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Game of Thrones' Dorne is for lovers and clichés

Sansa walks down the aisle to complete her arranged marriage to Ramsay Bolton.
Sansa walks down the aisle to complete her arranged marriage to Ramsay Bolton.

Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, we'll be hearing from deputy culture editor Jen Trolio, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and culture editor Todd VanDerWerff. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Matthew Yglesias: I think Sansa's fate in this scene is bound to be one where readers and non-readers of the books have somewhat different views. The plotline at Winterfell is pretty divergent from George R. R. Martin's original text at this point, but assuming the TV adaptation has some obligation to hit similar beats, the writers managed to come up with something considerably less gruesome than what's on the page. But really the best I can say about this material is that when you put the rape in the context of Theon's torture and mutilation earlier in the series, Ramsay's storyline is off the rails and unappealing in ways that aren't necessarily gender-specific.

And unlike some of the other sexualized violence in the story, there is kind of a plot point to this.

We're seeing that while Roose Bolton is just immoral and unscrupulous enough to get ahead in this rough-and-tumble world, Ramsay is far too depraved to restrain himself, even temporarily, for political gain.

One issue the scene brought to mind for me, however, is Game of Thrones' rather ginger handling of the larger question of marital rape in cases where neither party is a sociopath but both are participants in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm. Sansa's fate, from birth, was to be married off to some eligible young bachelor from another house in order to suit a political agenda determined by her father. When, in the series' early episodes, it appeared this meant betrothal to the heir apparent to the Iron Throne, Sansa was quite pleased. But obviously even the most ideal arranged marriage can hardly be considered consensual by any contemporary understanding of what that means.

Even a genuinely happy marriage, such as apparently existed between Ned Stark and Catelyn, takes place against a backdrop of pervasive coercion. Catelyn probably considered herself to have won a lucky match. And in many ways she did. But "luck" in these circumstances is purely relative. There was never any question of her actually having a say in her own fate.

Game of Thrones

Trystane and Myrcella seem pretty pleased with their circumstances, even if they didn't have a say in them. (HBO)

That's why, in some ways, I found the scene of Myrcella and Trystane happily flirting and making out in the garden to be equally irksome.

It's not hard to watch in the same way that a rape is. But portraying it as such a familiar case of happy young love seems like a whitewash of Westerosi culture writ large. The conventional explanation for why Game of Thrones needs to depict instances of wanton cruelty toward women is that it's true to the quasi-medieval spirit of the setting. But the show doesn't really carry that through into the "normal" space, where your Myrcellas and Catelyns and various Frey daughters are chattel ferried back and forth by fathers and brothers.

Which brings us, at last, to the Sand Snakes of Dorne.

I found the book version of the Dorne plot to be tedious, and while Game of Thrones has done a good job of making it non-tedious, I worry that
D. B. Weiss and David Benioff have altered it at the expense of making it incomprehensible. To me, the Snakes seem to have been conjured up as a pastiche of girl power clichés rather than properly introduced. Everyone's motives are totally obscure, and the books' political plot has been reduced to a pretty basic revenge fantasy. In terms of economizing on complications, I get it. But given the show's touchy relationship with gender issues, it's a shame that the one slice of Westeros that has a somewhat different view of women's role in society is being compressed like this.

Lastly, on a more trivial note, the handling of the Dornish accent drives me crazy. Why would they speak the Common Tongue with a "foreign" accent if a) every other region of Westeros speaks with a regional accent from the British Isles, and b) the Dornish use the Common Tongue when conversing in private with each other? It is true that Dorne is portrayed in the books as quasi-Mediterranean in its climate and culture, what with the grapes and the wine and all. But there are plenty of Anglophone wine-growing regions. The Dornish should speak with a South African or Australian accent.

Accents aside, what do you think of what's happening in Dorne, Zack? I'm having trouble getting emotionally invested, but I suppose I'm curious as to where we're headed with Jaime in captivity and a key element of book-Doran's scheme missing entirely from the show.

Read the recap. Come back soon for more discussion.

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