Shame of Thrones? How Far Is Too Far on HBO?

Abandon all spoilers, ye who enter here.

The disturbed “romance” of Jaime and Cersei Lannister is one of the many legendary story lines on Game of Thrones. You could easily play the lute solo of “Rains of Castamere” by strumming the sexual tension between those two. It all finally reached the point of no return on Sunday night’s episode: “Previously on Game of Thrones, one-handed man rapes his sister at the foot of her son’s dead, rotting corpse” (yes, this is what happened on an episode of primetime television). For some, this was the tipping point for their already tumultuous relationship with HBO. I have seen countless posts fuming with rage at the show creators. I have often wondered how people can get so angry at a piece of fiction, so I set out to understand exactly where all of this rage is coming from.

The reason I have heard repeatedly is that the scene is not how it is played out in the books. One of the many privileges that readers enjoy in an adapted TV series or movie is that they already know what’s going to happen. I despise spoilers as much as the next, but if you are truly disturbed by them, well; the books have been out long enough that they were sold at Borders (nerd jokes, amiright?). Readers have earned the right to discuss the material, no matter how annoying “Well, in the books” gets to the rest of us. But what they often fail to accept is that adaptions can never be the same as the book. Readers would be the first to admit that the joy of reading a book is an entirely singular experience that cannot be duplicated or imitated.

We are doing a disservice to ourselves and the book by expecting anything to be the same. Television often disrespects the source material, but that does nothing to taint said source. The book stands on its own. The show stands on its own. And if you despise the show, then more power to book series you so thoroughly enjoyed. George “R.R. You F***ing Kidding Me?!” Martin himself states “The whole dynamic is different in the show… I am not sure [the original scene] would have worked with the new timeline.” The Jaime Lannister that appears on your television is not the same person as the one who graces your page. Nor is any character. Just because the frame is the same doesn’t mean the portrait is too.

(Related thought: I have not read the books, but from what I’m told the scene is narrated from the perspective of Jaime. Despite Martin’s intent, taking the perspective of a man in any sexual encounter will probably always sound consensual in their mind, regardless of if it was or not. As the film is inherently from an external perspective, it’s possible this new view is closer to what happened than we think.)

That being said, if the outrage surrounding a harrowing depiction of rape is that it defiles the book, then Westeros, we have a problem.

 If Game of Thrones has reiterated anything this season, it’s that we are all capable of evil. In the very same episode (“Breaker of Chains”), we witness: multiple murders, decapitation, cannibalism, and forced sex slavery. A few weeks ago we cheered as a teenage girl sliced someone’s throat open, and guess what, more slavery. Game of Thrones isn’t exactly what you should be hanging your morality hat on. Rape and murder are common place on any episode, so let me fling a dagger into the high horse that we all seem to be blindly galloping on.

Is our anger directed at the show runners for ignoring the book? Are we mad that such a likable character is capable of such horrible things?  Are we uncomfortable with the portrayal and cringe at the thought of watching a second longer? Or is that the Game of Thrones has excessively set up characters to be destroyed in the world that they have created? “Okay, guys, we get it.” No, I don’t think you do. Game of Thrones has created a world where rape is an accepted norm and the public remains ambivalent to its evil. They refuse to believe that these crimes are perpetrated by trusted men of power, in dark alleys or empty septs. And there is often no justice for the victims… Sound familiar? I wouldn’t put anything past anyone in this relentless and unforgiving world (I’ll let you decide to which one I am referring). To quote The Hound, “I just see things for the way they are. How many Starks they gotta behead before you figure it out?”

If there is any anger, it should be over this: Rape has long been used as a demeaning plot device wherein an evil man commits the act and a heroic man saves the day. Women are a footnote, mere vessels whose assault is a method of moving the male storyline. Over time, these perspectives have progressed, changing the perspective to the victims. Series like The SopranosThe AmericansHouse of Cards, and Mad Men explore the scars left on the psyche of these women; who often have to confront their attackers on a daily basis and show nothing but a smile. Game of Thrones is walking the fine line in that spectrum, and has done its fair share to jeopardize the progress that has been made in the medium. What they do after this scene will give them the chance to contribute to a meaningful cultural discussion. Lets hope they do. Millions are watching.

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