Spoilers for last night's "Game of Thrones" follow!
Last night, "Game of Thrones" ended with the rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) at the hands of her new husband, Ramsay Bolton. And as always happens after any "Game of Thrones" episode that prominently features a rape -- or after MOST TV shows that depicts any kind of sexual assault, actually -- some fans are incredibly upset about it.
But there's a pretty good reason why there's more collective outrage over the assault of a woman on "Game of Thrones" than, say, the death of a male (or even a female) character. Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), theorizes that it's because there are far more women (and men) who've experienced rape in their lives, so it hits a lot closer to home.
"Fans have a direct experience with the crime [moreso] than with murder or other really serious violent acts," Scott Berkowitz told MTV News over the phone. "So I think that a lot of people bring their own perspective to it and they are often on guard against shows seeming to use it gratuitously."
For evidence of this, look no further than RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline, which receives a noticeable increase in calls every time there's a portrayal of rape on a popular show. "Often you can tell exactly what the story line was because it's prompting calls about a certain issue or from a certain group of survivors," Berkowitz noted.
But this doesn't mean that depictions of rape should be completely off-limits to television, according to RAINN. "We certainly encourage writers and producers to include rape storylines when it fits the show and it fits the character, because it's such a common part of life that it's certainly going to be a common occurrence on TV," he said. "But we really encourage [writers] to do it with an understanding of what the victim goes through and also to make sure that if they are going down that path, this is a crime that affects people for a long time. It's not something that you can just throw in one episode and then everyone forgets about it the next week."
For a show like "Game of Thrones," which regularly features sexual assault as part of the brutal medieval-inspired world it depicts, it's not the fact that rape is taking place that irks most fans. It's the way that it's depicted, often as visual shorthand for a character's suffering (as in the case with Daenerys in the series' pilot, or Cersei last season) or another character's brutality (in the case of Craster's Wildling wife-daughters last season, or Sansa last night). It's also worth pointing out that all the rapes we've mentioned did not actually happen "on-screen" in the books -- they were all more or less invented for the show, which is part of the reason many fans feel especially betrayed by this recent example.
But even if "Game of Thrones" never depicts another assault again, don't expect thinkpieces and angry Twitter rants on the subject to go away anytime soon -- in fact, the lengthy discussions about how rape is depicted in fiction actually do a lot to educate the public, says Berkowitz.
"I think that it's right that a lot of thought is given to how rape is portrayed -- because for most Americans, a big part of what they know about this and other violent crimes comes from what they see in TV and movies," he acknowledged.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org, y en español: rainn.org/es.