“Game of Thrones” got their pound of flesh tonight. In a season that has seen nearly all characters obsessed with vengeance, Sansa Stark was shoehorned into an absurd plot for what was clearly now meant to have her terrible victimization and trauma be played out for shock value, under the paper-thin guise of this allowing her to get revenge on her family’s killers. In truth, we didn’t need to wait for the disgusting optics and aurals to be seen and heard in this sixth episode. Indeed, from the moment D&D proposed that Sansa Stark’s arc was interchangeable with that of Jeyne Poole’s—a character who can’t even be properly understood to have an arc in the full sense of the term—we could have predicted what an absolute travesty this all would turn out to be. For those who question why this could happen to Jeyne and not Sansa, the answer is simple: these two girls might have been friends in the books, but their identities and experiences are not one and the same. Jeyne is sent to a brothel to be brutalised and trained into being submissive and compliant. Sansa Stark remains in KL to suffer much abuse too, but her development as a main character is focused on her becoming stronger and more resilient as a result.

Unlike Jeyne, whose sexuality becomes the means of her terrible exploitation in the series, Sansa’s sexuality is tied to her liberation and empowerment. It’s not a matter of her being “saved” from rape as some readers interpret, but rather that Sansa is constantly resisting attempts to get her to submit sexually to her oppressors. She comes to understand in that famous wedding scene with Tyrion that her desires are important, and that she is not willing to sacrifice herself for what her husband wants, even if she’s in a situation where she couldn’t be more powerless. Sansa’s sexuality, and her control over it, is an integral part of her growth towards agency. When you have her raped in a show and still want to speak of her as being a player, you are not only warping the character’s development and themes critical to her storyline, but you are using rape as a plot device to motivate a character, which is every bit as bad as it sounds. For fans looking for some kind of hope after this appalling event, we can only direct you to the author’s latest statement on his blog, where he recommends checking out the TWOW sample chapters if you want to get an idea of where the real story is headed. D&D have their pound of flesh, but the true heart and soul and blood of Winterfell remains in the series written by George R.R. Martin.