Opinion: On the “Game of Thrones” Rape Scene and Ensuing Controversy

22 Apr


Over the past two days, I’ve witnessed thousands of angry comments and even angrier responses across the Internet, with people taking sides and expressing outrage over a scene that occurred in Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode, in which Jaime Lannister forces himself on Cersei. It’s been an ugly several days online, and after some thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that my problem with this whole fiasco is not so much the scene itself as much as it is the ensuing controversy.

Let’s get this out of the way first: it’s rape. There’s no question. When someone forces him or herself on someone without that person’s consent, it’s rape. When Cersei Lannister explicitly says “no”, it’s rape.

We shouldn’t be discussing the definition of rape here. What we should be discussing is Jaime Lannister’s character and what possesses him to commit such a heinous act, what effect this will have on Cersei, and what exactly the writers are trying to express in the greater context of the show. I’ll admit that this seems way out of character for Jaime, considering we just watched a season in which he saves Brienne from a similar fate, but I do understand the desire to complicate the character, to express the truly fucked up nature of the world they live in and the need to hold on to identity in an environment that feeds his insecurities and sense of loss. Rape might be a really lazy way to do it, but I understand it. I may not appreciate the show taking liberties with the character like this, but I’m not vehemently opposed to it, either. In addition, I haven’t read the books, but I do know that the corresponding passage is from Jaime’s point of view, which would lead to him believing it’s consensual (from what I’ve read, the book seems to portray it as consensual? I’d love to hear book-readers’ thoughts on this).

The big issue here is the contradicting explanations of the scene given by the creators and the director. Alex Graves–one of my favorite directors; he should be honored for directing The West Wing‘s “Commencement”–states that the act “becomes consensual at the end”, which is the biggest load of BS I’ve ever heard. This not only expresses a complete misunderstanding of rape by a person living in a society with far too many people who misunderstand it, but it also seems to defend an indefensible scene. Benioff and Weiss understand that it’s rape, but the contradictions have me worried. If the show is going to move forward with the idea that this is consensual, then the biggest problem isn’t them going back on Jaime’s season 3 characterization. The biggest problem is going to be his characterization moving forward.

Now, this scene certainly doesn’t “say” anything new about rape culture, nor should it. I’ve seen articles acting like this is the most egregious thing to ever happen on television, but when I see those articles, I think that it might not even be the worst thing to happen on this show. The media certainly–sadly–perpetuates society’s view of women, and it’s a disappointing fact that many shows like “Game of Thrones” have iffy dealings with gender politics. However, I’m more disgusted with the fact that a director doesn’t understand why his scene comes across as rape than with the fact that a show with beheadings, stabbings, child-killing, and more includes a rape scene.

On its own, the scene is difficult to debate, and we would most likely have to watch a few more episodes to get the full picture. However, with Graves’s comments, everything becomes both oversimplified and more complex all at once, and a new wave of questions are invited; the entire direction of the character is now in question. If it was clear that the creative team knew it was rape and that they were embracing a new character direction, then fine; it might be yet another disappointing story crutch in a media world that–even though we’re getting better–still needs to treat women with the nuance and complexity it does for men, but it would be a creative decision that I would nod and go along with. However, it’s not clear, and the ambiguity that Graves intended to evoke is now applied to the show as a whole and him as a person. It’s not my place to deliver ad hominem, so I won’t, but I do know that things like misogyny, racism, etc. are usually subconscious; so, I wonder about people who can’t pull down their blinders and see the scene for what it really is.

The controversy surrounding this scene is justified–in terms of character–but it shouldn’t be because of comments that completely misunderstand the very concept of rape. Alas, that’s what’s happening, and those comments now influence our discussions of the show and its characters. The origin and progression of the controversy says much more about our society than the scene itself does, and at the end of it all, is any progress going to be made? We’re back where we started, and all we’re left with is arguing on the Internet, a terribly flawed society, contradictions amongst the very people who should have the clearest views of the scene, and a disappointing turn for one of the best shows on television. I’m not trying to seem above the fray here, but I can certainly see why you might think so after reading this. However, it’s just one bear’s opinion in a world of opinions.

Still, I send this question out to Alex Graves, to Benioff and Weiss, to thousands of commenters, to myself: At the end of it all, what was the point?

Photo credit: HBO, Game of Thrones

10 Responses to “Opinion: On the “Game of Thrones” Rape Scene and Ensuing Controversy”

  1. rangerishot April 22, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

    I think if you read the books it certainly gives the background that the creators are going for. I did not watch the scene horrified given that to me (as a female, mind you), it was not what everyone seems to think it was. In my opinion, Cersei did not say, ‘no’ as a means to stop Jaime completely, she was saying that it wasn’t appropriate given that they were right next to their son’s dead body. There were also a couple of moments during that scene that took away from it being a rape scene to something mutual ‘in the end’. That’s just me. I’m not trying to downplay what happened but having read the books first, it really provides that little extra knowledge that is clearly needed here. There has always been a power thing between these two. Something I read put it succinctly by saying that it would have been a turn-on for Cersei in that situation given their dynamics in the book. I’m sorry if this offends you but I did not see it the same way that everyone else did.

    Even if it was a rape scene, this is Game of Thrones. I find it interesting that so many people are up in arms over that scene when I can think of much worse (i.e. basically, any scene with Ramsay Snow in it) that people seem to take for granted in this show. There are several other scenes in this show that depict women and children being murdered and the women being abused yet I don’t recall reading anyone getting angry over it. Perhaps because this time it is a bit more ‘in-your-face’ than ‘just in the background’ so it’s harder for people to put to the back of their minds and ignore.

    • polarbears16 April 22, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

      I’m not offended. Your take is definitely valid, and I appreciate the comment (especially from a book reader). I guess I’m just a little confused about the whole ‘in the end’ idea, because way too many times, I’ve seen people justify things like this because in the end, the woman gives in. I can see your point about what the “no” entailed, though. I just think that the directing and writing could’ve tightened up a bit to convey that point, because many people seemed to take rape away from it.

      Agreed completely with your second paragraph.

      • rangerishot April 22, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

        I think the creators’ comments were somewhat lacking in terms of sensitivity so I can see why people might have got the wrong end of the stick there. I completely agree with you in that women who are seen to ‘give in’ are thought of actually having consented a lot of times, which is wrong.

        I wonder how I might have taken this scene had I not read the books first. Admittedly, Lena Headey’s portrayal of Cersei gives her some vulnerability whereas my sympathy towards Cersei in the books is next to none, even later on when the chapters are told through her perspective (not to give anything away, it’s just interesting given that I find everyone else who’s only been a bit player who ends up getting their own chapters I tend to end up sympathising with). As you say, the chapter that this happens in occurs during Jaime’s POV and so it appears to be consensual.

        Whether I would have become angry over the entire scene, I still stick to my main argument. This is GOT and we have to expect that this sort of thing will happen whether we like it or not. However, you asked in your final comment, what was the point? Well, the point is that Jaime is still finding it extremely hard to have been knocked back from Cersei as bluntly as he has, as well as the rest of his family, especially given he has lost his identity of being one of the best swordsmen in Westeros by losing his hand. We don’t really get that as much with the television Jaime as we do in the books. Cersei then turns around and wants him to kill their brother, someone whom Jaime loves as a brother should, because of some nonsense about him killing their son (whom she is now recognising as Jaime’s son, not Robert’s). Jaime is appalled at the idea as well as the fact that when Cersei wants him she expects he will act immediately but he still feels blighted by her knock back previously when there was nothing he could do about being away for so long and maimed when she next saw him. It’s more anger than anything and I think he is trying to show her how desperate he has become with everything that has been said and done.

        I honestly can’t remember the exact detail in the book but I know that they still definitely harbour feelings towards one another at this point.

        I hope this makes things a bit clearer.

    • polarbears16 April 22, 2014 at 9:13 pm #

      Thanks for that; my “what was the point” was a bit more aimed at the way the controversy developed rather than the character elements of the scene, but I’m happy you wrote that explanation out. I tried to get at those ideas with my comment about the “need to hold on to identity in an environment that feeds his insecurities and sense of loss”, but you went much more in depth. It definitely makes more sense with your explanation. Again, I do think they were trying to convey that, but didn’t go about it in the best way. Also, interesting point about book vs. show sympathies; you’re right about Headey’s performance.

  2. cn April 22, 2014 at 6:45 pm #

    Very well written and great analysis!

    My thought on Jaime’s POV in the books: Book Jaimie hears Cersei’s “hurry-up-oh-yes,” and I assumed that he hadn’t penetrated until he hears her consent.

    I believe Book Jaime would have stopped when he heard her say “stop” because it should elicit memories of Aerys and Robert raping women.

    • polarbears16 April 22, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      Thanks! And thanks for your take on Book Jaime; I’ve read the passage, but it’s hard to get the full picture by just zeroing in on that section.

  3. louisoc April 22, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    I guess the question this whole situation makes relevant is whether the interpretation of the creator of the piece of art should take precedence over that of everyone else; I’m not going to claim to know the answer to that, but I’d like to just put it out there.

    As for myself, on a pragmatic level I’m annoyed that Benioff and Weiss took unnecessary liberties with the source material – when I’m writing a review of the episode, I won’t be discussing my feelings in depth as they aren’t strong enough to really warrant much elaboration. Instead, I’ll probably reference Sonia Saraiya’s piece (which, while well written, felt a tad extreme from my entirely neutral standpoint) and yours (a fair bit more moderate) if you wouldn’t mind. In any case, great post.

    • polarbears16 April 22, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

      True. I think the main interpretation should be our own–which is why many directors and writers don’t give concrete answers to their stories–but I do believe that if it’s offered up by the creator, it should be taken into consideration; in this case, with such a clear contradiction between the creators, then it warrants some confusion over what exactly they were trying to do there.

      I wouldn’t mind at all, and thanks!

  4. Crowd of Full Pockets/Shattenjager April 24, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Very smart and incisive post.
    And that’s coming from someone who hated Game of Thrones so much that he quit after the first season.


  1. Game of Thrones: “Breaker of Chains” Review (Season 4 Episode 3) | Louis O'Carroll on TV - May 3, 2014

    […] in the article. For a more moderate opinion, check out PolarBearsTV’s article on the topic here. I’d be edging more closely to PolarBear, but it wouldn’t exactly show integrity if I […]

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