Alfie Allen and Sophie Turner as Reek and Sansa Stark

Arts & Culture

Is Game Of Thrones finally tired of torturing women?

The night is dark and full of spoilers 

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Sansa Stark shivers in the snow, as Reek (neé Theon Greyjoy) covers her in protection. He is willing warmth into her body, willing her to stay alive, desperate that, while his life and legacy is ruined forever, he may find redemption in keeping the Stark heir safe. Ramsay Bolton's hounds howl, hot on their trail. Reek attempts to throw himself to Ramsay's guards in sacrifice, but they're not satisfied – they find Sansa in moments. 

"NO!" I scream. "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. NO. FUCK. YOU. NO."

This is not an excited shriek. This is pure rage. I turn to my boyfriend, who does not watch Game Of Thrones, but likes a place to sit down as much as the next man and often finds himself watching it as a result. "They can't do this to Sansa. They can't do this to me. I have watched them torture and rape this character for too long for her grand escape to be thwarted five seconds in. No. I refuse." 

My commands are answered because, moments later, Brienne of Tarth and her squire, Podrick Payne, charge in and start playing executioner. The Bolton guards are slaughtered in moments. Brienne kneels before Sansa and swears her vow of loyalty. 

"I will shield your back, and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new."

Sansa stumbles her way through her part of the oath, prompted by Pod. It's clearly a speech she hasn't heard since childhood, when her father was Lord of the North. It's a gloriously satisfying moment, not just for the two women who have spent the previous seasons being tortured and humiliated, but for an audience who have become growingly frustrated with Game Of Thrones' perpetual mishandling of their female characters.

No one ever gets what they want in Game Of Thrones – that's what makes it so compelling

Sansa, finally, is ready to rise as Queen of the North. Whether she ever actually gets to be the Queen of the North is almost beyond the point. No one ever gets what they want in Game Of Thrones – that's what makes it so compelling. But Sansa has been permitted a degree of progress, a tiny win, a moment of happiness. It feels like a new departure from the show that became more concerned with doubling down on its own reputation of being TV's most shocking show than actually producing good work. 

Season five had moments of astounding spectacle (WHITEWALKERS, ANYONE?) but, on the whole, treated its female characters appallingly. It became obsessed with sexual degradation and violence, in ways that rarely served the character or the story. What's more is that the show didn't seemed concerned with how these women processed the damage inflicted on them. The straw-breaking moment of last season that alienated thousands of female fans came with the rape of Sansa, which focused almost entirely on the emotional agony of the man watching her. The editors of The Mary Sue, a "Guide to Geek Girl Culture", posted a blog saying they would no longer cover the TV show, writing, "There’s only so many times you can be disgusted with something you love before you literally can’t bring yourself to look at it anymore."

But Sansa has been permitted a degree of progress, a tiny win, a moment of happiness. It feels like a new departure from the show that became more concerned with doubling down on its own reputation of being TV's most shocking show

And, weirdly, the creators seems to have listened to this feedback. Back in December, director Jeremy Podeswa said that creators David Benioff and DB Weiss "were responsive to the discussion and there were a couple of things that changed as a result". Last night's Game Of Thrones seems to be evidence of that response, a possible indication that the show has moved on from its own fascination with female suffering. Daenerys Targaryen, held captive by the Dothraki, listens aghast as she hears two soldiers plan to assault her. Her face – alarmed, frightened, how-the-hell-am-I-going-to-get-out-of-this-one – is almost comic, and seems to be the creator's way of saying, "Look, we know what you're expecting and we think we might be done with that." 

And, indeed, they are. Dany remains unharmed and now has a more interesting fate. She's been banished to live with the Dothraki widows, sentenced to a society of women after years of being surrounded by men. It’s a fascinating narrative choice, an example of how many options you can come up with for a character when you make the decision not to sexually humiliate her. Maybe that feels like a little too obvious a sentiment to have to point out, but even so. 

You’re back on the right track, Game Of Thrones. Now don’t mess it up. 

@Czaroline

Alfie Allen and Sophie Turner as Reek and Sansa Stark
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Game of Thrones
women on TV

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