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Zeffirelli’s 1978 film version of Romeo and Juliet was my introduction to Shakespeare.
I was 13 years old (same age as Juliet) and about a month after seeing it, I was an acolyte at the wedding of a family friend. I danced awkwardly with the son of a family friend and fancying him my Romeo, we slipped out of the reception hall to hold hands. After he gave me my first kiss outside of the KC Hall, I knew it was true love and we were now bound to one another forever. I ran back in to my family and since I didn’t have a nurse to send a message to him the next morning, for months I spent evenings combing my hair at my window, imagining he was surely trying to sneak out of his house to come see me. (I practiced acting surprised to see him for when he would finally make it.)
Alas… our paths didn’t cross again until high school. We dated (very) briefly, but the magic was gone. Still, he will always be my first kiss and my first puppy-love.
I had no illusions of love. I had already read Ivanhoe, Le Morte d’Arthur, and an abridgment of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and felt I was sophisticated enough to appreciate the temporary beauty of star-crossed love. Ah me… Imagine my surprise when Dearest, the Great Love of my Life, swept me off my feet as I was pushing forty! For the first time, I finally believe in happily ever after.
How, if at all, has literature shaped your expectations of romance?
(Please be advised that the content of this post discusses literary and television depictions of assault, rape and torture. There are also spoilers for STARZ Outlander and HBO Game of Thrones episodes aired prior to May 24, 2015.)
Tonight we see what happens next for Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones but we will have to wait until next week to see what the screenwriters do with Jamie Frasier of Outlander.
There are many fans who will not be viewing either show, each for different reasons
Many viewers of Game of Thrones have had enough of the screenwriters re-writing consensual sexual encounters from the books as rape scenes in the TV series.
First there was the consummation of Daenerys’ wedding to Khal Drogo. In the book, Daenerys accepts her fate to marry the Khal and though she is a bit trepidatious, she accepts his sexual advances after the wedding. Then there was the sexual encounter Jamie Lannister initiated with Cersei beside the body of their dead son. The book depicted it as a complicated dynamic with Jamie seeking to exorcise the pain of their mutual loss and find comfort in sexual union. Cersei used the sex act to manipulate Jamie’s loyalty so he would side with her against Tyrion. But the TV series tells a different story. In the TV version, Jamie attacks Cersei in frustration because she has been cold toward him.
Many fans have reached the breaking point with season 5 episode 6 and the rape of Sansa Stark. In the series, Sansa has taken over the story line of a different character. In the book, that character is sadisticly raped. But the criticism is still valid.
What’s wrong with this picture:
The problem with these (an other) depictions of sexual violence in Game of Thrones, is that the ladies suffer so prettily. It is just titillating fantasy rape stylized with lovely tear-stained faces turned plaintively to the camera. (Danny’s platinum tresses are framing her lovely face. Cersei’s extravagant silks are in delicate disarray, Sansa’s pretty head is pressed down into luxuriant furs.) To be fair, Game of Thrones treats all violence in a stylized way. It is an epic fantasy full of romanticized violence. Fans of the genre will accept a certain amount of this as part of the fantasy formula. How much to too much? Only the audience can be the judge of that. It appears Game of Thrones has been pushing that line and many fans have had enough.
Viewers of Outlander seem to be refusing to watch the season finale out of sympathy for the characters. They can’t bear to watch what they know is coming.
Outlander is a different story. It is still a fantasy but instead of populating a fantasy world, Diana Gabaldon has her characters occupy Scotland in 1759. Both the book and the TV series strive for historical accuracy. This means the clothing is unflattering, the characters often look as if they smell bad, and depictions of violence and brutality have consistently been horrifying. No one suffers prettily in Outlander, when characters cry, their faces twist up and their eyes get red and their noses run. When Randall rips and cuts Claire’s bodice, it doesn’t flatteringly fall away from her firm, heaving bosom, it exposes pasty skin and jiggly flesh suffering the laws of physics in addition to sexual assault. Her face isn’t prettily pressed down on the desk, she is slammed, into the wood, hair falling in her face which is smeared with tears and snot. Outlander is raw. Some viewers do not think they can watch such a raw depiction of the torture expected in the upcoming episode.
In episode 115, we saw Jamie fall into the hands of the sadist, Captain Jack Randall. We have been through past examples and explanations of Randall’s behavior and we totally buy his psychiatric malfunction. He’s not a cartoonish sadist like Sansa’s Ramsey, he is the real deal. Now that Randall has broken Jamie completely under torture and threats (and ugly, realistic torture too, not the stylized, fantasy torture Theon endured in Game of Thrones) readers of the book know what comes next. Many just can’t bear to watch.
One wander-reader’s perspective:
I will be watching both. While Game of Thrones is still very much a violent fantasy, Martin, Benioff, and Wise have a track record of breaking with many fantasy genre rules. They set Ned Stark up as an epic hero according to formula, then cut his head off. I’m hoping they are setting Sansa up as a fantasy damsel in distress, according to fantasy formula, only to… well… I have a pet theory about Sansa’s television story arc (which you can read here) and I want to see if I’m right.
Outlander is told in a raw, realistic style. The writers and producers strive for a sense of realism and historical accuracy but then they surprise you with epic heroic romance. It all seems misplaced but all the more wonderful for the unexpected beauty in a cruel story.
Game of Thrones’ is the reverse. It’s told in a heroic fantasy style with all the associated trimmings and trappings and tropes… but then it twists it all on its head with a harsh dose of realistic rawness.
In the fantasy genre formula, Theon is supposed to fight Ramsey and save Sansa but he doesn’t; he just watches like he was told. It’s like the characters don’t know their parts so we watch with horror as our fantasy goes off the rails. (for some viewers, this last episode was like touching the third rail.)
What are your thoughts? Will you keep watching or have you been pushed too far past a hard limmit?
Spoilers follow for both A Song of Ice and Fire Book series and Game of Thrones TV series.
I suspect Sansa will escape Ramsey and take over the role her mother plays in the books. Sansa will become Lady Stoneheart. If she remains alive, she will take Theon and meet up with Brianne and Pod who will become her posse. She will visit vengeance upon the Boltons throughout the North. If she dies in her escape attempt, her body will be recovered by the Brotherhood Without Banners (like her mother in the books.) If this happens, look out Littlefinger!
Angie Hilbert is a reader, writer, and wanderer. Exploring the world through literature, she will take you along as she follows the pen strokes of her favorite authors. She travels in search of literary attractions and embarks on armchair adventures. Sometimes she pursues the unwritten roads of her own stories. Angie makes her nest in Ohio but if she looks like she's a million miles away, she probably is.