Lately, every week seems to bring a new “Game of Thrones” controversy, and true to form Sunday’s episode, “Breaker of Chains,” included a plot twist that has ignited a firestorm of debate online. (Those not yet caught up on their DVRs are advised to tread carefully. Here be spoilers.)
In the scene in question, Cersei is grieving over the dead body of her son, King Joffrey, when Jaime, her brother/former lover/Joffrey’s father, brutally forces himself on her. “You’re a hateful woman,” he says, as she repeatedly begs him to stop. “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” The scene stands out as perhaps the most shocking, taboo-breaking ever on a series that has already depicted a pregnant woman being stabbed to death in the stomach.
Not surprisingly, it has sparked a furious backlash online, with many critics taking issue with showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff for making fundamental changes to the event as it originally occurs in George R.R. Martin’s book " A Storm of Swords.” Though Martin is known for inflicting untold brutality on his characters, in his version the sex between Jaime and Cersei, though incestuous and highly inappropriate given the context, appears to be consensual.
Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ decision to alter the books in this particular way has provoked anger from many critics, who have argued that the showrunners are simply using Cersei’s assault as “a shock tactic” and a cheap prop that contributes to rape culture.
Martin responded to the brouhaha on his personal blog on Monday. Though he did not specifically defend the changes made in the series, he points out that the original scene from “A Storm of Swords” was told only from Jaime’s point of view, perhaps making it less straightforward than some have suggested. “The reader is inside [Jaime’s] head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing,” Martin wrote.
In an interview with Hero Complex, Weiss addressed the complicated issues of gender in “Game of Thrones,” saying, “The world of the show may not have a tremendous amount of respect for what the women of the show are capable of, but the show itself does.”
But at the A.V. Club, Sonya Saraiya points out that the Jaime-Cersei scene is not the first rape invented for the show -- that Khal Drogo’s rape of Daenerys in the series pilot is clearly consensual in Martin’s book. She argues that “‘Game Of Thrones' is falling into the same trap that so much television does — exploitation for shock value. And, in particular, the exploitation of women’s bodies.”
Though most viewers saw little ambiguity in the scene from Sunday’s episode, some associated closely with the show have equivocated over whether the scene depicted a rape at all.
Director Alex Graves told both Vulture and HitFix that Jaime and Cersei’s encounter was “consensual by the end.” And when asked in an interview with The Daily Beast whether Jaime’s actions constituted rape, actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said, “Yes, and no.”
He also went to great lengths to explain his character’s mind-set: “I think that, for some people, it’s just going to look like rape. The intention is that it’s not just that; it’s about two people who’ve had this connection for so many years, and much of it is physical, and much of it has had to be kept secret, and this is almost the last thing left now. It’s him trying to force her back and make him whole again because of his stupid hand.”
Still others, like awards blogger Sasha Stone, are outraged by the outrage because, well, it’s just a TV show after all.
[For the record, 2:45 p.m. April 22: A previous version of the caption on this post misidentified the character played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in “Game of Thrones.” The character’s name is Jaime.]