Trigger Warning: Discussion of incest, sexual abuse, and rape.
“Rape is never acceptable as a plot device,” I said, leaning back in one of the flimsy folding chairs we use for events at the comic book shop where I work. I was talking to my boss, a really awesome guy who is making every attempt to create a geek space in our shop that is safe, welcoming, and diverse. “There’s literally every other way to move a story along,” I finished, as he nodded in agreement, “There’s almost never a reason to use it.”
We were talking about this because I don’t read Mark Millar books. I don’t buy them. I stopped after his idiotic comments on the (frequent) use of rape in his writing. A few days later, the topic of rape as plot device came up again with the publication of Invincible #110, which ends with the rape of a male character. “Well,” I said, “I guess I won’t be recommending Invincible to anyone anymore.”
This is all to say, I don’t give free passes on rape in popular media. I’ve got pretty much a one-strike policy.
Yet, for some reason, I have been watching Game of Thrones for four seasons. I’ve read two of the books. I have some House Stark trinkets floating around my apartment. This is a show that repeatedly uses rape to move the plot along. While the show does a lot more for the female characters than the books do, they are still living under a ever-present threat of rape, and are reminded of it constantly through lewd language and aggressive physical actions. A disturbingly large portion of scenes take place in a brothel where the sex workers are shown as subhuman and often threatened with violence. I mean, there’s a character whose name is quite literally “The Mountain Who Rapes.” I’ve been fairly vocal about my concerns with the show in the past (usually laying the blame squarely at the feet of George R.R. Martin), but I’ve stuck with it — maybe out of some nerdy fear of missing out, not being part of the thing all my friends watched, maybe just because I like to see people swordfighting.
This past week’s episode, “Breaker Of Chains,” changed that. I was sitting on the couch with my boyfriend, who is (was) a self proclaimed Jaime fan. It’s Monday, so both of us have seen some buzz online about some kind of “BIG THING” that happened on last night’s episode. So, in due course, about ten minutes into the episode, there’s a rape scene.
Like I said, par for the course for Game of Thrones, right? Yes. But let’s break down what happens here:
Cersei is mourning the death of her son. Jaime enters the room. For seemingly no reason, except I guess to give more depth to Jaime’s recent character arc of “totally conflicted dudebro”, they begin to make out. Cersei pulls away. They talk for a minute. Jaime pulls her back in. She protests. He calls her a “wicked woman” and begins to force her down to the ground. Again, I would like to remind you readers that this is taking place quite literally on top of their dead child. Jaime rapes her, and Cersei protests the entire time, only to be overpowered by a terse, repeated “no” from Jaime.
Yeah, no. Unacceptable for so many reasons. I turn to my boyfriend, who looks completely tortured. “I think I’m done watching this show,” I say. He nods.
Already pretty terrible, right? Well, here’s the kicker, folks: the showrunners made it worse. They played up the rape. In the original text, the scene goes down like this. Warning, it’s not much better:
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.”
So, it’s still a rape, but you see, Cersei was just playing hard to get. You know, like women do. When a woman is “feebly pounding” on your chest with protest, you can still totally convince her (also, “moon’s blood”? Try to be more gross/out of touch with women’s bodies, George). Martin used the “it starts as rape but then it becomes loooooove” before, with Dany and Khal Drogo — let’s not forget, she was sold to him by her incestuous crazy brother, and she was subsequently essentially taught to enjoy rape. People quick to defend Game Of Thrones online have cited the different treatment of these scenes from the books and thrown the blame at HBO — but let me clear something up for you:
That’s still rape.
Yes, if a woman is telling you no, and you don’t stop, if you “never hear her,” you’re a rapist. I’m sorry if that bursts your coolguy Jaime Lannister man-who-takes-what-he-wants bubble. That’s rape.
Martin responded to the uproar today, sounding a little more than mildly annoyed:
“If the show had retained some of Cersei’s dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression — but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.
That’s really all I can say on this issue. The scene was always intended to be disturbing … but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.”
See? It was the timing of the show, having to cram all that plot into smaller episodes. Her protests turning into reluctant, forced consent are so much less horrible when you take into account that in the books, there was … more time? Right?
So, take comfort, women of geek culture, you were disturbed for “the wrong reasons.” Don’t be disturbed by rape culture. Don’t be disturbed by being shown that your body is an expendable plot device to be violated and abused. The scene was intended to be disturbing. Hush now, this was the only way.
I am sure that I will told to be quiet about this because Game of Thrones is a fantasy show set in olden-times where rape was just, like, so much more common, you just don’t get it, Ivy. But in fact, in the very next scene, Samwell Tarly explains to Gilly (a character we were introduced to because she was essentially a sex slave to her father, by the way) that he is concerned she will be raped if she continues to hang out with the Night’s Watch, simply by the nature of being a woman and… being there. Rape was everywhere! Get used to it, ladies.
Game of Thrones is a fantasy. It is not real life. In our fantasy made up worlds that have dragons and magic (even though in this case it’s sensual, sexual light witch magic from a sexy lady), can we not also have men who don’t rape? Can we not have women who are demeaned? If this is a world where we can change what we want, why can’t we change this? Demand more from what you consume. No more free passes.