So this week’s Game of Thrones, huh? How about Pod being the best squire ever? Or, uh, Tywin talking to Oberyn? That was pretty cool, right? Or you know, the producers assassinating the entire arc of one of the most sympathetic characters on the show in favor of once more perpetuating the misogyny so prevalent in a good portion of popular television today?
Yeah. That? Not so rad.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones under the cut, as well as a trigger warning for discussions of rape and incest.
Unless you live under a rock—or are just incredible at dodging media scandals—you know full well that this week’s episode of Game of Thrones had some extremely problematic elements in it. Rather, one extremely problematic element that led a good portion of the fandom to wonder if the show-runners had any idea what they were doing. I am, perhaps predictably so, speaking of the rape of Cersei Lannister by her lover and brother Jaime Lannister.
Just so we’re all on the same page, let me summarize the events as they occur in the book and show. As I’ve stated previously, I have not read the books, but this excerpt from A Storm of Swords gives us enough information to draw our own conclusions pretty vividly, in my opinion.
She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”
There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. “No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”
“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.
“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.” She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei’s heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.
—excerpt courtesy of AV Club
Whether or not you like the pairing of Cersei and Jaime, the book presents the scene as a woman meeting her lover again, perhaps not under the best of circumstances. However, in light of losing everything, she needs to have something real to hold onto—to know that someone still cares about her in a kingdom that has basically screwed her out of everything.
However, in Sunday night’s episode, “Breaker of Chains”, there is none of that. Cersei mourns her son alone, and Jaime’s continued prodding for sex is portrayed as selfish as well as needlessly forceful. Never does the former queen consent to having sex, and as Jaime rips her clothes to shreds he even questions, “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” with as much malice as he can muster. There is literally no way this scene is not rape. So the question is two-fold: why are producers so damned persistent on claiming that Jaime’s re-written actions in “Breaker of Chains” are not, in fact, rape, and why was the change necessary in the first place?
To answer the first question, I only have my own jaded notions to go off of, but I truly believe that the producers and all others involved fully realize that the scene depicted rape. I refuse to live in a world where someone can look at that and think, “yes, clearly this is consensual” and go about their day. However, if they were to admit this, they’d have to apologize, and if there’s one thing any major company doesn’t want to do, it’s apologize. Especially on such a large scale.
If you wanted to look at it from a less cynical angle, though, the claim could be made that it’s because they, instead, don’t want to admit how their finagling with the plot put them in this predicament. In the novel, this scene is the first time Jaime is seen back in King’s Landing, at least around Cersei. His appearance is essentially a godsend to her in the midst of her son’s death and, understandably, she’s overcome and needs to validate that he’s really there. Unfortunately, there’s no chance for this path of development in the show since Jaime’s already been back for a week or so. He’s there, everyone knows he’s there, and he’s horny, apparently. This isn’t even the first time Cersei has rebuffed him since his return; you would think he’d get the message. So this scene between the two Lannisters is either left to fall to the wayside, or be shoehorned in. Since it’s HBO, of course they opt to shoehorn it in.
Taking a look at the quote above, it’s hard to say that it’s even entirely HBO’s fault. A Song of Ice and Fire’s author, George R.R. Martin, seems to be suffering from both my previously mentioned points (the second of which I’ll touch on after this). He defends the scene by stating that both Cersei and Jaime aren’t “in the same place” as they were in the books, as if this is a justifiable defense for the way Game of Thrones decided to handle that. He’s acknowledging that the rewrite, in this case, may not have been the best thing, but he’s stating this in a way that no one is held accountable for their actions. Additionally, he denies all blame for this by off-handedly claiming that if they had left in Cersei’s original dialogue, the scene may have been interpreted totally differently, a.k.a: not rape.
But such a claim comes off as entirely un-thought out as Martin already said that the characters were in a different place; no naively holding onto dialogue would suddenly change the situation. What’s most insulting about his comments, however, is how he’s not willing to admit that they—yes, they collectively—fucked up. He dismisses some very legitimate complaints by saying, “[t]he scene was always intended to be disturbing… but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.” This basically boils down to a “don’t like, don’t read” statement. And sure, the scene is disturbing, but if he’s unwilling to recognize the difference in discomfort between having an incestuous sex scene next to the dead body of their son and having an incestuous rape scene in the same location, then that in and of itself is disturbing.
Now, the second point is much trickier, and must be looked at from a narrative perspective as well as influences from real life. HBO’s allure is that they can show more explicit things on their channel since it’s not freely available with standard cable packages. Gratuitous sex, violence, and themes that regular channels could get chided for: all of these find a home on HBO. And really, there’s nothing wrong with that: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy a good bloodbath or a particularly dirty sex scene every once in a while. Yet all this does in the end is further the reach of the desensitization of their viewing audience.
It’s a simple, but troublesome principle. Shocking things grab audiences as well as creates advertising by word of mouth. However, to remain shocking, characters and actions must become more and more explicit because audiences get used to what previously would have been considered shocking. It’s like how Scream used to be terrifying, but now it’s a film that’s easily parodied. Everyone knows that conditions in Westeros are pretty shitty, but to keep our attention they producers throw in needlessly shocking things in every once in a while to remind us that, yeah, things still suck. Outside of violence against children, which even HBO seems loath to show, rape is one of the most shocking things they can air.
Besides, they’ve already set a precedent. As Ace stated in a previous article, the television adaptation already changed the consummation of Khal Drogo and
Daenerys’s wedding into a rather uncomfortable rape scene. Though a case could be made that in Dany’s case, she grew stronger, it’s clear that the same wasn’t intended at all concerning this scene with Cersei.
Not only does this scene single-handedly ruin any redemption arc Jaime had going on—who’s going to want to sympathize with a rapist, come on—it also serves to show that all women in power in Game of Thrones must be brought down. Heaven forbid we have any women who play the game as well as the men. Don’t believe me? Name one powerful female character that has appeared in the show who has not been raped or threatened with rape. There’s only three that come to mind, and they’re Asha Greyjoy and Margaery and Olenna of House Tyrell (granted, Margaery was instead threatened by Joffrey’s implications about her marriage to Renly Baratheon, namely that they didn’t consummate their marriage). Now, the claim could be made that this is just a side-effect of the time period and environment of the series, and to an extent I can suspend rational thought to believe that: in medieval settings, women are rarely ever highly looked upon and sexual or non-sexual assault against them is not uncommon. What I’m not willing to do, however, is simply accept that every woman in Westeros, at one point in her life, is going to get raped.
Rape as a plot device is abhorrent by itself, but honestly most of these attempts made on the poor women have nothing to add to their character. Take Sansa, for instance. Sansa has been repeatedly threatened with rape from every corner of her world. Why? We already pity her—her entire family was murdered (to her knowledge) and she lives among people who loathe her and her family. We don’t need to see her as some virtuous virgin—her valor is shown by her kindness and perseverance, not her ability to be saved from abuse. Even now that she’s on Littlefinger’s ship, there’s this ever-present feeling that, once more, she’s going to be raped or almost raped, and there’s no reason for it.
Cersei’s situation is especially vile. Think about it: she just lost her son, she suspects her brother murdered said son, Jaime’s being a horny asshole, and her father only cares about putting her other son on the throne. No matter how she acts—I’m not going to pretend like she isn’t a cunning bitch, nor am I going to pretend that’s not what I love about her—that’s some heavy shit to deal with. Instead of having a moment between her and the one she loves to regain some much needed lost ground, we’re treated to what seems like a bunch of dudes laughing at her, cajoling, “yeah, you had this coming!” Cersei may have some retribution in her future for what she’s done, but this was not an appropriate way to handle it, nor was it an appropriate time. It’s just a way to put a powerful woman “in her place”.
I am part of the camp that doesn’t exactly mind when Game of Thrones makes changes from the source material—whether it’s out of a desire to see a new take on a character or situation or just because I have nothing to compare it to and thus, have nothing to get angry over. However, taking this particular change as well as the first season’s change to Drogo’s and Dany’s wedding, in addition to how fond the ones who run the show seem to be of sexualizing violence against women and continuously using rape as a plot device—all together, it leads me to feel like Game of Thrones might just hate women. This realization not only taints what has already been on-screen, but also makes me worried about how future scenes with women are going to be treated. Joffrey’s torture porn from the second season was one thing, but if we’re expected to sympathize with Jaime being a pissy, rapey child after being told “no” to sex, I’m seriously going to have to reconsider my devotion to this show. All I’m saying is if Asha is suddenly raped on her journey to save her brother Theon, I’m out.
For a more comprehensive list of issues with this episode, please check out this post from fatpinkcast’s Tumblr.