Spoiler alert for Game of Thrones, trigger warning for discussion of rape.
A lot of kerfuffle has been raised after this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, specifically on the topic of rape. Writers have raised questions regarding the use of rape for shock value and whether rape can aid character development, with one in particular arguing the mistaken notion that “guys that seem nice can’t rape” – which many of us realize is very much not true. And complex character interactions, especially ones where characters act in ways we do not expect them to, are both a part of great storytelling and mimic reality. And so here we are, giving you the details on GoT’s recent troubles for depictions of rape:
Daenerys and Drogo
Apparently, some people find it hard to believe that a woman could come to care for a man who rapes her. Consensus on the Web seems to be that Daenerys’ wedding night in the books is perceived as “more consensual” than what was showed on television, because in the books Drogo turns out to be caring toward his young bride, enough so that author George R.R. Martin felt it would be believable for Daenerys’ fear to turn quickly into lust within a few short moments. Changing this scene for television in order to reflect the coercive nature of reality (e.g., custom, and sometimes law, dictates marriages must be consummated) may be due to a variety of factors, including that it is very difficult to show a TV audience within a few minutes that a very scared teenage-bride could find a reason to desire the man who is legally bound to rape her.
Regardless of the factors that influenced the change, is it really so unbelievable that a female in Daenerys’ situation (sold into marriage, forcibly bedded on her wedding night) could fall in love with her husband (who also happens to show her great respect in all other matters and turns out to be teachable about respect and pleasure as it pertains to sex and even slave ownership)? Nope – in fact, it’s so believable that women across the planet have been falling in love with their husbands post-marriage for centuries. Women have fallen in love with their abusers, and women have found happiness in marriages they didn’t originally desire.
That doesn’t change that Daenerys’ marriage (and wedding night) was a violation. But that her wedding night was a violation doesn’t preclude a loving relationship. The world is complex, and many societies still enforce undesired marriages upon adults and children both. In these places, the law says the marriage must be sexually consummated. It’s rape if either spouse is unwilling, or if one spouse is a child or minor. But that doesn’t mean those spouses cannot eventually love each other. And while this reality doesn’t provide excuse for this form of sexual violence and human trafficking, it does provide a context through which we can begin to understand how love can follow violence and still be utterly believable.
Cersei and Jaime
People are complex. Perhaps this human complexity is why some are lamenting their inability to reconcile the Jaime Lannister of their dreams to the Jaime Lannister that raped his sister Cersei in the most recent GoT episode, “Breaker of Chains.” And although there is some debate as to whether or not this scene is actually rape, even the actor who plays Jaime admits that the scene will appear to some people as only rape, but that it was intended to be “not just that” – in other words, the scene was about rape, and also about a heck of a lot more than rape.
Jaime Lannister has never been presented (in the show) as a nice guy, so when people lament they cannot reconcile the Jaime who rescued Brienne with the Jaime that raped Cersei, they’re obviously forgetting that this is the same Jaime who threw Bran, a child, out of a window. The same Jaime who served a deranged king and committed atrocities for him. The same Jaime who waited until the very last moment possible to distance himself from that deranged king. That supposed “act of valor” in saving the city was actually an act of self-preservation. Jaime’s not a nice guy; he doesn’t even seem like a nice guy. What he seems like is a human being, more flawed than not, who has moments of charm and a way of smiling that fools suckers into believing he has some sort of chivalrous heart.
This is the same mistake made by Sansa with Joffrey by believing that someone can be too pretty to be evil. Was the deed that earned Jaime the title of Kingslayer heroic? Yes. Was it also self-serving? Yup. Does that make Jaime incapable of rape? Nope. And anyone lamenting this difference between the book and the show (because in the book apparently Cersei enjoys and encourages the encounter) should consider that they’re advocating a preference to find Cersei abominable rather than to find fault with Jaime – which is disturbingly akin to preferring to believe a victim is a liar and a wretch rather than believe a rapist is capable of sexual violence (aka, victim blaming).
Lancel and Cersei
Where’s the outcry over what happened to Lancel Lannister? Lancel was all of 16 years old when his cousin the Queen Regent took him as a lover, and by all accounts Lancel had no power to say no – because no one says no to the Queen Regent. By North American standards Lancel is unable to give consent to a sexual relationship with the Queen Regent because of the age difference and power imbalance between them. Cersei’s affair with Lancel is an abuse of power, yet no one seems to care about the ways Lancel was manipulated, tricked, and used. By many modern standards (the standards by which the book/show deviations are being judged), Lancel Lannister was sexually abused by his cousin. Where are the think pieces about the inclusion of this topic within GoT? Why aren’t there articles on how to protect minors from this type of manipulation despite modern societies that teach teen-aged boys that obtaining much older women is somehow an ideal achievement?
Even some of the GoT crew seemingly fail to understand the difference between rape and consensual sex. Alex Graves, director of the episode “Breaker of Chains,” claimed in this interview that the rape scene between Jaime and Cersei was “consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” Newsflash for you Graves: A woman can lubricate during rape, a man can get an erection during rape, and people in general can orgasm during rape, and it’s still rape.
Furthermore, just because you sometimes find ice cream a turn-on doesn’t mean you’ll be turned on by ice cream if you’re fed it while raped. Graves also said in this interview that the “consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, the other thing that I think is clear before they hit the ground is she starts to make out with him.” What Graves omits is that Cersei is saying “No, stop, it’s not right” throughout the entire scene, she tries to push Jaime away and has stopped kissing him by the time he’s actually inside her, and she’s repeating the words “don’t, it’s not right” and pushing Jaime away when the scene ends. Watch it for yourself here.
Is it a complex physical interaction? Yes. Is their relationship complicated? Yes. Is there a lot of information the audience is not privy to? Probably. Is the altercation therefore rape-lite? No. It’s still rape.
There’s so much confusion in the world as to what counts as rape and what counts as consensual sex that we, globally, live in what has been termed a “rape culture” – a perpetual structure of social interaction that excuses sexual violence, punishes and/or ignores the experiences of the victims of sexual violence, rewards the portrayal of rape as funny, and attempts to blame and silence victims of sexual violence rather than blame and eradicate perpetrators of sexual violence. So it’s absolutely unsurprising that the planet’s complexities and confusions are represented in our myths and stories. And the good thing about GoT’s depictions of rape is that they bring debate into public spaces and between persons who may not have otherwise had reason to interact, and that, my friends, is a form of progress.
What’s your take? Tell us in the comments.