Since I live in the UK, I have the misfortune of having to stay up until 2am every Sunday to catch the latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Generally it’s considered a bad thing to be as sleep-deprived as I occasionally am, but in my mind it’s worth staying up for and last night’s episode certainly delivered.
It’s the fallout after the Purple Wedding, Joffrey is dead and everybody is wondering ‘who did it’ and ‘what’s going to happen next’? I really enjoyed the episode, I was elated to see Sansa finally get out of King’s Landing, I simply adored the scenes between Shireen Baratheon and Ser Davos, the dynamic between Tywin and Tommen (who is set to be king) was really interesting, and Dany was her usual badass self as she rolls on Mereen to free the slaves of the city.
There was a lot to enjoy in this episode, but there’s one thing I have to take issue with. I think you probably know what I’m talking about…First of all, a note on character regression. I have no problem with it, I think it’s a really ballsy device to use in a character arc which reminds us as an audience that a change a character has undergone does not have to be permanent. When dealing with fundamentally human characters it is important to keep in mind that people are more than capable of slipping back into old habits, people can get better and then worse than they ever were before. That’s okay, there is nothing wrong with character regression when it is used as a believable part of a character’s journey.
Jaime Lannister had a major case of character regression in last night’s episode and it was not the good kind.
After the events of last season where Jaime had his sword hand cut off by Locke on his way back to King’s Landing with Brienne, there was a lot of sympathy for Jaime’s character and it looked like he was going to be a better person than he was before. Of course, when he gets back to King’s Landing we see that the stage is set for a kind of regression in his character now that he has no external conflict to face outside of learning to swing a sword again. To think that this was used as a precedent for the rape of his sister though is totally beyond me, this goes beyond character regression because it’s simply not in his character at all to do this.
Here’s how the scene went down in the book, A Storm of Swords:
She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.”
There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. “No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”
“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.
“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.” She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei’s heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.
Rather different from how it went down in the show, right?
Now there certainly is room to call into question Cersei’s ‘consent’ here, as she does raise objections – but these are objections about the place they are in, the fact that they might get caught, not the act of having sex itself. Compare this to the rather brutal scene in the show where Jaime physically drags his sister down to the floor while she is crying for him to stop, repeatedly saying that what they’re doing is wrong, and the scene ends with Jaime angrily saying “I don’t care”.
In the book, Cersei turns to Jaime for comfort and protection as she mourns the death of their son. Jaime begins his sexual advances on her and she protests because of the place they’re in because she’s worried about the risk, Cersei has always been more discreet than Jaime – it is a staple of her character and part of the reason why her power lies in the social sphere of things. There is a sense of complexity to her vulnerability, we rarely see it and when we do it’s been when she’s around Jaime. Her brother is the one person she’s ever had sex with that she loved, she weaponises her appeal to men and has sex with them to make them do what she wants, but with Jaime when she has sex with him it’s an act of love rather than dominance. As messed up and unhealthy as this incestuous relationship between them is, you get a sense that the complexity of her vulnerability is quite simple to understand.
But in the show, apparently the best way to showcase this vulnerability was to change the scene entirely from one of consensual (albeit rather twisted) sex to just flat-out rape.
Having said that, there are a few parts of the passage to take note of which lends some ambiguity to the scene. Jaime “kissed her silent”, and “he never heard her” when she’s protesting against him and “pounded on his chest with feeble fists”. It’s very easy to see how this can be taken as rape, she is attempting to both verbally and physically resist Jaime. That said, one might also make the argument that it’s not that she doesn’t want to have sex with him and that it’s she doesn’t want to have sex with him there, in the septum, as she murmurs about “the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septums, about the wrath of the gods”. There is sufficient material here for the reader to make up their own mind about how they want to view this scene, but in the show it is undeniably rape.
Worse still, I’ve seen some people defend the show by saying “Cersei is aroused so it isn’t rape”. NO. Arousal is a natural and involuntary biological response, it does not make it consensual. This is one of the infinite reasons why rape is a vile, repulsive thing because it does away with the line we draw between being aroused because we’re with somebody we want to be with and consent to, and somebody we don’t. Our minds are utterly repulsed while the body runs on auto-pilot. Arousal is not consent.
George R.R. Martin is known for examining issues that women face in a misogynistic world, there is context which carries a really strong message about power struggles and personal identity. In Breaker of Chains, there was no such nuance. It’s problematic, it’s disappointing, it’s a regression for the show as well as Jaime’s character and the very least I can say is that it’s good that so many people are taking issue with it.
It’s sloppy writing, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense on the basis of Jaime’s characterisation, and it’s devoid of any kind of complexity.
I now calmly await the arrival of the idiots who will say “it’s fiction, it’s not real”.