Have depictions of rape, incest and violence against women gone too far on Game of Thrones?
Irish actor Liam Cunningham, who plays smuggler Davos Seaworth, says the popular HBO series is simply depicting the brutal fantasy world created by author George R.R. Martin.
The show has been criticized for being misogynistic and showing prominent scenes of women held captive and being sexually assaulted. There was a major outcry after a recent episode showed the rape of noblewoman Cersei Lannister by her brother Jaime.
“You have to remember this Westeros world we inhabit is feudal. There are a lot of rapes and violence. And there are a lot of downtrodden who are not only women, but men,” Cunningham said in an interview.
“I think certainly the methods were questionable. But the only reason you can get away with putting a scene like that on television is because the female characters are so strong,” says Cunningham. “Without a doubt the amount of well-drawn, complicated, dangerous female characters is unsurpassed.”
The actor says he discussed the scene for more than half an hour with his wife and daughter after the episode aired.
“We wouldn’t be doing our job unless we were raising questions. And they are all valid. The fact that we are talking about this right now is a good starting point,” says Cunningham.
Cunningham’s character, a former smuggler who now works for Stannis Baratheon, a claimant to the Irone Throne, remains for fans one of the most popular in the series. Perhaps because (apart from the gentle giant Hodor) he is one of the few unambiguously good characters in the show.
“The good guys are usually people with power. But what’s interesting about the character is that he doesn’t have an easy time of it,” says Cunningham. “His boss wants to have him killed at one point. But he’s still able to hold on to his principles and loyalty. It’s so ingrained in him.”
And he says the best is yet to come.
“We’ve been in the doldrums for the last season and a half, having no money or army. Stannis is deeply unhappy. But there is a payoff with an enormous climax to the end of the season. I think it will be incredibly gratifying.”
Cunningham was in Toronto to unveil Game of Thrones: The Exhibition, which started Wednesday and runs until Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The former electrician says he is enjoying the ride of being on a hit show. But he knows it won’t last forever.
“I was a real person before I became an actor. I didn’t (act) professionally till I was 29, so I had a bit of life under my belt. So we all know the transient nature of fame,” he says.
This is the third year of the travelling exhibition, which originated in Toronto. Toronto is the only city to have hosted the show three times. Free tickets to the timed exhibit, which is expected to host 20,000 people, are already sold out. However, a rush line will be available.
The Iron Throne returns to the exhibition, as well as costumes and props from many of the characters.
New to the show is Cunningham’s Davos costume, complete with a leather pouch that is supposed to contain the remains of his fingers, cut off as punishment for being a smuggler.
The standout item this year is a virtual reality experience using Oculus VR technology (the company was recently purchased by Facebook for $2 billion). Here fans can be transported in an elevator operated by the Night’s Watch and stand atop the icy Wall that protects the northern border of the seven kingdoms.
“This is so cool. I was getting a little motion sickness going up there,” exclaimed Cunningham to 13-year-old son Sean after taking off his goggles and exiting the virtual ride. “I had to hold on to the sides.”