Before I begin, I must disclose that my day job is working for a company that retains HBO as a client. That said, my company’s affiliation has no bearing on my views regarding HBO or its series.
Warning: This commentary contains spoilers.
This blog has always been wholly dedicated to film, but allow me to take a left turn for a moment and focus on another of my passions: television.
A couple of weeks ago, HBO aired a controversial scene in Game of Thrones in which nobleman Jaime Lannister (portrayed by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) rapes his twin sister and frequent lover Cersei (Lena Headey) in front of the corpse of their eldest son. And then a fan uproar commenced. Diehard fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series—on which Game of Thrones is based—immediately flocked to the Internet to complain that this scene was not accurately depicted on television as it was in the book. I haven’t read the books, but I understand that the novelization depicts a consensual sexual encounter—certainly not a rape. Book lovers, get over it. Television and film depictions are often different than what’s in the source material, and that’s done for a reason. But that’s another commentary for another time. My current interest is in defending the scene as it played out on screen.
Yes, Game of Thrones is a violent and sexual show. It’s easy to say that violence for violence’s sake is a common element in the series, but this particular scene does not fall within that argument. The rape is necessary, and here’s why…
Jaime is a complex character. Our first introduction to him includes him tossing a child out of a window, permanently paralyzing him. He also killed a former king, thus immortalizing him in Westeros (and no doubt the realms beyond) as the “Kingslayer.” He’s a bad man. Period. But as Season 3 commences and we witness Jaime in a state of lowly desperation and vulnerability, we come to experience a side we hadn’t previously seen. He starts to build a friendship (if that’s what you want to call it) with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), a fiercely loyal knight with whom the audience immediately finds favor. We also learn he killed the brutal king so as to save the lives of countless innocent subjects. So maybe Jaime isn’t really all that bad. Truly, he is and he isn’t, and that’s the point I believe Game of Thrones co-creators and writers of that controversial episode, “Breaker of Chains,” David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were trying to prove.
Rape, within itself, is a heinous act. Jaime commits it; he’s a heinous man. But even more evil is his twin sister Cersei, with whom the audience shares no sympathy. Mind you, I do not—nor will I ever—condone rape, but from a writer’s perspective, it was necessary in this scene to heighten the complexity of Jaime’s character. We hate Cersei. We want bad things to happen to her. Jaime commits this heinous act, but he commits it against a heinous woman. So do we chastise the nobleman or do we almost praise him for it? Benioff and Weiss created yet another scene that reminds the audience not to get too comfortable. Our views on these characters are as complex as the characters themselves, and that’s what makes an intriguing series.
It’s likely the actions in this controversial scene will reverberate as the current season progresses. And there’s little doubt in my mind that we, as the audience, will continue to be left with our jaws planted firmly on the floor. It wouldn’t be Game of Thrones otherwise. It’s the reason we love the show.