A rape on Game of Thrones this season has sparked a ton of debate—and calls for a boycott of the show—but perhaps the most graphic sexual assault on television hasn’t garnered much attention.
On the finale of Starz Outlander, our hero, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), is tortured and sodomized by the twisted Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). Yes, the show’s sole queer character (to date, anyway) is a violent, sadistic rapist. Not exactly breaking down stereotypes.
Jamie’s torture, mutilation and rape is recounted through flashbacks—in multiple scenes over two episodes—as his wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe) later tries to learn what happened and bring him back from utter despair.
But the reaction to the scene was far different than the one Thrones received: As E!’s Ask Kristen writes, “the majority of fans who’ve spoken out via social media have unabashedly praised the episode and its Emmy-worthy writing and acting.”
Ronald D. Moore, Outlander’s executive director, has been stunned by the reception to Saturday’s finale.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he tells E!. “Any fan response to something they love will always have outliers that hate it who still watch it over and over.”
Of course, with Game of Thrones, many complained that Sansa’s sexual assault was unacceptable because it wasn’t in George R.R. Martin’s original books. Which are actually pretty chockablock with rape, murder and an usual amount of castration.
The assault on Outlander, on the other hand, was taken directly from the Diana Gabaldon novels.
“We always knew we had to do [the rape],” says Moore. “It was just about how we were going to do it. It was fundamental to the show and to the story we were telling.”
Then again, Thrones creators have made it pretty clear from the start they’re diverging from Martin’s text to create an original narrative, even more so now as the show starts to outpace his literary output.
Or is the public simply not outraged because it’s the rape of a man, and the same historical power struggle isn’t at play?
Maybe it’s a question of numbers: The April 6 episode of Outlanders garnered 1.2 million viewers, compared to the more than the 7 million people who watched this week’s episode of Thrones.
But what’s most disturbing about the rape in Outlander is not that it happened—but that we’re made to believe Jamie eventually sort of liked it.
“Randall didn’t just use force to get what he wanted from me,” he tells Claire. “He made love to me.”
Essentially, Randall turned himself into a perverse version of Claire and forced Jamie to surrender and feel pleasure in his violation. “He broke me,” says Jamie. “We both knew it.”