Can Anything That Happens on "Game of Thrones" Really Be Shocking Anymore?

So let's talk about that scene, from Sunday night. A lot of people found it shocking. But at this point how is that even possible on this show?
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So let's talk about that scene, from Sunday night. A lot of people found it shocking. But at this point how is that even possible on this show?
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*** Spoilers Ahead ***

So let's talk about that scene from Game of Thrones, the one that Jezebel called "unnecessary and despicable" and that led the Huffington Post to clutch a big handful of Arianna's pearls and demand to know whether the show had finally "gone too far." Let's talk about the scene from this past Sunday where an entire village is cut down in a bloodbath, with a father killed right in front of his son, or when that son is then told by one of the killers to look at his dead parents because, "I'm gonna eat your dead mama and I'm gonna eat your dead papa." Wait, that's not the scene we're talking about? Okay, how about when one of the few seemingly sympathetic characters on the show takes a crossbow bolt in the face on the order of a manipulative pimp who admits that treachery is just the way things are in that world. Nope? The wedding last season where everybody was massacred? The incestuous relationship between two main characters? The time one of those characters pushed a kid out a window? The guy who tortured a man by flaying him and cutting off his balls, the same one who hunts women and allows them to be ripped apart by wolves? Every single thing King Joffrey ever did? Exactly which example of nearly unwatchable depravity are we talking about here?

This is a glib take on it, sure, but the point is how odd it is, in the context of a show as consistently brutal as Game of Thrones, to hear people being shocked by what happened between Jaime and Cersei Lannister on Sunday. To go ahead and get it out of the way, by pretty much any standard what happened to Cersei was rape. Jaime raped her on the floor of the sept right next to the body of their dead son -- a son who was the product of their incest. Remove the fact that the sex was forced and the scene probably would have been every bit as fucked-up as it played out. And that's the point that many of the scene's furious critics are making: not only that it would've been just as powerful without rape being a factor but that in the book the show is based on, the sex between Jaime and Cersei is, in fact, consensual. This has left a whole lot of people demanding answers from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the show's creators, and Alex Graves, the director of last week's episode. Those answers so far have admittedly been less-than-appeasing. But a question needs to be asked whether fans are owed a satisfying explanation at all, given that while the show is based on George R.R. Martin's books, the showrunners still have the final say in making their creative vision come to life. None of us truly knows what Benioff and Weiss have planned for Jaime or Cersei or anybody on the show, really. None of us knows what the fallout from Sunday's act of sexual violence will be.

For his part, Martin is saying as much and trying to provide some breathing room for Benioff and Weiss -- while also noticeably taking a couple of steps away from the showrunners' controversial changes to his work. He says that some of the decisions made to veer off from the original canon may have impacted what happened Sunday night in a kind of butterfly effect. Plus, he concedes there are things you can do in writing that you can't do with television:

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.

While it's more than a little disconcerting to hear Alex Graves try to make the claim that what happened on Sunday wasn't rape because it "becomes consensual by the end," he's speaking from a place inside the characters' heads, where he understands their motivations and has probably lost the perspective of the audience. He may believe it's not rape but he's forgotten that to anyone not associated with the creative process on the show, it damn sure looks like rape. This is the kind of thing he and the showrunners maybe should've been cognizant of. The impression left with all of us is that Cersei wasn't a willing participant and Jaime is back to being a scumbag.

But here's the thing: Jaime has always been kind of a scumbag, regardless of a story arc that seemed to be setting him up for redemption. And so has Cersei. And so have 95% of the other characters on this show. There were always only a handful of people in Westeros you could really root for and at least half of them are now dead. Why? Because that's the kind of show this is. Yes, it's especially violent toward women, but if rape is still a very serious issue to us in the relatively civilized year 2014, do you really think women would be treated better in the quasi-Medieval world of Game of Thrones? The show seems to revel in offending its viewers and making even uglier that which is already unbearably ugly in its source material. Demanding that a show set in that world somehow conform to our modern-day standards -- saying, "Well, doesn't Jaime Lannister know that no means no?" -- is kind of silly. Benioff and Weiss have given us a world even richer in depravity and violence than the one George R.R. Martin conjured and it's up to each of us to decide for him- or herself whether to continue on this ride. It's a ride that's guaranteed to smash your psyche into a thousand pieces and should you get right back up and try again, it'll just hit you harder.

As poor, imprisoned Tyrion says in the trailer for the current season, perfectly summing up the entire world of Game of Thrones, "If you want justice, you've come to the wrong place."

Indeed.