On Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) declared on Twitter that she was done with the show.
Sunday's episode portrayed the brutal rape of a primary character, Sansa Stark, by her new husband as a friend is forced to watch. Sansa is the daughter of one of the show's (former) patriarchs, Eddard Stark, and has already been through some painful episodes -- including torture by her fiance, Joffrey Baratheon, the king who had executed her father. (Joffrey later got his.)
McCaskill wasn't the only one offended. "Game of Thrones" has whipsawed its viewers before -- the infamous "Red Wedding" episode brought howls of protest
-- but in general fans have stood up for the show, noting that George R.R. Martin's source novels are, if anything, even more graphic. ("Game of Thrones" airs on HBO, which -- like CNN -- is a unit of Time Warner.)
But the Sansa scene isn't in the books -- Martin complained
that people addressing his website, which is devoted to the novels, should be focusing their anger elsewhere -- and a number of commentators took issue with its inclusion.
Salon's Libby Hill called it
"brutal and honestly unnecessary."
Added Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson
, "this rape scene undercuts all the agency that's been growing in Sansa since the end of last season."
The A.V. Club cut right to the chase in its headline
: "How much more torment can Game Of Thrones inflict on Sansa Stark?" And the Mary Sue, a website dedicated to "geek girl culture," said it would "no longer be actively promoting"
Producer Bryan Cogman defended the scene when it was filmed last year.
"This is 'Game of Thrones,' " he told EW
at the time. "This is a hardened woman making a choice and she sees this as the way to get back her homeland. Sansa has a wedding night in the sense she never thought she would with one of the monsters of the show. It's pretty intense and awful and the character will have to deal with it."
He added in a tweet
after the episode aired, "NO WAY was that (EW) comment an attempt to 'blame the victim.' If it seemed that way I'm deeply sorry."
Nevertheless, "Thrones' " regular doses of sex and violence have long had critics wondering
whether the show pushes the envelope too much. And it's not the first show to do so.
Here are five other examples:
Sure, "The Sopranos" was a show about a mobster, but who knew that the duck-loving, bearish Tony Soprano -- a man sensitive enough to go into therapy -- was actually capable of cold-blooded murder?
Doubters soon found out that Tony, who had worked his way up to become a mob kingpin, still had some claws. In the first-season episode "College," Tony spots a snitch while taking his daughter, Meadow, on a tour of New England colleges. At the climax of the show, he garrotes the guy.
" 'College' cemented fans' affection and repulsion for Tony, letting us see him as a caring father and an unforgivable monster at the same time," Time wrote in naming "College" the best "Sopranos" episode
The Shonda Rhimes-produced show about a Washington fixer has regularly had fans gasping, often on Twitter, whenever a plot twist takes a character into surprising territory.
The show's developments have included waterboarding, rapes, a shooting in the face and the president killing a Supreme Court justice.
"Scandal" even scandalizes its cast members. Last season, the show worked the term "Eiffel tower," a euphemism for a three-way sex act, into an episode.
Co-star Scott Foley was a little taken aback.
"I had to Google what an Eiffel tower was after reading the script," he told the Huffington Post
. "I knew that it was obviously a sexual act, but I was surprised at the graphic nature of it."
Honorable mention goes to "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project," which also worked sex references
Parents Television Council President Tim Winter hasn't liked the trend.
"It's more and more explicit content at earlier and earlier times of the day," he told CNN this year. "There really is no 'family hour' anymore. Even the shows at 8 p.m. -- 7 Central and Mountain -- contain more profane words than we've ever seen before, more sexually explicit dialogue than we've seen before, and more violence."
Over the course of five seasons, creator Vince Gilligan's goal was to show Mr. Chips turning into Scarface through chemistry teacher Walter White, who becomes a clandestine drug lord to support his family after being diagnosed with cancer.
In a second-season episode, White coldly calculates the value of saving the life of Jane Margolis, a recovering drug addict who had become the girlfriend of his partner, Jesse Pinkman. When she starts asphyxiating on her own vomit due to an overdose, White lets her die, believing that she's been a bad influence on Jesse and a potential threat to their meth enterprise.
Krysten Ritter, who played Jane, found the scene troubling
, if necessary.
"I remember thinking it was pretty f***** up that Walt would just let a young girl ... die in front of him, but I certainly didn't realize that it would be such a pivotal moment for the show," she wrote. "That decision was his turning point and there was no going back."
The theme of "Seinfeld" was "no hugging, no learning," and that was never more true than with the death of George Costanza's fiancee, Susan Ross, at the end of the seventh season.
After licking toxic glue on the cheap wedding invitations George bought, Susan dies. George's reaction? Relief -- even glee. (He calls Marisa Tomei for a date the next day.)
In the days before the Web was commonplace, fans discussed shows on newsgroups -- bulletin-board collections of email exchanges -- and Susan's death hit the alt.tv.seinfeld board hard. One thread was titled "Killing off Susan UNACCEPTABLE."
"I'm done with Seinfeld for good. Let them all rot in Hades and be eaten by maggots. No television moment even remotely compares with this. I hope I'm in a position one day to hurt the Seinfeld staff as much as this shocked and devastated me," wrote one poster.
'American Horror Story'
The first-season episode "Piggy Piggy" opened with a mass shooting at a high school.
As The Backlot observed
, "Granted, this was a horror show -- it was right there in the title! But having a teen psycho talk in therapy about his dreams of shooting up his school and actually making us watch him do it in real time are very different things."