The Game of Thrones Rape Problem

*Obviously a triggery subject so take care in reading on.

**Also, I will be using language far more foul than I usually do because I will be quoting directly from the show.

***Spoilers are present up until the point Season 4 ends, both in the show and in the books.

As I stated in my most popular article, Why Girls Hate Game of Thrones—A Rebuttal, I love the TV show Game of Thrones and I absolutely believe it is wrong to state with such a sweeping generalization that all women hate it.  That would be like saying all men loathe romantic comedies or all little girls play with Barbies.  It’s wrong to make such a generalization and it does a disservice to women who happen to be fantasy fans as well.  But as I also mention in the article, while I love Game of Thrones I believe that there are some problems with the show.  The answer to these problems are not really to boycott the show but to try to bring about a reasonable discussion about said problems.  I know that’s hard on the internet and will likely lead to me getting death and/or rape threats, but it’s an important conversation to have.

I want to talk about rape.  Specifically, how it is portrayed and worked into the various storylines in the television show.

But for those of you who don’t read full articles before commenting I want to make a few things clear:

  1. I am not against nor have I ever been against depicting rape in fiction on principle.  It is unfortunately a large part of many women’s and men’s lives, directly or indirectly and it deserves to be depicted because of that.
  2. Portraying something is not the same as condoning or otherwise supporting it.
  3. Any threats I receive over this article will be passed on to the RCMP.  I will also be heavily moderating the comments section here on this article so before you comment, go over and read my commenting policy.  No, my blog is not a democracy and I will quite happily permanently ban you from commenting if you start spewing vitriol rather than contribute to the discussion.

First off, I want to look at the cases where the depiction of rape was actually justified:

Karl Tanner at Craster's Keep

Case #1: Craster’s Keep and the Deserters of the Night’s Watch

Obviously, this takes place in the fourth season of the show and it is one of the cases where rape and sexual assault are accurately depicted.  I mean, the view we get inside Craster’s Keep under Karl Tanner’s reign of terror is absolutely horrific.  There are women crying, whimpering, covered in dirt and bruised, just otherwise being treated like objects.  Karl Tanner even states his objective: “Fuck them ’til they’re dead!”

It’s a chilling scene and rightly so.  These women have suffered so much under the hand of Craster—who in some cases is their own father sexually abusing them—but to further suffer under men who are supposed to ‘protect the realms of men’ is just even worse.  Even amongst the Free Folk north of the Wall, it shows that women are still not fully the equals of men.  The gender inequality is far worse when you get south of the Wall but it is still most definitely present in the north.

What makes this scene important is not only that it depicts the brutal reality of sexual assault and rape, it is justified within the storyline.  HBO isn’t just including it to increase sexual intention or to titillate viewers.  It actually plays an important role because after Jon Snow and the others liberate the women it wraps up the entire Craster storyline, shows Jon’s budding leadership qualities and gives Bran yet another hard choice because he sees Jon at the keep and has to decide whether or not to call out to him.  In the end Bran chooses not to in favour of finding the Three-Eyed Raven but the fact that he had that choice in the show tells viewers how determined he is and hints at how important his mission is.

Daenerys and Drogo

Case #2: Daenerys’ marriage to Khal Drogo

In the books her wedding night is a little more ambiguous with Drogo arousing her until she finally said ‘yes’ to his advances.  When reading that scene one has to keep in mind the fact that she was 14 at the time so I do say it’s ambiguous.  In a lot of countries the age of consent hovers around 14-15 but there’s a reasonable debate about whether or not a teenager at that age can truly consent to a marriage and all that comes with it.  In Canada the answer is no when the age difference is there but a lot of other countries have a lower age of consent.  However, what happens in the books is not really the problem here.

I was a little troubled when I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones and saw Daenerys being undressed by Drogo and then bent over by him forcibly, still crying.  She was terrified and definitely not consenting, therefore it was unequivocally rape.  However, this is not as troubling an example as the one after this for a very simple reason: it was not gratuitous because it was actually worked into her storyline and affected her character development.

In the beginning, Daenerys is raped nightly by Khal Drogo.  She’s crying and terrified, being forced into a marriage with a hulking foreigner who doesn’t speak her language and doesn’t seem overly concerned about her feelings regarding the situation.  But after talking with her maids and beginning to learn the language, she asks Doreah to help her with her marriage, to let her take control of a situation she has very little control over.  Daenerys eventually succeeds and actually begins to love her husband as he falls in love with her, particularly after they find out she is going to have a son.  The psychological and ethical implications of that aside, it’s really the start of her taking control over her life and leads to her highly independent streak after Drogo’s death.  She becomes a stronger person and overcoming the fact that she was being raped nightly is just one part of the equation.

So while I don’t necessarily see that the change from the books was for the better, it certainly wasn’t for the worse and it was an integral part of Daenerys’ storyline.  In addition to that, it really drives home the point that Game of Thrones is set in a world very different from ours, where marriage is a license for rape, women are cattle, men kill each other over nothing and the smallfolk are caught in the middle of the game of thrones the lords play.  It’s an important part of portraying the real culture of inequality that permeates every aspect of that society.

To sum up: Yes, I believe that this was a justified portrayal within the context of the story.

Now, I want to look at the one really glaring example where rape was absolutely not justified.

Cersei Jaime Sept of Baelor

Case #3: The Sept of Baelor Scene

This particular rape scene takes place in Season 4 in the Sept of Baelor during Joffrey’s wake.  Jaime comes in after Tywin takes Tommen out, dismisses every single person so that he can be alone with Cersei and rapes her.  The first time I watched the scene I thought that I saw Cersei reaching for Jaime’s belt after he gets her on her back but I’ve gone over the scene since then and am left with the feeling that this was pretty clearly rape.  She and Jaime kissed pretty passionately with positive responses on both sides but then Cersei moves away.  Jaime then grabs her, kisses her and starts to rip off her clothes while moving her toward the floor.  All the while, Cersei says: “Jaime not here, please.  Please.  Stop it!  Stop it!  It’s not right.”  Even though she consented to that kiss, Jaime should have backed off the second he saw her move away.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he grabs her and forcibly kisses her.  Even when she tells him to stop—which is pretty clearly a ‘consent not given’ message—he continues anyway.  She was verbally refusing to have sex with him and since he didn’t accept this refusal, this is rape.  You can watch the scene for yourself:

The problem with this whole scene is not that rape took place in a pretty disturbing setting, it’s the fact that it was completely gratuitous.  There is no justification within the show for making this scene.  Let me state my case.

First off, in the books the sex was consensual because Cersei hadn’t seen Jaime yet and he just appeared to her for the first time in almost two years, even if it was at her son’s wake.  She initially protested about the wrongness of the location but then said to Jaime: “Hurry…quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now.”  That’s a far cry from “Jaime not here, please.  Please.  Stop it!  Stop it!  It’s not right.”

I don’t mind the fact that the producers and writers decide to change scenes from the book to fit the show a little bit more.  It makes sense for Jaime and Cersei not to have frantic, consensual sex in the Sept of Baelor after their son dies because Jaime’s been back since before the wedding.  But does it really make sense to have Jaime rape Cersei?  I think not and when I discussed this with my dad, who follows the show as well, he and I were in agreement.  And he said something that makes a lot of sense to me: “What kind of a man would have sex near the body of his dead child?”

That got me thinking.  Even if Jaime was frustrated because Cersei refused to have sex with him (as seen in episode one of the fourth season), is he still the kind of man who would have sex near the body of his dead child?  He was never close to Joffrey in the show but at the same time I don’t think he is that kind of man anymore.  I don’t have much doubt that he could have done it in the first season but now, after all that he’s been through with Brienne, confessing some of his past and showing himself in actions if not words to be a better person?  I don’t think so.  The kind of man who risks his life to save a woman he doesn’t even particularly like from a bear is not the kind of man who would have sex near the corpse of his son.  It just doesn’t fit Jaime’s character, particularly when you consider the character rehabilitation he underwent after the loss of his hand and the confession to Brienne what really happened during the fall of King’s Landing all those years ago.  And it presents a lot of problems later in the season as Jaime seems to go back to his new nicer self, begging the question: what the hell was that little episode?  It’s like the writers wrote the scene and then just ignored the character implications for Jaime other than a token distancing between him and Cersei that was already going on.  That leads to my next point.

My point is that although it doesn’t make sense for both characters (Cersei is not the sort of woman to let a rape by the man she used to love go off with just a bit of cold shoulder), it really doesn’t make sense in terms of the plot.  There was really no need for it!  By refusing Jaime in the first episode and mentioning to Qyburn that her symptoms were “completely gone”, it’s almost certain that she was having an affair while Jaime was gone.  Especially when she tells him he “took too long” to get back and that “everything’s changed”.  By that point, their relationship was already crumbling; it didn’t need the rape to make a clear break between the two.  The writers could have just gradually let their relationship fall apart over the course of the story, inserting that clear break when Jaime refuses to kill Tyrion and supports him during the trial.

The rape scene was just completely gratuitous and that’s why I really don’t agree with it making it into the episode.  If you’re going to change the timeline and the storyline from the books, you should have a good reason for doing so (which they did) and do it in a way that makes sense for the rest of the story (which they didn’t).  And the fact that the most revenge Cersei takes on Jaime for raping her near the corpse of her firstborn son is giving him the cold shoulder?  That’s just ridiculous and completely out of character for Cersei.  She’s had people murdered before, as many characters allude to and she didn’t let Robert get away with raping her for so long, taking her own revenge in little ways before finally arranging his somewhat accidental death.  I don’t think her character would have allowed Jaime, the man she used to love as much as someone like her can love, to get away so easily.  It just doesn’t make sense.

Game of ThronesThe thing is, I love Game of Thrones and I’m almost bouncing up and down I’m so eager for Season 5 to start on Sunday.  But at the same time, I am able to acknowledge the problems it has.  I don’t really see some of the gratuitous sex as bad but that completely gratuitous rape scene between Jaime and Cersei…that’s a little troubling and even George R. R. Martin couldn’t really justify it to his fans after the controversy swept the internet.  Even if you don’t think it was rape (which, yeah, it was) you can probably agree with me that it didn’t really advance the story any so there was really no point to it.  Jaime and Cersei were already becoming distant and the writers could have easily made Tyrion’s trial the breaking point instead of inserting a scene that was shocking and should have had consequences for the character arcs of both parties involved but didn’t really.  It was just gratuitous and I haven’t even tried to justify it.

But I still do love the show and I firmly believe that depicting things like rape is not glamourizing or condoning them.  I just really wish that Game of Thrones tackled rape in a consistently ‘good’ way rather than inserting shocking scenes just to generate controversy rather than advance the story or the character arcs.

So what do you folks think of all this?  Did the Jaime-Cersei rape scene bother you as much as it did me?  Book readers: how did you feel about the drastic change in that particular scene?  And did anyone else find the lack of aftereffects on both characters and the plot sort of odd, as if the writers were trying to pretend that scene never happened?

Please let me know your thoughts on this topic.  Also, please keep the tone respectful.  I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with me (because that would be ridiculous) but I expect polite disagreement.  If you can’t manage that, don’t comment.  And if you can’t manage that but still comment don’t be surprised if you’re banned from commenting on this blog ever again.


      • patricksponaugle

        I was pleased that you talked about Dany’s wedding night, and the aftermath of Craster’s keep.

        I think book readers have overly-romanticized Drogo and Dany’s wedding night. The show portrayed Drogo as much less caring than he was for their first sexual contact in the books, but that was somewhat deceptive. Drogo was going to have sex with Dany in the book, regardless of the approach, and after their first night, he was not romantic at all, until Dany changed the equation.

        I can’t speak for the show runners, but filming the more consensual scene from the book, without Dany’s internal monologue to reinforce that she was super-young and not totally on board with what was going on, it would have presented Dany as someone closer to Margaery, who understood sexual politics and would be thinking about being Khaleesi, then Queen.

        Craster’s had been a hanging question mark from the books, and what was being shown on the show was completely consistent with what was implied when Sam was getting Gilly out of the Keep and into the woods. I respect that some viewers found the scenes very uncomfortable (and they should have), but since the two-staged attack in the Wall was going to be reduced to a single night event, the decision to use Craster’s as a commando action for Jon makes sense. And if Craster’s is going to be included…

        Okay, let’s talk about the sept scene. In general, I agree with you that the show’s depiction of Jaime raping Cersei was exactly that, a rape. But I’m not so sure that’s what the director thought he was shooting. Alex Graves after the episode seemed confused why the scene was being called that, and the show runners were kind of non-commital about it.

        I actually had a big article about this, but I’ll summarize. There’s a fair amount of disagreement on whether Jaime raped Cersei in the book, as well. Since it was from Jaime’s point-of-view, and Cersei resisted and struggled before a switch was flipped and she was very enthusiastic, it puts the entire consensual situation in doubt. Jaime’s behavior in both book and show is the same, he doesn’t care. And he’s having sex next to his dead son. It’s really only Cersei’s behavior that’s different, and once we hit that point, we’re on dangerous territory of blaming the victim.

        Of course, there is a big difference, and I should minimize it, that the lead up to Jaime and Cersei in the sept is entirely different. As you pointed out, this is the first they’ve seen each other since Jaime fled the capital and spent a year a captive, whereas on the show, they brought Jaime back early, which changed the dynamic and motivation.

        It doesn’t excuse Jaime’s behavior in the book, but it’s more ambiguous. We don’t know if he needs forgiveness in that instance, and Cersei isn’t making it clear for us.

        My feeling is that the either the show runners/director really wanted it to be explicitly rape and were unable to publicly commit to the decision afterwards, or they were hoping that it would be a more ambiguous situation (like I contend that it is in the books) and their selective bias blinded them to the fact that it was pretty unambiguously rape.

        This is a difficult topic to talk about, and I applaud you for taking it on.

        • Carrie Slager

          Yeah, I really don’t know why Dany’s and Drogo’s relationship has been so romanticized. When I think of myself at her age, in her situation…I’d be terrified! And there is no way a 14 year old truly has the ability to consent to a marriage and everything else that goes with it with a much older man. I find it a little creepy that book readers have so romanticized it because, as you pointed out, he was having sex with her that night whether she wanted to or not. At the same time, in the show it made sense to make it rape because of the lack of internal monologue, as you point out. It would just make her look like Margarey whereas she truly is a terrified young girl going through a heck of a lot.

          As for the Sept scene, that’s one of the main questions I had: What on earth was Alex Graves thinking? Does he think he was filming a rape or super creepy consensual sex? I just really don’t know. And I really have to wonder what Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau were told about the scene and what they thought they were doing when they filmed it. Was it directed as a rape as it seemed to me? Or was it supposed to be a bizarre gradual consent situation that just lost the whole ‘consent’ part? I just don’t know. Because as it stands, that is most definitely rape.

          As for the books I agree that it’s pretty ambiguous but at least it was actually depicted as ambiguous. They didn’t do that at all during the scene in the show. I should have pointed out the differences because you’re right, in the book Cersei does struggle and protest and even says ‘no’ in the beginning but then consents. Is that really consent, though, to be protesting and then just agree? It is ambiguous because it’s told from Jaime’s point of view; I really wonder what was going on in Cersei’s head at the time.

          Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Patrick! I had read your article about the scene a little while back shortly after the infamous episode and that really got me thinking about rape in general on the show. It’s something that’s touched my life indirectly, through friends, and I firmly believe it is an important issue to address.

  1. karaebenhack

    What I took from that scene was that it was a moment we saw how messed up in the head Jaime became from that journey back to Kings Landing, and he just wants to jump back into his old life but things have changed drastically on both sides. It is difficult to adapt the writing of what is going on in someone’s head and translate that physically to screen without doing cheesy voiceovers. So while I don’t agree with rape, ever, and it too weirded me out slightly that they, ya know, did it over their son’s body, I can see from the creativity and adaption standpoint why they made that call.

    • Carrie Slager

      I think they could have used their obvious writing talent to show how messed up he was without resorting to something so completely unnecessary. And if they made the creative decision to include that rape scene, I think they should have definitely worked more on showing the consequences of Jaime’s actions. I highly doubt Cersei in the book or even the nicer Cersei in the show would just let him off with a cold shoulder after that total and utter betrayal. It’s just not in character.

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