Game of Thrones and Rape TV: Alternatives to Reality

This is a follow-up to the discussion of last week’s rape scene between brother-sister pair Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Before I go any further, I’ll issue the always necessary alert:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

although not too many, because at this point I honestly can’t wrap my head around the many, many changes this week’s episode has made to the plotline established in the books. Really, it hurts my brain.

So on to brighter topics–by which I mean much more depressing topics. In the What-Will-Come-of-the-Jaime/Cersei Rape? pool: for those of you who said “Nothing,” you win! This week’s episode contained not even the briefest mention of how Jaime forced his sister to have sex on the floor of the sept beside their dead son. Instead, he (Jaime, not dear little Psycho-king) is shown offering Tyrion moral support, giving Brienne knightly gifts to show how much he respects her, and talking about what a monster Cersei is. It should come as no surprise that Cersei’s rape would be a one-off action soon forgotten, since the director of the episode, Alex Graves, said in an interview that the rape “becomes consensual in the end” (http://www.hitfix.com/whats-alan-watching/review-game-of-thrones-breaker-of-chains-uncle-deadly). That’s right: it’s the end of the act that counts. Just like muggings. (Of course, we all know about how muggers get acquitted via the in-the-end defense, as in: “After I beat the shit out of him and shoved a knife against his throat, he just gave me his wallet. So in the end, the wallet transfer was completely consensual.)

It seems many viewers and commentators have forgotten about the previous episode, too. Salon.com, which published no less than seven articles last week on Jaime and Cersei, rape in Game of Thrones, rape culture, and the portrayal of rape on TV, today published only an interview with the man behind Westeros.org and a recap called “Quietly Noble.” Who or what does that title refer to? Jaime Lannister. (The author’s position basically boils down to: yes, Jaime raped his sister and threw Bran out a window, but he’s a really good character. http://www.salon.com/2014/04/28/game_of_thrones_recap_quietly_noble/)

Apparently, then, some out there in TV land, after a week of tense debate, are now willing to drop the whole rape thing and move on to other shocks and outrages. Frankly, I’d love to move on, too, if I didn’t feel so damned awful for guessing that there would be no repercussions from the rape scene, that Cersei’s assault would be used as symbolic shorthand for how messed up Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is, and that this week the writers would push that Universal Amnesia Button they love to use in TV, and all the viewers would be transported to a slightly different catastrophe. Deep in my heart, I was hoping that inserting a violent sex act between Jaime and Cersei, an event that has not occurred in the books so far, would do something different and permanent to the characters or the relationship between them. But no–as I predicted, this week we have the same drunk, bitter Queen Regent, and the same clean-cut, quietly noble Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Sometimes, it sucks to be right.

Even so, I’m determined not to wallow in cynicism over this whole thing. No, I’m not going to boycott Game of Thrones. I already read all the books, so technically I know what’s coming (if the show doesn’t go too gonzo with the storyline alterations) and I realize how brutal life is for humans, regardless of sex, in George R.R. Martin’s universe. But I’d also like to be able to keep watching the series without bile rising in my throat every time King’s Landing, or Jaime or Cersei, pop up on my screen. If you’re like me and could appreciate an antidote to Game of Throne’s latest case of Trivialized Television Rape Syndrome, here are my recommendations:

1) Remember that in the books, Jaime and Cersei have consensual sex by their son’s dead body. Sounds strange, I know, but if you want to feel better right away, this is your best bet: simply purge your memory of what you saw on TV last week and replace it with the sex-in-church scene Martin originally wrote. Because what he wrote was a consensual sex scene–rough but consensual. (The moment in question is helpfully excerpted here: http://www.avclub.com/article/rape-thrones-203499.) I could go on to point out that Martin’s version of the incident clearly demonstrates how perverse Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is without the need for rape. I could also point out the little details that show the subtle yet important differences between how a person communicates consent or lack of consent. (Saying “yes” or “no,” for example.) But I’m trying to stay positive here, so I’m going to assume no one reading this is confused about any of these points. (Or at least, I’m going to try not to imagine the alternative.) So, we’re all good, right? Okay. Deep breaths. Moving on…

2) Consider this “rewrite” of the Jaime/Cersei scene by Dan Abromowitz: http://imgur.com/gallery/9iCHB/. Here, Jaime and Cersei are re-imagined as if they (and we) lived in a Perfect World. Note that despite a bit of the “What’s the big deal?” argument bubbling up here and there (an argument that I don’t support), Abromowitz does categorically state that what Jaime did (or, in this version, almost did) to Cersei was a) rape and b) wrong. After I (unwisely) read multiple comment boards discussing the Jaime/Cersei controversy, this little bit of historical re-creation really hit the spot.

3) Read Alyssa Rosenberg’s take on this week’s episode from her Washington Post blog: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2014/04/27/game-of-thrones-review-oathkeeper-and-broken-vows/. [WARNING: CRAZY MEGA-SPOILERS FOR NON-BOOK READERS AND THOSE WHO DIDN’T SEE LAST NIGHT’S SHOW!] Rosenberg has been blogging the Game of Thrones TV series with an eye to (but not necessarily a focus on) what appears in Martin’s books, and she claims to be thrilled to see so many giant changes in the TV plotline. Her argument is that now she’s just like any other viewer: if a character gets into unexpected peril, for example, she now has no idea what will happen, nor will she automatically recognize places and events. In the case of Jaime and Cersei, Rosenberg saw a complete disconnect between the former lovers the morning after the sept scene:

Less interesting than the gap between the showrunners’ and director’s description of the rape scene is the one between Cersei and Jaime. Disturbing as it might be, it seems entirely possible that Cersei believes she was raped, while Jaime believes that what happened between them was consensual.
She cannot resolve that, or any of the other unresolved things that lie between them. But Cersei can shut a certain gate on their relationship.

I have to admit, I saw no trace of any acknowledgment of the rape in either Jaime’s or Cersei’s dialogue or behavior in the scene Rosenberg analyzes. But I’m really glad that someone saw something. And something substantial enough to make me wonder about my own response. Even though the incident deserves more, a little tremor of recognition, of pain, over Jaime’s turn is good enough for me.

4) Don’t stop thinkin’ about tomorrow. In writing up this blog post, I did recall something in the books–a revelation that’s still off in the distance from where we are now–that might be made more comprehensible by Jaime’s actions in last week’s episode than Martin originally envisioned. I emphasize might because the distinction would be very subtle and, as many critics and non-critics have already observed, Jaime has a whole cesspool of bad behavior in his history that would probably explain a revelation of yet more bad behavior just fine. No, I’m not going to spoil the moment in question. But I will say this to the Game of Thrones writing team: Guys, you are so much better than last week’s controversy. You aren’t a bunch of soap opera writers from the 1970s. You’ve worked so hard to make so many of Martin’s female characters more complex, from Cersei who now has a gravitas she never had in the books, to Sansa who’s dignified instead of infantile, to Shae who now has both a personality and a backstory. I realize the fourth season has already been filmed, but I’m praying hard to the Narrative Gods that you really do know what you’re doing, that I can trust that rape was added to the show with forethought and not flourish. Otherwise, winter in Westeros is going to be very bleak indeed.

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