A scene during Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones has reignited the controversy over the show's depiction of rape and sexual violence, drawing criticism from various media outlets as well as a United States Senator, The New York Times reports.
During the scene in question, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is sexually assaulted by her new husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), who also forces Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) to watch. The brutal rape is depicted primarily through sound while the camera stays fixed on a distressed Theon.
"Ok, I'm done Game of Thrones," tweeted Claire McCaskill, a Democratic Senator from Missouri. "Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable. It was a rocky ride that just ended."
Various media outlets found the scene similarly harrowing, if not superfluous. Deadspin, for instance, published an article with a headline that called Game of Thrones "Gross, Exploitative, And Totally Out of Ideas," and questioned whether such a vicious, vivid scene was necessary to illustrate the already well-known fact that Ramsay Bolton is evil.
Bolton's rape of Sansa Stark carries particular weight following last season's notorious episode during which Jaime Lannister assaults his sister/lover Cersei next to the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey. Neither scene played out on Game of Thrones the way it was written in George R.R. Martin's original books: Ramsay assaults a different character, while Jaime and Cersei's encounter is depicted as consensual.
Despite the controversy last year, both HBO President of Programming Michael Lombardo and Martin defended Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. In a post on his website, Martin noted that the encounter between Jaime and Cersei was always supposed to be disturbing, but said he regretted if it upset viewers for the wrong reasons.
Martin suggested that Weiss and Benioff treated the scene differently because of the other ways they've diverged from his books, writing, "The whole dynamic is different in the show." He also acknowledged that while cribbing some of Cersei's dialogue from the book may have helped change the perception of the scene, it might not have fit into the context of Game of Thrones.
McCaskill has long been a proponent of bills to curb the incidence of sexual assault, specifically on college campuses and in the military. Last year, she spearheaded the charge to change the military's antiquated sexual assault policies, while her Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act to reduce sexual violence in colleges is currently pending in Congress.