5 Times 'Game of Thrones' Fans Swore Off the Show

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding in HBO Game of Thrones

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HBO's Game of Thrones is a deeply engrossing show, with more characters than there are US Representatives and a mythology that makes even its guidebooks interesting reads. It's also an impossibly grueling show that takes a grotesque amount of pleasure in pushing its own fans to swear off watching for good.

We always return, like the degenerates we are, but we were closest to bailing when these five plotlines reared their ugly heads. [Naturally, spoilers follow.]

alfie allen as theon greyjoy in HBO game of thrones

Theon's torture

All of Season 3
Poor Theon Greyjoy. His betrayal in many ways contributed to the Red Wedding, and there was, initially, some pretty good schadenfreude to be had at his comeuppance. But the torture, mutilation, and castration Theon endured throughout Season 3 at the hands of the sadistic bastard of Bolton quickly diminished viewer enthusiasm.

Beyond inspiring some pretty unsettling fan fiction, most didn't see the point in these extended scenes of gore and abuse. Now, Ramsay only needs to speak the words "Give me your hand, Reek" to send fans reeling into the corner. Remember when Ramsay gave Reek a bath? Gah.

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding in HBO Game of Thrones

The Red Wedding

Season 3, Episode 9: "The Rains of Castamere"
Ned Stark's beheading was close, but the one event that defines everything Game of Thrones stands for is the Red Wedding. In a single episode, an entire branch of the plot -- incidentally, the one most rapidly progressing toward a happy ending -- was culled. The pregnant belly-stabbing, the throat-slicing, the bone-chilling smirk from Roose Bolton: it wasn't just a loss for the good guys, it was a decimation. For that segment of viewers who prefer their fantasy tales told with fewer murders of pregnant love interests, it was time to tap out.

jack Gleeson as joffrey baratheon in HBO Game of Thrones

Jaime's rape of Cersei

Season 4, Episode 3: "Breaker of Chains"
This rape, which takes place at a private viewing of their son Joffrey's corpse, was called "consensual by the end" by episode director Alex Graves, and was one of the first instances in which author George R.R. Martin weighed in to simultaneously add context and distance himself from what the show was doing. Ultimately, the sinister violation is best played off as another wrinkle in Cersei and Jaime's deeply dysfunctional relationship -- as if the incest and multiple incest babies weren't enough. But the casual use of rape to punch up a scene was enough to turn off many.

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark and Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Bolton in HBO Game of Thrones

Sansa's wedding night

Season 5, Episode 6: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"
Between Joffrey, Ser Meryn Trant, the Hound, Littlefinger's nonconsensual kissing, and that mob of peasants during the King's Landing riots, rape has been the Sword of Damocles dangling over Sansa's head since the beginning of the series. But for many, seeing a character they'd met as a child raped on her wedding night summarized everything the show gets wrong with its portrayal of female characters' struggles.

While the plotline has its defenders -- including the episode's writer Bryan Cogman, who views the narrative choice as a showcase for Sansa's strength of character, as "she's not broken by the attack, she immediately sets to getting the hell out of there and planning her next move" -- it was enough for The Mary Sue to completely step out of the Game of Thrones business, calling the episode "a missed opportunity to do something that would have actually surprised [the] audience." Instead, Sansa spent much of the season trapped inside Ramsay's rape tower.

Kerry Ingram as Shireen Baratheon in HBO Game of Thrones

Shireen Baratheon's immolation

Season 5, Episode 9: "The Dance of Dragons"
Some people just don't consider a little girl screaming for her life as she's reduced to ashes appropriate Sunday night entertainment. However, if you were genuinely shocked by this turn of events -- five seasons in, no less -- you hadn't been paying attention. Melisandre has been burning people alive since her Season 2 introduction, and the fire priestess has had her eyes on Shireen since Season 4, when she insisted that the adorable princess be brought along their military campaign, citing more of her ominous fire visions.

Still, Shireen's burning at the stake was yet another instance of fans hoping for the best, especially given the fact that her father, Stannis, temporarily looked like the most worthy contender for the Iron Throne, having just rescued Jon Snow from a wildling assault. The show provided us with back-to-back moments of tenderness for the princess before subjecting viewers to her agonizing screams of anguish. Season 5 added the last straws to a lot of backs, and this development acted as a bale of hay -- especially for young parents.

It's no wonder events like these cause fans to tune out: all these rape and torture scenes take away from the things Game of Thrones gets right, such as artful landscape shots and strong female characters. Here's hoping there's a lot more of the latter in Season 6.

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Ben Philippe is a writer based in New York City. The only episode of television that ever made him stop watching a show permanently was when Ryan Atwood turned to underground boxing to cope with Marissa Cooper’s death on The O.C. Find him on Twitter: @GoHomeBen.