On A Song of Ice and Fire

Men and Monsters

Rape, Myth-Making, and the Rise and Fall of Nations in A Song of Ice and Fire

By Alyssa Rosenberg

There’s no question that the world George R.R. Martin has created in his Song of Ice and Fire novels is a brutal one, often novelly so. Whether his characters are being flayed, turned into zombies in dungeons or ice demons in northern forests, or burned to death by mad kings and visionary priestesses, there’s no question that life in Westeros and across the narrow sea can be nasty, brutal, and short. And if you’re a woman—and occasionally a man—the threat of sexual assault is omnipresent.

The series’ sexual politics have been one of the most-discussed—and most-misunderstood—aspects of Martin’s books and HBO’s adaptation of them. The New York Times’ Ginia Bellafante, in her review of the series, wrote that its “costume-drama sexual hopscotch” suggested that “all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.” In an (admittedly snarky) discussion of Martin’s writing in A Game of Thrones, the feminist blogger Sady Doyle wrote that “George R.R. Martin is creepy [. . .]. He is creepy, primarily, because of his TWENTY THOUSAND MILLION GRATUITOUS RAPE AND/OR MOLESTATION AND/OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENES.”

When writer Rachael Brown asked Martin in a 2011 interview how he decides when to include depictions of sexual violence in his novels, he gave an answer that didn’t exactly debunk his critics’ arguments:

I have gotten letters over the years from readers who don’t like the sex, they say it’s “gratuitous.” I think  …

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