Here’s Why What Happened Last Night on ‘Game of Thrones’ Hurts the Show

I wasn’t going to write about this issue, since so many others have, but I feel compelled to add my two cents — as a huge fan of both the TV and book series. In order to do that I’m going to go into major Game of Thrones as well as A Song of Ice and Fire spoilers. You’ve been warned.

Last night on Game of Thrones, twins Jaime and Cersei had sex in the Great Sept of Baelor alongside the corpse of their dead son, the late king Joffrey. Things couldn’t get weirder, right? Oh, except for the fact that Jaime actually raped his longtime lover/mother of his children/lifelong confidant/twin sister.

GoT-Cersei-Jaime-Breaker of Chains

To be clear: the showrunners meant for it to be a rape scene.

That is, unless showrunnners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss think there is a difference between “forcing himself on her” and rape. then they have confirmed Jaime does, in fact, rape Cersei. Benioff confirms Jaime does in fact rape Cersei in the Inside the Episode: Game of Thrones Season 4, Episode 3 special feature. He states:

It becomes a really kinda horrifying scene because you see obviously Joffrey’s body right there and you see that Cersei is resisting this. She’s saying no and he’s forcing himself on her. So it was a really uncomfortable scene, and a tricky scene to shoot.

There is no detailed explanation for why this scene was treated in this way nor how it will affect Cersei and Jaime’s arcs for the rest of the season.

And yet, the episode’s director and the actor portraying Jaime are less sure about whether or not the scene depicts rape.

Director Alex Graves spoke to Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix, explaining his interpretation of the scene. He states,

Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.

Besides the problematic understandings of consent, the scene is a rare technical failure for the series. The first half of the scene is effective — Cersei watches helplessly as Tywin places Tommen under his influence, thereby losing her only remaining child. But in the second half of the scene — Graves falls short of his directorial intent. The blocking and camera placement are awkward. The dialogue and editing emphasize Cersei resisting Jaime’s clumsy yet forceful advances. Jaime’s only response is “I don’t care.” A rape is a rape is a rape.

Actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) spoke to The Daily Beast about “Game of Thrones‘ most WTF sex scene.” When asked if it constitutes rape, he answers, “Yes and no.” Again — a rape is a rape is a rape.

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It’s not how it happened in the book, and that’s important.

“It’s not how it happened in the book” is normally not enough of an argument to complain about the execution of an adaptation. However, in this case, a change in consent from the book’s description of Jaime and Cersei’s interaction fundamentally alters Jaime and Cersei’s future interactions as well as their respective character arcs. The book — the page in question shown above — describes the scene as a disturbing albeit consensual sexual encounter. Instead of icky moans of “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now” we hear disturbing repeated objections of “stop it” and “it’s not right.”

The encounter marks both Jaime and Cersei’s last ditch attempt to reclaim their former relationship. While the show does the same for Jaime, Show!Cersei is already determined that their connection cannot be restored. It de-powers Show!Cersei where Book!Cersei is a grieving mother who retains her penchant for manipulation — even though she fails to ensnare Book!Jaime as she has in the past.

Confusion in execution creates confusion in reception.

Game of Thrones is lauded for its excellence due in part to its singular vision and laser-sharp focus in storytelling. There are so many moving parts and people that make up the series on and off camera that without direction, it would fall apart. The execution of Jaime and Cersei’s interaction in the Great Sept is clunky not just for its problematic commentary on sexual politics but merely in terms of production. If Benioff, Graves, and Coster-Waldau describe the scene in vastly different ways, then how is the audience meant to receive it without unwanted confusion?

That being said, Game of Thrones doesn’t have the greatest track record in depicting sexual violence. It isn’t the first time the series has changed a book sex scene into something that featured less than 100% mutual consent.

Do we really need another complex female TV character to be raped?

Mellie Grant, Claire Underwood, Cersei Lannister — unlike their male counterparts, ruthless, cutthroat women in politics don’t seem to have a great track record in TV dramas. Plus, Cersei is already a victim of marital rape, having suffered under an unwanted marriage with Robert Baratheon.

My gut tells me that this scene was changed to further emphasize Cersei’s isolation. She’s lost all of her children — Myrcella to Dorne, Joffrey to poison, and now Tommen to Tywin. She thinks one brother killed her son. Now her other brother/the only man she truly loved rapes her. I don’t know about you, but I understood Cersei’s isolation well before this change in the scene. 

That’s the thing about sexual violence in entertainment — there is always an explanation, a justification to why it’s essential to the story. Portrayals of rape and blurred lines of consent are valid cultural storylines, but the sheer number of shows that portray nonconsensual sex is staggering. Frankly, the popularity of rape plot points is worrisome.

It complicates Jaime’s character development in an unproductive way.

We get it — Jaime Lannister is not a nice guy. His road trip with Brienne may have caused the audience viewers to forget that he threw a child out of a window in the pilot episode. He’s still that Jaime. The showrunners need to give the audience more credit.

Jaime’s arc is one of redemption — a redemption that is perhaps futile given all that he has done in the past. But to have Jaime willfully disregard the cries of the woman he loves — regardless of how hateful she is — is out of character and out of step from his trajectory. I’m skeptical that Jaime would put Cersei in harm’s way — even when he’s the one inflicting the harm. I’m also skeptical that he would be unaware of the harm he is causing, given prevailing Westerosi sensibilities on rape. (Rapers go to the Wall or face castration.)

There’s a difference between depicting sexual violence for narrative purposes and using sexual violence as a prop to make a narrative more “interesting.”

Game of Thrones depicts a lot of deplorable things from a mundane lack of hygiene here to a gruesome castration there. Nothing, apparently, is off limits — not even rape. That’s perfectly acceptable in theory. In practice, it comes off as throwing in rape for the sake of being edgy rather than for potent narrative objectives.

Perhaps we’ve all spoken too soon (but I doubt it). Next episode entitled “Oathkeeper” delves into Jaime’s struggle for redemption, which potentially can relate to his guilt for forcing himself on Cersei. No series is perfect, but this scene is a great misstep for series that normally succeeds in being provocative for a purpose.

UPDATE: Director Alex Graves talked to Vulture and clarified “ultimately, it was meant to be consensual.” Oh okay. Never mind!

GoT-Cersei-Eye roll

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