One of the most disturbing, uproar-inducing scenes of last season's Game of Thrones involved Sansa Stark.

At the urging of her supposed protector, Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, she married Ramsay Bolton, only to discover on her wedding night what a sadistic sociopath he is.

Ramsay raped her while forcing another man to watch. Then he locked Sansa in her room, abusing her whenever he liked.

It wasn't the first time a Game of Thrones plot point sent viewers clamoring for Twitter to publicly swear off the show, but it was the most high-profile boycott.

Advertisement

The message was essentially: No more free publicity for a series that revels in sexual violence.

But the tides have turned for Sansa (played by Sophie Turner), and the most recent episode found her doing something subversive by pop culture standards.

She didn't just talk about her abuse; she forced another man to talk about it, too. With that, she became part of a recent wave of women - real and fictional, from Bill Cosby accusers to Claire Underwood on House of Cards - who refuse to be shamed into silence.

Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger was confronted with Sansa's truth. Photo / HBO
Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger was confronted with Sansa's truth. Photo / HBO

After escaping from Ramsay, Sansa agreed to meet Littlefinger and unloaded on him the details of her torture: "He never hurt my face. . . . But the rest of me? He did what he liked with the rest of me. As long as I could still give him an heir. What do you think he did?"

Littlefinger was hoping that was a rhetorical question.

"I can't begin to contemplate," he demurred. But Sansa wasn't satisfied and asked again.

"He beat you," Littlefinger guessed. Sansa confirmed that he was right, then asked him for more examples. After some half-hearted protestations, he acquiesced: "Did he cut you?" Yes, that too.

Littlefinger apologized profusely. The puppetmaster who slickly orchestrated all of the chaos that set the show's misery in motion looked bewildered; he was out of his element in a way we've never before seen.

"The other things he did, ladies aren't supposed to talk about those things," Sansa told him. "But I imagine brothel keeps talk about them all the time. I can still feel it. I don't mean 'in my tender heart, it still pains me so.' I can still feel what he did, in my body, standing here, right now."

Maybe it was an act, but Littlefinger looked both apologetic and stunned.

The expression was familiar. It was reminiscent of the looks on the faces of men who were recently tricked into reading aloud gross, threatening tweets directed at female sports reporters.

During a PSA from the website Just Not Sports, a group of guys (who didn't actually write the messages) had to sit face-to-face with the women.

"So I have to read all of them?" one very uncomfortable man asked reporter Julie DiCaro.

"Read them, I guess," she responded.

"Uhhh. I hope you get raped again," he said, looking pained.

(Warning: this video contains explicit language and content which may disturb).

In both Game of Thrones and the PSA, men were forced to confront and acknowledge the damage that was done. That's powerful - and it's a fairly recent phenomenon.

Sansa's lines were accurate. For a long time, the approach was, "Ladies aren't supposed to talk about such things."

But they're starting to now, and here's why that matters: Rape, molestation and sexual assault are not like other crimes.

Survivors tend to feel immense amounts of shame, even going so far as to blame themselves for what happened. (Of course, that also may be a reflection of a knee-jerk societal reaction to first ask what the victim was wearing, drinking and doing at the time of the crime.) For some, that shame can be as bad as the abuse itself, if not worse.

Brene Brown is a researcher who has spent her career studying shame and vulnerability. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes that "shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us."

The good news is, there's a cure. Empathy is the antidote, she explains. "We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people . . . shame loses power when it is spoken."

It's not easy to come forward, but victims are increasingly doing so.

Characters like Sansa Stark are a sign of how things are changing and more and more women are claiming control. Photo / HBO
Characters like Sansa Stark are a sign of how things are changing and more and more women are claiming control. Photo / HBO

Fifty-eight women have now accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault, which occurred over a period of decades; female comedians are banding together on social media to out predators in their industry, and musicians are starting to open up about the publicists, producers and industry leaders who have sexually abused and harassed them.

But there's also the inevitable backlash. In all of these cases, naysayers have taken to Twitter to shout down accusers, comparing them to the now infamous Jackie from the debunked Rolling Stone expose.

Sansa Stark may be a fictional character, but she makes a persuasive case for the benefits of broadcasting abuse.

In an instant, one of the most violated characters on television finally has agency over her life. Not only did she maintain her composure while confronting Littlefinger, but she's the reason her brother is building an army to take down Ramsay and reclaim their home of Winterfell.

And with no Twitter in the Game of Thrones universe, she can even revel in her new-found power for a while.