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Tropes and Bad Writing

May 24th, 2015

It has been a horrendously busy week at work, so much so that I just got a chance to watch the few TV shows I bother to watch on a weekly basis. I still haven't had a chance to watch the season finale of Modern Family or this week's episode of iZombie, but I finally got a chance to see the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. I know I'm late to the party, but I would like to talk about the show's most controversial scene of the season and tropes.

Tropes are any element of story telling that are common. Some genres, like romantic comedies or heist movies, thrive on them. If a Rom Com didn't have a "meet cute" or if a heist movie didn't have a part of the plan go wrong forcing our heroes to improvise at the last minute, then fans of the genres would react as if something important were missing. While using these tropes isn't a real problem, subverting them or even just calling attention to them is a good way to keep a story fresh. Most tropes are harmless and even repeatedly using them is only a sign of laziness, nothing more. Others are a more harmful, as they enforce pre-existing biases or normalize elements of society we should be trying to change.

That brings us to the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken". The TV show has gone off-book for two reasons. Firstly, they are nearly out of written materials. They've caught up to the material written by George R. R. Martin and while they know mostly where he's going, they have to make up some of the details along the way. Secondly, there are a ton of side characters that were in the novels that were just not in the books. Even with ten one-hour episodes, there's just not enough time to mention every character, so when these side characters that were never introduced become important later on, they have to improvise. Sometimes, this works out really well. The scenes with Arya and The Hound were different in the TV show than they were in the book and The Hound was a lot more sympathetic in the book and the pair had good chemistry together. In last week's episode, this paid off as we learned that Arya no longer hated The Hound, which was a great bit of character growth. The other major change involved Sansa and it was not a great change.

Not a lot of people liked Sansa as a character, because she was too passive and, well, naïve. I don't think this is a really fair complaint, as she was raised to be a princess and being passive is a good trait for a princess in the world of Game of Thrones. At least it would be a good trait, had their not been a major war that broke out. More recently, however, she's shown more agency. While she was never the most aggressive character, she at least took a little more control over her own life. That changed with the ending of the most recent episode when she was raped on her wedding night.

I want to talk to anyone who is a writer out there. If you are writing something and you want to include a rape scene, ask yourself one question... Why? Are you doing so to look at how rape is treated in our society, like in The Accused? If so, proceed with caution. This is a tricky subject and it is easy to fail giving the subject matter the weight it deserves and instead come across as exploitative. On the other hand, if you are including a rape scene to make the world you are creating gritty, or to show how evil the villain is, or especially to give the hero motivation, then stop, take a break, and come up with some better way of getting your point across. If, and the following is speculation / possible spoiler, if you have a character, Sansa, raped by a character that has already been established as a monster, Ramsey, in front of a third character, Theon, just to give that third character the impetus needed to start their road to redemption, then you are a hack of the highest order. Stop writing. I don't mean take a break and come at the story in a little bit. I mean never put words on paper again. You are bad at your job and you need to stop.

Also, the producers of Game of Thrones need to hire someone to go over their scripts in advance to tell them when a scene is rapey, because as the Cersei / Jaime scene proved, they are not good at figuring that out on their own. I would suggest Eve Ensler. She did a great job as a consultant on Mad Max: Fury Road.


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Filed under: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Rory McCann, Iwan Rheon, Eve Ensler, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Alfie Allen, George R.R. Martin