For fans of “Game of Thrones,” there has been a pretty serious divide between readers of the books and fans of the show. Most of the time bickering between the two sides is due to spoilers—having a conversation online about any plot point not already portrayed by the show is met with angry show-watchers, while those who have read the books love to remind us all that the series of epic novels has been out for years now. Book readers also lament changes made by show writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss, changes that may not be noticed by followers of the show but have massive repercussions for future plot points and character development.
“Game of Thrones,” like the books upon which it is based, enjoys a widespread and obsessive following, so it’s no wonder that deviations from the books can cause tremors throughout the fandom. It’s something we’re almost used to—it’s not possible to cover the kind of ground laid out by George RR Martin without switching things around and reworking characters. But in Sunday’s episode, the show pushed the boundaries too far when they showed Jaime Lannister raping his sister, Cersei.
The scene is a huge change from how it was originally written In the books, Jaime has just returned to Kings Landing to find Cersei mourning the death of their first born son. The scene is still very taboo and uncomfortable—incestuous and on the altar of their dead son in a sept. Their reunion is charged with a great many things, from it being the first time they have seen each other since Jaime was captured to Cersei’s grief for their lost son. Some have questioned whether the book features consensual sex, and despite Cersei expressing fear of being caught, I felt Martin made it clear that it was—the bulk of the scene itself is Cersei’s encouraging Jaime while in the act. Although far from a tender love scene, it speaks to the urgent need both of them have to connect with one another after so much time has passed and so much has happened.
But the show threw all that out the window in favor of outright rape. Fans of both the show and the books are rightfully upset about what happened. Not only was the scene extremely disturbing, but a needlessly huge change to an already well-developed character. Jaime Lannister was originally introduced as the Kingslayer, of dubious morality and willing to push children out of windows to be with his sister. But the show and books went far over the course of the series to show that there is more to Jaime than just that one dimensional “Bad Guy Lannister” persona he himself is willing to play into.
This scene is completely at odds with what we know about Jaime, primarily because of the two most pronounced character points from both the show and the book. The first thing we know for a fact about Jaime Lannister is that he is devoted to his sister. Yes, the relationship is incestuous, but Jaime’s love for his sister is one of the most pure loves in the series. He, unlike most other characters, has never slept with anyone but the woman he loves. Despite being a handsome and celebrated knight, he gave up his right to Casterly Rock and the chance to marry by joining the Kingsguard so that he could be with Cersei in King’s Landing. His life revolves around her.
But the relationship isn’t equal. Cersei, particularly in the books, sets the rules and calls the shots. She decides when they are together and in what capacity. She doesn’t share his dedication, using her sexuality to get what she wants from numerous other characters. To Jaime, their connection is sacred, but not so to Cersei. The power dynamics between these two are totally different from the usual dynamic between man and woman in the series, and from what one would expect given Jaime’s traditionally masculine persona earlier on. His dependence and deference to Cersei plays a huge role in key plot points yet to come. But now that Jaime has raped Cersei, the nature of their relationship is entirely turned on its head. The show has made Jaime much more like any other man in the series, rather than the conflictedly moral yet immoral character he has been.
Secondly, Jaime’s redemption has largely been based on his attempts to stop rape from taking place. In the books it’s made clear that Jaime was revolted by the rape of Rhaella, the Mad King’s sister, when he had to stand guard outside the door and do nothing to stop what was happening. He lost his sword hand after lying to save Brienne from being raped, and went back to Harrenhall to save her again after Qyburn tells him they will likely rape her repeatedly before killing her. Numerous lines and comments from the books make clear that Jaime finds rape and assault abhorrent. Jaime may be a lot of things, but one of the most pronounced of those is a strong opponent of violence against women, be it sexual or otherwise.
Sexualized violence isn’t new to the show, which relies heavily on gratuitous nudity and sex. They include it at random, with little rhyme or reason, out of what I can only believe is the assumption that viewers aren’t intelligent enough to enjoy a complex story without the concession prize of tits. Jaime Lannister’s character assassination isn’t even the first time they took a complex sex scene and made it vicious rape—the same thing was done with Khal Drogo, who rapes Daenerys on their wedding night in Season One. In the books, the scene is very different, but the show cast Drogo early on as a savage and barbarian rapist, because apparently that’s more interesting than the juxtaposition of a warlord showing a more gentle side.
There have been scenes in the past that made me sit back and wonder if the show is really worth watching. When it’s good, it’s very good. But it seems that the more the writers deviate from the source material, the more needlessly violent and horrific it becomes. Part of the draw of “A Song of Ice and Fire” is the complexity that comes with many of the more disturbing scenes, not just the torture-porn the show wants to play up. There are a great many things in the books that could have stood in for scenes like Roz’s unnecessarily gruesome death in Season Three but were left out of the show. Instead, writers have chosen to rewrite the series to feature far more misogyny and far less depth, which does no justice at all to the world created by George RR Martin.
To me, Jaime Lannister will still be the Jaime who fought against the rape and torture of women. If the writers of “Game of Thrones” choose to shift Jaime’s character away from that once strong moral code, no longer tuning in may be a step I decide to take. Choosing to write the scene as they did raised so many questions, but the loudest and angriest in my mind is “Why?” Why continue changing the story just for shock value? Why do they think the story as originally written isn’t interesting enough to draw an audience? As George RR Martin has made clear, “Game of Thrones” is Benioff and Weiss’ interpretation, not his, and they have a great deal of material to synthesize for TV. Too bad their vision is becoming a cheap imitation rather than an apt homage.
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