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Jessica Chastain, Ava DuVernay Call Out ‘Game of Thrones’ for Treatment of Women

UPDATED: After last Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” Jessica Chastain criticized the show for using the rape and torture that Sophie Turner’s character, Sansa Stark, endured in previous seasons as the reasons for her strength and cunning.

“Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly. The little bird was always a Phoenix. Her prevailing strength is solely because of her. And her alone,” the actress wrote.

Turner plays the “Dark Phoenix” in Disney-Fox’s upcoming X-Men film, which co-stars Chastain.

Throughout the eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” Sansa has undergone a massive transformation, just like every character. She went from the princess of Winterfell asking to be wed to Prince Joffrey, to the strategic ruler of her family’s house. However, the motivation explaining her rise to power in the previous episode, “The Last of the Starks,” left some viewers, like Chastain, unhappy.

Following the chaotic Battle of Winterfell, the surviving characters celebrated with a night of drinking and merriment, and Sansa reunited with the Hound, the fierce warrior who briefly protected her when she was trapped in King’s Landing with the Lannisters. The Hound remarked that when he first met Sansa, she couldn’t look at him, and he had since heard she was “broken in rough” by Littlefinger and Ramsay Bolton. In Season 5, the manipulative Littlefinger brokered a marriage between Sansa and Ramsay, the psychotic usurper of Winterfell who raped her multiple times.

“You’ve changed, little bird,” he said.

“Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would’ve stayed a little bird all my life,” she replied.

Some “Thrones” fans believe the lack of female writers and directors led to the unsatisfying depiction of Sansa as a survivor of sexual assault. In the entire run of HBO’s series, only one female director has been brought on, Michelle MacLaren, who helmed four episodes, the last of which was in 2014. Jane Espenson, Vanessa Taylor and Gursimran Sandhu are the only female writers, contributing to nine episodes total.

The same episode saw the death of the only woman of color on the show, Missandei, at the hands of Queen Cersei. Daenerys rescued the former slave from her master in Essos, and Missandei quickly became the Targaryen queen’s most trusted confidant. Sadly, she was put in chains once more and used as a bargaining chip by Cersei to force Daenerys to abandon her attack. The Mountain executed Missandei, and her body fell to the ground in front her friends, allies and lover, Grey Worm. The shocking death and objectification of a female character once again drew ire from viewers, including director Ava DuVernay.

The episode ends on a shot of Daenerys outraged at the death of her friend, and a major battle between her forces and Cersei’s appears to take place in the series’ penultimate episode next Sunday. Two female leaders will duke it out for the Iron Throne, but will either of them actually take it by the end of the show? HBO may have trouble tying up loose ends and appeasing the millions of fans around the world as the series ends this month.

Correction: An earlier version of this story neglected to list Gursimran Sandhu as one of “Game of Thrones'” female writers. 

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