The wildly popular HBO fantasy epic Game of Thrones is a unique show for numerous reasons. Probably the biggest one is that it’s based on George R.R. Martin’s not-yet-completed book series called A Song of Ice and Fire whose first novel was published in 1996. Therefore, its enormous audience is split into two camps: 1) the millions who worship the books and consequently scrutinize every last detail of the show and 2) the millions who just love the show for what it is.
I’m personally in the former camp – the books are truly the best I’ve ever read – but I promise I’m not one of those snobs who says “So much better in the books,” every time co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss decide to alter something Martin has written. They’ve made many changes that I feel are an improvement on the books (Arya and Bran being slightly older, having Arya directly cross paths with Tywin in Season 2, keeping Tyrion’s nose intact), but they’ve also made some odd decisions that I didn’t agree with (killing off Irri, who is still alive in the books, and Doreah betraying Dany in Qarth).
In the major scene from last weekend’s episode “Breaker of Chains” that left many GoT fans stunned (and book readers furious), siblings/lovers Jaime and Cersei Lannister had incestuous sex on top of and around their dead son Joffrey’s corpse. Er, wait. That’s how it happened in the books. The show took a slightly different approach.
In the TV scene, Jaime approaches Cersei in the sept and she insists it was Tyrion who murdered Joffrey. After consoling her, they kiss before Cersei breaks away. Jaime then angrily says, “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman,” presses her against the coffin, pulls off her clothes, and forces her down to the ground. Cersei repeatedly says “no” and then starts to cry, saying “this is wrong” only for Jaime to respond “I don’t care.”
He raped her.
In the book, the two of them had consensual sex, with Cersei even encouraging Jaime’s actions. Here, he explicitly raped her. This is by some distance the biggest misstep in the show’s run so far (which, to be fair, hasn’t had many) and it has serious implications for both characters as well as the viewing audience’s perception of them.
Without spoiling anything for the show-only fans, this scene is a significant setback to Jaime’s “reformation” of sorts that does not occur in A Storm of Swords. Any opinions that may have started to sway in his favor after rescuing Brienne have now stopped completely, and will have gone right back to loathing him perhaps even more than before. And in the eyes of many there will be no way back for him this time, regardless of where Benioff and Weiss decide to take his storyline.
From a book reader’s perspective, it is never in doubt that Jaime is in love with his sister and has made most of his major life decisions based around her well-being. For all of his flaws and his hot-headedness, his one consistently redeeming quality is that he’s remained faithful to one woman his entire life (Yes, she’s his sister, it’s incest and it’s wrong by today’s standards, but this is Westeros in the Middle Ages. Get over it.). By having Jaime blatantly disrespect and violate Cersei, Benioff and Weiss have removed the one unfailingly positive quality in his character. Martin’s entire world is built around characters who are never black and white (not even Joffrey – it is important to remember that he was the result of a terrible mother and a drunk father who did not care about him), because this is how humans are in real life: good people with the capacity for terrible actions. We are all gray, as are the characters in Westeros; that’s why we love, discuss and debate them so much. The moment Jaime raped the only woman he’s ever loved, he became almost completely black and white – even more so than in the series’ first episode.
The consequences for Lena Headey’s character are different but just as serious. Cersei is a woman of formidable power and authority, the only one in the entire series aside from Daenerys and Olenna Tyrell. By getting raped rather than having consensual sex, Cersei’s sense of power is greatly diminished in the viewers’ eyes. Was it not enough to have her claim to Casterly Rock turned down by Tywin, or her father ordering her to remarry and get pregnant to put Stannis’ incest “claims” to rest?
The Queen Regent doesn’t just hold power, she lusts for it. Her entire character is based around the idea of ruling with fear over love, with TV viewers (and her fellow characters) never knowing what cunning plan she has up her sleeve or whose death she’s plotting next. Benioff and Weiss clearly mean for us to feel sympathy for Cersei (as we’re meant to for Jaime when he reveals the full story of murdering King Aerys), but did they need to go as far as her getting raped by her own brother? And where on earth are they going to take Cersei’s character to now? Rape is one of the most serious crimes a human can commit; many victims never fully recover and are mentally scarred for life. Even in this fictional world, it will be impossible for Cersei to just go right back to her “normal” authoritative self; if they even try it, viewers will be even angrier than they are now, and with good reason. Of the two characters, I will be paying the closest attention to the Queen and her reaction to the ordeal.
I don’t have the answers (regarding the TV show anyway), but it seems likely at this point that Benioff and Weiss will continue to deviate even further from the books as the series goes on. Some changes have been necessary, some completely unnecessary, but most have been clever additions/alterations to the wonderful world of Westeros (and beyond) as we know it. The rape scene, however, is the first time a change of theirs has left me angry. It does not add anything, nor does it add a new dimension to either Jaime or Cersei’s persona. Benioff and Weiss are walking a very fine line, and if they don’t get it exactly right for the rest of this season, they risk losing an enormous number of viewers – whether they’ve read the books or not.