patently absurd. So absurd that someone set it to the Benny Hill theme, which is probably the most appropriate reaction to it.
The second most appropriate reaction is Bronn’s when the Sand Snakes show up and start the fight: “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
And to think, we could have had Arianne. We could have had character development. We could have had actual politics. We could have had a group of women who worked together because they love each other and their late father and recognize Doran’s as the best plan. Instead we got . . . this.
Back in King’s Landing, Petyr has somehow managed to make the trip from the North in about 1.5 days. He asks Cersei if she’s really sure she knows what she’s doing with this whole Faith Militant thing (especially since they threatened him outside his own brothel). They snipe at each other about sexual object choices, and then he says he’s found Sansa, and wants to be named Warden of the North if he can take down Roose for turning his cloak yet again. She says fine, but she wants Sansa’s head on a spike.
Later, Cersei has another meeting, this time with Olenna, who’s spitting mad. Cersei promises that everything will be fine after the inquest, but of course it’s not. Instead, Loras and Margaery are arrested and Tommen does nothing to stop it.
Over in Braavos, Arya continues her service and learns to play the game of faces, during which she discovers that she didn’t hate Sandor as much as she says she does. She uses the ability to lie and be someone else to reassure a young sick girl whose father has brought her to the temple to die. Jaqen’s apparently impressed with this, because he tells her while she’s not really good at being no one, she might be “ready to become someone else” and takes her to see the Hall of Faces.
|Unfortunately, *we* can't see the Hall of Faces cause it's so danged dark!|
Somewhere between Valyria and Slavers Bay, Jorah and Tyrion squabble at each other. Tyrion mentions Jeor’s death, and Jorah is shocked; Tyrion apologizes because he had no idea that Jorah didn’t know that his father was dead. Then they get ambushed by slavers and Tyrion talks their way out of being killed by bragging about the size of his penis (I wish I was kidding). He also manages to convince them to take them to Meereen by talking up Jorah’s fighting abilities so they’ll want to put him in the fighting pits. How convenient that this allows us to completely skip nearly half a book’s storyline and character development!
RIP: Ghita (the little girl at the House of Black and White)
Next week: Yet another attempted rape and associated grossness. Stannis is snowbound. The Sand Snakes continue to be ridiculous. Jorah and Dany reunite.
Stills from screencapped.net. Gif from tumblr.com