HBO’s position as a premium cable network means it can push the envelope (or tear up the envelope altogether) when it comes to its graphic depictions of violence. But does that violence — particularly violence directed toward women — go too far? It’s a criticism that’s been lobbed at the network many times before, especially in reference to Game of Thrones and its continued use of rape as a plot point. And it’s something that new HBO programming chief Casey Bloys will no doubt have to get used to addressing for however long he holds the job.
During an executive session with reporters at last week’s Television Critics Association summer press tour, several members of the press broached the subject with Bloys, and the network exec defended HBO’s choices, pointing out that lots of terrible things happen to men on television, too.
“I’d like to not think so,” Bloys said when asked whether HBO and other premium-cable networks in general relied too often on violence against women as a narrative crutch. “I can tell you violence, it’s not just specific to women. It’s indiscriminate,” he said of the series on HBO. “Plenty of men are killed as well,” he added.
Variety brought up the fact that HBO’s upcoming series, the long-awaited Westworld, “features the implied rape of a main female character” in the premiere episode, while recent critical hit The Night Of lingers on a scene featuring “the body of the female victim covered in blood.” While Bloys brushed off that latter example by pointing out that the scene in question was lifted directly from the show’s source material (the U.K. series Criminal Justice), he did acknowledge one reporter’s assessment that “such depictions ‘normalize’ sexual violence against women.”
“I think the criticism is valid,” Bloys told reporters. “I think it’s something we take into account. It’s not something we want to highlight or are trying to highlight.”
In regard to Game of Thrones specifically, the show’s cast and creative team have continually defended the series, with the Mother of Dragons herself, Emilia Clarke, being especially vocal. Clarke — whose character was raped on her wedding night in season one — has said that people painting Thrones as anti-feminist are taking the show’s plot points out of context, and the series actually empowers women.
Whether or not you agree with her depends on how well you received plot points like Sansa’s rape in season five (also on her wedding night) or a young girl being burned to death by her own father (also in season five — man, that was a brutal year in Westeros). With two more years to go, it seems inevitable that there will be plenty more controversy in store for Thrones — and lots more for Bloys to discuss in the future.