Content warning: sexual assault mentioned.
The day after each episode of Game of Thrones airs, I have made myself a tiny tradition of reading the summary and then watching SNL’s Leslie Jones’s commentary of each episode on Instagram. Yes, I don’t get to enjoy the beautiful film quality or see the fantastic costumes with as much clarity as I would like. I also know there are big gaping holes in the plot and dialogue that I miss, but for me, this is the safest way to watch. Jones’s commentary is not only hysterical, but she also gives me a buffer and keeps my brain safe in a way that just streaming the episode would not.
As one of the many women who has survived sexual violence and experienced PTSD symptoms, I know that Game of Thrones is pretty much off limits.
I dig Game of Thrones. I am sad I don’t get to partake in the collected hysteria of the day after an episode and that I can’t go to watch parties and enjoy the twists and turns like my friends. I still root for Arya, The Hound, Davos, Tyrion, and Bran. I still love the stills and seeing clips of Jon Snow galloping down a battlefield because, unlike many actors, he can actually ride a horse.
Yet my history with George R. R. Martin’s series is strangely dark. I was first introduced to the show by an ex-boyfriend. He and I were in that breakup stage where there are a lot of nasty phone calls and ugly crying, yet in our few moments in between, he had mentioned that I would like it. It was 2011, and I lived more than a thousand miles from home on Nantucket island. It was an excellent show for forgetting about feeling sorry for myself.
I started the books and gave my copy of the first one to a guy I thought was cute on the wharf. Halfway through the A Clash of Kings, I got hit by a Prius while biking to work, and then finished reading it between swims in the Atlantic. The salt water was good for my bruised-up body.
After I moved back west, I started reading A Storm of Swords. I had just finished reading the Red Wedding when my mother and I got robbed on vacation. The computer bag with the paperback was one of the casualties—and I didn’t replace the book.
A year passed and then I got the audiobooks for A Feast of Crows and A Dance with Dragons. I fell in love with the Sand Snakes driving across Nebraska, and rolled my eyes Cersei’s obnoxious inner dialogue in between my 16-hour work days. It was after Daenerys flew high into the mountains at the end of A Dance with Dragons that the unspeakable happened right before he and I had talked about the books.
It has been six years since I finished the series, and I have kept up with the show through hearsay, and summary. I even watched the Battle of The Bastards and cheered when Sansa got justice against some who hurt her. I also still daydream about giving a craft lecture about the books, because even though George R.R. Martin kills off beloveds and alienates his readers over and over again, we keep reading because his characters are so rich and complex that it’s almost impossible not to care about them.
There is much discussion about how poorly women are treated in Game of Thrones; they are often props or victims or witches. I agree that it is problematic; it is sometimes used to drive so-called “premium content” in a way that is pretty dang gross. I also would love it if it wasn’t there and I could watch the show. But I think it’s important to consider the fact that sexual violence is enragingly common. And maybe with the rise of #metoo, there will one day be a world where we will see these scenes and even just the objectification of women as barbaric, antiquated, and behind us.
While we work for that world and the last season of Game of Thrones comes to an end, I can’t help but hope for the best. I still want Jon Snow and Dany figure it out and take the Iron Throne, I want Sansa and Tyrion to be in charge of the actual governing, and I hope that I continue to heal.