You don't watch Game of Thrones for its sense of justice. Good characters suffer horrible fates, while the bad guys go free. Still, when Sansa Stark was raped on her wedding night last season, plenty of viewers switched off for good. But it was a moment that the episode's writer-producer Bryan Cogman deemed important to the story.
Most of the criticism levelled at the creative team was a direct result of the show's deviation from the books. Although the series often strays from George R.R. Martin's plot, merging Sansa's story with Jeyne Pool's was a step too far for some fans. Cogman has since responded on the commentary track for the episode, included in next month's season 5 Blu-ray:
"I think it’s important to talk about because of the response this storyline got,” Cogman says. “It’s sort of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ If you don’t talk about it, people think you’re ashamed of it; if you do talk about it, everything you say is taken out of context... 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.”
It wasn't an easy scene to watch, and that's saying something for a show that regularly kills off its characters in brutal ways. Cogman's defense of the scene follows along those lines. In a world where the innocent are frequently victimised, how Sansa was treated shouldn't come as a surprise:
“It’s an upsetting scene," he adds, "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.”
Game of Thrones season 6 premieres on HBO on April 24, 2016 in the US, and on Sky Atlantic a day later in the UK.