90% of teenagers believe the scenes of sexual violence in popular TV drama series Game of Thrones – the UK finale of which airs on Monday 28 August – are realistic, true to life and an accurate representation of medieval history, according to new research at Leeds Trinity University.
The research pilot, carried out by Dr Kate Lister, a researcher in historical attitudes to sexuality and sex, and Dr Paul Smith, a psychologist who studies sexual behaviour, was carried out across students aged 16-18 years, at three schools in Leeds. They were asked their thoughts on the time period of Game of Thrones, as well as how they felt watching violent scenes and if they felt the scenes were historically authentic.
Dr Kate Lister said: "Game of Thrones does not depict real life, but it does draw on some medieval motifs that give it a gloss of accuracy. Although the students were very clear that zombies and dragons are fictitious, they felt that the levels of violence and sexual violence were justifiable as they were historically authentic. One student even commented that the scenes are not excessive because they 'clearly fit the mood and tone of the series which attempts to expose real-life issues'."
Almost every named female character in Game of Thrones is either a victim of, or threatened with, sexual violence, and Dr Lister argues that this wasn't the case for medieval women.
She added: "The sexual violence portrayed throughout the series is actually very inaccurate. Although sexual attitudes were markedly different to our own, rape has always been recognised as an offence and was punishable by death at several times. It certainly wasn't the case that all medieval women were raped as they are in Game of Thrones. However, the initial stages of my research show that teenagers are viewing this as an accurate historical representation."
The research also suggests that more than half of the students who watched scenes of sexual violence in the series felt discomfort, particularly amongst female viewers.
Dr Lister and Dr Smith will now be continuing their research by analysing the data further and expanding the research to include older and young participants.
Game of Thrones has been rated as 18-certificate in the United Kingdom, but it is widely viewed by children under this age.