Rape in Game of Thrones

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For two weeks in a row there has been considerable talk about a scene from Game of Thrones. Due to the questions raised by this scene and all the discussion it has stimulated, I have decided to post on this today rather than waiting until the weekend for the usual weekly review of genre television. Major spoilers ahead for those who are behind in watching.

The scene between Cersei and Jaime Lannister by Joffrey’s dead body was disturbing and raised questions on multiple levels. While some disagree, I clearly saw it as rape, but with all the violence on this show didn’t necessarily find this aspect any more disturbing than many other events on the show. We’ve already seen everything from mass murder at a wedding to chopping off a prisoner’s penis to send to his family. While I don’t mean to minimize it, I also don’t find Jaime raping Cersei to be any worse than Jaime pushing Bran Stark out a window. The denial that the scene was rape is perhaps more disturbing than the portrayal of a rape on a show where violence is commonplace.

I did question why they portrayed Jaime as a rapist here, considering that they seem to have been presenting Jaime in a better light lately, unless they thought that Jaime was coming off too good lately and they wanted to alter this (an idea denied by the director of the show in an interview cited bel0w). Naturally the time and place was questionable. I also wondered why the first sex scene we have seen between Jaime and his sister was presented as rape considering that they have been shown to have consensual sex in the past. The question as to why it was portrayed as rape became even bigger once it became known that the scene was different n the book.

Show runner David Benioff  essentially described the scene as rape with Jaime forcing himself upon Cersei, who was resisting:

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.

George R.R. Martin has provided some background, explaining the difference between the situation here and in the book, where the sex was consensual:

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 quarreling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why Dan & David played the sept out differently. But that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.

Also, I was writing the scene from Jaime’s POV, so the reader is inside his head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing.

If the show had retained some of Cersei’s dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression — but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.

That’s really all I can say on this issue. The scene was always intended to be disturbing… but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.

I considered the scene a rape scene while viewing considering how Cersei resisted with Jaime ignoring her but  Alex Graves, who directed the show, said it became consensual by the end an interview with HotFix:

Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle. Nobody really wanted to talk about what was going on between the two characters, so we had a rehearsal that was a blocking rehearsal. And it was very much about the earlier part with Charles (Dance) and the gentle verbal kidnapping of Cersei’s last living son. Nikolaj came in and we just went through one physical progression and digression of what they went through, but also how to do it with only one hand, because it was Nikolaj. By the time you do that and you walk through it, the actors feel comfortable going home to think about it. The only other thing I did was that ordinarily, you rehearse the night before, and I wanted to rehearse that scene four days before, so that we could think about everything. And it worked out really well. That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.

The description as “consensual by the end” raises obvious objections when considering the position of rape victims. Vulture asked Graves about this, along with the motivations behind such a scene with Jaime:

One of my colleagues suggested that the tweak, making Jaime the kind of person who might force himself on Cersei, might have happened to remind viewers that he’s not a morally upright guy, pouring out his heart to Brienne notwithstanding. Was that part of the decision to your knowledge?
No. It’s a very, very complicated scene. The thing about it is that Jaime has come home and is trying to convince himself that things are the same: that he and Cersei are a unit, they’re in love, they have sex, everything comes out of that bond. And he’s desperate to reinvigorate that and it has not been working. That’s part of what’s behind him, that lie he’s telling himself, that seasons two and three didn’t happen. So it’s a last act of stupid clinging to what’s been home for him, because it will never be the same. It’s also setting up something that happens in the finale. For Cersei, she is so blindsided and in the middle of the audacious murder of Joffrey at his own wedding, she’s standing there pondering all this with her other son, her sweet son. And her father comes in and basically says, “There is no way you’re going to have control over this kid” and takes him away. So she’s just empty. She’s decimated. What I said is what we just talked about. It’s just fleshing it out.

You say it “becomes consensual by the end.” I rewatched the scene this morning, and it ends with Cersei saying, “It’s not right, it’s not right,” and Jaime on top of her saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care.” It leaves some room for debate. Were you involved with cutting the scene? Was there a longer version of the scene that might have read more like they were both consenting?
It’s my cut of the scene. The consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, the other thing that I think is clear before they hit the ground is she starts to make out with him. The big things to us that were so important, and that hopefully were not missed, is that before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.

Despite how disturbing the scene might have been, there was also a behind the scenes humorous aspect to filming the scene:

Right, and part of what she’s resisting is that this is all happening next to Joffrey’s body.
It’s bizarre, and I highlighted that in how I shot it. A funny behind-the-scenes joke was every time we shot a take, and Lena and Nikolaj drop beneath the table, Jack Gleason would sit up and look down to try and see what was going on.

He really did that?
Yeah, he did! It was hilarious. He would take the rocks off of his eyes and lean over to take a look. He was so funny.

While it remains debatable as to whether changing the scene from the book was a good idea, at least George R.R. Martin did provide an explanation for why this might have been handled different on the television version. Perhaps this decision will make more sense when we see where the relationship between Cersei and Jaime goes from here, and if it also differs from the novels.

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    PeterV says:

    The real problem isn’t with the scene in itself. Rape happens in the world of Game of Thrones. The true problem is only seen over time. The directors of this show have consistently tweaked the plot of the show to contain more sex scenes, more nudity, more rape, and more exploitation of women, not to serve the plot-line, but to serve the audience attention span. I am a huge fan of the books, and a fair fan of the show, but really I can’t support them anymore. It makes me complicit in the objectification of women. There is a difference between watching a show set in a world where women are objectified and understanding their suffering, and watching a show that convinces more people to watch it because it is objectifying women.

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