Bryan Cogman defends Sansa’s rape scene in Season 5 DVD commentary

The Game of Thrones Season 5 boxset doesn’t come out until March 15, but some outlets have been given review copies and are already sampling the many special features and episode commentaries. Entertainment Weekly listened to a sensitive one: a commentary by writer Bryan Cogman and actress Maisie Williams on “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” This episode caused a lot of controversy after it aired, in large part because of the final scene where Sansa Stark is raped following her marriage to Ramsay Bolton.

Cogman, who’s been with the show since the beginning (the first episode he wrote was Season 1’s “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”) and is the show’s unofficial Song of Ice and Fire mythology expert, provides a thoughtful look at the intentions behind the scene, and behind Sansa’s subplot in general. Book-readers know that Sansa does not travel to Witnerfell at this point in the story in the novels, and that the Game of Thrones producers decided to combine her story with another character from the books.

Basically, when we decided to combine Sansa’s storyline with another character in the books it was done with the idea that it would be hugely dramatically satisfying to have Sansa back in her occupied childhood home and navigate this Gothic horror story she’s found herself in and, of course, to be reunited with Theon – setting her on the path to reclaiming her family home and becoming a major player in the big overall story. That said, when we decided we were going to do that we were faced with the question: If she’s marrying Ramsay, what would happen on her wedding night? And we made the decision to not shy away from what would realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters, and the reality of the situation, and the reality of this particular world.

He also responded to those who had hoped that Sansa would take a more active role in the scene. Wouldn’t it have been satisfying, for example, if Sansa had gouged out Ramsay’s eyes right then and there?

Yes, it would have been hugely satisfying [for Sansa] to have a shiv up her sleeve and gut Ramsay, but that’s not Sansa. We can’t all be Arya (Maisie Williams) and, in fact, most people aren’t Arya. Most people in that situation, they have to play a longer game. She goes [into the marriage] without the right information about Ramsay, she gets the sense that he’s dangerous, and when he turns out to be even worse than she thought, she’s not broken by the attack, she immediately sets to getting the hell out of there and planning her next move.

Cogman goes on to respond to the criticism that, by cutting away to Theon’s weeping face during the rape, the producers made the scene more about Theon’s experience than Sansa’s. “Another argument – and I get why this criticism was leveled at us – is idea that we took Sansa’s story away from her and made it all about Theon,” he said.

I personally don’t believe that’s the case … Certainly Theon’s redemption journey is an element of the subplot. But if you really watch this scene it’s played from Sansa’s viewpoint, for the most part. The main reason we cut away at the end, frankly, is that this was Sophie’s first scene of this nature, and we didn’t want to show the attack. And so we cut to Theon to hear the attack. I understand why many people reacted to that, [thinking] we were making this scene about Theon and not Sansa. I’m sorry it was viewed that way. All I can say is it’s certainly not my intention when I wrote it or when we were producing it … We could have stayed on her face of the entirety of the attack, that would have been a perfectly valid choice. To me it was about being respectful to Sophie.

According to EW, at one point Cogman gets a little choked up. “It was a very difficult scene for me to write,” he says. “I’ve known Sophie since she was a kid… I think it was the attack on our motives behind it that upset me. Because I love these characters. I’ve spent the better part of the last decade with these characters, and I love these actors – I’m getting emotional talking about it – I love Sophie, I love Alfie, I love [Maisie] and it’s … very personal to me and it’s not an easy thing to put a character that I love through a scene like this.”

It’s an upsetting scene, it’s a horrifying scene, it’s meant to be … [But] the accusation that our motives were [that we] just threw in a rape for shock value, I personally don’t think the scene as shot, or as written, or as acted by our wonderful actors, supports that argument. Nor do I think the aftermath of the scene supports that argument. Not only in these episodes, but also in future episodes. This story is not over. This is a long ongoing story. Sansa has a journey ahead of her, and what happens to her in that room is a huge part of that journey, and one that we’ve thought through.

Maisie Williams, for her part, supported Cogman during the commentary, and later told EW that “he was really sad, he was heartbroken. He loves these characters and all the actors on the show.”

Sansa’s rape scene is arguably the most controversial scene on a show known for controversy, and while the fan community is still working through it, I appreciate getting some insight into it from a production point of view.

Cogman and Williams have more to say about the scene, but you’ll have to wait for the March 15th boxset release to find out what it is.

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