[TW] No More Free Passes: Why I’m Done Watching Game of Thrones

Trigger Warning: Discussion of incest, sexual abuse, and rape.

Photo“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:

Photo-1Cersei 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.


Ivy Noelle Weir

Ivy Noelle Weir

Ivy Noelle Weir is a Librarian, Writer, Photographer, and feminist geek out to ruin everything you love. She tweets excessively at @ivynoelle.

28 thoughts on “[TW] No More Free Passes: Why I’m Done Watching Game of Thrones

  1. I stopped watching GoT way back in season two with Joffrey and the two prostitutes. For me, the violence against women seemed highly unnecessary (Was this the only way to depict the moral depravity of Joffrey?) I have missed out on discussions with friends but reading this article, I am glad I didn’t go back, because it sounds like it continues, and if possible, is worse. You have stated my objections to GoT more eloquently than I ever could. Thank you.

  2. This is the first piece I’ve read on the episode that sees that the encounter described in the book is also rape. Thank goodness, I was starting to feel gaslighted by the internet.

  3. it you are interested in a slightly similar series of books where there are strong women characters and (GASP) cultures where women are actually the ones who run things! Check out Robert Jordans Wheel of Time series. Be warned though, it’s about 15 books long and none of them are under 500 pages, many are close to 1000. It is an epic series to take on but well worth it.

  4. Good points, Ivy! As an ASOIAF fan I feel inclined to share my thoughts, although some may say, with a certain reason, that I shouldn’t because I haven’t watched the scene in question. Actually I have only watched the first season of GOT and, with all this talking, I’m probably never going to watch it again. But I’ll try to stick to the things I do know about.
    First , when depicting rape in art, it all depends on the tone. The tone is gonna show the point of view of the author. The tone in this scene, from what I understand, is of complete agreement to rape culture. But, yes, it is possible to do it right, showing the point of view of the victim, her struggles, the consequences in society and, well, not using it as a sexy device, a “sexposition” scene. Cersei herself has been raped several times before by her husband Robert, and I don’t have problem with that (of course I have problems with the marital rape, I mean I don’t have problems with Martin telling this story). Those rapes were not just to move the plot, they are the plot. Cersei became paranoid, fearful of men, disempowered. Also we are only told of this in her point of view, never Robert’s. The scene described in this post creeps me out the most because Jaime has become a popular character, Cersei not so much. So he is the good guy and she the wicked woman? Ugh. And what purpose does it serve, storywise?
    Dany’s rape was pivotal to the rebirth of her character. Brienne’s attempted rape and the mentions to the war rapes are something the women in the series have to live with, and is terrible, and that’s why their fight (Brienne, Catelyn, Asha, Dany, etc.) is so important. Westeros is a patriarchal society just like ours, which is good sorytelling because I feel so easily identified. Happily there are also good examples, such as Dorne.
    The scene in the book that you transcribed is terrible, clearly portraying Jaime as despicable as it should, but I believe that in those circunstances it makes sense (but I don’t want to spoil anything, so…).
    So my point is: I disagree with “the show does a lot more to female characters then the books do”. The books certainly are not perfect in this aspect, but I would even call its female represantation good, although of course very triggering to some people. But good. (And moon’s blood is just a medieval way to say menstruation so I think it is okay)

    1. Thanks for your input. I admit that I really have very little experience with the books (again, only read two of them, which seemed to be a lot of exposition leading into what is obviously a much more epic story), but I did find that Cersei, at least, is given a lot more of a brain in the show, and from what I could tell, in the books is kind of portrayed as dumb, shallow, and sleeping her way to the top.

      While, yeah, if I’m being totally idealistic, I’d want creators to not utilize rape as a plot device, my issue here is that in this scene, the rape is 100% about Jaime, his wants, his development, his character. It’s not about Cersei. Maybe they’ll discuss it more in future episodes, but to me, it just seemed wholly unnecessary, as it so often is.

  5. Even after all that, I still don’t agree with the article. A woman can change her mind – I don’t see how Cersei’s speech in the book becomes anything less than enthusiastic. So if a woman says no, it’s no forever? She can’t change her mind? It’s understood to work the other way.

    I can understand that in the world of these books, rape is a thing that happens. He has built that world as a structure to put his stories on top of. You can feel free to stop reading because you find it personally distasteful, but I personally don’t agree that rape is a taboo subject for stories. He wanted to portray a twisted, dark, cruel, horrible world and how these people are shaped and live inside of it. Rape is all of those things. It’s fine to include it if the depiction of tortuous, unjust lives is the goal.
    Well, anyway. We disagree. Naturally, I like horror movies and other cruel, twisted things in my media.

    1. A woman can absolutely change her mind, but if she is protesting and you “never hear her”, that’s not her changing her mind, that’s you forcing yourself on her. That’s not real consent, I’m sorry.

      I’m not saying rape is a “taboo” subject, or needs to be avoided entirely. What I have an issue with is that this scene (in the show) was 100% about Jaime, about his story arc, about his redemption issues, about his struggle with being cruel and horrible. It was not about Cersei, or how it effected her, and the fan response has totally solidified that with a disturbingly high number of people saying that Cersei “deserved it” and not to worry about Jaime because his character gets better. What I want is for creators to at least question their use of women’s bodies and physical safety as a means to end for male character development.

    2. If Cersei had been left alone when she asked to be, and then changed her mind and approached her brother (innately a problematic relationship, but let’s roll with it for a second) to continue with the sex act, then the scene would have been quite different. She was not ALLOWED to change her mind.

  6. At what point do we cross the line? When is it ok to portray rape, slavery, sexism, racism, bigotry, violence in our media? That scene in GoT was absolutely disturbing, if someone found that entertaining then there are clearly deeper issues there. I don’t understand how anyone can pass judgement over someone else’s free speech. If you don’t like, don’t watch it. That might sound harsh but we aren’t North Korea. It absolutely infuriates and disgusts me when people use the word “retard” or “autistic” to insult or declare idiocy. It’s something that has affected me personally in my life. When it’s used in popular media it has the same effect. Do I stand up and try to boycott said entertainment? No because it’s that creators right to free speech. Does it take away from the quality of the piece or the message it’s trying to deliver? Not for me. I will always defend free speech over discomfort.

          1. Just because some entertainment depicts things like rape, slavery and murder etc, means we should boycott it because it’s too uncomfortable? It all the sudden means that it is condoning such things?

          2. A couple points:

            – the “don’t watch this if you don’t want to, this isn’t North Korea” (which, by the way, you might want to check the racist overtones of that statement) doesn’t really apply here because, if you read this article, that is exactly what I am saying. I’m not going to watch this anymore.

            – No one’s free speech is in danger, because this isn’t a state action, I’m an individual. So, while my right to free speech, as a member of the press (blog press?), my right to an opinion about a published work, is protected, nothing’s really going to happen to HBO. While I wish sometimes that I had the power to wield state action with my disagreeance, it’s sadly not the case.

            This isn’t about what is “uncomfortable”. This is about rape culture. This is about a societal trivialization of women’s right to bodily safety for the sake of entertainment.

            The “free speech” utilized in scenarios like this does actually encourage more than discomfort: it normalizes a scenario where people are shown that women in popular culture are expendable, and whether intentionally or not, trivializes rape. I suggest looking this over: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Rape_culture

          3. There’s nothing racist about using North Korea as an example of violent censorship. He’s referring to the government, not a people group.

          4. okay, I might change my wording to “jingoist” (and it’s not an accusation, it’s calling to light the fact that that example gets thrown around a lot kind of carelessly, and it’s always a good time to check your privilege and wording! There’s never a bad time to do that.)

            I appreciate your calm response, Jimmy, but I have to ask: even if it was just “angry women”, why would that make this argument any less valid?

            And I think there are people “up in arms” about all the things you mentioned. It’s not about a line being drawn, it’s about a greater cultural awareness and cognitive shift to not trivialize, or at worst glorify, things that some people have to live with every day of their lives. It’s not censorship to have a discussion about the ways in which our media can improve. I am certainly not desensitized to any of that, and I make it my literal job to vocalize that.

          5. Because extreme radicalism is what hurts society in my opinion. I’m not saying you are at all, but this argument always leads to “well you’re a man therefore you just don’t understand” and I think that’s lazy and unintelligent. It’s unfair to generalize all straight men as sex hounds. And again maybe my sensitivity isn’t as high but, I didn’t perceive that episode as trivializing rape. It was meant to be disturbing and meant to be wrong and meant to invoke shock. I think that’s why the show works very well. And Jamie is going to get what is coming to him.

          6. I also don’t want to offend anyone on here who has been the victim of rape so if anything I’m saying is blatantly offensive please stop me

          7. I’ve been the victim of rape. And that’s why I write about it. So even if I disagree with you on some points, or provide counterargument, I’m always happy to help educate people on ways in which they can discuss these topics with care while stating their opinions. The dialogue is important.

          8. well said. I thank you for the dialogue. Our society needs more people like you! And I hope the pile of scum who did that to you got what he/she deserved. Cheers

          9. “but this argument always leads to “well you’re a man therefore you just don’t understand” and I think that’s lazy and unintelligent.”

            Jimmy, *this* is lazy. You create a false ending to the situation you find yourself in, and then you address that as if it were real, creating a false image of the other participant/s in your discussion. Nobody has generalised all straight men. You yourself have mentioned your lack of expertise in the subject. If you want to discuss sensitive topics, it’s advisable to check if your responses are using disingenuous language before you post them.

          10. Maybe I’m not making myself clear. I read and agree with your post about Game of Thrones sexual violence being a problem. I also read Jimmy’s post and thought he had some good points. Then I read your reply which said he was racist.

            There’s nothing racist or even Jingoist about what Jimmy said. There’s no privilege to check. That’s the point I was trying to make.

            So why am I bothered about it?

            Saying Jimmy’s post was racist immediately paints his entire argument as ignorant, bigoted and wrong.

            Jimmy could have used any example in history of a nation that censors content and then tortures or violently abuses people because of it. He could have used modern day China as an example, or Russia when Stalin was in power, or Cambodia when Pol Pot was a leader, or Nazi Germany. These all fit because they are facts. They happened. He’s not saying “of course a Korean would want to censor Game of Thrones (racist). He’s also not saying, “America is the best place in the world and anyone who doesn’t agree with that is a crazy North Korean communist; we should wipe them out (jingoist).

            The only privilege that should be checked here is vocabulary privilege.

          11. Hi,

            I see your point, and let me make myself clear: I was not attempting to silence Jimmy by dismissing his argument as bigoted, and I’m sincerely sorry if it came off that way (no nuance through text). I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “vocabulary privilege,” but I can totally admit when I may have been insensitive. It was a thing that I take personal umbrage with, and so I may have reacted with a hot head. As you can see, Jimmy and I did continue to have a dialogue, and I appreciated his conversing with me about this topic.

          12. I appreciate the clarification. My initial reaction was that of angry women just hating on men, I’m glad there is intelligent discussion happening. I read the article that you posted and here are my thoughts. I’m a man who has never been a victim of rape, so maybe my sensitivity isn’t very acute to the topic; but Isn’t there a certain desensitization to all the things that we’ve mentioned? Why is the rape of anybody happening in media, or murder, or racism or any of that? Why aren’t people up in arms over a movie like 12 years a slave? Or scenes where people are shouting faggot, nigger etc? I guess I’m just wondering who gets to draw that line? Or what right does anyone have to draw that line?

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