An open letter to HBO, Dan Weiss, David Benioff, and Bryan Cogman (re: sexual violence in Game of Thrones)

(trigger warning for discussion of rape, domestic violence)
Courtesy of
Dear HBO,
I am writing to express my concerns about Dan Weiss and David Benioff’s handling of the adaptation of Game of Thrones. There have been several instances now over a few seasons where scenes that were, in the source material, scenes of consensual sex – have been portrayed as rape scenes. Rape has also often been shown in the background, for no particular purpose other than to show the severity of certain situations, which could have been illustrated in less degrading, egregious ways. These depictions show a concerning theme in enacting sexual violence against women.
After much deliberation, I regret to tell you that after five years, I have decided to cease watching this show, and will stop publicising it on my blog and various other social media.
You can imagine my distress when Mr. Benioff and Mr. Weiss decided to include a particularly disturbing storyline from the book series through transferring the plot to Sansa Stark – a 14 year old girl who has suffered abuse with little comeuppance since the first season of the show. While Sansa in the book series is learning and becoming more confident, show Sansa has been put in this storyline which involves her rape, emotional and possibly physical torture at the hands of a psychopath. Bryan Cogman stated, “there was a subplot we loved from the books, but it used a character that’s not in the show” – it is concerning to me that, with all the changes that have been made in this adaptation (many that have been reductive to the representation of women), the writers chose to prioritise this storyline over one of empowerment for Sansa, especially considering her storyline thus far had a pointed lack of agency.
HBO promoted Sansa’s transformation (dyed black hair, black clothes, new alias) as something to be celebrated. This year is the first time in five seasons that she has been granted merchandise – a Funko pop figure and a Dark Horse figurine – both of which display this new look. If HBO and the writers of Game of Thrones only see this version of the character as marketable, why have they gone to such lengths to victimise her again?
Some might just say “it’s just fiction” – but as someone who works with television you must know the importance of fiction. Nothing is created in a bubble – writers bring preconceived notions about the world to their writing, whether they do this consciously or not. Game of Thrones is one of the most popular television series in the world right now, I know fourteen year olds who watch it, it is important that the stories remain as respectful in representation as possible. Raping a 14 year old female character for shock value and to eventually “empower” her, is not good representation.
This episode has left many upset and planning to cancel their HBO subscriptions. Some well known pop culture websites, such as The Mary Sue, are no longer going to be promoting the show.
I would love to see Mr. Benioff, Mr. Weiss and the other Game of Thrones writers make more effort to portray their female characters, in a way that doesn’t involve the constant, unnecessary additions of rape and sexual abuse. Nearly every female character on the show has been subject to sexual assault. The way the series is going is causing many viewers to lose faith in the storytelling, and it’s a shame that a show that has been so strong in the past, and shows such promise, should be tarnished by such a misogynistic reputation.
Since the episode’s airdate, multitudes of social media users have complained that “if it bothers you so much, why are you watching this show?” “Gore and murder is much worse.” In Australia, where I live, 1 in 6 women are raped each year. That’s twice the rate of women worldwide. In most cases, the perpetrator is known to their victim. Many of these cases are marital rape, which is often not even considered rape by the general population. The average woman is much more likely to experience first hand this kind of violence than any sensationalised gory murder on television. This is a reality for many. And that is why it is so difficult to watch, over and over again, without thought or reason, on your show.
Women do not need to be raped in order to have a compelling storyline.