TV

The Internet Is Really Angry At Game Of Thrones Today

For four whole seasons, Game Of Thrones has given us some pretty cringeworthy sex scenes. But last night’s episode was on a whole other level. [Spoiler alert.]

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Warning: This article deals with non-consensual sex. It also explicitly spoils key plot points from the most recent episode of Game of Thrones. 

For four whole seasons, Game Of Thrones has given us some pretty cringeworthy sex scenes. But last night’s episode was on a whole other level of screwed-up.

In case you haven’t yet seen ‘Breaker of Chains’, pored over our recap, or followed the outrage on Twitter, the particular scene has Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) raping his sister/lover Cersei (Lena Headey) in front of the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey.

Just let that sink in for a second.

The internet, as is its wont, has had a fair bit to say on the issue. Uproxx suggested it may be the most disturbing sex scene in TV history, and Jezebel called it “unnecessary and despicable”.

Possibly more disturbing than the scene itself was the suggestion made by director Alex Graves that the sex “becomes consensual by the end.” Similarly, when The Daily Beast asked the actor Coster-Waldau “is it rape?”, he responded, “Yes, and no. There are moment when she gives in, and moments where she pushes him away. But it’s not pretty.”

Judge for yourself. (This clip comes with a spoiler alert, a NSFW tag, and a trigger warning.)

Without a doubt, it’s an extremely disturbing minute and half of television. Here are the main complaints being levelled at it.

Complaint #1: Calling Bullshit On The Alleged Turn From Non-Consensual To Consensual Sex

As Scott Meslow from The Week points out, the sex in the book on which the show is based is “clearly consensual” — despite being both dangerous and grotesque.

Here’s a snippet:

Understandably, people have begun to question why such a change was made: as if sex in a church near your son’s corpse with your sister wasn’t enough, it also had to be rape?

On his blog, George R.R. Martin reiterated that holding the show accountable to the books is a fool’s game. “The whole dynamic is different in the show, where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other’s company on numerous occasions, often quarreling.” He explains, “I was writing the scene from Jaime’s POV, so the reader is inside his head … On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they’re saying and doing.” So would a longer cut of the scene have made a different impression? Does it matter?

The episode’s director Alex Graves has defended the scene; although he referred to it as “forced sex” in The Hollywood Reporter (“I’m never that excited about going to film forced sex,” is the actual quote), he told Vulture it “becomes consensual by the end”. Prepare to grimace: “The consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on,” he says. “Before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.”

She might have started out “kissing him aplenty”, but the scene clearly ends with Cersei saying, “It’s not right, it’s not right” and Jaime saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care” as he forces himself on her.

Vulture’s Margaret Lyons put it best: “The scene is unambiguously a rape scene, and to suggest otherwise is distressing.”

Complaint #2: ‘Sexy Rape’ Does Not Exist; It’s A Dangerous Construction Of Rape Culture

In an interview last week with Hitflix, Graves said that the sex scene “ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.” After finding that quote overnight, Slate’s Amanda Marcotte claimed it “makes a joke of a very serious, very violent act…as if ‘sexy rape’ is a thing.”

“This wasn’t even one of those terribly clichéd scenes where a man starts raping a woman only to find that she comes around to thinking it’s hot,” Marcotte continues. “Cersei is still kicking and protesting when the camera cuts away. It’s as straightforward a rape scene as you’ll get on TV, unless you buy the ridiculous myth that a woman can’t be raped if she’s consented to sex with a man before.”

Heading back to Lyons’ piece for Vulture, she believes that suggestions rape could be considered “consensual by the end” are “grotesque and dangerous. It plays into the worst she said no, but she meant yes pernicious lies of rape culture.”

Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress takes that line of thinking even further. “Although Game of Thrones fans recoiled at the scene between Jaime and Cersei, it’s unfortunately not hard to see the attitudes that could have contributed to creating it,” she writes. “We’re raised in a society that doesn’t teach people they can withdraw their consent at any moment, doesn’t emphasize that sexual partners need to be seeking explicit consent every step of the way, and doesn’t draw hard lines in the sand when it comes to what’s considered assault …  Without that knowledge, people like Graves and Coster-Waldau can look at the interaction between Jaime and Cersei — or a college administrator can consider a sexual assault that occurred between two students after they attended a party together — and mislabel it as “consensual.”

Twitter is largely in agreement:

Complaint #3: Rape Is Bad, Even In Westeros

Even IF, as Vulture says, “some could argue that it’s unfair to hold these characters to the standards of our society”, it has already been established that rape is abhorrent in Westeros.  In ‘Breaker of Chains’, Oberyn wants to kill the Mountain for raping his sister, and Samwell has a nightmare involving Gilly’s potential rape.

Where the show goes from here is anyone’s bet, but many are calling for a depiction of the “lingering effects of surviving sexual assault”, something Game of Thrones has hardly touches on previously. For The A.V. Club, Sonia Saraiya says that using rape as character development twice “assumes that rape between characters doesn’t fundamentally change the rest of their story – and it assumes that the difference between consent and rape is a “blurred line.””

Katie Booth is Junkee’s editorial intern. She tweets @kboo2344