*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:
- 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.
- Portraying something is not the same as condoning or otherwise supporting it.
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
The 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.