Complaints Over Rape in Game of Thrones Have Led Creators to Change Their Approach

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

In its next season, Game of Thrones may steer away from the depictions of sexual violence that have made it infamous. Forbes reports that, according to director Jeremy Podeswa, who has helmed two episodes of Game of Thrones and is set to direct more in season six, the outcry over the depiction, and excess, of rape in HBO's hit fantasy series has led creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to reconsider how the show will approach the subject. The creators "were responsive to the discussion and there were a couple of things that changed as a result," Podeswa said at an event in Fox Studios Australia. "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 directed last season's "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken," which featured a particularly hard-to-watch scene — not present in the books — where Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark on her wedding night. During his talk, the director spoke to his approach to the subject and his reaction to the scene's reception. "It was a difficult and brutal scene and we knew it was going to be challenging for the audience," the director said of that moment. "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."

Though Podeswa did not address it, many viewers and critics objected not just to the presence of rape, but specifically to the execution of that scene, which seemed to deny Sansa agency by setting the camera on a male observer, Reek, during the act.

This isn't the first time that the creators of Game of Thrones have come under fire for their depiction of sexual violence, though members of the cast and crew have typically stuck to the party line when responding to complaints: Westeros is a brutal place; sexual violence often occurs as a result of war; many of the show's depictions come from the source material (though Sansa's rape does not). The show's next season, set to air in April 2016, will extend past the end of the book series and has a chance to chart a new path for the show's characters, whatever it may be. And, as Podewsa admitted, the creators now know a lot of people are watching. "We were aware ahead of time that it was going to be disturbing," Podewsa said, "But we did not expect there would be people in Congress talking about it."