A Song of Ice and Fire, Sexual Assault, and Victims’ Perspectives

It seems like the debate over whether George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy saga, A Song of Ice and Fire, glorifies sexual assault is bubbling back up overseas. My thoughts on this subject are manifestly on the record (and will be even more so when Beyond the Wall, the book of essays about the franchise to which I contributed, comes out on June 19), so I won’t revisit them.

But thinking this over the other day, I realized something I hadn’t considered before. At least in the novels, with one exception, perpetrators of sexual assault and domestic violence aren’t allowed point of view chapters. Tyrion and Theon might be considered exceptions, but the sexual assaults in which they are participants — the gang rape of Tyrion’s first wife Tysha and Ramsay Bolton’s assaults on his wife, the false Arya Stark — are cases in which they are both also victims, forced into non-consensual sex through threats to their lives. We learn that Robert Baratheon committed marital rape through his widow Cersei Lannister’s memories, experience Daenerys Targaryen’s submission to her huband, Khal Drogo, through her perspective.

Vitcarion Greyjoy, who given his participation in the raider culture of the Iron Islands has probably committed rape, is the only exception to this rule — in his point of view, we see him have sex with a slave whose tongue has been removed. We also hear Roose Bolton tell the story of how he assaulted Ramsay’s mother, but not from his perspective, and not in a way that supports his worldview. But for the most part, the novels privilege the stories of assault victims, and of people who feel the collateral damage of sexual assault. Perpetrators don’t get the same space to justify themselves. Victims’ stories largely get to stand uncontested. It’s an interesting structural decision, and I think a revealing one.