Trigger Warning For: Sexual Assault
In the episode, Jamie Lannister is trying comfort his sister, Cersei, after the death of their son, when the scene takes an unexpected turn and abruptly transitions into his forcing her to have sex with him. Readers familiar with the book will know this follows the essence of what happens, in that Jamie’s sexual advances are initially rejected, but eventually Cersei gives eager consent. In the show they also have sex, but she repeatedly says ‘no’, ‘we can’t do this’ and ‘this isn't right’ throughout the scene. Producers and writers made the perplexing decision to specify through dialogue that what took place was not simply reluctant albeit consensual sex, but distinctly a rape scene. In the books, Cersei wants to have sex with Jamie, but not there, and as Jamie becomes more insistent, Cersei gives in and consents because she does want Jamie. It’s not a perfect model of consensual sex, but the consent is there. In the show, Cersei is still insisting “no, it’s not right” at the end of the scene while crying and trying to fight him off, as Jamie calls her a “hateful woman” for denying him, and repeats “I don’t care” as he forces her down.
In an interview before the public outrage began, Alex Graves - the director of the episode - insisted that the scene was not a rape, and yet when talking about filming the scene, he stated quite plainly that “I’m never that excited about going to film a forced sex scene". The last time I checked, ‘forced sex’ is another way of saying rape. Graves insisted that he was trying to show the complexity of the couple’s relationship in light of recent changes, including Jamie losing his hand, by making Cersei “eventually consent”, which he thought came across in the scene. Creative license and all intentions aside, the problem is that Graves doesn’t see the scene for what it actually is - a rape scene. With the director's justification that "Jamie has his carnal lusts and he takes what he wants”, he seems to state, like many people who have unwittingly been influenced by a culture that fails to see forced sex as rape. that what Jamie does is not by definition, rape. He is also completely missing the point of Jamie’s character, in that the Jamie with two hands might do something like this, but not this Jamie, not the one they are setting on the hero’s journey.
Jamie’s character arc is a reformation story; the arrogant warrior revered for his might and skill loses everything and is forced to change for the better. A crucial part of Jamie’s transformation is that he discovers he is capable of being virtuous. In the books we see that his love for Cersei is real, and it is what makes him blind to her insufferable and unkind nature. It is through the idea that he truly loves Cersei that we are able to accept that Jamie is capable of transforming into a good person, and therefore changing their sexual relationship alters them as characters.
The choice to add rape to Jamie’s list of sins at this turning point for his character complicates the journey that he is supposed to take, and goes against his character because, as we have seen so far, Jamie despises sexual violence. He prevents Brienne from being raped several times, most notably when he comes back to save her at Harrenhal. Part of his transformation involves overcoming his reputation and learning to be tactful and intellectual, something he previously lacked experience with because he was used to brutalizing and threatening to get the things he wanted. Instead, the television version of Jamie has now performed the one horrendous act of which he was previously innocent. By adding this rape, Jamie’s transformation is tainted, which leads to the question of whether the show creators plan to follow his journey to becoming an honorable person, and how this new low will factor in. If his journey continues along in parallel with the book, then what was the point of turning consensual sex into a rape? It creates an unnecessary hurdle for him to overcome and makes his character harder to root for.
Unfortunately, this is not a one-time issue in Game of Thrones. It happened with Dany and Khal Drogo as well. In the book when Drogo and Dany are married, he surprisingly asks for Dany’s consent, which she gives, making their love a real and beautiful thing to watch develop. In the show, however, he turns her around as she’s crying and forces her to have sex, which later implies that she falls in love with her rapist. Given that the show followed the rest of the path of Dany and Drogo’s love fairly faithfully, it begs the question as to why it was necessary to make an unexpectedly tender love scene into a rape in the first place.
Changing these sex scenes from those where the women consent to sex to ones where they don’t not only changes the meaning of the story and the characters, but supports misconceptions of rape. Westeros is a brutal place, but Graves not recognizing Jamie's act as rape says much more about our own society than it does about Westeros. Deliberately creating rape where none exists in the original story more than once perpetuates the idea that women aren’t capable of enthusiastically consenting to sex. It’s almost as though the show creators can’t imagine consensual sex in a world as brutal as Westeros. Based on the directors’ statements, he seems to believe that "no means no" unless: you’ve had sex before, the rapist is overcome with emotion or lust, the victim doesn’t scream for help, or the victim doesn’t successfully fight off their attacker. If you want to show a woman giving consent, do that. It’s really not that complicated; if it’s meant to be consensual, have them voice consent. While Game of Thrones is a fantasy show, continuing to draw arbitrary lines of where consent ends and rape begins in popular entertainment will continue to influence views of rape culture in our real world.