Latest Game of Thrones Episode Perpetuates Rape Culture

Sophia Ottoni-Wilhelm, Opinions editor

This past Sunday night I was doing what most college students do on Sunday nights: homework. Just kidding, I was speeding through my work to make time for Game of Thrones. It’s a show that has enraptured the nation with copious amounts of blood, sex and dragons. Spoiler alert: In the last scene of the episode preceding this last one, the sadistic boy-king Joffrey Baratheon was poisoned at his wedding feast.

A scene from this Sunday’s episode, “Breaker of Chains,” opens on the sanctuary where Cersei mourns over the body of her recently deceased son. Her brother and ex-lover, Jaime, enters, and they stand together at the altar. Cersei begs him to avenge the death of their son and to kill the man she believes is responsible. This is the first time in the series that either of them has explicitly stated that they, two siblings, are Joffrey’s parents.

Since he has returned home, Jaime has not successfully rekindled his incestuous romance. He turns to Cersei, grabbing her and pushing her against the altar, saying, “You’re a hateful woman. Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” before kissing her. Pushing him away, Cersei responds, “Jaime, not here,please. Please. Stop it.” Ignoring her protests, Jaime rips off her underclothes and proceeds to rape her next to the dead body of their son.

This scene has created quite the uproar, and rightly so, garnering criticism from the show’s viewers and non-viewers alike. Dozens of articles have been published in the last several days by a variety of news sources. I’ve seen a lot of crazy things in this show, but this takes the cake. Watching it made my skin crawl.

What I find particularly alarming is that this rape scene is starkly different from the sex scene described in the books. The third book of George R.R. Martin’s hit series, Storm of Swords, describes the scene with Jaime and Cersei in the sanctuary as the first time they’ve seen each other since Jaime’s return to King’s Landing. As in the episode, the book paints a bleak scene — Cersei standing alone next to her dead son’s body as Jaime approaches. However, after they speak, the books makes it clear that Cersei kisses Jaime first. When he tries to have sex with her, she is initially hesitant because of the location, but quickly gives verbal consent. She’s on her period, and the book says that after they have sex, Jaime wipes her blood off the altar.

The replacement of period sex with rape is a departure that feeds a terrifying rapeculture already omnipresent in the world. Game of Thrones’s writers and director have mentioned in the past that they attempt to make each episode as unexpected and scandalous as possible. Apparently two of the main characters having sex next to the dead body of their child doesn’t quite cut it.

The sheer magnitude of viewer disapproval has triggered a variety of responses from the director, writers and actors, each comment as misogynistic and utterly disgusting as the next. One writer referred to the change as a “sexy choice,” while another stated that the atrocious act was merely a culmination of Jaime’s understandable frustration with Cersei. That’s right, a justification of rape. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime, said in a recent interview, “It was an act of powerlessness.” That’s right, it was an act of powerlessness for the rapist.

But the show’s director, Alex Graves, gives that ridiculous comment a run for its money: “It was not consensual as it began, but … Ultimately, it was meant to be consensual,” he said in an interview. “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,” he continued. “She’s sort of cajoled into it, and it is consensual.” Shewas “cajoled” into it? Seriously, dude? What century is this?

As difficult as it was to watch, the rape scene in “Breaking of Chains” did serve as a reminder of how far our society has yet to go when it comes to discussing and interacting with instances of sexual assault. I read a comment online that outraged me, which read: “I think that [Jaime] definitely raped her on the show. However — I can’t think of a more deserving character to get raped.” Yes, deserving. While statements like this are difficult to read, it’s important to know that such problematic understandings of rape not only exist in the world but are alive and well.

It is my hope that the conversation surrounding this rape scene can be productive. Often the things that make me the angriest are the things that motivate me to keep challenging myself and those around me to be aware of the role we play in the perpetuation of rape culture. This needless nonconsensual sex scene fuels the fire of rape culture. We should never be comfortable with rape — not in television shows, not in books, not in any sense. This scene should have made every single viewer incredibly uncomfortable. In fact, this show shouldn’t have included the rape scene that was never present in the books.