If there is anything HBO's hit fantasy series is known for more than its shocking deaths, it's the sex scenes. And Game Of Thrones helped make Sophie Turner a social activist, thanks in part to the show's portrayal of sexual politics. The revelation came courtesy of a recent interview the actor conducted with The Hollywood Reporter about growing up on the HBO series — which she joined at the tender young age of 13. "I got my sex education from this show, and a historical education," Turner told the publication. "I definitely got educated on [sexual assault] as well, and that spurred me to be an activist."
GoT helped coin the term "sexposition" back in its first season, when characters would delivery lengthy expository monologues while engaging in (or observing) sexual acts. While that tedious practice gradually waned in later seasons, the show's sexual politics only got thornier — reaching an intense point in Season 5 with a sequence involving Turner's character Sansa Stark. The scene in question involved Sansa's assault at the hands of her new husband, the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, on the couple's wedding night, while Sansa's traitorous surrogate brother Theon Greyjoy was forced to watch.
While many fans defended the turn of events as a logical extension of Ramsay's character and Westeros' medieval gender dynamics, just as many protested the show's victimization of Sansa, and its repeated utilization of assault as a plot point. (This wasn't helped by previous controversies in which GoT turned consensual — if problematic — sex scenes from the books into sequences of assault on the show: most notably Dany and Drogo in Season 1, and Cersei and Jaime in Season 4.)
However, while some fans and celebrities were busy swearing off GoT after Sansa's traumatic wedding night in the fictional Westeros, Turner was taking the opportunity to start conversations about assault and its ramifications in the real world. In an interview with Time earlier this year, the actor reflected on the Season 5 controversy, saying she "wasn't overly surprised" by the amount of backlash the show received over that development:
"But one of the things it stirred in me was surprise that so much of people's time and energy was being spent discussing a fictional scene on television when you hear about people … all over the world getting raped every day, and sexually assaulted every day. This was the trending topic on Twitter, and it makes you wonder, when it happens in real life, why isn't it a trending topic every time? This was a fictional character, and I got to walk away from it unscathed. Also, why should it be taboo to portray onscreen? If it gets that discussion going then I think it's really important.
Turner has translated her words into actions over the past several years, using her high-profile name to draw awareness to victims of assault in third-world countries. Turner became a patron for the organization Women For Women International, which is devoted to providing support for female survivors of war and genocide in African countries — many of whom are also survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
"I wanted to use the attention going toward the show for a really good cause," Turner told USA Today in an interview about her activist work. "These women have not only been mentally scarred but are scarred ecologically, too. … It's not just about providing them with mental care. It's about creating a plan for their future."
If a controversial depiction of rape on in a fictional world from television series could help spark even a small amount of change in the real world, then perhaps the backlash was a blessing in disguise. In fact, that's exactly what Turner calls it. "I'm actually glad there was such an uproar, because there was a discussion, and that discussion is so important," Turner concluded in her USA Today interview. "We need to keep that going and keep it in the forefront of our minds and not make [the subject] such a taboo. Otherwise, these women — and men — are shunned into silence. So I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise."
And it sounds like Turner's activism can truly make a difference in the real world.