There weren't a whole lot of answers at San Diego Comic-Con's Game of Thrones panel, but there sure were some uncomfortable questions. Ever since the much-discussed scene in which Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark on their wedding night (while childhood friend Theon Greyjoy was forced to silently watch), the cast, crew, and writers have been beset by questions about sexual violence and gender. They've mostly toed the party line, defending the show against accusations of misogyny.
So none of the panelists seemed surprised when the Q&A session turned to those topics, but (with a few notable exceptions) they also didn't exactly know how to satisfy the more critical fans in Hall H. The first awkward moment came when a male questioner asked Sansa actress Sophie Turner whether the rape scene made the character somehow less strong. There were murmurs from the crowd, and the questioner apologized for putting Turner on the spot.
"If there's one thing that Sansa still is, despite what happened to her, is strong," Turner replied, drawing cheers. "I really don't know why they focused on Theon, because I was giving a great performance."
She went on:
I think Sansa, yeah, she has gone through a lot. But she has developed skills from Margaery and Cersei and other folks and is still just as strong as ever. Over this whole series, she's kind of been getting by without doing anything radical, because she knows it's dangerous for her. She could die. And that is certainly true with the Boltons. That's a big risk to take. And I think she knows that. She's not stupid. She didn't just think, This is gonna happen. She thought it through, in her head. She could've fought back if she wanted to, but she didn't fight. And that's a good point of character. She's one of those characters that does her scheming in her mind rather than outwardly.
The atmosphere really heated up a few questions later, when a woman cosplaying as Daenerys Targaryen pointed out how upset fans have gotten about the show's repeated instances of rape and violence against women. She directed her question at executive producer Carolyn Strauss and director David Nutter.
"Will season six more overtly address and complicate these criticisms by showing them as the pitfalls of patriarchy, rape culture, and other forms of oppression?" the questioner asked, drawing ooohs from the audience.
Strauss paused and slowly articulated her answer. "I think we're trying to put together the best and most — realistic would be the wrong word, but a mix of those personalities in that world at that mythical time that the show takes place [in]," she said. "And things were not great, for a lot of people, male and female!"
There was a pregnant pause of tension, which actor Conleth Hill, who plays castrated schemer Varys, broke. "Girls aren't the only ones who've lost something," he mused, drawing laughs from the panelists and crowd.
The rape scene came up one last time, when a questioner asked the panelists if they feel real-life hatred toward the more villainous characters, especially the Boltons. Theon actor Alfie Allen fielded the question and talked specifically about the scenes of Sansa and Ramsay's wedding and subsequent wedding-night rape.
"It's definitely interesting shooting it, as real people," Allen said. "You've got the Boltons looking very regal and absolutely confident in this world of terror. And then you've got Sansa being just violated, really. Then you've got me, a shivering mess in the corner."
The one triumphant moment on the matter of gender occurred when a fan asked Brienne of Tarth actress Gwendoline Christie (who, earlier on, had proudly declared she was the only one on the panel who had actually read the A Song of Ice and Fire novels) what it's like to act out the turbulent-but-platonic relationship between her character and Jaime Lannister. Christie was swift and proud in her answer.
"I found it very interesting, when I read the books and, obviously, the script, about the basis of that relationship," she said. "In a mainstream TV show, we got to see this very unique, very unconventional woman enduring abuse from a man, and then the power lay in the fact that that got turned on its head, to develop a grudging respect for each other that's intense and close and doesn't have its roots in sexuality. And I was thrilled to see that at last, and I thought it was a very powerful, modern representation of women." The crowd erupted into applause.
(Oh, and since you're probably wondering: Someone did ask about whether Jon Snow is dead. Nutter said he recently met President Obama, who asked him, "You didn't kill Jon Snow, did you?" Nutter said he had to give some bad news to the leader of the free world: "Jon Snow is deader than dead." No word on whether the surgeon general is working on a white paper about Westerosi resurrection techniques.)