Game of Thrones author George RR Martin has weighed into the debate about the sexual violence in the television version of his epic fantasy series, saying that it would be “fundamentally dishonest” not to show rape as part of war.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, the 66-year-old author said: “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.”
Martin said: “I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.”
The hit HBO series, based on Martin’s long-running fantasy series A Song Of Ice And Fire, is set on the fictional world of Westeros, which has analogies with mediaeval Europe, especially Dark Ages Northumbria.
However, the TV show has changed some aspects of Martin’s books, most recently portraying the rape of major character Sansa Stark, played by actress Sophie Turner. The scene did not appear in Martin’s book A Dance With Dragons, though there was a rape of a different character. It was almost universally decried by fans, with Vanity Fair publishing a piece headlined: “Game of Thrones absolutely did not need to go there with Sansa Stark”.
Genre website The Mary Sue reacted by announcing that it would no longer cover any aspect of the Game of Thrones TV series. Editor in chief Jill Pantozzi wrote: “After the episode ended, I was gutted. I felt sick to my stomach. And then I was angry. My next thought was, ‘I’m going to have to spend part of the next six months explaining why this was a bad move over and over’.”
Martin told Entertainment Weekly that “the books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing.”
The author also answered critics who have countered that, since Martin is writing a secondary-world fantasy, he can set his own rules. He said: “Now, there are people who will say to that, ‘Well, he’s not writing history, he’s writing fantasy – he put in dragons, he should have made it an egalitarian society.’ Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want ... I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction. Most stories depict what I call the Disneyland Middle Ages – there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armour.”
Martin said the controversy had not put off the “millions of women readers who love the books”. He added: “If you’re going to write about war, and you just 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.”