I stopped watching Game of Thrones after the first episode or two. I couldn’t handle it. The rape, the incest, the children getting thrown from windows. There was a lot of gruesome stuff in those first 52 minutes. Some would say that means I shouldn’t be surprised by what I’ve seen in season 5. Except some of those are the same people who told me to keep watching in the first fucking place.
Here’s your damn spoiler warning. I’m not even going to attempt to dance around what’s happened in this show, so if you’re not caught up, go do that first. Or don’t. I’m not going to tell you that you have to watch this show without knowing your detailed psychological history, because that’s kinda fucked up. But whatever. Spoilers ahead.
You Can’t Evangelize a Show and Then Blame People For Watching It
As you might have guessed from the intro paragraph, I haven’t actually stopped watching Game of Thrones. I did for a while. Back in 2012, some of my coworkers suggested I get into the show. I like Lord of the Rings. I’m okay with a bit of violence. It’s probably up my alley! I figured I’d give it a shot.
The first episode featured not one, but two uncomfortably incestuous scenes (the obvious one with Jaime and Cersei, but the more vague one with Viserys examining Daenerys’ body), an unambiguous rape (Drogo bends the new Khaleesi over as she weeps), and a child (Bran) being thrown from the window. If you didn’t continue watching immediately, it would be easy to presume he died. I thought this very thing, because I stopped watching at that point.
When I reported back to my coworkers that I couldn’t handle this Rape Show with its child murdering, I was told that I needed to give it a chance. “He’s not actually dead!” they explained to me, like I was supposed to figure that out from the cut to black. “It’s not a Rape Show! Daenerys’ story actually gets a lot better!” they explained. She was raped again in the very next episode.
Now, in these people’s defense, they’re not bad people. I liked my old coworkers, as well as everyone else who’s encouraged me to watch it since then. They’re just doing what we all do when we get excited about a show. They’re sharing it with others! Evangelizing something you love is totally normal. My girlfriend didn’t really care about Marvel when we first started dating, and I’ve talked endlessly about how great the interweaving plot and character development of the MCU is. Now, she’s more on board than she used to be.
Those people also aren’t wrong. Most current viewers of Game of Thrones probably scarcely remember when Daenerys was just the poor Targaryen girl who was sold into marriage and raped until she just decided not to let it be rape anymore. She’s the Mother of Dragons now. She commands an army. She’s conquered cities. Her story of redemption has come farther than possibly any other in the show, and it’s very cathartic. It’s also a very fascinating character study, in a world full of fascinating character studies.
However, here are a list of events, solely within Daenerys’ storyline, that we’ve had to witness (directly or indirectly) between the first episode of the show, and the most recent episode of the current season:
- The rape and pillaging of several villages by the Dothraki.
- Daenerys eating an entire horse heart.
- Liquid gold poured on a screaming man’s head (to be fair: he’s a dick).
- Daenerys’ unborn child dies at the same time as her husband, Drogo.
- We’re not even done with season 1, guys.
- One of Daenerys’ bloodriders gets his head sent back in a saddlebag.
- A warlock murders like a dozen leaders of Qarth at once, gets burned alive himself.
- Daenerys scopes out a slave army, watches a dude’s nipple get cut off.
- Slaves get crucified.
- By the way, every slave soldier murdered a slave baby.
- Daenerys hires some mercenaries after one of their leaders decapitates the other two, drops their heads in her fucking bathroom, you gross jerk.
- She bangs this guy later. Grosser.
- More crucified slaves on the way to Meereen.
- Some goats and some children get roasted by Daenerys’ dragons. We see the bones of the latter.
- Some Unsullied get murdered when all they wanted was some cuddles.
- A slave gets executed for killing one of the Sons of the Harpy.
- Fucking Barristan dies. Damnit.
- Literally anything that happens in the fighting pits.
Comparatively speaking, Daenerys doesn’t even really have the most traumatizing storyline. In fact, it’s probably one of the most satisfying, cathartic ones (to an almost unbelievable, suspension-of-disbelief-breaking degree) when you factor in all of her triumphs. Rising from the ashes of Drogo’s funeral pyre. Laying waste to Astapor. Conquering Yunkai and Meereen. Every single frame of the dragons. If you want a reason to watch Game of Thrones, Daenerys’ storyline is it.
And yet, even that requires that you witness a massive number of fucked up scenes. If you’re up for it, then okay! That’s fine. If you think others would be interested in watching it too, feel free to share! Tell your friends! However, keep in mind that the nature of how we watch TV now inherently involves a bit of peer pressure. Sometimes it’s very direct (“Dude, you have to watch this show!”) sometimes it’s very indirect (like when you’re the only person in your feed who has no idea what’s going on). There’s nothing wrong with it, either. People can choose not to watch a show. It’s not your fault if they do. However, if you tell people that they should totally watch Game of Thrones, and then get mad when people quit watching because half the scenes are fucking scarring, you’re being kind of a dick.
Watching Traumatizing Scenes Takes an Emotional Toll
I make it through some of Game of Thrones’ worst scenes because I’m pretty good at disassociating myself from unnerving stimulus. I have this skill for a reason. When I was younger, I was diagnosed with a variety of psychiatric disorders. I spent a lot of time in doctors offices, mental institutions, and special education schools. To say nothing of the giant list of medicines I took during my developing years. I have traumatic memories of being locked in small, empty concrete rooms for hours on end, beaten up just outside my home after school, getting choked until I blacked out. Honestly, it’s a pretty cool story. I should tell you about it sometime.
The reason I bring this up is because over the years, I learned how to distance myself psychologically from things I find abhorrent. When you’re getting beaten up, you have two choices: fight back, or wait til its over. I wasn’t strong or a skilled fighter. I usually opted for the latter. When I was put into seclusion rooms, I learned to tune out until I was finally released. When I was hopped up on Adderall or Ritalin and put into buildings full of thousands of screaming kids, mentally shutting out the screams was the only way I could get through the day.
This probably isn’t healthy. It’s occasionally been a useful skill, but it’s not exactly an ideal way for a young person to develop. Of course, I’ve dealt with it over the years. I’m in a much better place now, and I’m rarely in a situation where I need to close my eyes and think of England. However, that skill has come in very handy when watching Game of Thrones. It does not seem like I should have to use this skill while watching a TV show for entertainment, yet that’s where I find myself.
My situation is a little abnormal in the specifics. It is not, however, abnormal in generalities. Plenty of people have trauma in their lives. Victims of rape, violence, abusive relationships, and war can find themselves watching this show. These aren’t a separate category of people who are secluded in their own little shelters. They’re normal people trying to live a normal life without forcing the world to bend for their specific traumas. A little consideration would be nice, sure. But most people who have had traumatic histories aren’t parading their every emotional problem in every Game of Thrones thread. You people flip your fucking shit when the few who tend to speak up do, so most of us keep quiet.
However, at the very fucking least, it should be acknowledged that Game of Thrones tries very hard to push moral boundaries, which means people will stop watching. Sometimes people will stop watching very loudly because the show, to them, represented something horrible from their very real past. If you’re a victim of rape, domestic abuse, or incest, you’ve had roughly a bajillion potential reminders of your past trauma in this current season alone.
I cannot, for any reason, blame anyone who decides they want to stop watching Game of Thrones.
I also can’t blame you for wanting to talk about that decision publicly, and neither should anyone else. If the internet is for nothing else (besides porn), it’s for expressing opinions. I don’t necessarily advise talking about Game of Thrones and your trauma publicly unless you’re ready to handle the conversation—everyone else has their right to respond as well—but you should never feel like you can’t express how you feel about a show. Put another way, there is not some list of acceptable opinions you can publicly have about Game of Thrones, and fuck anyone who thinks otherwise.
It’s Fine to Watch Game of Thrones, and It’s Fine to Stop
I’ve chosen to continue watching Game of Thrones. I am a person who pretty strongly dislikes rape, is uncomfortable watching violence against the weak, and gets visibly uncomfortable when I hear little girls screaming as they get burned agoddamnedlivefuckyoustannis. I’m also a person who likes dragons. Plus, I’m a writer and I respect the hell out of intricately woven, character-driven storylines. Say what you will about the show/books (and you should), but there’s a damn complex network of interesting characters, which is rare enough as is.
That’s my choice. I’ve made it and it’s my right. For now at least, for just my situation, I’ve decided that the positive aspects of experiencing the story outweigh the negatives of watching Stannis and Ramsay being the most murder-worthy twats in fictional human history. That doesn’t mean I like those scenes. It doesn’t even mean I necessarily respect the creators’ decisions to portray or change them in the ways they do. It just means I’m going to keep watching the show.
That doesn’t and shouldn’t say anything about whether or not other people continue watching it. Game of Thrones, by its very nature, pushes moral boundaries. It’s fundamentally designed to find the line, step over it, and draw a new one. This naturally means that every year, someone’s going to hit their breaking point. Someone’s going to finally see all they can handle and give up.
If you’re annoyed that someone reached their limit and publicly said they’re not going to watch the show anymore, I have to ask: what did you expect? We’ve all been urging everyone we know to watch this show that’s been depicting rape, violence, and morally traumatizing scenes that push the boundaries of human decency since day one. Why are you surprised that people keep reaching their breaking point? Why are you surprised that, after being under the kind of pressure to watch a show that’s normally reserved for Breaking Bad and The Wire, people decide that seeing a sweet little girl getting burned alive isn’t for them after all?
Game of Thrones is not for everyone. If you can’t handle morally depraved characters abusing, raping, and murdering others, then this show isn’t for you. And that’s okay. If you can handle those things, then that is also fine! Have fun. But don’t be surprised when someone calls it quits. Game of Thrones is designed to make you want to quit. Game of Thrones is Ramsay and you’re Theon. It will not stop torturing you, it won’t apologize for it, and the game only ends when you beg to cut the TV off. If you’ve watched this show for five seasons and haven’t come to expect that some viewers will get pushed too far and give up, that’s your own damn fault.