Trigger warning for sexual violence.
With the events of last week still causing fallout in the world of Game of Thrones fandom, what will this week’s episode do, if anything, to mollify the justly disturbed? (I won’t go into specifics prior to the break, as per my policy, in order to avoid spoilers.) Of course, with the nature of television broadcast and filming schedules, it is unlikely that any mitigation of the damage is going to come so soon. The question really becomes: will Benioff and Weiss double down on what happened, worsening an already bad situation due to narrative momentum? Click through after the break to see what I think about the key and controversial event of last week’s episode.
<<Spoiler Alert: This editorial regarding events in Game of Thrones S04E03 – “Breaker of Chains” – will discuss major plot points and events from that episode, and will discuss potentially triggering actions and scenes; read further at your own discretion.>>
The scene I alluded to before the break was, of course, the rape of Cersei by Jaime. I admit right here that I haven’t yet seen this myself (it will have to wait until I return from vacation – they don’t have HBO at my hotel in Waikiki), but I have read enough reviews and friends’ reports to get a good feel for how things played out in the Sept beside Joffrey’s body. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m quite familiar with the books, so it had already taken me aback a little to see Jaime show up at King’s Landing prior to Joffrey’s death, as opposed to his arrival just after in the books. It read to me as an opportunity to contrast Joffrey’s monstrous nature with the newfound honor and pensiveness of his uncle/father, especially in those scenes where Joffrey openly mocks his Commander of the King’s Guard. It also allowed them to show, through several interactions, that Cersei had moved on from her incestuous relationship with Jaime, although he had not.
This mirrors what we see in the book to a degree, but I think it is a clear misunderstanding of Martin’s intent: in the books, Cersei has not lost her desire for Jaime; she is simply more aware of the potential political costs of their trysts. By having her openly and repeatedly reject Jaime, it means that they (Benioff and Weiss) should really not have had the sexual encounter between the two in the Sept. The circumstances were completely different, and the narrative need for that scene in the book – to show Cersei’s maturation – was already covered in her reactions to Jaime’s advances in previous episodes. This means that what he does, clearly against Cersei’s stated desires (stated on multiple occasions), is rape. It does not matter that she seems to consent at the end – a rape is a rape. Victims have been known anecdotally to fake consent or acquiescence, or seem to change their mind, primarily to protect themselves from further violence. This does not make what Jaime did in any way okay.
While this act will necessarily fundamentally change the way the audience sees Jaime, a character who was increasingly sympathetic largely due to his interactions with Brienne of Tarth, it is not on him the focus of the fans should be – it is on the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss. What is their motivation for writing and including this scene? If they intended to mimic what Martin does in the book, they missed the point entirely; if they’re trying to show Cersei’s increasing political awareness, they’ve already done that and better through dialogue and subtle physical gestures; and if they’re trying to show that Jaime is still a monster, there are many less offensive ways in which they could have done this. Lest we forget, this is still the same man that pushed a small child from a tower, attempting to kill him, and that had no problem fathering bastard children on his sister. He is the Kingslayer, and he is far better known for his dishonorable acts, than for anything honorable he has done. They did not need to have him rape his sister in front of their child’s body to emphasize this.
I feel that this is a major misstep on the parts of the show’s creators, and that they will drive some viewers away due to their choices. Should they make more mistakes in the same vein, I suspect their ratings may take a hit, despite the otherwise top-notch nature of the show. Yes, Game of Thrones is supposed to be about the true nature of politics in the medieval fantasy context, and it isn’t just blood and guts that exemplify this verisimilitude. War, by its nature, also includes abominations like rape, and perhaps that is the showrunners’ deeper justification; but war also includes things like infanticide, which is talked about but not shown on-screen. And in this particular case, the rape is completely gratuitous (this is not to say that rape itself is a gratuitous or non-gratuitous crime – I am referring to its portrayal in this particular scene), departing so completely both in tone and outcome from the source material.
It also resonates with the pilot episode three years ago, when Khal Drogo raped Daenerys on their wedding night, an act that clearly doesn’t happen in the books (he emphatically seeks her consent before consummating the marriage). This is the second time, then, that Benioff and Weiss have opted to show a rape where consensual sex occurred in the books. The question becomes: what is their motivation? What do they hope to accomplish? I can’t think of anything positive coming from these choices, and I only hope that they will pay attention to the massive outcry against their decision.