We all saw the last episode of Game of Thrones, right?
You know, the one where Jaime Lannister rapes his sister, Cersei? He wants to have sex at the foot of their late son’s royal slab, she doesn’t, tries to stop it, but it happens anyway. It’s been talked about quite a bit at this point, and thankfully there’s been little time wasted arguing over whether or not what happened was actually rape. Jezebel did a pretty good piece on it a few days ago, criticizing the show’s penchant for casually depicting violence against women. I like their take, but I can’t get on board with their thesis. They say changing what was, in the book, a vaguely consensual love scene, to a devastating rape scene, is disgusting and wrong. I disagree. This was a valid change.
Let’s not pretend Jaime Lannister is a good dude. Sure, he gets a bad rap, as the laws of Westeros make him an asshole traitor for killing the king, even though the king was a crazy fuck. He correctly thinks Brienne is a pretty cool person, and he was probably grossed out by Joffrey’s behavior. But he tossed a little kid out a window because he didn’t think he could convince people Bran was just repeating gross rumors, that I’m sure were flying all over, about Jaime and Cersei boning. He tried to kill a ten-year-old. As bad as last episode was, trying to kill Bran is probably the worst thing Jaime’s ever done, and it’s something you don’t get to come back from, no matter how charming.
So when people say “Jaime saved Brienne, his captor, from being raped! Why would he rape his own sister he’s in love with?? It makes no sense!” my eyes start rolling out of my head. It makes plenty of sense, in too many ways.
Reactions to the scene, and the scene itself, demonstrates a false dichotomy between instances of rape. Jaime, and far too many modern people, understand rape as between strangers, something violent, accompanied by screams and attempts to escape. “Legitimate rape.” Something that doesn’t happen when there’s an existing bond. Something bad guys do. Couldn’t Jaime think “Oh shit, Brienne is being taken away by those violent thugs, I know what that means,” and then a couple months later think “Why is Cersei being like this, I know she wants me”? That seems like common sense, to me. That’s why we need to educate about rape, right? Because it’s so easy for people to fall into that logical trap and not recognize their own behavior as wrong.
Jaime doesn’t necessarily know that he raped Cersei, which is true, too, of most rapists, who neither realize or believe they are rapists. By our modern understanding, obviously that’s what happened, but I find it really easy to see what Jaime was thinking. It’s a misogynistic and outdated way of seeing things, but when has Westeros ever been progressive? Cersei is his sister and his lover. Pointedly, Jaime says he’s only ever been with her. He’s ultimately faithful, in a world where bastard children are so common they have their own last names. But that doesn’t mean he respects her. His unfaltering loyalty and love for his sister doesn’t make her any less HIS, in his mind. It makes her MORE his.
It’s not out of character for Jaime to get fed up with Cersei being distant and mopey and just take what he wants. In fact, that sounds a lot like what he’s done in the past. Being entitled and impulsive, not giving a shit about consequences or other people. Attempting to murder a child cause he doesn’t want to bother covering up his incestuous relationship, attacking the HAND OF THE KING because his brother Tyrion has been taken captive (due to Jaime’s attempted murder of said child).
The original text is being pointed to as to why the HBO series’ rape scene is so wrong. “It’s not just out of character [it isn’t], it’s not even accurate!”
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.
This kinda…reads like a rape scene? After this, once Jaime’s made it clear he intends to get what he wants, Cersei gives up her proper facade and starts begging for it. This is a common story beat, where the woman is being sexually assaulted until it feels good enough and then she starts saying “Yes!” Which, as a narrative, is incredibly bad, and disturbingly common. It perpetuates “no means yes” thinking. It encourages people to override consent until they personally feel things have gone too far. This idea of having to overcome or even ignore many “no”s is a pillar of rape culture. So it’s not as if changing this to an out-and-out rape is the violation many people seem to think.
The director of the episode says Jaime’s story is the struggle of knowing he’s a good guy but not being able to embrace that (I guess cause the Lannisters are evil so he has to be evil). Goodness corrupted by an unfair structure like feudalism or the power of being royalty. But it seems to me like his real purpose in the show is to demonstrate the danger of the chivalrous myth. Recently, Jaime’s been given a good face. We’ve seen him being heroic, funny, a protector. But from the beginning, and in the end, Jaime is a violent bully. And while he wants to be good (who doesn’t?) he really, really isn’t.
Jezebel argues that Game of Thrones as a show is a little too interested in rape, treating it as an exclamation point, something to make scenes more shocking. That’s a valid concern; violence against women is a common, lazy method to engage the audience. It takes advantage of the fact that the real problems of rape and violence are so common to fit in nearly any context and give a sharp thrill. It is often used just as Jezebel says, and that could be what happened in this week’s episode. Even though I think it’s in character for Jaime, changing this scene is an arc-defining moment, and the show is really going to have to commit to that for this to be okay.