Sophie Turner: We shouldn’t treat fictional rape as a ‘taboo & precious subject’

U.S. Premiere Of "The Beguiled"

Sophie Turner is most famous for playing Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones. Sophie was cast in GoT when she was just a child – she was 13 years old during filming of Season 1, I believe. She and Maisie Williams – who plays her sister, Arya – were both just kids when they were cast, and they formed a special friendship and all of that. Sophie often “reads” as older, on screen, because she’s so tall and she simply just looked older in all of her costumes and everything. She’s only 21 years old now, and in a new interview with the Times Magazine, she’s reflecting back on how Game of Thrones became her “sexual education.” But not in a gross way, I think.

“Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner has hit back at viewers who complained over the controversial rape scenes. The actress – who plays Sansa Stark in the HBO fantasy epic series – isn’t a fan of the people who complained about the depiction of her character’s horrific rape ordeal in the show.

“Sexual assault wasn’t something that had affected me or anybody I knew, so I was pretty blase about the whole thing,” she told the Times’ magazine. “Naively so. And then I shot the scene, and in the aftermath there was this huge uproar that we would depict something like that on television. My first response was like, maybe we shouldn’t have put that on screen at all.”

The benefits to shooting the scenes and portraying it in a realistic and horrific way have been to increase conversation about it, she added.

“The more we talk about sexual assault the better, and screw the people who are saying we shouldn’t be putting this on TV and screw the people who are saying they’re going to boycott the show because of it,” she said. “This sort of thing used to happen and it continues to happen now, and if we treat it as such a taboo and precious subject, then how are people going to have the strength to come out and feel comfortable saying that this has happened to them?”

Sophie also revealed that the other explicit scenes led to her getting her own version of “sex education” on set.

“The first time I ever found out about oral sex was from reading the script. I was like… ‘Wow! People do that? That’s fascinating!’” she added. “I guess that was my sex education. Being on Game of Thrones.”

[From Page Six]

At the time of Sansa’s wedding and wedding-night rape, I said that I wished that had not happened to the character, but I never, like, threatened to boycott the show. You know why? Because at this point, you know what you’re getting with Game of Thrones. If you’re watching it and Sansa’s wedding night rape was the bridge too far, then how was everything else A-OK with you? I think Sophie did approach everything like a naive kid, which is why she didn’t realize that the storyline would be such a big deal. I do have one thing to add though, and it’s about this: “…if we treat it as such a taboo and precious subject.” As with everything, context is everything. The issue was that a beloved character was raped, but there was also an issue of how the show treated sexual assault in general, whether female characters have agency in general. There was also an issue with that one particular scene because the director chose to make Sansa’s rape about how Theon FELT about it. Which isn’t great from a narrative perspective.

Now, all that being said, I get the feeling that the showrunners and producers do a good job of protecting Maisie and Sophie as actors too – they come across as well-adjusted people in interviews, as opposed to Disney-bots or whatever.

Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas spotted having Lunch at Alfred's Cafe

Photos courtesy of WENN, cover courtesy The Times Magazine..

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36 Responses to “Sophie Turner: We shouldn’t treat fictional rape as a ‘taboo & precious subject’”

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  1. Lindy79 says:

    She’s kind of missing the point, the general outrage is about shows and movies using rape as a plot device and not for the value of the story. It happens too frequently, not to mention using womens rape as a device to explore a male characters pain or development as you’ve said.

  2. Ramona says:

    The problem wasnt the rape, Sophie. The problem was how it was filmed from Reeks POV and how we are invited to sympathise with Reeks inability to “be a man and defend his sister” rather than with Sansa. Its not her face on screen but Reeks and her rapist. She should be glad for the outcry. Without it, they would not have been pressured to write her a more empowered last season or even given her the revenge scene with the dogs.

    The other big issue is how there is so rarely repurcussions to rapists on that show. Dany was raped by her first husband but in the very next episode she is shown to be in love with him now. And my absolute worst, Cersei is raped by her brother beside their sons corpse and not only are there no consequences for him, he continues to be potrayed as a hero prince who is a victim to his sister/lovers ambition.

    Sophie may only be 21 but she is very silly to not have bothered to read up on why fans were mad.

    • Jenns says:

      All of these rapes were changed for the show, which is another issue.

      Dany’s wedding night was consensual, with her even saying “yes” before they had sex. Same with Cersi and Jamie. As for Sansa, her story line was specifically changed so she could be raped by Ramsey.

      I have no problems with changes being made from the book, but when those changes included three women becoming rape victims, it’s a bit much.

      • ArchieGoodwin says:

        I agree with this. The violence and assaults are gratuitous in the show. In the novels they serve to further the plots, but not in the show.
        Example: when we meet Oberyn in the whorehouse, the nudity shown was not ever in the books, and it was added to the show for pure entertainment and because they wanted to show nudity (both sexes, fine, but still not needed). We don’t even see Oberyn in a whorehouse, we meet him on his way to King’s Landing, having an enlightening conversation with Tyrion. Lots of information was passed between the two during that ride.
        They turned novels where every scene was carefully crafted (which I know because it takes him 5 years to write each novel- this man carefully constructs his works) to pumping out show after show for money.
        The subtlety of these novels has been lost. The stories of the kingdoms and why they fought and who was the rightful heir is lost in the hollywood make a dollar world.

        They didn’t actually need to change the novels, imo, because the novels speak for themselves. If they gave half as much time developing character and plot as they do to gratuitous sex/violence, they’d have a damn good show.

      • lem says:

        Yes but in the book, Danny was MUCH younger—so young she couldn’t really consent (I believe she was 13 at the beginning of the books). So it was rape & I think the show knew that had to portray it as such.

    • Jeesie says:

      Well that’s the thing. In real life there’s often no repurcussions. Women in relationships with their rapists often stay. And even if they don’t, very often the man’s life goes on as normal with no consequences.

      There’s an argument to be made that some shows can or should use the opportunity to present a better world, but GoT isn’t that show. It’s awful people doing awful things and good people having awful things done to them.

      • Faye says:

        Great point, Jessie. I think your last paragraph nails it on what people so often miss about television. It doesn’t have to be, or have to do, anything. It’s purely fictional, it’s purely for entertainment purposes. If you like things with more moral and just themes, GOT is not the show for that. And no one has to watch it because of that. GOT isn’t the first show to do it, and it won’t be the last.

    • M4lificent says:

      I don’t feel that the show writers were pressured to empower Sansa. I think her empowerment was always going to be part of her character’s arc. And I was OK with the scene being from Theon’s POV as well — it was his character’s rock-bottom — and not yet Sansa’s in the story arc. Even without seeing her face — we still comprehend her fear and pain.

      In the loosely “medieval” fictional world of GoT — women were chattel — and there would rarely have been repercussions for the rape — and certainly not for marital rape. I think GoT actually does a really good job of depicting a lot of strong female characters with power and agency. But if they applied that to all of the female characters to conform to “modern” standards, it would ring wrong. So, yes, I guess this makes me a politically incorrect GoT purist.

    • reverie says:

      I feel weird admitting this on a website even though it’s anonymous but I was subjected to that kind of thing for four years beginning at the age of 9. I think I did well in life despite it and despite not reaching out for help but I know that certain concepts are missing in my head as a result. For me to see how what happened to Sansa affected someone else was enormous… just the fact that someone was bothered by it that much was something I needed to see. When you go through something like that at such a young age where you dont really understand it and you deal with it alone, you dont quite realize how horrible it is. You know its horrible because it fractures your life and you feel like a caged animal but you dont see on a social scale just how horrible it is. You dont realize that you dont deserve that. You dont realize that someone can help you. You just dont know. Seeing that scene in the show helped to create some sort of bridge in my head between myself and the world that previously wasnt there.

      • Diana says:

        Reverie, thank-you for sharing your perspective. I am so sorry you had such an awful experience when you were so young. It wasn’t your fault at all. I’m glad that seeing that scene helped you in truly understanding (not just knowing intellectually, but really feeling) just how undeserved that sexual assaults you survived were. I wish you all the best in healing from your experience and I hope you have a shoulder to lean on through it (you always have us here at celebitchy).

      • nona says:

        Reverie, it takes a lot of courage to share stories of abuse. Thank you for sharing. That had to be powerful—to see Sanya’s experience, your own experience, through the eyes of others. Sending you lots of love and white light.

    • Ana says:

      That analysis is quite superficial, and you can’t really examine the story from the point of view of a modern, 21st century woman.

      Dany’s husband was a savage from a tribe of men used to getting their way with women. She didn’t fall in love with him in the next episode or after the rape. She instead learns to own her sexuality and teaches him to respect her, something he couldn’t have possibly known living the way he did. The love comes later, once they are equals.

      Cersei and Jamie have a horrific and disfunctional relationship, you know, being twins and all. It’s funny to me how everyone points out the rape and seem to forget that when we met him, he pushed a kid from a window and almost killed him. Jamie has shown from the start that he can be a horrible person whenever it comes to Cersei. No one has shown him as a hero, that’s your own perception if you can feel sympathy for him.

      Reeks is shown instead of her because a) no one wants to have to see a full rape scene and b) the rape affects his character as much as Sansa’s. He’s a broken shell of a man with no will of his own, but that eventually makes him to wake up enough to help her escape.

      Sophie is not “silly” for having a different opinion and understanding the big picture of the story instead of listening to fans complaints that don’t take all this into account.

      • Cleo says:

        But here’s the problem: Dany and Drogo, as portrayed in the show, romamticize a survivor of rape falling in love with her rapist. That is never, ever okay to portray on screen and play it straight, without acknowledging the toxicity of that relationship.

        As a fan of the books and the show, Drogo was not a savage. That’s how Viserys and initially Daenerys perceived him, but you find out that’s not true when he asks for Danny’s consent on their wedding night. In the show, they make it into a rape scene for no discernible reason.

        I think there is great value in portraying sexual violence onscreen. One instance the show did that well is when Theon was castrated and spent multiple seasons regaining his sense of masculinity. That was well done. But just slapping a few rape scenes on screen and then showing those women as being powerful later on is not enough to be called empowering.

      • Ana says:

        I get what you’re saying Cleo, but I don’t think it romanticizes anything. I was very disturbed by that wedding night scene and I never really bought into their romance, mostly because it wasn’t that well developed because of short amount of screen time. But I feel like we can’t fully analyze that story through our modern, more aware eyes. We now understand that what happened to Dany is rape, but if you situate yourself in the world this story exists, likely none of those two characters see it as rape. Dany was a sheltered girl who accepts that her brother is selling her off to some guy she’s never met, because that’s what women in that context had to expect for their lives. Drogo’s tribe are savages, technically, they pillage and rape. I actually think that removing that consent part of the book made Dany’s evolution stronger. She was a girl with no choices in anything, and slowly starts to realize that she should have a choice and that she can be in command. I find it creepier that in the book she’s only 13 when all this happens, I bet that’s a change that won’t bother many.

  3. Faye says:

    I agree with her. I’m personally over getting upset about fictional shit when we have a ton of in person crap to worry about. Additionally it seems very much in the “pick and choose” variety. It seems like it would be very simple, that if you find yourself outraged week after week, that you would quit watching a fictional show and stop considering yourself a fan. There’s a huge distinction between the people who are outraged because of how it was handled, and the people who are outraged because it happened. But I’ve seen time and time again that people who so vehemently critique GRRM and his female characters continue to watch and read as though they’re gluttons for punishment. I understand the outrage, I really so, but he’s not trying to fool you, he has shown you exactly what to expect and this sort of treatment is not a surprise. Particularly since iirc, that scene and the one leading up to it is all about Theon and it’s still focusing on his character arc. We see how sansa copes and exacts her revenge later. and it’s satisfying.

    Maybe I don’t have the right words, but outrage over something fictional, particularly if you know what’s coming, seems like it should be a backburner of issue for me.

    • Diana says:

      I can see where you’re coming from with this.
      I guess I sort of feel like the fictional stuff brings up some very unpleasant, very real feelings for me, and it feels a bit cheap to have all of that dredged up just so we can see Reek’s character development, you know? If it were more about Sansa perhaps I wouldn’t have found the whole thing quite as uncomfortable to view.
      I 100% agree about using our energy to right real life wrongs, though.
      I suppose for me, rape feels like a real problem in our society, and this is a TV show that brings rape into my living room; it’s a bit different in my mind to the clearly fantastical problem of using dragons to destroy your slaver enemies etc.

      Just want to qualify all this: you brought up some cool points I wanted to engage with, but all this was a little stream of consciousness-esque after a long, busy day, so I hope the tone doesn’t seem like I’m attacking you. Thanks for your thoughtful post!

  4. Diana says:

    Wow, what an interview! So much I want to say to this.

    Personally, I can only read GOT recaps, at this point – I just find it too off-putting to watch anymore, the fact that I can randomly be forced to watch a brutal rape (okay, no-one’s FORCING me to watch; but I’m so invested in the storyline now!). There’s enough fear of rape and sexual assault in my everyday life, to be honest.

    Although Sophie says “sexual assault wasn’t something that had ever affected me or anyone I knew,” I wouldn’t be surprised if it had actually affected many people she knows, but they simply hadn’t disclosed it to her at that point in time. So many family members and friends have experienced various levels of sexual assault; it’s a bit too close to home for me to suffer through an on-screen depiction. Sophie seems to take the line that if you find the rapes on GOT unpleasant, then you’re not open to a conversation about sexual assault, and I object to that. I think GOT is not the only way to open a discussion about rape, and I really don’t like her insinuation that it is.

    All that said, I’m not unaware of the irony that I’m commenting here on a GOT post about sexual assault, questioning GOTs worth in opening up conversations about sexual assault – hark at me!

  5. PPP says:

    The issue for me was that the character was not raped in the books. My issue was it didn’t even make sense for her character, since original victim was a character with no political power who no one knew was even alive. GOT rape advocates love to point out that wedding night and marital rape was something of a historical norm, but we’re talking a level of abuse that Bolton’s dad was concerned about alienating the key to the North. Whereas in the book, if that girl had died, it would have probably been better since they were trying to pass her off as Arya Stark and that would been sussed sooner or later. I also have a problem with the fact that in order to make this great rape storyline happen, they made Littlefinger hold the idiot ball (no way does the whorehouse spymaster fail to know about a sexually aggressive, politically important Northman), and threw away all of Sansa’a hard-won character development in making her trust a character she didn’t trust the previous season. Those writing choices made it clear to me that the GOT show runners care more about making their shocking rape storyline happen than in writing consistent characters or storylines. It was the final nail in the coffin for me in terms of ever having faith in them. Those books are humanistic novels that struggle with the important question of how do you hold to your values in a world that punishes you for it? This show is just rape-tits and dragons.

  6. Melody calder says:

    I personally was glad that it showed reek and not her during the rape. That scene sat with me for a long time, it was had enough watching it through him. The actor did a great job. Maybe they tried to show her but she didn’t have enough depth to pull from to make it believable. Sansa has always seemed very cold and detached to me, very little depth. The aftermath of the rape gave her character so much more. I actually felt for her again.

  7. grabbyhands says:

    I’ve rarely seen a point fly so far over someone’s head.

    The GoT showrunners do NOTHING to open dialogue about rape-they REVEL in it. Violence towards women is a mainstay in their show and it has been since the first season. And I’m sorry, but no amount of “But that’s what life was like in medieval times and stuff” half-assed blustering is going to change it.

    I don’t know what kind of contracts these actresses are being chained to, but all of them have been apologists for the crappy writing for the female characters. The show is pathetically male gaze and has only gotten worse. I finally gave up in frustration.

    The fact that she thinks that she doesn’t know anyone affected by sexual assault tells me that either someone is afraid to tell or that she is completely self absorbed as a friend.

  8. Ana says:

    Well said, Sophie.

    It’s always bothered me the response some people have to the violence against women in Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s hard to watch. Yes, it’s upsetting. But it’s never glamorized or shown as anything but brutal and horrific, so why do we want to hide our heads in the sand? Like she said, if you cause such an uproar because a show dared to show a sexual assault, why would any survivor of such would feel encouraged to tell their story?

  9. Cleo says:

    I love GoT. It’s one of my favorite shows and I can’t wait for Season 7 to start. But I will always criticize it for two things: aggressive opposition to racially diverse casting and overused, unnecessary rape scenes. The first issue is a whole other can of worms not pertaining to this article, so I’ll just get into the second one.

    The way this show treats rape and the survivors of rape is appalling. They get away with including narratively unnecessary rape scenes in order to fuel the plot because they’re too lazy to think of other ways that do not include victimizing female characters. And they are defended because the stans yell, “It’s historically accurate, in this environment of course women are raped!” The problem is that many times they hinder the story, not help it.

    There’s Dany’s wedding night with Drogo. In the book, it was consensual and she looks at it as a fond memory, because he asked her permission. In the show, nah, let’s make her cry and turn it into a marital rape scene and completely change the dynamic of this relationship. Completely unnecessary, and a horrible change. And then to depict it as a love story is so damaging and wrong, I just try to pretend that scene never happened. There are other instances (Jaime and Cersei in the sept in S4, for example), but this one angers me the most.

    • Diana says:

      Cleo, that is so well put. I love the show, but the sexual assaults seemed overused as an expedient to move the story forward, rather than honouring the character development that occurs in the books, so often without sexual assault being necessary. Ugh.
      Good on you for articulating that so well!

  10. Zondie says:

    I’m really bothered when the show runners deviate from the books. Obviously they wanted to keep Sansa in the narrative, but in the books she is currently keeping a low profile in the Vale. However, they left Bran out of an entire season, maybe they should have done the same with Sansa, instead of this ham fisted storyline. I mean, we knew Ramsey was a monster already from the Theon plot line.

    • Ana says:

      The books are kind of behind now in relation to the show, in case you didn’t notice. Is Sansa supposed to stay forever in the Vale until Martin decides to hurry up and finish his books? Then Jon should still be lying dead in the snow too. Remember Martin shared with the showrunners his plans for the characters, so maybe what they are doing is what’s coming in the books too.

  11. Nancy says:

    I am looking forward to GOT, but not Sophie or her character. How can one have such a smug expression on their face when in the company of Joe Jonas?!

  12. Julaho says:

    Sansa fed Ramsey to his dogs that he used to hunt and torture his victims, so to say ther were no consequences is a but dramatic.

  13. kaiC says:

    I always wonder what people want to hear from actors in these cases. Sophie’s an employée and owes her entire career to GoT, basically. Of course, she’ll defend the show. She doesn’t come across like a totally ignorant asshat here, which is good enough for me.

  14. ash says:

    kaiser in the book…. its much worst Theon i believe is force to give oral sex to Jayne Poole…. and Jayne Poole is force to be with a dog….its crazy

    but I loved how they shot and portrayed that scene it was visceral it was disgusting it was a gut punch and devastating which played great to the viewer’s thought….i wouldnt want to see sansa actually being brutalized (gore porn)….so Theon capitulated even thing i felt and my face.