Game of Thrones, Rape Culture, and Bad Adaptation Decisions

22 Apr

[Content Notes: rape, statutory rape, incest, Game of Thrones]

[Spoiler Warnings: Game of Thrones S04E03 “Breaker of Chains”, A Storm of Swords]

(This is expanded from a conversation I had with Jennie in this open thread at Shakesville, as well as a conversation I had with Loten on Skype)

Last night’s episode of Game of Thrones was… strange. Things happened but I couldn’t think of much to say about it, and in talking to Loten last night I didn’t even think to mention what, in retrospect, was clearly the part of the episode that most needed talking about.

I’m referring to a certain scene between Jaime and Cersei Lannister. I’d been anticipating this scene for some time out of curiosity about how they’d adapt it; I suspect anyone who’d read the books found it a memorable one (if not necessarily pleasant). It’s the scene in which Jaime and Cersei have sex in the sept of Baelor next to their dead son Joffrey’s corpse on a bier. Disturbing, and creepy, and fucked-up in myriad ways. But, in the book, it was consensual, and for the most part enthusiastically so (Cersei is a bit reluctant at first but quickly gets into it and is very vocal about that; her only fear appears to be getting caught).

In the show, for some reason, they decided to change this into a rape scene. A forcible rape scene, in which Jaime, apparently overcome by lust (I hate that narrative but I’m not sure what else to call it), seizes Cersei, holds her down as she struggles and shouts things like “No!” and “Not here!” and rapes her. (The scene ends with both of them pretty much fully clothed, which I suspect may be due to a no-nudity clause in Lena Headey’s contract). This change makes no sense, honestly. I think it’s wildly out of character for Jaime to rape anyone, let alone Cersei (who is one of very few people he really cares about, his twin sister and longtime illicit lover).

What bothers me the most about this is that it seems to be at least the second time the show creators have changed a consensual sex scene into rape.

In the first episode of the first season, with Daenerys and Khal Drogo. In the books, while the scene was still rather problematic (in the book Dany is thirteen and by any reasonable standard cannot meaningfully consent to sex, even disregarding the surrounding coercive circumstances of it being her ‘wedding night’ after she’s been sold to Drogo by her brother), there was at least some notion of consent there, and Drogo legitimately seemed to be trying to respect Dany’s consent somewhat (and, notably, her internal thoughts express consent). It’s still problematic, and at least somewhat rapey (truthfully considering the circumstances I’d probably classify it as coercive rape), but it’s also not the brutal rape we see in the show during which she cries and grits her teeth (and in which they twisted Drogo’s using the word ‘no’ repeatedly into something sinister rather than the more complex way it was portrayed in the book). But as Jennie said in the Shakesville thread, regardless of the problematic aspects of the source material, “the show took what was at least a very complicated story and just turned it into a straight up rape because they thought it was more thrilling.”

That time, I could talk myself into excusing it. Maybe because of my white male privilege, and various racist narratives about what ‘barbarians’ (who are usually people of colour) do to white women, I explained it away with the thought that they may have been trying to make the scene more ‘realistic’. Drogo is the chief of a nomadic warrior tribe who is heavily implied to maintain his position by force (references to his never having been defeated in battle, etc), and who engage in rapine and pillaging, so I thought it was at least consistent to have him using force in a sexual context as well; the book portrays at least a more interesting character even if it’s not clear where or how he would have learned to respect his wife’s consent.

Now, while I do not intend to defend the above reasoning, I can think of no comparable rationale (however problematic) for them to have changed the Jaime/Cersei scene. They seem to have changed it to a rape solely for the sake of changing it to a rape.

Game of Thrones (the television programme) has never been particularly good about its portrayals of sex; there is far more female nudity shown than male and almost always in a male-gaze kind of way where the intent is clearly to titillate (leading to people coining the term ‘sexposition’ to describe scenes where objectified women are displayed to the audience while a character is monologuing about backstory), there are some very problematic portrayals of sex workers, among other things. But I have to say none of that strikes me as nearly as bad as this; does somebody working on the show have a rape fetish? Do they think rape is “edgy”?

This is rape culture. I’m not sure what else I can say. I have no idea why they would change this except that they thought it would be more interesting to audiences, and for the life of me I can’t imagine why it would. (Rape culture is why, but I can’t personally imagine the appeal).

And now that they’ve done it more than once, I’m afraid the trend may continue.

Do the creators of the show seriously mean to tell me that it was more important to them to squeeze in more rape than to tell a consistent story? Fuck.

I’ll continue to watch, because I love these books (I will fully acknowledge their problematic elements, but I still enjoy them and admire their craftsmanship), but I’m not sure it will be the same. I’m going to keep wondering when they’re going to betray the story for the sake of rape again. And how many viewers, who may themselves be rape survivors and find these scenes triggering, they will lose each time they do. And how many rapists and potential rapists will feel validated each time they see a scene like this.

Edited 22 April 2014 to add:

It gets worse. Apparently they weren’t even intending this to be interpreted as a rape scene? (If this isn’t proof we live in a rape culture I’m not sure what is, it’s about as rape as rape gets)

clownybee at Shakesville linked me to this interview (huge content notes/trigger warnings for rape, rape culture, and rape apologetics)

And Loten found this interview with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (the actor who plays Jaime), which she said “sounds like he’s trying to make himself feel better about having to act in a rape scene, which is fair enough.”

This image of Apple Chia is (c) 1999-2014 Neopets, Inc. and used for non-commercial purposes.

I’ve got nothing.

Edited to add: Melissa McEwan makes a very good point on Twitter that nobody seems to be asking for Lena Headey’s perspective on this, or considering it at all relevant to the discussion, but seem to be talking to all of the male persons involved. That’s a huge problem in and of itself, even independent of all this context.

(Image of sentient apple is copyright 1999-2014 Neopets, Inc. Used for non-commercial purposes with permission.)


Posted by on April 22, 2014 in mitchell


Tags: , , , , , ,

5 responses to “Game of Thrones, Rape Culture, and Bad Adaptation Decisions

  1. mcbender

    April 23, 2014 at 1:42 pm

  2. mcbender

    April 24, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    And yet another. This one is really a must-read:

  3. Ani J. Sharmin

    April 25, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    Thanks for the post and follow-up links. I haven’t gotten to that part of the book or TV show yet, but the way that ASoIaF/GoT handles sex scenes has been one of my criticisms from the beginning, despite liking the series overall. The “sexposition”, the way sex scenes are described (in the book) and shot (in the show), the rape/violence/abuse scenes that aren’t adequately addressed by the narrative and are just there to show that the world is really bad, the disproportionate amount of time spent describing/showing women naked (even, absurdly, in scenes in which one man and one woman are having sex).

    What struck me about the interviews you liked to was that they’re saying that this scene is basically being used as character development for Jaime. So, the whole focus is how he’s devastated by what he’s been through, and there isn’t much sympathy for Cersei. And the one time an interviewer asks about how Cersei was affected (in the Vulture article) the director answers by saying that Cersei is manipulating Jaime. Yes, there are parts in the story in which Cersei is manipulative, but it seems odd to take a scene when she’s the rape victim and say she’s the person being manipulative in that scene as well.

    The way that Daenerys’s marriage with Drogo was handled in book 1 bothered me as well, the way that their marriage was suddenly turned into a loving one, instead of really addressing the issue of forced marriage and rape. Not only was it offensive in not really addressing the wrongness of an important issue that still hurts people today (forced marriage), but it also was weird in context. Daenerys is motivated by how she was treated to then feel sympathy for others who are mistreated, but the power of that message is questionable when the story starts treating their marriage as loving.

  4. Only Some Stardust

    May 10, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I can’t understand why people watch this show. I can’t get through one scene of Sexposition without wrinkling my nose and changing the channel.

  5. Mian

    July 21, 2014 at 6:25 pm

    They really, really tried with Dany and Drogo to make the consensual stuff work. Had it all scripted, and it just didn’t fly.

    I think we ought to understand that last season’s change — how quickly Jaime comes home, has carried onto this season. Cersei is being a little bit of a twat (maybe not manipulative, but certainly a jerk) in not wanting to be in Jaime’s arms (earlier ep).

    This is certainly a VERY DIFFERENT scene from “Jaime comes home to Cersei grieving at her dead son’s corpse, and they very emphatically reaffirm their love.”

    I’m not even all that torn up about a rape being depicted there — show jaime is darker than book jaime, and he’s understandably upset with his sister/lover at that point.

    It’s Totally Wrong, though, for the director to not understand that he’s made a rape scene. That completely, fucking, totally undermines any dramatic effect. And you could have had a lot — this could have been their excuse to backfill the general consensuality of Cersei and Jaime’s relationship.

    Make it a real break, and it’s ballsy — for all the people icky about incest, you have them cheering, and then screaming as the two get back together.
    But a show where the director doesn’t realize Oopsie that was a rape scene? Oh, dear god!

    I don’t know how cersei would take having Jaime rape her. I think it would Not Be Good — I’m thinking tinged with a bit of revenge — hell, it’s freaking Cersei, with her “have a penis” fantasies. She might rape him back.

    And, oh, that would be some storytelling. Twisted, but venom’s always suited the lannisters well.


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