Over the past few weeks there has been a chorus of outrage directed at the HBO Series Game of Thrones for its gratuitous portrayals of sexual violence. Of course, some politicians even felt the need to let the world know that they would no longer be watching the show for this reason. I’ve found this all this faux outrage preposterous, particularly since the show has been depicting all sorts of cruel, sadistic violence for five years now. If these people were entirely sincere they should have stopped watching years ago. But Jesus Christ did they really need to have Stannis burn his own daughter at the stake?!
Let me be clear that I am not calling for a boycott of the show and I still plan on watching the season finale this Sunday, but that scene seemed wrong on so many levels. Aside from the natural revulsion that most people would feel at the thought of someone killing their own child in such a gruesome manner, the scene didn’t actually fit properly into the Game of Thrones narrative in the same way that most of the previous shocking scenes did. It is not surprising that this was something that was not contained in George Martin’s books.
One of the themes of Game of Thrones is that most characters are driven by their base instincts and desires. They are willing to kill, torture, and betray in order to sate their lust for sex, money and power. A handful of characters, such as John Snow and Daenerys Talgarian, stand out from the masses by mostly controlling their base instincts in favour of more noble goals. While humans have always exhibited tendency for murder and violence, humans have always had a powerful instinct to protect their own offspring.
Furthermore, the soldiers, many of whom would have had children of their own, would have been horrified at the thought of their leader burning his daughter at the stake. Such an act would have been more likely to cause a mutiny than motivate them to fight. In the scene, the burning happens in plain view of all his soldiers. Even if Stannis was prepared to sacrifice his daughter to get some black magic on his side, it would have made more sense to do it somewhere where all his men would not be able to see it.
I can’t help get the impression that the writers came up with this scene less to progress a storyline than to simply shock and horrify the audience. Watching the scene I was reminded of the words of my creative writing teacher back in high school. One of the students asked him if we would be permitted to use explicit language in our stories. He responded that if it was truly necessary to progress a story, then we could use whatever words we wanted, but he asked that we always consider whether the story could be progressed without using such language. He told us that in most cases we could tell our stories just as well without cramming them full of bad language. After watching last night’s episode, I can’t help think that the writers were acting a little bit like the 16 year old cramming his story full of four letter words just because he could.