Game of Thrones Season 5 - Ramsay and Sansa

Game of Thrones has never been shy about getting dark, which is kind of what we love about it — the execution of Ned Stark in Season 1 was a definitive statement that this fantasy epic was throwing the usual tropes out the window. Even so, there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle sensitive material, and in Season 5 the show came under fire for its treatment of rape.

Those criticisms have apparently reached the ears of series creators Dan Weiss and David Benioff. According to director Jeremy Podeswa, the discussion inspired Weiss and Benioff to reconsider the show’s approach to rape, and change “a couple of things” about Season 6 as a result. Read the Game of Thrones Season 6 rape comments after the jump.

Podeswa helmed two episodes of Game of Thrones last season, including “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” in which Sansa Stark is raped by Ramsay Bolton as Theon Greyjoy watches. The scene sparked controversy among fans. Some complained that the moment was gratuitous, or that the way that the scene was shot (with the focus on Theon) robbed Sansa of her agency, while others argued the scene fit perfectly into the brutal, violent world depicted in the series.

Speaking at a recent event at Fox Studios Australia (via Forbes), Podeswa revealed that the outcry over Sansa’s rape led Weiss and Benioff to rethink a few things about the upcoming season:

[Benioff and Weiss] were responsive to the discussion and there were a couple of things that changed as a result. … It is important that [the producers] not self-censor. The show depicts a brutal world where horrible things happen. They did not want to be too overly influenced by that [criticism] but they did absorb and take it in and it did influence them in a way.

Podeswa also discussed his own approach to the Sansa rape scene in Season 5:

It was a difficult and brutal scene and we knew it was going to be challenging for the audience. But it was very important to us in the execution that it would not be exploited in any way. To be fair, the criticism was the notion of it, not the execution. It was handled as sensitively as it could possibly be; you hardly see anything.

While it is true that the show avoided getting too graphic with Sansa’s rape, Podeswa is wrong that fans objected only to “the notion of it, not the execution.” (As we just mentioned above.) Since we have very little idea of what’s in store for Season 6 (especially since so much of the story is off-book at this point), it’s impossible to say what, specifically, has been changed in light of those discussions.

Sansa’s rape wasn’t the first time Game of Thrones has attracted criticism for its depiction of sexual assault. Earlier in Season 5, the show was criticized for turning what was a consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in George R.R. Martin‘s books into a rape scene — and it definitely came across as a rape scene, even if the cast and crew didn’t necessarily intend it as such.

Heck, it’s a discussion that goes all the way back to the very first episode, when Daenerys’ consensual wedding night encounter with Khal Drogo from the books was changed into a rape for the show. And these aren’t minor details. Dany’s Season 1 arc is now the story of a girl falling in love with her rapist, instead of the story of a girl falling in love with a man who treats her with unexpected gentleness.

Whatever comes next, Podeswa, who returns to direct the first two episodes of Season 6, is now very aware that the world is watching. “I welcomed the discussion about the depiction of violence on television and how it could be used as a narrative tool sometimes and the questionable nature of that,” he said. “We were aware ahead of time that it was going to be disturbing but we did not expect there would be people in Congress talking about it.”

Game of Thrones Season 6 premieres in April.

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