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George R.R. Martin Defends Game of Thrones’ Violence Against Women

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin explained why there's so much violence against women in his fantasy series. 

It’s the harsh side of history. Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin told Entertainment Weekly on Wednesday, June 3, that the violence against women in his fantasy book series and on the HBO show has historical significance.

Martin — along with series producers — were slammed after Game of Thrones recently aired an extremely disturbing rape scene involving Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and her monstrous new husband, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). But according to Martin, violence against women was a reality during the Middle Ages, the era in which the series is loosely based.

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“The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages,” Martin told EW. “The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women. One of the charges against Joan of Arc that got her burned at the stake was that she wore men’s clothing—that was not a small thing. There were, of course, some strong and competent women. It still doesn’t change the nature of the society.”

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Martin noted the fantasy element to his books, but said the societal structure was actually more realistic than other writers have portrayed the Middle Ages.

george rr martin
George R.R. Martin attends HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5 Premiere at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on March 23, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

“Now there are people who will say to that, ‘Well, he’s not writing history, he’s writing fantasy—he put in dragons, he should have made an egalitarian society,'” Martin noted. “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. Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages’—there are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.”

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While many of his female critics (including Sen. Claire McCaskill) have railed against the author publicly, Martin said not all women are upset with him.

“I have millions of women readers who love the books, who come up to me and tell me they love the female characters,” Martin revealed. “Some love Arya, some love Dany, some love Sansa, some love Brienne, some love Cersei—there’s thousands of women who love Cersei despite her obvious flaws. It’s a complicated argument. 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. There are still barriers against women. It’s better than what it was. It’s not Mad Men anymore, which was in my lifetime.”

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He concluded, “I want to portray struggle. Drama comes out of conflict. If you portray a utopia, then you probably wrote a pretty boring book.”

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