4 Reasons why we’re not ok with what happened on Game of Thrones: Sexual Violence in Westeros

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This past week’s episode of Game of Thrones has created an uproar, as the showrunners seem to have finally taken the sexual violence which has always peppered the show too far, for critics and fans of the books and show alike. Below are my thoughts on why I and others believe that the scene in which Jaime rapes Cersei is an unforgivable mistake, both from the standpoint of plot and good television as well as politics.

In the misty London spring of last year I sat down for a cool beer and a discussion of the latest Game of Thrones episode with a friend. At some point in our conversation her discomfort became visible. “The episode was just, a little…rape-y, didn’t you think?”

At the time I mumbled something noncommittal about the book including mentions of rape as an evil of war and changed the subject. I was in agreement with her acknowledgement that Game of Thrones was seriously starting to rely too heavily on sexualized violence, but I was not yet ready to turn on the show that gave me so much enjoyment and something to look forward to every week.

But now, I’m ready to admit that the show has gone too far. We have seen two prostitutes forced to torture one another, the Red Wedding re-written to contain violently sexualized metaphor, a young women torn apart by dogs because of the jealousy of another woman, unnecessary allusions to rape made about the 11-year-old Arya, and now the utterly vile rape of Cersei by her brother and lover Jaime. For the record, there is apparently some debate as to whether this scene constitutes rape. I will not bother to address this, as I believe that Cersei’s repeated statement of ‘no’ and ‘stop’ is more than enough evidence that what occurred was in no way consensual. If you have doubts, please look here for answers.

In case you’re unsure as to why this scene is causing such debate and distress in both the obsessive fan community and with the critics of Game of Thrones, let me give you a quick overview of the main reasons espoused not only by myself but also by others:

1. “This is not how it happened in the book”

In the book the scene is disturbing and not the clearest case of 100% consent. Indeed Jaime seems to ignore Cersei’s initial objections which are due to her fear of discovery by the Septons (priests) and their father, Lord Tywin. However, in the book, Cersei says yes, and even tells Jaime to hurry. Many critics have pointed out the parallels between this scene and that of Khal Drogo and Dany’s first night together. In the book Dany not only says yes but initiates the sexual contact. In the show, she cries as he rapes her from behind.

2. “This doesn’t make sense for either character, or their relationship”

Jaime may not be the perfect hero, but neither is he a villain anymore. Far changed from the man who pushed Brann out of a window to his death without a second thought, Jaime, for all his selfishness, has become consistently more sympathetic to the viewer, particularly thanks to his relationship with Brienne. And by the way, when Jaime lost his hand, it was because he was attempting to protect from Brienne from being raped. I think Saraiya says it best:

“Jaime is a figure of chivalric love in the books—despite his arrogance and ruthlessness, his devotion and sense of duty to Cersei, the only woman he has ever loved, is so fervent as to border on adoration. Admittedly, the show can’t rely on his point-of-view chapters, as the book does, to communicate that love. But given what we have seen Cersei Lannister capable of—her ex-husband is hardly the only man she’s had killed—is it even conceivable that she would stand for it? Jaime raping Cersei is a major anomaly for these two characters—even based purely on what we’ve seen in the show. It’s just not something that either character would do.”

3. “I’m sick of unnecessary sexual violence in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones has become well known for deviating from the book to include as much sex as possible, apparently to simply ‘jazz up’ what would otherwise be too boring for viewers. (Dialogue without boobs? How could I possibly stay awake?!)  The real problem is, much of this sex is not consensual, and most of the sexual violence (just like the consensual sex) generally serves no purpose for plot/character development. Instead it is sprinkled liberally throughout the show to create a general ambient of menace and to shock and disgust viewers in a show that becomes consistently more extreme. And, as Hrabar points out, when rape is used for a purpose, supposedly to develop characters, it is lazy storytelling (and very clumsy at best). As TV shows with complex characters and story lines and ambiguous relationships with good and evil become more and more popular, it is clear that TV audiences are ready (and hungry!) for TV which is more sophisticated. TV shows such as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and True Detective have become vastly popular, and rely far less on over-simplistic characters and plot lines. Instead, they have depth and complexity and they sell.

4. “This reinforces rape culture

We live in a world where sexual assault is is disturbingly prevalent, and the few survivors who do choose to come forward are constantly treated with skepticism and peppered with questions about whether they truly resisted, while it is insinuated that they somehow deserved or ‘asked for it’. As Hudson states, this scene “reinforces an idea that is already terrifyingly pervasive in our society: that consent is not something that women give but something that must taken from them by force.” So this is why director Alex Graves’ statement that the sex “becomes consensual by the end” is essentially problematic. We all saw Cersei resisting, we heard her say ‘no’ and ‘stop’ repeatedly. But the way in which people are responding to this scene terrifyingly mirrors the way rape victims are treated (blamed) in our society, debating whether Cersei resisted enough, fought as hard as she could, whether she secretly actually wanted it.

Many people are also up in arms because they think that this scene is no different than the many other acts of violence in Game of Thrones. But as Rebecca points out in a conversation on Mary Jane, Game of Thrones will include sexualized assault, but they’ve shown very little ability or even willingness to address the emotional consequences upon the victims, which is terrible.” And herein lies the problem. Beyond the fact that these scenes are unnecessary, their consequences remain unexamined. The showrunners and director seem to have no conception that these things could be problematic, and apparently no intention to address the violence and the impact it has on the survivor.

 

And so with that, here are my thoughts for the showrunners.

Hey Game of Thrones, one of your most stalwart watcher of show and buyer of things here. Your previous indiscretions and liberal massaging of the book’s plot was pretty much okay with me. I understand that adapting such a long and twisty plot to a TV series is no easy task, and bravo. I think for the most part you have done a great job.

The problem is that by reducing every relationship to a hackneyed stereotype you have destroyed much of what was beautiful in the book.

Your love stories are stale, Game of Thrones. We wanted the strange, which is realistic, not a bunch of recycled old archetypes. We wanted a Danaerys whose lust was for a loathsome barbarian against her best sense, not a girl falling for rock hard abs and a pretty face. We wanted a Cersei who defiles the deathbed of her son willingly, a Jaime who loves too much and suffers just as hard. We wanted a Tyrion scorned by a woman whose life had hardened her heart just a little too much. We wanted a Ygritte who hit that heartbreaker Jon Snow with the best shot she could muster, not a woman who held back.

In short, we wanted variety, humanity, the diversity and depravity which spices real life. We are not children or fools and we do not appreciate being lied to. We do not need easily digestible characters, and we want their relationships to be as difficult, complex and complicated as our own. Not everything is a love story and not all love stories are the same.

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