**obligatory spoiler alert **
Here’s the latest GOT dispatch from the vomity brain of Salon: Not only was the scene in which Jaime Lannister raped his sister, Cersei, “glamourized,” as they reported earlier this week, but some viewers are pretending that it wasn’t rape at all, Pajiba writer Dustin Rowles claims, because they’re unable to “process” such a scene. A scene in a TV show based on a fantasy-fiction series set more or less in the Middle or Dark Ages.
In his essay that Salon republished, Rowles wrote that some viewers are saying that there was some ambiguity in the scene between Jaime and Cersei not because they interpreted the scene that way as they watched, but because pretending the rape didn’t happen is the only way they can continue to sympathize with Jaime:
“What’s interesting here is that the audience processes these other moral crimes in such a way that allows us to continue to sympathize with Jaime Lannister, but instead of attempting to process the rape of his sister next to the corpse of his oldest son in such a way that might allow us to continue sympathizing with him, the response has been to reject the rape. Murder, incest, and sex next to your dead son are all somehow excusable in our minds, but the rape crosses a line that makes it impossible to further sympathize him. So, our answer is to basically vilify the director of the episode and the show runners for allowing a terrible person to do something more terrible than our minds will allow us to forgive.”
Thank you anyway, Dustin, but I know what I saw and I’m not suffering psychological trauma and denial after watching a relatively tepid (although Jaime’s behavior was abhorrent, the scene wasn’t terribly graphic) rape scene.
For one thing, I think there’s a big difference between sympathizing with a character and merely acknowledging the brief glimpses of humanity that have occurred since the start of Jaime’s relationship with Brienne. And the actual fan consensus, as I understand it, is that there is little ambiguity about whether the scene depicted a rape. And considering the amount of criticism leveled at director Alex Graves for saying in subsequent interviews that the act was “consensual by the end” it doesn’t appear that many people agreed with him. In fact, I find it a heartening relief that Graves’s assertion that Cersei eventually came around inspired such outrage from both women and men who watch the show.
I’m bothered by Rowles’s suggestion that viewers couldn’t possibly “process” the scene for themselves and have a nuanced response to it.
Here is one response, however, that I assume – hope, rather — is a joke. A fan rewrote the scene as some sort of couples therapy scenario instead of a brutal attack. In this rapeless version, Jaime stops what he’s doing when Cersei says, “Hold on, now. Let’s take a moment and talk this through. … Just now, you were forcing yourself on me. I love and trust you, and you were making me feel powerless and violated.”
Jaime responds, “Thank you for having the trust in me to verbalize your lived experience.”
It’s pretty funny, but I also read it with the uncomfortable feeling that some people might think that Game of Thrones should actually use a script like this.
Someone like Roxane Gay (who I have quoted favorably in a past blog), perhaps, who wrote an essay for Salon earlier this week that was – hold on to your hat – “problematic.” Calling the scene a “glamorized” depiction of rape, Gay wrote:
“In some ways, it’s useful for television shows to acknowledge the extent of sexual violence in our culture. These narratives allow necessary stories to be told. But the execution is too easy. From daytime soap operas to prestige cable shows, rape is all too often used to place the degradation of the female body and a woman’s vulnerability at the center of the narrative. Rape is used to create drama and ratchet up ratings. And it’s rare to see the brutality and complexity of a rape accurately conveyed on-screen. Instead, we are treated to an endless parade of women being forced into submission as the delicate and wilting flowers television writers and producers seem to want them to be.”
Many other writers have echoed Gay’s assertion that this scene in GOT is just a recent example of rape as a cheap, manipulative and lazy narrative device. I agree thst rape is frequently used as a cheap, manipulative and lazy device in writing. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that the rape in this particular GOT scene served no purpose other than shock value. I will go further and even say that I think the suggestion that it was a cheap misogynistic gimmick is knee-jerk p.c. bullshit.
At this point in the series, Cersei has rejected Jaime; in fact she dismissed him rather cruelly. Yet while crying over Joffrey’s corpse, she begs Jaime to kill their brother Tyrion, whom she thinks is responsible for his death. Cersei at first kisses Jaime then pushes him away. So Jaime explodes and attacks her, and yes, rapes her. Few viewers dispute that, although personally, I was kind of on the fence about the intent of the writers and director regarding that scene.
And for the love of all that is holy, I am NOT saying that Cersei asked for it, nor am I being a rape apologist. I’m describing the scene as I interpreted it.
I haven’t read the books, but I have read that Jaime and Cersei’s relationship throughout them involves a power struggle that sometimes becomes violent. Cersei has always wielded considerable power over Jaime, and the aftermath of his brutish, cruel attempt at controlling his sister, I’m sure, will become a major plot point.
I agree that rape often is used as a cheap plot point in fiction to provide “shock value,” elicit sentiment and give a female character a conflict to overcome. But I also think that the uproar over this scene is indicative of a disturbing trend that narrative storytellers have an obligation to provide an apologetic sanitization of the world we actually live in.
The world of GOT is unspeakably brutal. Frankly, I’ve always been surprised that there haven’t been more rapes on the show. This scene occurred in the same episode where the Hound tells Arya Stark that a good, hard-working man who isn’t strong and brutal couldn’t possibly survive another winter. A little boy is told by the man who murdered his mother that he plans to eat her. People are eviscerated and murdered right and left.
And won’t anyone think of poor Theon Greyjoy and his dick? Which in a past episode was chopped off and mailed to his callous dad, who tossed the dick into a fireplace. Theon has been tortured in excruciating scenes and is now so thoroughly brutalized that he behaves like a beaten dog. I don’t really understand why the inclusion of rape in this extraordinarily dark world is so shocking and offensive to people.
Huffington Post blogger Winnie M Li brings up another way that this scene over Joffrey’s body furthered the plot:
“A rape survivor myself, I wasn’t so furious [about the scene]. In fact, I found it telling that Cersei Lannister — arguably the most powerful woman in the fantasy kingdom of Westeros — could still be subjected to rape at the hand(s) of her own brother and former lover. (Reason No. 57 why the Lannisters are the worst family in Westeros.) Personally, I think that’s a potent statement from the show’s creators, reminding us that sexual assault can affect anyone regardless of how high you sit in a fictional society or in the real world.”
I also think that the rape scene fulfills criterion outlined by Chris Ostendorf in a more even-handed article for the Daily Dot (that was also republished by Salon):
“Here’s the best way to start: Don’t use rape purely for shock value. Don’t use rape as a simple explanation for why a character is strong, sorrowful, or anything in between. And don’t forget that if a rape does happen, it has to continue to be a part of the larger story.”
As I said, I haven’t read the books so I don’t know how Cersei will deal with this trauma. She was already broken by the death of her son, so I imagine she faces a very long, uphill emotional battle. But I’ll hold off on decreeing that rape might have been used as a cheap misogynistic tool in this case until I see what unfolds on the show.
Regardless, I will never say that any TV show has an obligation to portray a world that we wished we lived in rather than the one we actually inhabit. Humans rape, torture and murder in real life; I don’t see why we should expect any of those things to be sanitized from “Game of Thrones.”
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.