George R.R. Martin Defends Game of Thrones' Sexual Violence Against Women

Just because it's fantasy, doesn't mean it's going to be peachy keen, according to the author

By Chris Harnick Jun 04, 2015 3:04 PMTags
Game of ThronesHelen Sloan/HBO

George R.R. Martin knows you're not really happy with the sexual assaults on HBO's Game of Thrones, specifically with what happened to Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in the recent twist (Sansa's assault was not in his books, something the show did differently).

However, Martin said to not depict rape would not be true to the story he's trying to tell. In an interview with EW, Martin said his books "reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism." But he's not writing history, he's writing fiction. There are dragons! Yeah, he knows that argument.

"Just because you put in dragons doesn't mean you can put in anything you want…If you're going to do [a fantasy element], it's best to only do one of them, or a few. I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like, and I was also reacting to a lot of fantasy fiction," he said.

Martin said his storytelling was a reaction to "Disneyland Middle Ages" with princes and princesses that don't reflect the true Middle Ages societies. The author cited he has millions of female readers who love the different women character sin his books. "To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society? That's not in our history; it's something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn't egalitarian, either," he told EW. "There are still barriers against women. It's better than what it was. It's not Mad Men any more, which was in my lifetime."

But does that mean the women have to be brutally assaulted? According to Martin, he's writing about war, which is what all epic fantasy stories are about, and if you're going to write about war "and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don't portray [sexual violence], then there's something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It's not a strong testament to the human race, but I don't think we should pretend it doesn't exist."


A recent episode of Game of Thrones deviated from the book series and saw Sansa Stark raped. In the books, the attack happened to a minor character. It was just the latest change from page to screen, but it set off a firestorm of criticism. After the episode aired, Martin took to his blog.

"There have been differences between the novels and the television show since the first episode of season one. And for just as long, I have been talking about the butterfly effect. Small changes lead to larger changes lead to huge changes," Martin wrote. "HBO is more than forty hours into the impossible and demanding task of adapting my lengthy (extremely) and complex (exceedingly) novels, with their layers of plots and subplots, their twists and contradictions and unreliable narrators, viewpoint shifts and ambiguities, and a cast of characters in the hundreds."

As for Sansa herself, Turner said she "secretly" loved it. "I love the fact she's back home reclaiming what's hers [at Winterfell]," Turner told EW after the episode aired. "But at the same time she's being held prisoner in her own home. When I got the scripts, it was bit like, dude, I felt so bad for her. But I also felt excited because it was so sick, and being reunited with Theon too, and seeing how their relationship plays out. Theon's a member of the Stark clan but she thinks he totally betrayed and killed her brothers. It's a messed-up relationship between them."