Yes, that scene. You know the scene.
Sansa gets married, and new husband Ramsey engages in intercourse with the newly post-virginal Mrs Bolton.
Cue the outrage! Sansa got raped, I’m never watch this show again, the showrunners are monsters, I’m triggered, etc., etc. etc.
I knew the scene was coming when I watched Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken so I wasn’t shocked. Sansa wasn’t shocked either, I’ll argue. Audience outrage is ignoring the brilliance of the scene. I’d even call it classy compared to the violence against prostitutes, other women (not to mention the men).
So let’s paint a picture of why the scene was so perfectly constructed by looking at the last five seasons of Game of Thrones.
The first violent outrage against Sansa is the loss of her pet direwolf Lady, who is killed after Sansa’s sister Arya’s wolf, Nymeria, attacks Joffrey, Sansa’s eventual betrothed. Sansa was horrified and acted accordingly. She’s dressed in a blue costume she made herself.
Skipping ahead, Sansa finds herself begging Joffrey for her father’s life. The begging didn’t work. She’s dressed like a lady of King’s Landing in a dress of another’s handiwork.
Let’s skip ahead to the execution. Ned is beheaded with Sansa looking on, screaming in protest. This is the turnaround (sorry) point. To understand Sansa’s wedding night, you need to study the framing here.
Next, Sansa is hit herself square in the face by the Hound on the advice of Joffrey who claimed he ought not hit his lady. This scene takes place after the beheading of Ned, and Sansa takes the beatings like a badass. She has trouble looking at her father’s face, but can stare the Hound right in the eye.
So what can we gather so far in terms of framing Sansa? We need to watch her gaze, what she’s wearing, to whom she begs.
Oh yeah and she’s almost raped at one point in a revolt against Joffrey. That’s a look of terror. The Hound saves her, though, in a bout of human decency.
Sansa laughs her way out of the corridor from the lion’s den when her wedding to Joffery is broken off.
Sansa is eventually beaten and has her King’s Landing style clothes ripped at Joffrey’s order after being punished for her brother Robb’s recent military victory. Even the Hound is disgusted and no one but Tyrion steps in to defend her.
When she marries Tyrion, she is following the orders of the king but for once is able to make her own decision to stay virginal. Tyrion was kind to her. She wanted Ser Loras, but it would’ve been a cruel wedding too. Ser Loras is homosexual and was set up instead with Cersei. In neither arrangement could Loras find peace but his fortunes have been borne more quietly.
Littlefinger steals her away after Joffrey’s death, gets her to dye her hair black and to pose as his bastard daughter. She no longer has the red of her mother’s hair, nor the brown of the Starks. Yadda yadda yadda, she escapes to the Vale, her aunt dies, she stops dying her hair.
While in the Vale we have two shots close to each other that show us how the New Sansa is developing after her trials. First, she whales on her betrothed cousin Robin.
Next we have a cringey kissy scene when Littlefinger goes in for the kill.
Eventually Sansa gets back on the road, dyes her hair again to reclaim her spot at Winterfell and… has to marry the newly-legitimized dark haired Ramsey Bolton. Ramsey’s hobbies would put most serial killers to shame.
Theon is revealed and Sansa don’t care. Before her wedding, Ramsey’s fling Miranda introduces herself to Sansa who notes that she had sewn her own gloves because her mother taught her how. Miranda says it’s a lovely way to keep one’s mother with you despite her death. Later, Miranda shows up to bathe and subtle threaten Sansa who tells Miranda that Winterfell is her home and nobody shall threaten her there. Sansa finishes washing the black, Ramsey-colored dye from her hair and refuses Theon’s escort to the Godswood.
So we have Sansa at home in Winterfell with her mother’s red hair and sewing skills. Her dress is adorned with Tully (her mother’s clan) fishes and is patterned like a fish’s scales.
She wears her hair up like a northerner. She wears white like the snow and the direwolf. White is very rarely used in this series. Winterfell, the name Stark and the Godswood are her father’s inheritence. She refuses to be given away at the altar and commits herself in marriage under the old gods to Ramsey.
Now that’s a lady with a look of cold determination.
For her honeymoon scene, we see what she brought to the table (in this case, bed) taken away.
Ramsey rips her dress. He makes Reek watch, but that’s almost more out of cruelty to Theon than it is to Sansa. Sansa keeps her gaze not down but to the side.
She’s not being raped.
She’s being beheaded.
EDIT: When you watch the next episode, The Gift you’ll see Sansa being forced to view a dead body in the same way she was asked to view her father’s head on a spike.