HBO’s Game of Thrones: Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken (S5E6)


As usual, I’m playing fast and loose with spoilers from the show, from all the books (including sample chapters, and even from interviews and apocryphal material. You have been warned.

The writers on HBO’s show have one, and they’re going to play it over and over again.

As a fan of the book series, one of the more difficult things to accept from the TV is the reduction, to the point of near-elimination, of magical elements. In the books, magic steadily grows as an influence as Dany’s dragons age, but on the show we get dragons and White Walkers, and that’s about it. Even where magical plotlines seem to be set up–Berrick Dondarion, for instance–the show shies away from the supernatural. There’s no Coldhands, no Horn of Joramun, no glass candles, no Quaithe or Azor Ahai or any other prophecies, no glamour, and no Lady Stoneheart. At least, not yet.

The show runners have talked about magic, and their sense that it takes away from the realism of the show; that asking viewers to accept an undead Caitlin Stark or a magical door through the Wall is asking them to go a step too far. Instead, we get rape, and more rape, and–oh yeah–just a little more rape.

Rape is the go-to peril for any female character on the show, and while in earlier seasons the threat of rape was used with some skill to create tension–between Joffrey and Sansa, Brienne and Locke, or later Tyrion and Sansa–it’s now deployed with little art to elevate Ramsey into top-villain position. I’m reminded of that Stephen King theory about terror, horror, and revulsion. The series has devolved into Hostel territory, and like many people I found myself watching that final scene and hoping for some unexpected twist that never came. Instead we got the horrifying yet dull scene we all expected, even if it didn’t make sense for any of the characters involved.

I don’t need to go on about why this is such a weak storytelling choice; for that I’d recommend you read Laura Hudson at Wired. Hudson is particularly dead-on about how regressive this feels as a storyline; we’ve been down this road with Sansa already, and it’s just tiresome to have the writers try to re-tread. Alyssa Rosenberg at the Washington Post is more forgiving of the choice, particularly the way it’s presented in contrast with the analogous scene from the novels; but I’d argue that if the best defense one can mount of this scene is “it could have been worse,” we’re not addressing the core problem. Specifically, that far too often when the show’s writers deviate from Martin’s source material, that deviation involves sexual violence against a woman.

If I’m honest, the writing on this show peaked with the Red Wedding, and hasn’t really been great since. Sure, there have been a few high points, but season four was basically clunky from beginning to end, and while some of the changes made in season six five are interesting and tighten up the narrative, the show is suddenly reliant on tropes and redundancies to drive the story. I know I don’t have the willpower to stop watching, from this point on I suspect I will be hate-watching.

Further thoughts are bullet-pointed:

  • With theLannisters basically tamed (or turned into heroes) I know the show-runners want another villain the audience will loathe as much asJoffrey, but the way they’re moving Ramsey is just transparent. I do have some small hope, however, that this is all working up to a confrontation between the Bastard of Bolton and a certain resurrected Lady who was absent last season. In the books,Stoneheart is huntingFreys–but I can see how that would feel flat in the TV series. Violatingguest right just doesn’t strike modern audiences as such a horrible crime. This, however?I’m not saying that a Stoneheart-Bolton plotline would make up for last night, but it would be satisfying.
  • That scene between Cersei and Lady Olenna was magical. The show writers are (with notable exception) at their best when writing Cersei. The way she tried to emulate her father by writing letters, only to have the Queen of Thorns see right through her–it’s just so true to Cersei’s character.
  • This Dorne storyline is a goddamn mess, and not in a good way. The Sand Snakes are a total disappointment: The writing is bad, the acting is bad, and the directing is bad. There was also a very clear shot in this episode of Bronn being slashed by a Sand Snake blade, which leads me to suspect that a “Bronn is poisoned” plotline is coming next episode. Then he and Jorah can both enjoy their non-canon ticking-clock plotlines. Sigh.
  • Speaking of Jorah, it’s a good thing he met the dumbest and most polite slavers ever. I mean, I’d expect professional slavers to inspect the physical condition of their captives–especially when slaving so close to Valyria, where greyscale is widespread. But they didn’t even pull up his sleeves, they’re so respectful. And while all the “dwarf cock” dialogue was just hilarious if you’re fourteen, if dwarf penises are so valuable why aren’t dwarves in more danger? And why would they need to keep Tyrion alive? Can’t they just bring the whole corpse to their “cock merchant?”
  • I bet “COCK MERCHANT” t-shirts would sell well at the Jersey Shore.
  • At least the show has managed to perfectly capture the directionless wandering that is Arya’s House of Black and White storyline.

Image: HBO, via EW.

Correction: An earlier version of this post suggested Alyssa Rosenberg’s piece at the Washington Post presented Sansa’s rape as a poor storytelling choice; in light of her further comments on May 19, I’ve realized I misinterpreted her comments, and have amended the paragraph. Thanks to Jamelle Bouie for calling me out on my error.


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