Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
When I called last week’s episode of Game of Thrones shocking and lamented the added sexual violence, I was not issuing a challenge. Unfortunately, this week the show went one step further: Jaime Lannister raped his sister and lover Cersei next to the corpse of their son.
The scene was unexpected and disturbing for many reasons, the first being that it was adapted from a consensual encounter. Cersei objected to the location, but returned his kisses, saying “I am not whole without you,” “Do it now,” and, most importantly, “Yes.” On screen, it played out quite differently. Cersei pushed Jaime away. He asked why the gods made him love “a hateful woman” and shoved Cersei to the ground as she cried for him to stop. Just before the scene ends, he uttered over her protests, “I don’t care.”
As every critic has pointed out over the past three seasons, adapting a thousand-page book into 10 hours of television requires making cuts, additions, and changes. But rape seems entirely out of character for Jaime. Despite being a man in a world where wartime rape of low-born women is permitted and marital rape by noblemen is ignored, Jaime has repeatedly and explicitly shown that he knows rape is an awful, irredeemable crime. He has expressed disgust that he stood by and did nothing while Elia Martell was raped and murdered by his father’s men. He lost his hand defending Brienne of Tarth from rape. When she discussed the abuse she suffered at the hands of Robert Baratheon, Cersei said that her brother was “worth a hundred” of him.
This does not rule out the possibility that Jaime is capable of rape – Game of Thrones is a series that pushes characters to their limits, and he is no exception. But why choose to make Jaime do this? What reason could a room full of writers possibly have for making his lover into his victim?
Jaime has had what some have called a “redemptive” arc recently. Although I hesitate to call his path one of redemption (his moral code has not changed, it has just been applied in more acceptable circumstances), he has certainly become a more positive figure to viewers. This event has been rationalized by some as a way to demonstrate how far Jaime can fall after seemingly making so much progress. Fan hatred for Cersei may even help Jaime remain a sympathetic character despite his actions: while the rape might be viewed as technically wrong, viewers have the option to shrug it off because, well, it’s just Cersei.
Using rape to progress the storyline of someone other than the victim is a lazy writing trick that has become disturbingly familiar. It happened in Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Spike discovered his need for a soul after attempting to rape Buffy. It happened on Downton Abbey when Anna’s rape was presented as another tragedy her husband, Bates, had to endure. I am tired of sexual violence being used in television to develop perpetrators or bystanders instead of victims, only for the attack to be forgotten in three episodes.
The sloppy use of sexual violence as plot device or filler is not new on Game of Thrones. In my column last week, I discussed the way the show repeatedly adds sexual violence without reason. As The A.V. Club pointed out earlier this week, this is not even the first consensual scene that the show’s writers and directors have re-written as a rape: it was done in the first season on Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding night. Martin’s novel had Drogo asking “No?”, and Dany “knew it was a question.” Dany then explicitly said “yes.” On television, Drogo silently raped Dany as she wept. Like the sexual violence on Buffy or Downton Abbey, any long-reaching effects were wiped away, with the attack essentially forgotten in only a few weeks.
There are legitimate reasons and good ways to address the topic of sexual violence on television. The Americans and Sons of Anarchy have done this incredibly well, focusing on the toll the violence (and the choice to conceal it) took on the victims. I hope that Game of Thrones will look to that example when moving forward with Cersei and Jaime.
Featured image courtesy of http://d.ibtimes.co.uk/