Writing a sexual assault into your canon? Take a look at this handy-dandy checklist first:
When is it Okay to Use Rape as a Plot Device?
And, yet, it persists. So many television shows, both daytime and primetime, revert to rape as a “deep” or “edgy” stunt to move a story forward, reveal a piece of characterization, etc. The latest being HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sonia Saraiya at the AV Club wrote a brilliant takedown of the show’s insistence on changing consensual sex scenes to rape scenes here and there’s not much I can add to that but my anger. And my exhaustion.
Why does this keep happening? Why is this trope not exiled to the vault forever? This isn’t the late ‘70s and GH’s Luke and Laura. This is 2014, and we have Steubenville and Delhi and every goddamn minute of every goddamn day to reflect on rape culture and the harm it does. And if you don’t think it impacts men…if you think angry lady viewers are just up in arms on Cersei’s behalf…then you’re woefully myopic. Because Jaime’s rape of Cersei damages him, too. It undercuts one of George R.R. Martin’s best redemption arcs — one the TV show played out with almost as much depth — and makes a character who’s paid his dues into a monster.
The scene as written, in A Storm of Swords, was twisted but consensual, and you can read my scan of the page here.
Why the change? Why turn Jaime into a rapist? To tell us that everyone has the capability for ugliness? We knew that already. GoT never shies away from that. This is Jaime, who saved Brienne from being raped despite not giving a damn about her at the time. Jaime who never touched another woman besides his sister. Yes, he’s fucked up, but he’s not that fucked up. Not every man has to be that fucked up. Or, at least, I hope not. There’s plenty of ugly to go around in Westeros, and we don’t need extra. The same goes for the real world.
As to Cersei’s victimization…oh, how that plays into SO many terrible tropes and real-life fallacies. First there’s the rape of the bad girl to elicit sympathy: Do you feel sorry for her now? She got assaulted next to her son’s corpse. Instead of actual story beats to make viewers organically empathize with a unlikable woman who just lost her child (is that REALLY so difficult?), they went for a violent, lazy shortcut. And the idea that her silence or acquiescence halfway through the scene somehow implies consent…? That Jaime being her lover already makes it okay? Do people really think that rapes only happen at knifepoint in dark alleys while you’re screaming “no”? That what happened in the septa, with Joffrey’s body just inches away, is NBD? That it’s just another wacky GoT twist that can be shrugged off?
No. Nope. Not having it. Sorry. GTFO.
Here’s the thing: No one thinks murder is acceptable in the real world. But, in the real world, people still think rape is a debate. That she might be lying. That she wanted it. That he didn’t mean to. That it’s just sex that got out of hand. And Jaime and Cersei in “Breaker of Chains” are a terrifying snapshot of that mentality. Rape is not about sexual desire. It’s about power. And Jaime overpowered her. You can tilt your head all you want, turn up the volume to listen to her dialogue, but there is no doubt in this.
And there’s no doubt that Game of Thrones didn’t have to go there.
But, of course, this is HBO. They don’t just have to “go there.” They have to take it too far.