This week’s episode ended with a particularly grim scene for Sansa Stark. It’s bound to be controversial in a show that’s been criticised for the prevalence of sexual violence against women, and especially for adding rape scenes where there were none in the source material.
First though, to less brutal matters. There was no shortage of action in the rest of Westeros and Essos even though we saw nothing of Daenerys or Jon Snow this week (moody sorts with nice hair need time off, too). The episode opened with a largely wordless, slow scene where Arya acclimatised to her new role in the House of Black and White, before losing her rag and trying to find out exactly what was going on. This culminated in Jaqen H’gar (who was an awful lot more fun in series two) beating her with a switch in a game of truth or lie.
To be perfectly honest, Arya’s scenes felt like a slog. It’s my least favourite of her storylines since series one; it’s very static and watching someone do chores all the time isn’t great TV. Hopefully things will perk up for her now that she’s got access to the Mission: Impossible room of creepy faces – if she chooses to accept said mission of killing folks in the name of the Seven-faced god…
Elsewhere in Essos, Jorah and Tyrion continued their double act as Tyrion updated the Knight on his father’s death – clearly news travels slow, as that was back in season three! He should really check our recaps.
Poor Jorah looked quietly devastated – and now he’s going to have to do his best Russell Crowe impression as he was captured by slavers and sent to the Daenerys’ newly-opened arena to do battle, with Tyrion likewise kept alive due to the supposedly magical properties of one of his body parts resulting in one of the series’ best lines bar none: “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant”. Here’s hoping the two live long enough to make it to Daenerys.
Westeros’ other main double act were in trouble this week too, as Jaime and Bronn failed abysmally to rescue the former’s (secret) daughter Princess Myrcella from the clutches of the noble Martell family in Dorne. There were lots of fun moments here, from Myrcella’s betrothed Trystane being cut from the same seductive cloth as his departed Uncle Oberyn to Jerome Flynn reliving his Robson and Jerome days by singing a little ditty. But the battle with the Sand Snakes (Oberyn’s bastard daughters) seemed a little rushed, and was quite hard to follow as Jaime and Bronn were dressed very similarly.
The returning Olenna Tyrell, Lady of Sass (hooray!), was verbally outgunned by Cersei (booo!), whose machinations seem to have put Olenna’s grandchildren Ser Loras and Queen Maergery in trouble with the religious fanatics of King’s Landing for good. There’s no chance of Maergery’s infatuated young husband Tommen stepping in – sadly, he’s still too much of Cersei’s baby boy. We can’t imagine Lady Olenna standing for this for much longer, though…
After those shocking scenes, there was barely ten minutes left to head back to Winterfell for Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding (goodness, that came around quickly) – but the show managed to pack a lot in, ending on a sour note even by Game of Thrones’ standards, which wasn’t entirely unexpected but was seriously unpleasant nonetheless.
After marrying Sansa, Ramsay made Theon (her adopted brother, remember) watch as he raped his new wife in her childhood home – just moments after Sansa stood up for herself so well with Ramsay’s scary girlfriend. In a flash, Sansa’s newly developed agency in the last season or so (where she stopped being a victim and started playing the game better) seems undone, in a story decision that’s all the more risky by the programme’s makers by not appearing in the books (where another girl pretending to be a Stark married Ramsay).
As with Game of Thrones’ habit of killing off most of the audience’s favourite characters, such a scene reminds us of the consequences and cruelty of its medieval world, and could be seen as a realistic result for the terrible situation Sansa finds herself in. But it’s also hard not to feel the rape was a little gratuitous and emblematic of the show’s troubling tendency to show sexual violence quite casually as a mere plot point (such as the sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in the book that became a rape scene in the show for no apparent reason). It did happen to Ramsay’s unfortunate wife in the book but offstage, so to speak.
We’ll have to see where Sansa’s storyline goes next to judge it properly, but Game of Thrones might have gone too far with this particular storyline – and it might be too much for some viewers all together.