*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.
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN’s INTENT
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 DIRECTOR’S INTENT
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.