Rape in the Great Sept of Baelor: An Analysis

By Rochelle Keyhan on Apr 22, 2014 to Game of Thrones

*Warning: this post discuses a graphic sexual scene*


In Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, a scene involving Jaime and Cersei in the sept beside Joffrey’s body has gotten a lot of media attention. In this scene, you see Jaime ask everyone to leave so he can be alone with Cersei. She is grieving, sobbing over their son’s grave. He embraces her, comforts her as she cries, rocking her. She kisses him, they’re making out by Joffrey’s dead body, when she realizes where they are and stops the embrace and returns to crying over Joffrey, with her back to Jaime. Jaime hesitates and then asks “Why did God make me love a hateful woman?”, and then forces himself on her. She pushes him, attempting to fight, and says “Jaime! Please, stop it! Stop it!” But he doesn’t stop. He rips her dress. He gruffly says “No”. She pushes and says “Stop it” again. Then he kisses her. And then he pushes her to the ground where she resists, saying “It’s not right, it’s not right”. And he says “I don’t care, I don’t care”  as he thrusts into her.

And then the internet exploded with complaints about this scene, mostly upset that HBO would change yet another consensual sex scene from the book into an unambiguous rape in the show.

Hillary Kelly at The New Republic says that “the scene as [Director Alex] Graves filmed it is so very, very different from the sequence as it appears in the book. There, Cersei lightly protests against the sex, but then changes her mind and ultimately appears to enjoy it.” Entertainment Weekly calls the scene in the book “icky, problematic yet enthusiastically consensual sex.” Leila Brillson at Refinery29 laments how HBO’s depiction of the scene lost the nuance that was present in the book’s telling of the scene. But without really defining the nuance she’s talking about, she still falls into the trap of arguing that the sex in the book was consensual, and the sex in the show was non-consensual and inflammatory in that deviation. While seemingly enraged at the HBO depiction of the scene for “creating” a rape, Amanda Marcotte over at Slate still says that “in George R.R. Martin’s telling, … the sex, while rough, is consensual.” Marcotte further argues that “on the page, [the sex scene] serves as a reminder that this ugly, incestuous relationship is a coping mechanism for two very badly damaged people.”


Sonya Saraiya’s AV Club article many people are referencing oversimplifies and practically manufactures the distinctions between the two scenes when she says: “There’s certainly some wiggle-room in terms of what Dan Savage might call “enthusiastic consent”—Cersei raises objections, in the midst of lovemaking. But compare this to the long, brutal scene of Cersei’s rape in Game Of Thrones, where Jaime, clearly motivated by anger, drags Cersei down to the floor and thrusts into her over her repeated objections and even sobs.”  Saraiya even goes so far as to argue that  Jaime wouldn’t rape Cersei, and even if he tried, Cersei wouldn’t let him do it; that the scene is entirely out of both of their characters. Amelia McDonnell-Perry at The Frisky takes it a step further when she argues, “In the original text, Cersei chooses to have sex with Jaime, grotesque as it and the setting may be — because she wants to, or because she uses sex to manipulate, it doesn’t matter. Cersei has power and control. The scene in the show deprives her of all of that.” All of these arguments read into the scenes without examining their context, and seem to be desperately seeking ways to defend Jaime’s honor. They touch only the surface of the scene, without examining why people believe the scenes are so different, and why they’re reacting so passionately to the entire idea.

Most of the above criticism is in response to an overwhelming discomfort at the “changed” scene, and is coming from readers who, in reading the book, did not recognize it as a sexual encounter that involved blatant disregard for Cersei’s lack of consent. So to have it presented to them so plainly as a non-consensual encounter by HBO flew in the face of their interpretation of that sex scene, because, of course, if it had been rape, they would have seen and remembered that! So, HBO must have added that in, as obsessed as they are with shock value! Those are all easier emotions to feel than the uncomfortable idea that you yourself didn’t recognize rape when you read it in black and white.



Around 8pm Monday night, George R.R. Martin (GRRM) added his opinion to the discussion on the show’s rape scene. He indicated that, in the book, Cersei is “as hungry for [Jaime] as he is for her”, and that her only concern is the inappropriateness of the location and setting. However, this is him filling in the blanks after the fact, since the scene is written exclusively from Jaime’s point of view. After reading his comments, I actually had to reframe this entire post because I truly admire GRRM’s complex depictions of feminist issues — and I apparently gave him way too much credit. At first I was pretty disappointed by his revelation, but then I remembered, it doesn’t quite matter what his intent was, because the literature speaks for itself, and the conversation that scene created is important.

So let’s look at the actual textual scene for comparison to the scene in the show.



The book’s depiction of the rape is one where Cersei is being violated by the person she loves most in the world, the person with whom she is the most intimate. He is not hearing her “no”, and he is blatantly ignoring her protestations — making it clear to her that his will and desires are all that matter in that moment. So she ultimately gives in. The scene in the book is the nuanced scene of a rape between intimate partners, which can play out quite differently than stranger rapes and rapes involving more overt physical violence.

There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue.

“No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.”

He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.”

She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei’s heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.

The first word she speaks is “No”, followed by “not here.” Then he “kissed her silent” (aka, prevented her from voicing any more objections by literally placing his lips over hers). Though she moaned, she also pounded on his chest with her fists, which were described as “feeble”, articulating how feeble her physical resistance was against his determined force. She again verbalized her lack of consent, mentioning the risk, danger, and the wrath of the gods, but “he never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare legs apart.” He literally had to climb atop her and separate her legs himself. He then tore her underwear off, and only then, when he was about to actually complete the rape by penetrating her, did she stop resisting, saying, “Hurry, quickly, quickly, no, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime” and helped guide him into her.

At the end she started participating in the sexual encounter – and that is all anyone is remembering about the entire scene: what she did at the end, when she was left with the choice not whether or not she would have sex, but how she would experience the sex Jaime was insisting would occur. It’s important to remain mindful that this isn’t a scene between two strangers, this is a scene between two people who love each other, two people who have had enthusiastic, consensual, and even risky sex numerous times in the past, and people who are comfortable sharing their physical space and bodies with one another. So the ways consent plays out can look different than if this were sex between two strangers. It does not, however, mean that because of their sexual history she is not entitled to say “no” and have that no be heard. When Jaime made it clear that he was not taking no for an answer, Cersei stopped resisting and started participating in the encounter. Whether she started participating or not – Jaime was going to penetrate her, and she knew that. That she gave in does not change the fact that he made it clear that his will was worth more than her own.

If this is difficult for you to accept, especially if you read the books, and this scene, and yet continued to love Jaime and are feeling betrayed by HBO’s depiction, then the below scene from A Storm of Swords might have you rethinking your own assumptions.

“Don’t you think I want it as much as you do? It makes no matter who they wed me to, I want you at my side, I want you in my bed, I want you inside me. Nothing has changed between us. Let me prove it to you.” She pushed up his tunic and began to fumble with the laces of his breeches.

Jaime felt himself responding. “No,” he said, “not here.” They had never done it in White Sword Tower, much less in the Lord Commander’s chambers. “Cersei, this is not the place.”

“You took me in the sept. This is no different.” She drew out his cock and bent her head over it.

Jaime pushed her away with the stump of his right hand. “No. Not here, I said.” He forced himself to stand.

-A Storm of Swords

In that excerpt, Cersei and Jaime are in the Lord Commander’s Chambers Cersei is attempting to have sex with Jaime, but he doesn’t want to have sex. In response to his rebuff, she reminds him that he took her against her will in the sept, and so she tries to insist that they have sex now. The main difference between this incident and the one in the sept is that he is the man and he has the power, and when he says no, the word has meaning and value. He reminds her that her subjective desire is not relevant, that when he wants her he will always have her, because his subjective desire is always what matters, and is always what will control.



The character and plot development from the book of course had influence over the way this scene was depicted in the show. The director and actor explain that this is all about Jaime, and what Jaime needs, which coincides with the depiction in the book, which was from Jaime’s point of view. According to the episode’s Director, Alex Graves, they drew inspiration from the book to fill in what Jaime might have been imagining his return home to look like, and what was going through his head in this scene. Jaime’s been pining for Cersei, imagining his return straight to her welcoming arms. In heartbreaking contrast to his daydreams, when he returns home in the show, Cersei is rejecting him, hasn’t made time to be alone with him, and definitely hasn’t made time to have sex with him — and all he wants is things to go back to the way they were. To his loving, sexual relationship with the person who is distant and not showing that she returns that desire. So, he takes it from her. Graves even argues that she gave in because sex is her only power, and she wants Jaime to kill Tyrion. But still, nothing makes it appear that she gave in, and the scene cuts with her still pushing him off. That Graves and GRRM are able to view this scene as a consensual sex scene because, by the end, she found a way to assert herself in a situation over which Jaime was exercising exclusive control is, at best, troubling, and at worst, perpetuating the idea that consent and resistance have no meaning unless they fit societies stereotypes and assumptions perfectly.


The interviewer, Denise Martin, calls him on that, asking where the “consensual part” is in a scene that ends with Cersei saying,  “It’s not right, it’s not right,” and Jaime on top of her saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care.” Graves’ response? “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. …She’s kissing him aplenty.” This entire “explanation” for how non-consensual sex turned into consensual sex is to say that when someone says no, it is open for negotiation, and all we have to do is push hard enough, and ignore them forcefully enough, and ultimately when they give in, that gets to count as consent.

That the entire incident came from Jaime’s sense of desperate need for Cersei does not change the fact that Cersei’s subjective desires were of no consequence to him, regardless of what the director’s definition of rape and consent may be. The book scene is from Jaime’s point of view, so the rapist as narrator is hardly reliable in terms of deciding what that scene meant. Sure, maybe he wasn’t kissing Cersei with the explicit thoughts “I am going to rape you now”, but what is clear is that he didn’t consider what he was doing from any angle other than his right as her lover to take her when he wanted her. Since the show isn’t from any one point of view, it’s showing what is actually happening, externally, without any subjective interference from the thoughts of the two characters. And what that shows doesn’t allow for Jaime’s personal justifications for his behavior to cloud the judgment of the viewers.

When looking at this scene, everyone’s inclination is to look to Cersei, and examine every nuance in Cersei’s actions, words, and reactions; to constantly focus on the person who is raped. To reduce this entire encounter down to the very end, when Cersei gives in to her lover’s forced advances erases the rest of the encounter, and places the blame on her for how she chose to respond to someone who was telling her, in no uncertain terms, that she was not being permitted the option of saying “No.” This all happening at the hands of the one person from whom Cersei seeks solace and support, and has been absent from her life for a while, adds more layers of complexity. It is also irrelevant. Whatever Cersei was thinking and feeling that led her to change her mind and participate (at least in the book) has no bearing on the subjective intent of Jaime – which was to have sex with Cersei whether or not she participated willingly.

Consent can look different when the person disregarding the resistance is someone known and trusted, especially when it is someone with whom one generally does enjoy consensual sex. When you are in a relationship, and you are saying no and they are ignoring your “no” but aren’t being overtly violent about it, it’s not as obviously violent as if it were a stranger. There is love, and a base level of comfort and shared physical space, and definitely a lot more complicated and confused emotional responses to what is going on. In both the book and the show, as all of that is going through Cersei’s head, her eyes are also still filled with the tears she was shedding over Joffrey’s body, and yet she continues to say “No”. And Jaime continues not to care as he is ripping Cersei’s dress and treating her “no” as an invitation for negotiation. At that point it is abundantly clear that he could not care any less about what she wants in that moment, and that he is going to penetrate her regardless because it was what he wanted. So Cersei chose to stop resisting, instead imploring Jaime to “do it quickly”, and then proceeds to seemingly enjoy the rest of the encounter.


The reason everyone is so uncomfortable with HBO making sure no one doubted this was a rape scene is because people don’t want to believe that partners and spouses would be so disrespectful as to selfishly interpret a partner’s “No” as a challenge instead of an edict. And everyone seems to want to believe that, even while grief stricken, interrupted in the middle of mourning over the body of her murdered son, that the only possible reaction if she wasn’t interested in sex with the father of that son would be to stop thinking about everything else and violently fight back throughout the entire encounter with someone she otherwise trusts and adores. Emotional reactions to violations of trust and intimacy are not that simple. But sex without consent IS that simple.

Rochelle is the Director of Feminist Public Works and GeeksForCONsent. She loves writing about gender and social justice issues, and wishes she was the mother of dragons!

  • Joe

    Rape sequences in movies has been taboo for decades. In my view, the more offensive parts of Game of Thrones goes way beyond the pale of good judgment for TV programming. HBO likes to say its “unlike anything else that has ever been tried on television.” That must include the scenes of graphic (and audible) homosexuality. Full frontal nudity of both genders is bad enough, but it’s not the worst part. The entertainment industry, now including TV that goes directly into everybody’s homes, is pushing the envelope too far when it shows sexual acts between two men and, as in season 3, gives a lot of sound effects for one man doing oral sex on another (you can hear the slurping and smacking). Fortunately, I watched it on a DVD so I was able to fast forward through the disgusting parts. I will be canceling my subscription to HBO if that’s their idea of entertainment. Normal people may tolerate the gay parts to see the rest of the story, but if HBO tries to push the homosexual agenda too much, they might lose a lot of viewers.

    • Well, it just so happens that homosexuality is completely natural and a part of life, and you should get used to it.

  • I’m not going to get into much detail on this topic (since by merit of being male I will potentially be attacked by some people), but we must always take into account the time period Game of Thrones is emulating.

    As deplorable as some of the acts of characters in the show may seem to us from a modern perspective, a lot can change when perceived from a medieval perspective. Whatever the intentions of the producers and director, what was presented to us onscreen was undoubtedly more in line with rape than not. In the book, it’s more nuanced, and as a result, it’s much easier to realise that neither character saw it as rape.

    TL;DR – In the book, Cersei wasn’t raped (when keeping in mind the thoughts of the two characters involved – if the same process occurred nowadays, yes, it would probably be rape). In the show, it’s bloody hard to argue that Cersei wasn’t raped.

    • Rochelle

      It was consent in the book because…why? Because after Jaime made it clear by ripping her underwear and physically separating her legs that she wasn’t being given any choice in the matter, she gave in and enthusiastically participated? Just because she gave in, just because she forgave him, does not change the fact that what he did was rape. It means that the situation is complex – and that GRRM’s rape scene was more nuanced and thought-provoking than HBO’s.

      • Yeah I think Cian is right that there’s a little bit of historical bias going on. For example people give the founding fathers a pass for owning slaves because that was the time they lived in. Or the fact that women have been treated like shit in a lot of places for… well.. pretty much forever but we don’t frown on those societies as a whole because they’re “of their own time”.

        That doesn’t mean we can’t look back and say “yeah that was slavery” or “yeah that was totally rape”. But keeping it in context is important.

        And Cian, I don’t think Rochelle or anyone is upset because there was a rape in the books or show (they had one on PBS/Downton Abbey last season!!) It’s that people IN THIS TIME people are sitting there and saying “it’s NOT rape”. And that’s offensive to a lot of people because by most modern interpretations that would be what the charge would be. Just don’t want young men to be confused thinking “I’ll just keep going til she likes it”. I think most people agree that’s not okay.

        I think you both agree mostly but on this issue I think people have their wires crossed a bit in terms of what everyone is upset about.

        • Rochelle

          I do agree with everything you just said, Jacob!

        • I agree with everything you said, I just wasn’t clear enough!
          Just to be clear – yep, it’s rape. But Cersei wouldn’t have the perception modern women have on the subject, that’s all I’m saying. Judging be everything that happens afterwards, there’s no evidence to suggest she viewed it as an assault by Jaime.

          • Rochelle

            That part, that because she let’s it go afterward, it is supposed to mean that her later actions indicate that in the moment she never thought it was against her will, is the part I take issue with. She’s allowed to let it go, move past it, forget it – but we shouldn’t all assume that it means she didn’t feel violated in that moment. But, I suppose we can agree to disagree on this point.

        • Ashton

          Consensual sex isn’t rape…. and what (in the books) happened between Jaime and Cersei WAS CONSENSUAL. I suppose you guys just didn’t actually read the books for what they were, you bought into the 21st century rape-culture crap that basically says girls can make bad decisions, regret them- call it rape AFTER the fact and the man should do time in the slammer. It’s ridiculous.

      • Ashton

        Get off your bullshit feminazi fucking pedestal. She was saying no because of the location- and her feeble fists aren’t weak and ‘womanly’ it’s because she WANTS to have sex with Jaime- just not here, she changes her mind about the LOCATION of the place because of his willingness, kinda like if you ask your friend where to eat lunch? She wanted it just as bad in the books, and it was consensual. That doesn’t make it rape. Educate yourself on what rape is.

  • QueenTitania

    This was an awesome article. As the victim of spousal rape, I truly understand the points made here. often, those outside domestic violence question why its victims often stay – it’s because staying is sometimes safer. Also because the abuser is often also the comforter. sometimes I even questioned myself as to whether I had been raped when so often I just gave in and participated – it’s because saying ‘no’ is impossible and saying ‘yes’ energetically sometimes make the experience get over sooner.

  • Brian Puddin Jeffries

    I don’t understand how it’s different from the book? It was a rape seane in the book and it’s a rape seane on HBO.

  • benkz1

    “The reason everyone is so uncomfortable with HBO making sure no one doubted this was a rape scene is because people don’t want to believe that partners and spouses would be so disrespectful as to selfishly interpret a partner’s “No” as a challenge instead of an edict.”

    Eh, some people are ‘uncomfortable’ because they don’t like the change from the book. Others are because rape is disturbing to them in general, so seeing it on TV is too. Others are because they somehow see this interpretation of a scene as a condonement for rape. Still more are because to see it as condonement seems wildly misplaced and they wonder how things have gotten to the point where GoT finally causes some issue when so much more has gone on. A man was tortured, but in the midst of this can’t resist prostitutes still, and then is forcibly castrated and called reek and accepts his situation mindlessly. Etc.

    • Marissa

      what change from the book? very very little was changed from the book for this scene.

      • benkz1

        It’s noted in the very same article above? The link to Martin’s response has someone asking why the change?

  • VL Vanderveer

    Rochelle, EXCELLENT article! This needed to be said, and by a woman. What Jaime did was completely wrong and if the directors and Martin wanted it to be different, then it should have been filmed and written differently. Thank you, also, for telling women everywhere that “no” means NO – not later, not try harder, not convince me. We may not like Cersei, but even she doesn’t deserve something like this. NO ONE DOES, woman or man. The scene was just wrong and covering it up with ipso facto Cersei consenting by doing these things is ridiculous.

    • Ben Auron

      This scene was wrong? The majority of the scenes in GoT are wrong. Killing, maiming, slavery, and mysogeny aplenty. I may not be a woman, but taking of a human life is way worse than rape. These “wrongs” are just part of the show. This scene just shows Jaime isn’t as noble as we all thought. At least, that’s how I understand it.

      • Marissa

        what’s wrong about it is that people are saying it WASN’T RAPE. not in the books and not in the show when IT’S CLEARLY RAPE.
        that’s what’s wrong no one is saying that this is better or worse than any of the crimes committed on the show. what’s bad is that the viewers, the readers, and even the author don’t have appropriate understandings of consent and rape. if someone says no it means no regardless of the situation, relationship, or context. her no and her reasoning why was not respected in either the show or the book and many people who read the book don’t recognize that and think that the show created a rape scene from thin air which is NOT what happened.

        • benkz1

          Ah, I think I see what I did not before. People are taking “it was consensual by the end” to mean it wasn’t rape by the director…whereas he specifically does state, “What was talked about was that it was not consensual as it began”
          Here he is saying: It was rape.

          Benioff describes the scene this way: “You see that Cersei is resisting this. She’s saying no, and he’s forcing himself on her. or. Benioff too here is coming out and saying: it was rape.

          You can say their reasoning for it become consensual is wrong, but they’re nor saying it wasn’t rape. They’re not generalizing this would apply to any situation to be consent. They’re saying: In Cersie’s unique position, she’s being raped and allows it to get back at Tyrion.

    • Ashton

      Cersei wanted it, and sometimes we women DO say no and not mean NO. And in Cersei’s case- in the books at least, she’s not saying no because she doesn’t want to have sex- she’s saying no because she knows what she WANTS is immoral. That doesn’t make it non-consensual. And it’s not ‘ipso facto’ just because YOU don’t like it.

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