"Game of Thrones" and the too-easy symbolism of TV rape scenes

Last night's rape was perhaps the most realistic yet. But it was also one of the most problematic

Published April 21, 2014 6:45PM (EDT)

Emilia Clark in "Game of Thrones"               (HBO/Keith Bernstein)
Emilia Clark in "Game of Thrones" (HBO/Keith Bernstein)

“Game of Thrones” has never shied away from rape scenes. The first season was filled with Dothraki rapes and pillaging. Daenerys Targaryen was raped by her husband, Khal Drogo, then fell in love with him à la Luke and Laura. And while many of those rape scenes have been gratuitous, there have been plenty of tragically meaningful rape scenes and even more disturbing almost-rape scenes — like Brienne of Tarth at the hands of Bolton’s men, until Jaime Lannister sacrificed himself for her. But nothing has been more disturbing than last night’s episode, in which our newly crowned hero Jaime Lannister raped his sister/lover/soul mate/mother of his children, Cersei Lannister, next to the dead body of their son King Joffrey.

If you had to give the scene a Bechdel-esque Test for realistic rape, this one passes all of the requirements: a) victim must know the person, b) victim must trust the person, c) victim may or may not have had sexual relationship with person. But this is a more complicated spectacle. First, there’s the obvious, most disturbing element. Cersei, as much as you might hate her character — and as much as you’re reveling in the ding-dong-the-psychopathic-boy-king-is-dead element — is grieving over her dead son’s body. Secondly, the scene began as something more genuine, built out of organic love and heartache. In an overwhelming act of grief, Jaime was drawn to the physicality of the mother of his dead child. But things quickly devolve into batshit craziness once Cersei begs Jaime to murder their brother Tyrion, who she believes is responsible for Joffrey’s death.

Jaime is drawn to her vulnerability even while torn at the thought of killing his brother (the only person he can trust in King’s Landing). It’s when Cersei recoils at Jaime’s golden metal hand that Jaime’s reaction shifts from Lover, I want to comfort you, to Lover, I’m going to rape you. Jaime raped her because she rejected him, because she recoiled at his disfigurement. That’s when his demeanor changed from offering solace to seething, “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” Which makes the rape scene even more heartbreaking and disturbing — this is a man who has morphed from one of the greatest villains into one of the greatest heroes in “Game of Thrones.”

I’ll go ahead and say it: Jaime Lannister has become a rape cliché. He’s the boss, like every other on-screen rapist we’ve ever seen. Because in Cersei’s case, as she knows very well after being repeatedly raped by her late husband, the former king, that the men in King’s Landing will always overpower her physically. This is just the way they show you that they rule. Though the scene is incredibly disturbing because of the way it slowly unwinds (along with the memory of the love that once existed between these two), I couldn’t help wondering if it was yet another instance of rape-as-a-plot-device.

Sure, this was the writer’s way of severing Jaime and Cersei’s relationship forever. (As I said to my husband last night: “Uh, this isn’t going to get Cersei to like him more.” To which my husband shook his head in sadness.) Alyssa Rosenberg of the Washington Post wisely points out that the rape reminds Cersei of the rapes she used to endure in her late marriage, and that Jaime rapes her to poison “their own relationship, the thing that had been Cersei’s antidote to the miseries of her marriage.”

But does rape always have to be the symbolic gesture of the severing of ties between a man and woman? I can’t help wondering if there could have been another way Jaime could crush Cersei, emotionally and physically, without having to overpower her sexually with his massive Kingsguard armor. You could argue that the rape was a sick, visceral reaction to the death of their child, to all of the torture and all of the pain from the past year, to everything they’ve suffered. But my feeling is that it was an easy way out.

By Hayley Krischer

Hayley Krischer is a freelance writer. You can find her on Twitter.

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Cersei Lannister Game Of Thrones Hbo Jaime Lannister Rape Scenes