Rape on TV: The Difference Between ‘Outlander’ and ‘Game of Thrones’

Spoilers through season 5 of Game of Thrones and through season 2, episode 4 of Outlander.

Disclaimer: I don’t enjoy rape and sexual assault on television, in movies, books, or any media. Whenever it happens (and it seems like it’s often), I understand it’s hard to watch for most, as it should be, but I think it’s important that we do depict these barbarous acts, not for shock value, but for the sake of discussion. We need to critique not that the act is on screens, but how it’s being shown and then how it is later dealt with.

Outlander had another violent episode this weekend with “La Dame Blanche.” Book readers knew the attack was coming but it still didn’t prepare for the brutality of the scene and watching young Mary Hawkins raped in a dark alley with Claire helpless to save her.

If you’ve read the books, you’ll know that rape, unfortunately, isn’t uncommon in the world of Outlander. In fact, I can only think of one main character in the series who isn’t raped or nearly raped. In some ways, viewers might compare Mary’s rape to Sansa’s rape last year on Game of Thrones and they wouldn’t be off base. For starters, both characters were innocent, virgin girls raped horrifically by men exerting their power. Both scenes were difficult to withstand, making good use of screams and lighting to convey the horror of the moment. However, it’s how these shows handle the aftermath of rape that tells their difference.

It’s no coincidence that Jamie finally regains some sense of self the same episode Mary is raped. It’s through his eyes that we see the repercussions of this crime and see it as more than just a shocking act. I’ve already discussed before how I approve of Starz not holding back on the brutality of Jamie’s rape and showing his PTSD, but in “La Dame Blanche” we get to hear in his own words how the rape has affected him. Early in the episode, Claire tells Jamie that Black Jack Randall is alive and much to Claire’s surprise, Jamie is elated at the news because now he can kill Randall himself. He’s a renewed man, even gaining back his lust. When the couple argues over Jamie’s actions at a brothel, Claire begs Jamie to make her understand what’s going on his head after the harrowing moments with Black Jack Randall. He tells her:

There’s this place inside me, a place I think everyone has, that they keep to themselves. A fortress where the most private part of you lives. It is your soul, the bit that makes you yourself and not anyone else. But after Wentworth, it was like my fortress had been blown apart. The thing that once lived there was suddenly exposed, out in the open, without shelter, without–That’s where I’ve been ever since, Claire. Naked. Alone. Trying to hide under a blade of grass.

And therein is the difference between how Outlander and Game of Thrones handle rape. Outlander understands it is a dark reality but never plays into it being solely for shock value. Jamie’s rape is very much a part of who he is now. We’ve watched four episodes of him trying to pull himself together and with a meeting with Black Jack looming on the horizon, it seems like it won’t be something we’re likely to forget very soon. Nor should we forget.

The same is true for Mary Hawkins. Had her rape been in Game of Thrones, it would have thrown in as an aside, much like the rapes we saw happen at Craster’s Keep in season four. What happened to Mary in Outlander was despicable, but we’re not likely to see it as a footnote in the history of Claire and Jamie. Claire cares very much for the safety of this girl, her mental and physical well-being. It is not a crime that any of these characters will brush off as “something that just happens in this world.” It is an act that rightfully enrages them, something that should be dealt with. They care for her reputation, knowing what it means in this world, but more importantly they care for the girl behind the reputation.

In Sansa’s case, there is no “dealing” with her rape, there is no help for her pain, no talk of her torture. Narratively, it lifts completely free from most everything else going on in Westeros, much like many of the gratuitous violent scenes. At one point she makes mention of Ramsay’s abuse to Theon and he responds with a look that says, “Well, yea, that’s what he does.” No one, not even Brienne tells Sansa how wrong it is to be raped, they simply offer sad looks and we’re left to accept that rape is inevitable for women in the world of Game of Thrones. Just because something is inevitable or god forbid, common, doesn’t mean it needs to be accepted as such by both the characters in that world, and viewers alike. Outlander understands this, Game of Thrones doesn’t.

Jen Stayrook
Jen Stayrook
Don't let the fancy nerd duds deceive you; Jen’s never been described as “classy.” You can find her on Twitter where she stalks all of her favorite celebrities: @jenstayrook. Or you can find her on Steam or Xbox dying in every game she plays as "Rilna." Email: jen.stayrook@theworkprint.com

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  1. Ugh I have to say I’m so seriously sick of these articles. There is plenty of rape in the narrative of Game of Thrones, I have read the books, all of them in detail. Is the plotline off the books now, yeah but we all know Ramsey as a character is psychotic and yeah this is what he does. There is no comforting Sansa because there is no time, to process and comfort, they are running for their lives from a deranged killer. So yeah let Brienne stop for 20 minutes while they are being hunted to give Sansa a hug and tell her it’s wrong. She knows well enough it’s wrong now she just wants to freaking live.

    • *spoilers* I kind of agree with this users post. I’ve never watched outlander so I don’t know much about it but I watch game of thrones religiously and have read the books and at no time does anyone ever “accept” the fact people have been raped. Multiple wars are started because someone was raped in the book and the show. Sansa is running for her life from a man who literally has no conscious. They all know it’s wrong there just isn’t any time to dwell on it because again they are trying to escape. Even sansa is aware of it which is probably why she hasn’t had a total mental break down. I genuinely think the only reason theon finally breaks free from Ramsey’s hold is because of what happened to sansa. I think this article is taking that whole situation out of context.

  2. It might also be telling that Outlander was written by a woman & GoT was written by a man. The episodes where Jamie & Mary were raped were directed by women.

    I think women have a different perspective on rape (as they’re typically the victims) and the female directors could portray that differently than a male director would.

    Yes, GoT is high-action, perpetual fight or flight, but no one ever addresses rape at all. It’s like how the West has (finally) gotten to the point where we stop blaming the victims, but the East stones/burns/executes victims.

    Obviously, these are television shows, but they reflect humanity. GOT reflects the awfulness of a male-dominated society where women are chattel & useful as repositories for sperm. Outlander reflects relationships & how people cling together when faced with adversity.

  3. How is murder being depicted? How is it dealt with later? How about assault? Yet another garbage article telling us how something must be portrayed because some people have sensitive feelings about it. Even if a show/movie did portray a rape as normalized or acceptable it isn’t reality. It isn’t the show runners telling us rape they think rape is okay. We all know rape is wrong. Just like when we see murder or other crimes and awful things in ART we don’t have to see them penalized or condemned to know they are wrong.

    Stop spreading stupid. There are children on the Web who may not be morons yet.

  4. Wow I completely disagree. As a survivor of rape and ptsd I hated how outlander portrayed rape and was pleased with GOTs portrayal. With GOT, sansas rape was a cutaway scene. We knew what was happening but the camera never lingered on her. It was quick. We hated the villan and the act was evil but it never felt gratuitious. The scene that Claire was first raped triggered me and gave me body flash backs. It was too vivid. Too accurate and detailed. And there was no trigger warning at the beginning of the episode. And they barely ever bring up Claires rape again. Its like it didnt even phase her. And theres just so much of it in this show. Not even just the villains doing it, protagonists as well like Dougal. That bothered me.

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