I’m not happy.
The difference between the show and the novels aren’t many considering how hard it is to adapt Martin’s books into a television show and I’ve been completely fine with the changes the show has so far made. In general, I don’t mind adaptation changes because books and television/film are different mediums so of course there will be differences (there needs to be a whole article on how people complaining about films or TV making adaptation changes is ridiculous).
So when I say making Jaime rape Cersei is the biggest mistake the show has done in its four years it’s not just because it’s different from the books (Jaime does not rape Cersei). It’s the biggest mistake because it’s amazingly out of character and comes across as a cheap shock which is insulting to the audience and to Martin’s novels.
Before I started writing this analysis I looked around online to see how others were reacting, to see if I was totally off base, or if there was something that I missed about the scene that somehow salvaged it. I was shocked to see Alan Sepinwall quote episode director Alex Graves as saying the scene was not supposed to be a rape. Look here. I have no idea how the directors and producers could sit down and think the scene played as Cersei being hesitant and then giving in because at no point did she appear to be enjoying it. She was crying at one point, for Christ’s sake.
The gender politics of Game of Thrones has been thorny and I’ve found myself defending them in the past, but this has me doing some reconsidering. I’ve seen some critics claiming the TV show has begun to outdo the books and I’ve never agreed and tonight’s episode reminds me of why. When it comes to gender politics, the books took a much more nuanced view, while the show seems to want to deal with it, but in a haphazard, almost hypocritical, way. The nudity in the show has been utterly absurd in the past, presented in a way that is essentially pornographic. The scenes in Littlefinger’s brothel are usually eye-rolling (although tonight a scene in it featured both male and female nudity along with a bisexual character and it played pretty well) at best, insulting to the audience at worst.
The audience of this show is not made up of fucking idiots. We don’t need rampant nudity just to stay tuned. I’m not sitting in my chair saying, “If I don’t see a breast in the next ten minutes then I’m tuning out!” We don’t need a shocking twist every other second to stay tuned either. In the novels, Martin’s twists and turns work because he’s willing to let the pace proceed slowly, let us get comfortable, before pulling the rug out from beneath us. The show managed to do that last week by drawing out the wedding. This week’s scene with Jaime and Cersei was the exact opposite and something I’d expect on Scandal, not a show that prides itself in portraying real, breathing people whose actions we can understand if not always agree with.
The sad thing is, the rest of the episode was quite good, but this one poorly thought out scene overrides that fact and I’m left wondering what the hell D.B. Weiss and David Benioff were thinking, instead of what I’d like to be doing: contemplating Daenarys’ attempts to free the slaves of Meereen and talking about the lovely scene between Davos and Stannis’ daughter. But when you put a rape in a story and the rapist is a character whose arc over the last twelve episodes was one of redemption then you damn well better have a good reason for it and there’s simply none here.
Game of Thrones wants to say that the world of Westeros, and our own, is one in which women are often objectified and used as pawns as opposed to being treated as human beings. This cannot happen if the camera objectifies the women on screen and if the story throws in rape for shock value. This is why I turn to the books and not to the show. It’s not because the show came second, it’s not because it’s made some changes in adaptation; it’s because the books don’t sacrifice themes and ideas in the hopes of bringing in horny readers who are only satisfied if there’s hot women on display.
Game of Thrones is a great show. One of the best I’ve seen, I daresay. However, it needs to do better when it comes to dealing with women’s role in Westeros. Much better.
We’ll return to our usual discussion next week, barring any more unfortunate developments such as this one. I’m leaving this episode ungraded as I don’t know how to grade it and I’m not sure it’d even be appropriate after all I’ve just written.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com.