Two Sides of the Same Coin: Ramsay, Randall, Claire and Sansa.

** This post will contain spoilers about Episode 16 of OUTLANDER  and Episode 6 of GAME OF THRONES, as well as discussion of rape and graphic violence.**

As both an aspiring novelist and screenwriter, I pay close attention to the works of fiction I read and watch, hoping to glean some knowledge, some nuggets of storytelling gold. I make it a point to consider the motive behind not only a character’s actions, but the motive behind the writer or filmmaker responsible for the story. In other words, I rarely just watch or read anything anymore.

sansa

As seen on HBO

Watching the now widely discussed episode of Game of Thrones, Unbowed Unbent, Unbroken, I turned to my husband and said, “He’s going to rape her,” before Ramsay even, horribly awkwardly, kissed Sansa beneath the Gods Wood. It was absolutely in Ramsay Bolton’s nature to take Sansa — his new bride — into their wedding chamber and violently force himself on her. It was even completely logical for Ramsay Bolton to do this in front of Theon Greyjoy to further humiliate and demean a character he had already broken beyond repair. If you were expecting him to treat Sansa any differently, you were not paying attention to a few key things: who Ramsay is as a character and what kind of show these filmmakers are committed to create.

I think it’s important to tell you now, Game of Thrones is quite possibly my favorite current television show. You can judge me for that, as a female and a writer, even just on the basis of taste, but there it is. I love it hard, like a bad habit, I just can’t quit it.

The creators of Thrones have delivered, consistently, on the promise of showing us every dark and twisted part of human nature. So consistently that their thesis statement could very well be found in the line delivered by Cersei Lannister (my guilty pleasure favorite), “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

In other words, if they can show you a rape scene, they will show you a rape scene because they don’t do middle ground. And on that basis what happened to Sansa fit within their premise. I want to be clear, at no point in this statement am I agreeing with their decision for her character or the way they executed it.

I was shaken by the experience, but I wasn’t surprised, nor was I surprised by the Internet’s response. Still, it annoyed me that so many expected a show that has featured brutal violence and sex from season one — beginning on episode one — would make a different choice.

Then came Outlander’s season one finale. An episode, as a reader, I had been dreading and waiting for since I finished the book. After watching, hunkered into myself, hands covering my eyes, fingers spread just enough so I could see, I walked away with a startling realization.

OUT_116-20140827-ND_0372.jpg

As seen on Starz

Outlander captured what Game of Thrones missed. Not missed, like didn’t show me properly, because the sadism of Ramsay Bolton and Black Jack Randall are similar in execution. But where we watch Ramsay and feel rage, with Randall we feel a loss of humanity. We see not only the surface motive this character might deal with, but the very core of his soul. At times, Ramsay comes off like Sid, Andy’s toy torturing neighbor in Toy Story, not because the actor isn’t fantastic, not because the writing isn’t there, but in a show like Game of Thrones, this evil does not stand out as extraordinary.

On To Ransom a Man’s Soul, Randall became the embodiment of this concept, a living, breathing witness to how this affliction poisons the mind of one living with it. The character of Black Jack Randall is a microscope into humanity’s evil, as much as Jamie and Claire have been an examination of real love. And this, in no small way, is a testament to author Diana Gabaldon, as much as to the show runners.

It wasn’t that the Outlander scenes were more graphic — we have seen this kind of violence on Thrones — or that I felt more for Jamie than Sansa. It was the precision of filming, the focus with which the scenes were handled, and the fact that this whole season we have been building to that moment. We have watched Black Jack blossom into that man, we remember the moment Claire realized this was no ordinary villain, we experienced his deliberate pursuit, and then finally we saw him violently rape Jamie in a prison cell only steps away from a rotting corpse.

In this way, Outlander succeeds where Game of Thrones fails, not because the filmmakers aren’t capable, but because the nature of their beast makes that impossible. Thrones has too many players, too many plotlines and POVs, to ever dedicate the screen time necessary to thoroughly examine the black center of Ramsay Bolton. And so, the rape of Sansa Stark feels mishandled. Unnecessary. More of the same and not different enough to really hit us properly.

And I would argue, that they don’t really need to. We’ve gotten that from Outlander. We’ve seen shades of it with Joffrey. To me, the more interesting choice now is to focus the lens on Sansa. Here is a young woman who, until now, had managed to hold onto a piece of herself, to have kept her body and her sexuality within her power, her control, and now that, too, has been taken away. Don’t be outraged for Sansa the victim. Be looking for Sansa the hero.

In Claire Fraser, we saw a true female hero emerge. A true antithesis to Black Jack Randall, Claire is a caregiver, a nurse, and a woman capable of great love. Love that ultimately is the key to Jamie’s survival.

As the writers of Game of Thrones diverge further from the book’s plot lines, I hope to see more from Sansa than we have come to expect. I, for one, refuse to give up hoping. Thrones can’t give us elation in big doses until our villain and our hero emerges, until they narrow the playing field that much more.

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4 thoughts on “Two Sides of the Same Coin: Ramsay, Randall, Claire and Sansa.

  1. Very nicely put , I’ve read the first three Outlander books and all the ASOIAF books. I can’t wait to see how they handle the very first part of the second book

  2. Long comment incoming from a fellow Game of Thrones fan (not that I don’t have my problems with the books and show, but I still enjoy them greatly):

    I think you’re right about how the number of characters affects people’s ability to feel for them as well as the amount of screentime needed to fully develop or examine them. Honestly, in the books and the show, though, Ramsay is just an evil plot device because after Joffrey died, they needed another villain.

    I do disagree with your assessment about how the rape was filmed, though. I was worried they were going to “sex it up,” as it is in the books (albeit with a different character) with lots of nudity, foreplay, etc. Instead there was minimal nudity, instead of the camera exploiting the actors’ bodies who are already portraying exploited characters. The camera focused on the actors’ faces. Once Ramsay pushed Sansa on the bed, there was not even another shot of the rapist so that the scene couldn’t be construed at all as showing his pleasure in the sadism of it; instead, it focused on the victims’ faces and the emotionally graphic, rather than visually graphic, nature of the scene. It was a scene about the victims rather than the perpetrator, which is how I believe rape scenes should be staged, written, or filmed. That is perhaps what you felt was lacking from Ramsay’s character, but which I felt added to Sansa and Theon’s characters. As far as camera angles and actual action go, it was very simply done but probably more gut-wrenching because of it.

    I did think the scene was gratuitous because they cut the main conflict of it from the books: Ramsay gives Theon a knife, orders him to cut the dress off Jeyne (replaced with Sansa in the show), and turns around. Theon is given a choice to stab him and stop this whole thing, and THAT is the point of the scene. It created tension, like will he stop Ramsay? Will he end this? And while he could have chosen to interfere instead of just watching in the show, it didn’t have nearly the impact of the books scene. It had no conflict or stakes beyond “feel bad for these characters.” Maybe they figured Theon would have rescued Sansa since he already knew her, but it was still dumb. Taking that out made it seem like “we’re filming rape because we can, and just like Theon, you have to watch.”

    I know a lot of people are pissed that Sansa replaced Jeyne Poole for this plot arc. I was annoyed, but in the end I prefer Sansa. Jeyne Poole exists solely to be an abused object; that’s literally her purpose– create sympathy, motivate plot. She’s not even a POV character. Sansa is already a main, POV character with a developed backstory, reasons for wanting to take Winterfell back, and someone starting to retake control of her own life. Getting an abusive husband is a huge setback, obviously, but this arc has the potential to become the story of Sansa teaming up with Theon to escape Ramsay, join Stannis, and take back Winterfell, her own birthright — rather than the story of Theon breaking away from Ramsay and sort-of rescuing a minor character who exists solely to be a damsel in distress and who has no personal stakes in the plot beyond surviving. Already Sansa has more mobility and agency than Jeyne Poole (who is kept locked in a tower, not allowed to wear clothing, and forced to perform sex acts with dogs, because the books are disgusting and weirdly pedo-ish).

    They probably could have done away with the whole arc, really, but apparently they wanted to give Sansa something to do this season that wasn’t “hiding behind Littlefinger.”

    • Laura,

      Thank you for this amazingly thoughtful comment, which I am so excited to reply to. I need to let you know, I haven’t read all the books yet, and at this point I don’t know if I will. I read the first book, and LOVED it, but hadn’t yet progressed beyond those. I was a fan of the show first, having a love affair with it unlike I’d had with television is a very long time, and after reading the first book (and knowing from my husband who had read all of them, how the story progressed) I decided to — for now — keep my relationship with the show sort of precious. As an avid reader who has dealt with book-to-screen frustration, I didn’t feel like constantly comparing things. So, my impression of this storyline is just that, an impression based on my own limited knowledge.

      First, I totally agree with you about the way the scene was shot. That scene, as a one-off scene, worked great. My discussion of the filming more related to the fact that Outlander spent an entire season building this picture of Black Jack Randall, so when the rape scenes were given to us, we had a full-fledged understanding of why this was happening and what the reason was we were being subjected to watching it in such graphic detail. Basically, I think it successfully got across it’s point, where Sansa’s rape did not.

      Which leads me to this: I agree that Ramsay may exist to fill the evil void left behind by Joffrey. I did know, at least after the scene with Sansa aired, that this scene did not happen this way in the book. To me, this makes the purpose of the scene less clear, which is probably what I was trying to verbalize when I said that it felt off and assumed it was because Ramsay didn’t feel deep enough, and the rape felt out of place in the plot, or unnecessary.

      You said Jeyne Poole exists in the book merely as an abused object. She isn’t a character with an arc you are looking at, or even really care about, beyond the fact that it is horrible what is happening to her. Replacing Jeyne with Sansa in the rape scene messes up the dynamic of the scene. In the books, you could clearly identify the purpose of that scene: Theon’s agency, will he do as he is told or will he kill Ramsay? In the show, we are looking at Sansa — what does this scene mean for her? Why are we being forced to watch her being raped? Is it to make us hate Ramsay more? (Which it did make me do) Is it intended to propel her to action? (Which we are all hoping for)

      If they put this scene in the show for the same motive as in the books, then when they panned to Theon watching, crying, doing nothing, the reason for that POV shift was unclear. And it was unclear because unlike plot device Jeyne Poole, Sansa is a POV character that we care about, and we were distracted from the purpose of the scene. I do think they tried to shift the focus of the scene to Theon by panning — I think that’s why they did it — but it didn’t land. Like you said, it was just dumb.

      I am 100% with you that this arc is exciting IF they plan to allow Sansa’s agency to build and intend to set her on the path of fighting to take back Winterfell. I feel they have given us cues that this might be the case, with lines like, “This is my home, and you cannot make me afraid in my home.” (I I am paraphrasing) And I am glad to see her separated from Littlefinger and moving in some direction on her own. I think if those things are put in place, the scene will feel different in retrospect.

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