A great deal of Internet ink was expended yesterday over a scene in the third episode of Season Four of Game of Thrones, HBO’s runaway dungeons-and-dragons hit. Spoiler alert: In case somehow you missed it, in the scene Jaime Lannister rapes his twin sister Cersei in the shadow of a bier bearing the corpse of their eldest son, Joffrey, a.k.a. The King Nobody Liked. The commentariat rose up en masse because in the scene, Cersei protests vehemently when Jaime starts to kiss her; her protests heat up even further as his passion (or wrath, or resentment) does; finally, she returns his kisses as they fall to the floor to consummate the act.
Jezebel’s Madeleine Davies predictably declared in her headline, “The Game of Thrones Rape Scene Was Unnecessary and Despicable.” The outrage many viewers felt at the scene was only compounded by other viewers’ tentative attempts in comments sections to explain why maybe actually this wasn’t rape, resulting in a fast-revolving carousel of heightening fury.
Director Alex Graves, weighing in with his explanation, further muddied the waters by saying, “The big things to us that were so important, and that hopefully were not missed, is that before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.” The series author, George R.R. Martin, offered his take on things. On Slate, Amanda Marcotte complained that the scene “compromises Jaime's character.” At New York mag’s Vulture.com, Margaret Lyons declared that the scene lent “another layer of unnecessary depravity” to the show.
So there’s necessary depravity, and then there’s unnecessary depravity.
The two major points of contention with the scene (we’ll ignore the cries of “It’s different from in the book!” because, hey, this isn’t the book; it’s TV) are that it’s rape—or, more finely, that despite Graves’s protests, it’s rape-rape; and that DAMMIT ALL WE WERE JUST STARTING TO LIKE JAIME AND NOW LOOK WHAT YOU’VE GONE AND DONE!
I thought the scene as presented was ambiguous; it’s not clear whether Cersei is protesting the time, the place, the act or who knows what when she cries “It’s not right!” But “It’s not right!” is an odd protest for a woman who has borne her twin brother three children and killed her ex-husband, and who just demanded that her brother/lover murder their other brother, Tyrion.
If the show loses viewers over this scene — and it will — it will be because of the furious debate over consent going on in our culture — a debate this episode has advanced and furthered in a highly interesting way. Is Jaime a swaggering, privileged college athlete? A military officer? A roofie-dropping frat brother? Or just, you know, a brother?
In all the heated give-and-take over whether Cersei's body language was saying yes or no, there’s been precious little discussion of her feelings. Myles McNutt posed a challenge on his blog, Cultural Learnings: “We should be debating why no one — including Graves — is talking about the impact this event has on Cersei, as though it existed solely to represent Jaime’s existential crisis with no consideration of how it affects the woman being raped.”
Which leads us to all those fans who were warming up to Jaime, to whom I say: Seriously? You were getting fond of the old boy? What was it—his bathtub tête-à-tête with Brienne? The bear? The loss of his hand? This is the guy who pushed Bran out the freaking window! He’s been screwing his sister for years! You want to whine about redemption now?
I have trouble with viewers whose moral codes are apparently pliant enough to excuse anything but rape. If you’re going to watch Game of Thrones, you’re going to see a whole lot of very disturbing stuff. If you decide you draw the line at Jaime raping Cersei, go right ahead. I’ll reserve my sympathy for that wildling boy who got told on Sunday night by a marauding Thenn: “Those your parents? Open your eyes. I’m going to eat them. Do you hear me? I’m going to eat your dead mama, and I’m going to eat your dead papa. Go tell the crows at Castle Black.”
More reading: Stop Asking if the Latest Girls Episode Had a Rape Scene.