This op-ed contains spoilers.
I originally wanted to argue that the rape scene between Cersei Lannister and Jamie Lannister was entirely justified because it had powerful narrative value, was as shocking as rape could ever be portrayed on film and because it contributed slight variations on the book. However, on Tuesday I read the interview with Alex Graves referenced in an article by the Huffington Post in which he suggested that the scene ends in consensual sex. This derailed my original thesis.
I had assumed that the writers knew very well that they were filming a rape scene, and an extremely brutal rape scene at that. She says no, and he forces himself onto her; the fact that Jamie’s actions were sexually violent is not debatable. Before I was aware of the remarks that Graves made, I was ready to fully support the decision to incorporate this scene in the show. After a half season of Jamie and Lady Brienne developing a friendship that brought out the best in Jamie, he returns to his sinister characteristics and rapes his sister. Just when we finally felt safe with Joffrey dead and Dany still kicking ass, when all was finally well in the world of Westeros, the scene reminded us that the characters are capable of both the most noble virtue and despicable vice.
But then Graves said in an interview with HitFix, “Well, it becomes consensual by the end.” His remark suggests that Graves buys into the rape myth in which the victim ultimately succumbs to the temptation of her assailant. His remarks unfortunately have grave implications for the show.
First, it means that the scene is clearly misogynistic. Taken in context of only the show itself, the scene is one of several rape scenes, and a reflection of the medieval-inspired patriarchal society, which is of course ‘misogynistic’. However, if the director portrayed rape and didn’t think it was rape, we run into a problem. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the show itself was sending a misogynistic message, especially because the violent patriarchal society largely determine the characters’ actions.
Can we accuse the whole show of being misogynistic or not? A director filming a rape scene and not calling it a rape scene is misogynistic. Not every episode however is directed by Graves, which means that if Graves really does have misogynistic intent, it isn’t everywhere in the show. That being said, patriarchy is very prevalent in the show; we need to bear in mind that the show in part reflects the values of medieval societies, for better or for worse. I doubt that Graves, Martin or any other individual that contributes to Thrones aims to glorify brutal patriarchy. Martin and the other writers meticulously engineer the show to make us feel very specific emotions at very specific times. In spite of the show’s patriarchal violence, for instance, we often feel sympathy towards female characters, especially Brienne and Dany, when they are mistreated by male characters.
The rape scene was extremely effective, in that it made viewers feel profoundly disturbed at the image of sexual violence. Even if it wasn’t the intent of the director, the reaction we all had was “right.” We saw a twisted character rape his own sister and we felt disturbed. So what then do we exactly make of Grave’s comment? The backlash that Graves is currently receiving sends a clear message: He is just one of many who still fails to understand that anything but a clearly stated “yes” is rape.
This doesn’t mean that the show is soured or that he should be fired. Even if Graves didn’t send the message he had intended, he conveyed the narrative that Cersei Lannister was raped by her brother, which was adequately comprehended by the viewers of the show. The show can reconcile itself by doing two thing: First Graves should apologize and recognize that nobody agrees with his interpretation. Second, the show needs to drive home the tragic aftermath of the rape. The rape scene was powerful affective, so the relationship between Cersei and Jamie needs to change correspondingly to Cersei’s traumatic experience. Regardless, fans of the show will continue to watch the show, and critics of the show will continue to criticize it and Graves’s comment will be swallowed up by the mass of misogyny-related gripes that the show brushes off week after week.