If you’ve been living under a rock (or just trying to survive until Game of Thrones comes back in 2019), I’m here to tell you that the final season will present the conclusion of George R. R. Martin’s book series before readers will ever even see it on the page. That’s right. George R. R. Martin hasn’t even published how winter ends, but he’s told series cocreators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss how he plans to play it out so fans will get to see it before they read it.
Here’s the thing, though. I won’t be watching because I don’t watch Game of Thrones anymore. When I tell people that, they assume it’s because I’m a book purist who wants to read Martin’s planned ending before watching it on the small screen.
To everyone who’s ever assumed that about my reasons for abandoning the show: You couldn’t be more wrong.
I will give credit where credit is due. I think it’s fascinating that Game of Thrones became so popular that Martin was forced to tell Benioff and Weiss about his planned ending for the series. I think it creates an interesting relationship between books and television adaptations — but despite that fact, I can no longer count myself as a fan, and there’s one really simple, really obvious reason. It’s one that’s become more understandable ever since the #MeToo movement began.
Sexual violence has no place on my screen
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, the Motion Picture Association of America doesn’t bother to record the amount of sexual violence that appears in its produced films according to scriptwriter and director Kate Hagen of The Black List Blog, who researched the proliferation of scenes of sexual violence in spec screenplays.
While the television ratings system does have a special code for rape (RP) and some cable series display a warning message before airing sexual violence, Game of Thrones never warns its viewers — at least it didn’t up until Season 4, which is when I stopped watching. I forced myself to keep going after Season 2 when Joffrey threatened one sex worker with death if she didn’t rape another sex worker with a stag’s head scepter; I forced myself to keep going even after Season 3 when Joffrey murdered that very same sex worker by shooting her multiple times with a crossbow while she was tied to his bed. I even forced myself to keep going after the Red Wedding, hoping Catelyn’s reanimation would be as creepy and satisfying on-screen as it was in the books.
All the while, I became increasingly anxious whenever I would tune in to watch, wondering how many women I would have to see brutalized, raped or murdered over the course of the next hour. There’s a stark difference between the anxiety of wanting to know what happens on a TV show you love and the anxiety of wondering if you can make it through an episode without feeling torn apart and completely triggered by the contents of the very same show. When it became apparent that I would continue to see repeated and unnecessary sexual violence in nearly every episode, I stopped. And frankly? It was totally, utterly freeing.
There’s a disturbing correlation between sexual violence & viewer ratings
Game of Thrones has an overall “fresh” rating of 94 percent from both critics and audiences on Rotten Tomatoes despite several critics speaking out against the excessive violence against women presented week to week. In 2015, George R.R. Martin addressed these concerns, basically saying that he wrote rape into his books for realism and that it exists on the show for the same reasons: “And then there’s the whole issue of sexual violence, which I’ve been criticized for as well. I’m writing about war, which what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.”
To a certain degree, he’s right. Rape and sexual violence are serious issues that plague our society, and our victim-blaming culture leads to underreporting and lack of punishment for perpetrators. RAINN reports that only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators of sexual violence will see prison time, 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and 1 out of every 33 American men has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in his lifetime. These statistics aren’t perfect, and they only represent numbers reported by the National Crime Victimization Survey, meaning they’re limited strictly to U.S. respondents.
The #MeToo movement has irrevocably demonstrated how widespread and pervasive sexual violence is as well as how it stays hidden — not only because victims feel unsafe coming forward, but because others harbor and shelter abusers by choosing not to speak out or helping to intimidate victims into staying silent. Now, as more and more survivors of sexual violence come forward, the culture is shifting, albeit marginally. And as this shift occurs, it leaves me wondering: Why do so many people actively seek out sexual violence on-screen when it happens so often in our actual lives?
It’s not just Game of Thrones, though the Season 7 finale drew in a record-smashing 16.5 million viewers in August 2017. HBO’s other critical darling, Westworld, relies similarly on sexual violence (especially against women) to tell its story, and the series drew around 3 million viewers for each of its two season premieres. Series like Scandal, True Blood (another HBO hit), American Horror Story, Reign, even Buffy the Vampire Slayer have all exploited rape as a plot device — and continued to rake in viewers and critical gold stars.
Why? Are we so accustomed to seeing sexual violence that we expect it now? Do we actively seek it out? Do we think we have to watch it? Here’s the thing: If every single person who ever felt even a little squeamish at how regularly Game of Thrones depicts brutal sexual violence against women just stopped watching, the ratings would drop. And if the ratings dropped, perhaps Benioff and Weiss would need to reconsider how they approach storytelling on their show. That seems like something people would be mostly in support of.
So, while I don’t judge those who do decide to watch shows like Game of Thrones, I can’t support something that so blatantly ignores the effects of portraying sexual violence week after week to a crowd of millions. And that is the reason — and the only reason — I quit Game of Thrones.