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How Should HBO Respond to ‘Game of Thrones’ Controversy?

Game_of_Thrones_title_screen.png.CROP.promo-mediumlargeSince Sunday night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” aired, the internet has been abuzz with controversy over a decidedly disturbing scene that played out very differently in the show than it did in the books; what was written as an instance of consensual (yet creepy) sex played out on screen as an incredibly difficult-to-watch depiction of rape.

While many fans were angry that a character endowed with his own (strange) brand of honor had been re-written as capable of committing such a heinous, unforgivable act against a person he loves — and some wondered why the showrunners felt the need to make an already-disturbing scene so much more violent — all of this this would normally be a question of artistic license and therefore not discussed on a PR blog.

However, comments made by the show’s director Alex Graves have — if unintentionally — shifted the discussion from a touchy one about creative decision-making to a deeply serious one about our culture’s struggle with the definition and recognition of what rape actually is.

In an interview with Alan Sepinwall that took place prior to the backlash, Graves made it clear that he didn’t feel the scene actually depicted rape, saying, “Well, it becomes consensual by the end because anything for [these characters] ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.”

This statement has inspired its own backlash in light of how the episode was perceived by audiences; Graves seems not to recognize rape, even when he directs it.

Slate‘s Amanda Marcotte eloquently explained the issue, writing:

“If Graves intended to depict consensual sex in the end, he completely failed. This wasn’t even one of those terribly clichéd scenes where a man starts raping a woman only to find that she comes around to thinking it’s hot. Cersei is still kicking and protesting when the camera cuts away. It’s as straightforward a rape scene as you’ll get on TV, unless you buy the ridiculous myth that a woman can’t be raped if she’s consented to sex with a man before.”

Author of the book series George R. R. Martin bent to pressure and responded to the slew of emails and message he’s received regarding the discrepancy between his story and the TV version, as well as the difference between the director’s intentions and the audience’s perception. But the long-winded statement on his blog could be boiled down to this simplified version:

Yes, the HBO scene was different from the books. Yes, the scene was disturbing in both the book and the show’s interpretation. I neither endorse nor condemn the showrunners’ decision. No, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

While Martin seems to have realized he should address the issue in some fashion, neither HBO nor Graves have yet issued a statement in light of the controversy.

We normally wouldn’t feel that artists should have to explain their creative decisions or address a disconnect between intention and perception (artists are not PR professionals, after all!), but Graves’ comments seem to have inflated this issue beyond one of entertainment and art into one of greater societal and cultural scope.

We can’t help but wonder if it may not be a bad idea for him — or the network — to step in and say something.

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