Since its premiere in 2011, “Game of Thrones” has been both celebrated and criticized for its handling of sensitive topics such as sexual assault. One particular scene that sparked a heated debate was Daenerys Targaryen’s wedding night with Khal Drogo. In a new book by James Hibberd, author George R. R. Martin revealed that the showrunners made changes to this pivotal moment without discussing it with him. Let’s delve into the controversial alterations and how they fit into the larger pattern of the series.
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The Changes in Daenerys Targaryen
In the pilot episode, Daenerys is introduced as an exiled princess who suffers emotional and physical abuse from her brother Viserys. She is forced into a marriage with the fierce Khal Drogo and is expected to please him on their wedding night. However, the showrunners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, made two significant changes to Daenerys’ character.
Firstly, they aged her. In Martin’s books, Daenerys is only 13 years old, in line with historical customs. However, due to legal restrictions, the show cast a 23-year-old actress to play the role, requiring adjustments to the timeline.
Secondly, the show portrayed Drogo assaulting Daenerys on their wedding night, deviating from the consensual encounter in the books. Initially, Benioff and Weiss intended to follow Martin’s version, but they later decided to change it. This alteration was met with criticism, as it added another explicit and shocking moment to a series already filled with them.
The Reasoning Behind the Change
Benioff and Weiss defended their decision to alter the scene, stating that it wouldn’t have made sense for viewers to witness a joyful sexual relationship forming between Daenerys and a barbarian warlord who she initially feared. They acknowledged the challenge of portraying the characters’ transformation convincingly, especially considering their age difference. Ultimately, the showrunners believed that a more straightforward depiction of Dany’s abusive situation would resonate better with the audience.
The Consequences in the Books
In Martin’s novels, Drogo continues to assault Daenerys after their wedding night. He visits her tent each night, raping her relentlessly. The books paint a vivid picture of her pain and torment, highlighting her fear and despair. However, it’s worth noting that Daenerys eventually finds strength through a recurring dream about a dragon covered in her blood. This dream empowers her, leading to her developing agency and even seducing Drogo, similar to the show’s storyline.
The Larger Pattern of Sexual Assault
The changes made to Daenerys’ wedding night scene were part of a larger pattern in “Game of Thrones” where sexual assault was included in scenes that were not present in the books. Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s reunion resulted in a controversial moment, and Sansa Stark’s wedding night with Ramsay Bolton was another distressing scene. These alterations faced criticism for increasing the instances of sexual assault in a story already filled with examples of women enduring such violence.
Furthermore, the show failed to adequately address the consequences of these traumas. Sansa was the only character who visibly dealt with her trauma on-screen. Daenerys and Cersei seemed to move forward without fully exploring the impact of the assaults they experienced. This omission disappointed viewers and did a disservice to the characters.
Daenerys’ wedding night scene in “Game of Thrones” sparked controversy due to the changes from the books. While the altered depiction of assault was met with criticism, it was the subsequent handling of sexual assault throughout the series that received the most scrutiny. The conversation surrounding this pivotal scene highlights the broader issue of how sexual assault is portrayed on television and its impact on a wide-ranging audience.