The sixth episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” stirred up quite a strong reaction from fans after it aired. For those who watch “Game of Thrones” religiously, you will remember this as the episode that ended with Sansa Stark being raped on her wedding night. The days following the episode’s premiere were filled with a frenzy of outraged fans, who were outraged for various reasons; the most common ones being the deviation from the book, the fact that the addition was unnecessary to the character development of Sansa and the fact that the scene was punctuated by zooming in on Theon’s face, as though he were the victim. Many people have withdrawn their support of “Game of Thrones” because they were so disgusted by the rape scene. But what disgusts me about the entire thing, which most people have not discussed, was the lack of a trigger warning.
This is not the first time rape has been in “Game of Thrones.” The subject is often mentioned and attempts or actual rape have been shown before (the attempted rape of Sansa as well as the actual rape of Cersei). I think the difference in the case of Cersei is that she and Jaime have a sexual history (though this definitely does not make it right for him to forcefully have his way with her) and the fact that in the book a sexual act does occur and is actually consensual. Watching her being raped was also uncomfortable and many people were similarly disgusted, but the outrage was not as big as with Sansa. In the case of Sansa, she was not raped in the book. Her rape was unexpected. There was no warning.
This where I think the greatest problem lies. Not that they chose to change the storyline (this coming from an avid reader who curses most movies for being inaccurate), not that they panned over to Theon and showed his reaction (yes, this is awful, but it is definitely better than actually watching Ramsay rape Sansa as opposed to just hearing it), but that there was no trigger warning. There was absolutely nothing to warn people that there would be such a graphic scene.
A trigger warning is an advisory that is there to prevent people who may have post-traumatic flashbacks or anxiety triggered by certain subjects. Encountering those subjects whether it is war, rape or suicide, which are some of the common topics that often work as triggers, usually leads to strong and sometimes damaging emotional responses.
Since the episode has aired, articles about the rape have focused on Sansa being a minor (The Daily Beast), rape being a terrible motivator for character development (Vanity Fair) and that Theon should not have been the central focus during the rape. But I have yet to see an article discussing the lack of a trigger warning. According to Entertainment Weekly, “Game of Thrones” has a viewership of 20 million people. Twenty million. If anyone has ever even glanced at rape statistics, it can be assumed that a fair amount of viewers have been sexually assaulted or raped. And the producers of “Game of Thrones” really did not think to put a trigger warning on the episode?
Many who have never been through a traumatic sexual experience found the ending of the episode incredibly heavy to watch. After watching the episode myself with friends, we all sat in an uncomfortable silence, trying and failing to understand what we just saw. Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy, expressed himself that the scene was “hard to watch.”
It honestly baffles me that no one seems to care about the lack of trigger warning, except apparently for those who have been sexually traumatised. There is so much talk nowadays about the presence of rape culture, but where is the sympathy and compassion for rape victims? Where is the support and understanding? Whether the storyline should have been changed or not, whether it perpetuates rape culture, whether it is anti-feminist to zoom in on Theon, that all should come second to the importance of trigger warnings and being sensitive to those who may have experienced something similar that was the most traumatic experience of their lives. Because no one wants to relive that experience, especially when watching their favorite show.
Kaitlin Thaker is a junior international area studies major at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]