Latest ‘Game of Thrones’ Episode begs the question: When does Television go to far?

Sunday’s episode of the heavily watched and acclaimed HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’ sparked controversy early this week with its depiction of a particularly graphic rape scene featuring one of the shows female characters. For those of you who don’t watch the show, ‘Game of Thrones’ tells the story of warring families and factions in the medieval fantasy world of Westeros, which have been adapted from George R.R. Martin’s beloved book series.  While the show is no stranger to the headlines with its graphic scenes of violence and nudity, this past week’s episodes seemed to push the discussion towards the realm of ‘controversy’ among critics and fans alike who saw the rape of a character as being overly gratuitous. What’s more, many have taken to social media to display their disapproval, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri who described Sunday’s show as “disgusting” and “unacceptable”. While you can be sure that this isn’t the first time such words have been bestowed upon the series, it would seem the real issue is not so much the show itself but rather the fact that its current season has stopped following the plot of the source material. Unfortunately for fans, Season 5 of the show was the first time the length of the show had surpassed the length of the novels which are still being worked on by the book’s author, thus various changes have had to be made to the overall continuing plot much to the ire of some fans. But is this an example of ‘gratuitous sexual violence’ shoehorned in simply to generate controversy? Or is it simply another case of overreaction by audiences who aren’t comfortable with real world issues so blatantly making their way into entertainment media? The answer it would seem would depend on your definition of ‘gratuitousness’. Many shows in the past have received anger from audiences due to overt depictions of violent and sometimes shocking situations, one such example being the Season 4 ‘X-Files’ episode ‘Home’, which opens with a scene of a horribly disfigured newborn being buried alive. Other shows have been less obvious in their depictions of harsh realism, including ‘The Sopranos’, ‘Seinfeld’, and ‘Oz’. Programs like ‘Family Guy’ and ‘South Park’ have built their entire fanbases off being controversial, particularly when it comes to commenting on real world events and issues ranging from abortion and feminism to topics such as Scientology and racism. So where exactly do shows make the leap into ‘controversy’? The word itself has become somewhat overused as of late, especially when describing instances of someone simply trying to comment on an issue, thus my disgust with the media’s tendency to manufacture outrage from what amounts to little more than an individual’s opinion. I think the real issue we have is our habit of labeling dissent from conventional methods of storytelling as being something that’s ‘dirty’ or ‘sick’. It’s true there have been many instances of gratuitous violence in entertainment media, particularly when considering films like the ‘Saw’ series and cult flicks like ‘The Human Centipede’ and ‘A Serbian Film.’ Even shows like ‘Spartacus’ and ‘American Horror Story’ more often than not choose to delve into depictions of over sexualized situations and use of violence in the hopes of impressing the notion upon audiences that what they’re watching is truly ‘gritty’ and ‘mature’. However, having watched ‘Game of Thrones’, I can say that while the show is far from being PG-13 in nature, the violence is more often than not supported by character development and has a point beyond the spectacle of savagery. I can completely understand how depictions of rape upset people, particularly those who know someone who has or have themselves been victimized by sexual violence. It is indeed a terrible issue to discuss but to simply dismiss every depiction of such things as being ‘gratuitous’ seems rather close minded. The whole purpose of film as a storytelling medium is to provoke thought and use conflict to develop characters visually and emotionally. If a film or show decides to use hackneyed plot devices to get a cheap reaction out of an audience then that is gratuitous. However, if it’s done in a way that truly depicts the horror and emotional impact of a moment as life changing as rape beyond ‘shock value’ then in my mind, the writer has served their purpose as a storyteller. More often than not we try to escape into entertainment to try to forget everyday problems that plague us or maybe even use entertainment as a way of being able to cope and even laugh about them. But if a show wants to truly do justice by  commenting on the injustices of the world, it has to be done with some amount of control and be done with a greater purpose in mind.

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