Game of Thrones: Rape & Race

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

The TV version of Game of Thrones has been, by and large, faithful to the books. There have been a handful of scenes inserted that didn’t take place in the books but are true to the spirit of the characters, but rarely is something inserted, deleted or altered in such a way that it completely changes our interpretation of them. There is one glaring example, however, and that is Khal Drogo’s rape of Daenerys after the wedding scene.

In the books, this scene is clearly consensual. Dany is a little hesitant and perhaps uncomfortable with the idea of it, so Drogo waits for her to be ready, and the sex occurs only after Dany physically initiates the act herself. This is not particularly surprising, coming from Martin–throughout the books, he often plays with the conventions of the genre, setting up a suspenseful scene that the audience assumes will play out one way, only to give them the exact opposite. (See also, for example, the Mountain’s jousting in the Tourney of the Hand and the declaration of Ned Stark on the steps of the Sept of Baelor.) Throughout the wedding scene, Martin depicts the Dothraki as a “savage” people who love fighting, public fucking, and bizarre foods, thus forcing the audience to empathize with Dany as she’s introduced to a foreign culture. The suspense builds as we, like Dany, are set up to expect the worst of her wedding night. The fact that it doesn’t happen humanizes the Dothraki, complicates the idea of them as “primitive” in comparison to the people of Westeros, and establishes a solid foundation for Dany and Drogo’s loving marriage later on in the book–one of the most positive portrayals of a relationship in the entire series, one of the few where power struggles don’t occur in the bedroom.

HBO chose instead, for reasons I can’t understand, to present this scene as a rape. Instead of subverting expectations, it confirms them–and that has all kinds of problematic implications for the series’ treatment of race and gender. Instead of Dany and Drogo starting out their marriage on roughly equal footing, they force Dany to first be subjugated before she can come back and “tame” Khal Drogo with her magical vagina. Although their partnership later shifts into the respectful one of the book, I’m never fully sold on it. When sex is initially used as a weapon, as a means of jockeying for position, it seems unlikely that it can miraculously be transformed into an expression of love instead.

And the implications for race are even more troubling. Instead of using the wedding night scene as a way of underscoring the point that the Dothraki are not as barbaric as they initially appear–no more “barbaric” than those who currently sit on the Iron Throne, at least, or than Dany’s brother Viserys, who claims he’ll let every single one of the Dothraki rape his sister if it buys him the throne–the rape scene corroborates that exact misconception. We are supposed to buy the Dothraki as simple savages. Barbarians. Others. There’s no subversion here.

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