After nearly a season-and-a-half of free passes from the critical world (save for complaints about the frequent sexposition), “Game of Thrones” came under fire this week for its torture scene, specifically the one in which a giant rat is trapped in a pail pressed up against the victim, heated, and basically forced to eat its way through the victim’s chest to escape the fire. It was an unusually brutal and cruel episode overall, but the torture scene amped up the squirminess. One colleague of mine actually quit the show because she couldn’t stomach the brutality anymore, and a couple of other critics have weighed in with their own criticisms.
More importantly, torture scenes violate the audience’s trust that the characters onscreen, no matter how outlandish their surroundings, will behave like human beings. On TV, torture almost always works. The victim usually knows the information, and gives it up immediately. In rarer cases, they know nothing but are able to stop to torture by stating this fact. Either way, they respond positively to torture, and somehow the tormentor magically knows when their victim is speaking the truth.
Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress continued the argument, taking issue specifically for the reasons — or lack thereof — for the interrogation in this week’s episode:
Joffrey and Harrenhal’s interrogators are torturing people not out of fits of temper, and not because they think there’s information for them to get out of the people they’re targeting. Joffrey doesn’t have questions that he wants to ask Ros and Daisy. The Harrenhal interrogators ask the same set of questions to every person they talk to, no matter where that person comes from or their likelihood of knowing any relevant information. These people are torturing their victims because they enjoy doing so. These scenes are all about giving us information about the torturers, to draw a line between the characters who behave like human beings and those who exist and act beyond the laws that govern the rest of us.
I’ll admit, none of it raised any eyebrows with me, though perhaps that’s because it is such a widely employed trope that I don’t notice it anymore. I’m numb to it. The criticism didn’t even occur to me until I read the above posts; I was more concerned with, as reader Erin pointed out, the fact that “Game of Thrones” stole that torture technique from 2 Fast 2 Furious. But do they have a point? Is torture a tired trope? Is it worse when there’s no real motivation for it? Because I thought that was the point: To further demonstrate what a horrible person Joffrey is. How better to demonstrate that than torture people for no reason. Sure, it was unpleasant to watch, but that was the point.
Did any of you have any objections? Are torture scenes played out? Was the one in “Game of Thrones” effective? Are you more forgiving of it here because you love “Game of Thrones,” as opposed to “24″ where it really did get tired? Or are the critics just being overly sensitive? What are your thoughts on the matter?