I don’t have a problem with the continuous references, threats and instances of rape in A Song of Ice and Fire. It isn’t pleasant, and sometimes it’s incessant, but you look at wartorn or fraying countries past and present, and you’ll see infinite instances of rape used as a constant weapon against an entire female population. Rape in A Song of Ice and Fire has context. The victims of rape have context. Rape has consequences; the threat of it has consequences. Those consequences vary because the victims are also people, with their own context and character, and we see as many permutations and consequences as you would expect, just as we see so many permutations and consequences of murder. Rape is not there to ‘pretty up’ the novels. It is sometimes there to tell us things about men, or about women, or about the landscape. It is sometimes there because that is the horror of it all, that it would be there, that that is just how that world is. It’s not glossy, it’s not exciting, it isn’t sanitised and it isn’t fun to read, and there’s a lot of it. I don’t have a problem with that.
I have an increasing problem with the TV version of things, because it takes an unpleasant world and pretties it up. For starters, there’s the incessant naked women during plot points, never mind the sexualised violence against women where it either isn’t in the books, or is off-screen in the books. And then there’s the key relationships – Khal Drogo/Daenerys and Jaime/Cersei, most talked about – where the show has chosen to take away both content and context until all you have left are sequences that look like rape, sound like rape, are rape, where rapes do not occur in the books. The Khal Drogo/Daenerys one is cloudier, certainly difficult to discuss, and, presumably, to film, because in the book, Daenerys is a child and the consent of minors is not even the slightest consideration in that world, which, thankfully, it is in ours. I think that’s a lot harder to discuss, and I also have a lot less to say about it, save that, it bothers me intensely that they made what becomes a strong and powerful love story start out with the out-and-out rape of a crying girl.
But I have a lot to say about what on earth they’re doing with Jaime Lannister. I love Jaime. Is it because he’s blond? Probably. Except he isn’t, in the TV show. When I started watching, I’d assumed that might be the most of my problems, but, it transpires, I’ve almost forgotten that he isn’t blond, because the awesome parts of Jaime are all present, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is perfectly hot, perfectly witty and gloriously good at eye-rolling, and I am, after all, susceptible to the aesthetic appreciation of other things.
I love that scene in the book. I love Jaime and Cersei’s ridiculously twisted relationship – and then lack of it – in the books. Jaime’s utter adoration of Cersei prior to his return to King’s Landing, his unswaying belief that she is everything he could ever need, is beautiful and unusual and pretty interesting. The assumption that Cersei feels the same, until you get those Cersei chapters and discover that, no, the relationship for her is something different, is so subtle and clever, I was virtually applauding as I read. I have little squick for sibling incest, probably because I’m an only child with an utter inability to imagine having a sibling at all, so that might explain why I find it so easy to have such love for a relationship that’s fundamentally flawed. But even if you can’t get past that vital factor of their relations, I think it’s fairly hard to deny that the layers and depth of it are compelling and fascinating, and watching it all unravel is brilliant.
There’s very little of the context of their relationship in the TV series. Obviously, you lose all the POV stuff, obviously, but they managed to make Jaime and Brienne’s Excellent Adventure pretty damn good, so you know they can do it if they feel like it. And any relationship that’s first presented as a vehicle for throwing a small boy to his assumed death is going to be incredibly flawed.
There was some of this when Jaime’s escape from Catelyn was so unpleasantly twisted to have him murder an innocent person, simply to further his own ends. I hated that. Hated it. But I wondered if it might be to replace some other something elsewhere in the book and generate something…be a shortcut for the Lannisters having grudges against them elsewhere…it was a stupid change, to my mind, but I figured there might be a reason for it.
There is no reason for the Jaime/Cersei sequence in Joffrey’s tomb to be that different, though. The director had his say about it, and it’s just wrong. “Everything, ultimately, is a turn-on for them…” No, no it isn’t. And no part of that sequence is about having good sex. It’s about need and humanity and grief and relief and trauma and love and who they are together and separately, and you lose every single shred of that when you write that sequence as the most basic Rape 101 in the book.
My major concern is that that scene intentionally and directly plants the language and actions of rape into those characters’ mouths. It isn’t moderated, it has no context, it has no sense, it is explicit rape for no story purpose, it has no character purpose, it develops nothing, indeed, sets back all manner of things, and downright breaks still more things. There is no possible justification for it.
Some of the articles and posts I’ve read about this week’s episode have been excellent, all demonstrating not only anger, disappointment and sadness for the show’s decisions, but also a sense of exhausted confusion about why we’re seeing rape storylines everywhere, everywhere, everywhere, where they serve little purpose, and need not be used. It’s true that Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider prequel, which featured sexual violence as a character-creating point, generated some fantastic dialogue about the female role in video games, but it’s a shame that it took the retrofitting of one of the only leading female characters to get that going. It feels by this point as though TV has gone so far past that that it’s just ‘not another rape scene…’ now, and a proportion of the TV audience feels let down and confused by the decisions and simply switches off.
However, Game of Thrones is so vast, so epic, and has so much incredible stuff going for it, people aren’t going to switch off. There isn’t going to be a massive exodus from the show if it deviates from the books (because so much of the audience couldn’t care less about the books/hasn’t got time to read them, and there’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with that) and I get that there have to be changes to make the sprawling story work for TV.
But they didn’t need to change that.
Am I upset because the fictional character I have a thing for was turned into a rapist? Yes. I don’t have to apologise, or be ashamed of this. I am upset by it. I’m angry about it. That’s okay. I am angry about the larger issues I’ve lightly mentioned like, y’know, the continued existence of rape as a weapon in this world, and the continued use of it in virtually every major show as a convenient storyline to get a female character from A to B. I have continuous issues with the devaluing of many of the female characters in the show, and I could equally have written a post about this from the angle that Cersei as a character deserves far, far better, and that the choices with this sequence vastly damage her character in the most ridiculous way. But that’s another blog, and there are plenty of other blogs being written from brilliant angles about this, so let me do this one.
Here’s the deal: I won’t try and lie and seem like a more worldly, clever commentator than I am: I’m pissed off because I derive considerable pleasure from being attracted to Jaime and the show made him something he isn’t for no reason, then tried to gloss over it and say it wasn’t what it is, then virtually tried to go down the line of “Oh well he’s really fucked up and so is she so it might look like rape to you but they’re superspecial and it’s different for them.” I’m pissed off because this show ought to be better than that, ought to be able to pick up on something that is so much more interesting than that, and should know better, and should just be able, from the incredible source material, to see something so much more interesting that they could have shown. What, having incestuous parents fucking next to their boy-king son’s corpse WASN’T SHOCKING ENOUGH? I don’t know how you work any more, television, I really don’t know what you’re after.
Part of Jaime’s point and story is that he is a) all misunderstood and stuff and b) going through a redemption process, largely to make up for (I think) not the Kingslaying thing, because that has unravelling to do as well, but, actually, for chucking Bran out of the window and paralysing half of him. The decision to not just ‘hamper’ his journey to potential redemption but to render it impossible is just plain character assassination. I don’t deserve that, as someone who enjoys the show. And you can’t take Jaime Lannister away from my appreciations like that. But you can really, really colour yourselves, your attitudes, your complete lack of understanding of a considerable percentage of your audience, and my enjoyment of the show as a whole. Believe it or not, I’d actually rather have spent this ranting time on Tumblr rewatching my favourite bits in .gif form. I don’t want to be angry with things that shouldn’t be there. And I’m sick of seeing rape used against female characters as an illustrative device as common as dramatic music or clever camera trickery.