A massive internet based furore has arisen in the last few days regarding a certain scene in the latest episode of Game of Thrones (read our review here). The scene takes place between twins and lovers Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey).

Relations between the pair have been strained at best since Jaime’s return; following the death of Joffrey the pot boils over, and Jaime appears to force himself on Cersei. What’s provoking is that in the Game of Thrones books this act is not forced, but consensual, and there seems to have been absolutely no reason for the show’s writers to change sex into rape. Other than an excuse to pour yet more sexual violence into a show which is already chock full of it.

Game of Thrones has form in this particular area. Remember that very hard to watch sequence way back in the first season when Daenerys Targaryen was forced to marry Khal Drogo, then forced to consummate said marriage on a cliff top? Well, that scene was played out very differently in the book. In actual literary fact, Drogo explicitly requests permission to continue, which Daenerys very willingly gives (Update: however, book Dany is only 13 years old at the time, which is a whole nother kettle of fish). Even so, all this shoe-horning of rape into where there was no rape before is starting to grind everyone’s gears just a tad.

One issue of the current argument is that Game of Thrones overuses rape and sexual violence against women both to further the plot and up the shock value. The crux (and the thing that’s really clouding the issue) is that this scene between Cersei and Jaime was originally written as consensual, and for some reason it seems that Weiss/Benioff and company decided that yet another rape scene would be far more effective. Or did they?

The whole thing is made even more confusing by the fact that the showrunners can’t seem to agree amongst themselves about whether it was actually meant to be seen as rape or not.

Episode director Alex Graves told Hitfix that the scene “becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle”. He also told Vulture that the scene was definitely consensual; however, he referred to the scene as “forced sex” – i.e., you know, rape – in another interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

In contrast David Benioff, who co-writes the series with D. B. Weiss, was very clear in the episode’s video diary when he said this: “It becomes a really kind of 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.”

And what does the father of ice and fire have to say about all this? Well, George R. R. Martin tries to justify the scene by citing changes in the timeline.

“I think the ‘butterfly effect’ that I have spoken of so often was at work here. In the novels, Jaime is not present at Joffrey’s death, and indeed, Cersei has been fearful that he is dead himself, that she has lost both the son and the father/lover/brother. And then suddenly Jaime is there before her. Maimed and changed, but Jaime nonetheless. Though the time and place is wildly inappropriate and Cersei is fearful of discovery, she is as hungry for him as he is for her.

“The whole dynamic is different in the show, where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other’s company on numerous occasions, often quarrelling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why Dan and David played the Sept out differently. But that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.”

However we look at it, Weiss/Benioff (and by extension Graves and Martin) have screwed up pretty badly here. Either they have made a decision to turn a consensual sex scene into a rape scene for no really justifiable reason, or they have written and shot a consensual sex scene so badly that everyone who watched it came away thinking it was rape.

It does seem ridiculous that at no point did a single person in the cutting room stick their hand in the air and mumble something along the lines of “Hold the phone here guys, is this or is this not rape? And regardless of whether or not we mean it as rape, are people going to watch this scene and think ‘that’s rape’”?

We can’t let the show off scot-free simply by saying ‘Well, it’s set in a fantasy world where that kind of thing goes on’. Especially not this time – this time it didn’t happen that way at all. And besides, we don’t live in a fantasy world; in the real world, the normalisation of sexual violence against women is very real, and very terrifying.

The controversy of the last few days has brought an unsettling truth home to a lot of GOT fans; much as we love Game of Thrones, we need to acknowledge that there is plenty we really don’t like about it.

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  1. Efrem Zimbalist Jr

    " ….. to the best of my recollection.”

    cf:

    " ….. I have no memory, of anything at all …. "

    "I had no prior knowledge … of the Watergate operation …. "

    Another forensic analysis of a hard topic. It may be just a TV series, but it can't dodge the issue.