Damon Lindelof on Why TV Characters Should Talk About Being Raped (Even on Game of Thrones)

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Liv Tyler as Meg on The Leftovers. Photo: HBO

Spoilers ahead for last night's episode of The Leftovers.

After a few slightly sunnier season-two installments, Sunday’s episode of The Leftovers saw the series returning to its roots as one of the most gloriously bleak hours on television. The episode featured a recovering Guilty Remnant member who engineered a murder-suicide by automobile, Laurie running over two GR members with her car, and, perhaps most shocking, Meg’s quasi-ritualistic sexual assault of Tom. Vulture talked to Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof before the start of season two and asked him about last night’s turn of events.

So first, to be clear: Tommy was raped, yes?
Here’s what I’m willing to say about it, which is the moment we had the idea in the writers’ room, we were hyper-aware of what the climate is in doing a scene like this when you are talking about any kind of nonconsensual sex. This is not me avoiding the word rape. I knew that word would be attributed to that scene. I knew that it was slightly atypical because the woman is the aggressor. But there was complete intentionality on our part in presenting nonconsensual sex.  

Will you be giving viewers more context about what exactly happened?
We revisit that scene. What happened in the back of that van is very significant to the story we’re telling this season, and Tom’s perspective, to me, is the only one that matters as a writer, and will hopefully matter to the audience. It's “What does Tom think happened in the back of that van? What would he call it? How did he feel about it?" He’s going to get to express all of those feelings later in the season.

Rape scenes on TV have come under a lot of scrutiny these days. Did that influence how you approached this?
Here’s the thing. We’re living in a culture now that quite actively polices television and movies, especially when it comes to violence against women or nonconsensual sex, and that’s great. I think these things should be held up to a standard and provoke debate. But, when the show itself doesn’t talk about it, that’s the mistake. Should George R.R. Martin be talking about the sexual violence in Game of Thrones, or should Sansa Stark be talking about it? For us as writers, we know Meg and Tom need to talk about what happened in the back of the van. If we don’t have that conversation on the show, that’s a disservice to the audience and the characters. That conversation is going to happen, and that’s all I can say.