Game of Thrones is no stranger to controversy for its use of sexual violence, but the show has received an especially great deal of criticism following a Season 5 episode that portrayed the rape of Sansa Stark.
In George R.R. Martin’s book A Dance with Dragons, the rape happens to a minor character, not Sansa, which made many question the portrayal of female characters in Game of Thrones. (Martin, as well as Sophie Turner — the actress who plays Sansa — have also previously defended the scene.)
Martin spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the role of violence in his stories and why he views it as necessary.
He said it comes down to a reflection of a “patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages,” which were “not a time of sexual egalitarianism.”
I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned…To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society? That’s not in our history; it’s something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn’t egalitarian, either. There are still barriers against women.
Martin said the series is essentially a war story, and “rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today.” He added it would be “fundamentally dishonest” to ignore that aspect of war in his writing.
While Martin has and will continue to receive criticism — as he should — for portraying rape and sexual violence, he believes it is necessary for a conflict-filled tale.
“If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book,” Martin told the magazine.