Note: This post contains spoilers about last night’s “Breaker of Chains” episode.
For those of you who saw last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Breaker Of Chains,” I have one word for you: whoa. The show is known for aggressive violence–both physical and sexual–but last night’s rape scene between Jaime Lannister and his sister Cersei made it clear that the show’s is using rape as a sexual stimulant rather than a plot point. The show’s aggressive nudity and sexual content is often brushed aside as part of the plot line, but last night proved that Game of Thrones considers sexual assault sexy for TV.
Jaime and Cersei are at the tomb of Joffrey Baratheon, the son born from their incestuous relationship, whom we watched die from poisoning in last week’s episode. While almost everyone in the entire world was a-okay with Joffrey dying, Cersei was devastated with her son’s death. Jaime, too, was traumatized given that he was not only the boy’s uncle, but also his father. Cersei is looking to avenge her son and seemed to be looking for some form of comfort in Jaime, even telling him to execute Tyrion, whom she believes poisoned Joffrey.
The pair begin to kiss, but upon seeing his golden hand that replaced his severed one, she pulls away. Jaime then says, “You’re a hateful woman. Why have the Gods made me love a hateful woman?” and lunges at her, proceeding to forcibly kiss her atop Joffrey’s body. She pulls away but he refuses to stop, ignoring her protests of “no” and “it’s not right,” subsequently raping her on the floor of the tomb. So, aside from the whole “trying to hookup on top of his dead son’s corpse” aspect, it is frightening to hear a rapist tell his victim that he loves her just prior to ripping her dress and forcing himself on her.
There’s the obvious detail that the pair are in front of Joffrey’s corpse that is unsettling to watch. Yes, Joffrey was a ruthless and profoundly stupid king, but he was their son and he is dead–attempting to have sex inches away from his body is beyond disconcerting. And it’s horrifying that this is the only way Jaime can think to react to his pain. Instead of consoling her or expressing his emotions, Jaime assaults her, erasing the empathy he had built with the audience following the loss of his hand and his journey with Brienne of Tarth. To be honest, up until this point I was certain that Jaime would be the only redeemable Lannister besides Tyrion; now, it’s impossible to see him as a potentially decent human being. And what’s worse: this scene wasn’t even in the book.
As Sonia Saraiya from the A.V. Club explains in an excellent piece titled “Rape Of Thrones,” the scene in the book features a significantly less disturbing situation. While the incest aspect will always be distressing to audiences (one would hope, at least), the scene actually went like this:
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.
So…not the same. Unpleasant and incestuous and uncomfortable, yes, but certainly not the equivalent of a long, drawn-out rape scene wherein Cersei’s cries are ignored as Jaime assaults her. So, why are the show’s writers attempting to turn the book’s sex scene into a rape for the show?
We already know that Game of Thrones features a considerable amount of rape, torture, and psychological terror. It’s not an easy show to watch. From the sight of a prostitute’s body strewn up and full of arrows from Joffey’s bow to the aforementioned king forcing Sansa Stark to stare at her father’s decapitated head to a very pregnant Talisa Stark being repeatedly stabbed in the stomach, it’s consistently squeezed in a rather profound amount of violence–the majority of which is in the books. It does not make any sense to add in a random rape scene unless the show’s makers have some particular inclination towards making rape a fun little extra plot device.
Another frustrating thing about Jaime’s rape of Cersei is how it was commented on by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime. While discussing the scene, the actor made some points that may have taken an unintended meaning due to the difference between the book and HBO’s version.
“To understand the psychology behind it, and why he goes as far as he does, was really difficult.
“To me it became, When does physical desire take over? It’s one of those things where he’s been holding it back for so long, and then out of anger he grabs her, and instinct takes over, and he lets loose. He says, I don’t care. He wants to not care. He has to connect to her, and he knows this is the most fucked up way for it to happen, but in that moment, he knows it’s all he can do. It’s an act of powerlessness.”
Yes, “the most fucked up way” for somebody to behave, but it is certainly not a connection. It’s also not an act of powerlessness; in fact, rape is the exact opposite of that. It’s the total removal of power from one’s victim. It is not “all he can do”; rape is a choice, and Jaime actively chooses to rape his sister in this scene.
He goes on to comment on its difficulty to shoot:
“It was tough to shoot, as well. There is significance in that scene, and it comes straight from the books—it’s George R.R. Martin’s mind at play. It took me awhile to wrap my head around it, because I think that, for some people, it’s just going to look like rape. The intention is that it’s not just that; it’s about two people who’ve had this connection for so many years, and much of it is physical, and much of it has had to be kept secret, and this is almost the last thing left now. It’s him trying to force her back and make him whole again because of his stupid hand.”
Again, no. It doesn’t “look like rape”–it is rape. It is him trying to force her back, but force is not something involved in consensual sex. In the book, she tells him to “do it now.” But somewhere in between the book and what aired last night, consensuality went missing. In the show’s version of the scene, Cersei continuously says she does not want to do have sex. Not there, not then, not at all. It looks like rape because it is rape. That said, the way he is discussing the scene feels very relevant to the book’s version, and we don’t know if perhaps something that he shot for the scene may have differed from how it was edited.
Of course, this is not the first random non-consensual sexual act we have witnessed in Game of Thrones–it’s not even the first in this season. Just two episodes ago, Arya and The Hound walk into a scene where a woman is being groped by soldiers as her father begs to have them stop. It is barely touched on and it is not remotely integral to the plot, but the sexual assault of this unnamed woman is supposed to set the mood for the scene. In that same episode, Prince Oberyn removes a prostitute’s clothing and touches her as she looks noticeably uncomfortable. Rather than treating this situation as what it is (disturbing, unsettling, nonconsensual), it’s intended as being almost titillating.
We know that there will continue to be rape throughout the show. HBO is known for having more sexual content than “normal TV,” but at this point, it’s using rape as a titillating sideshow rather than a plot advancement.
The world established by George R. R. Martin allows for an abundance of sexual abuse; these are the perimeters he has set, and that is something we have accepted as viewers and readers. However, we do not need to accept the show’s writers’ decisions to show more rape in extensive and dread-inducing scenes.
George RR Martin’s world in GoT is one where hyper-violence abounds, but HBO’s show is fetishizing rape. And that’s not OK.