OPINION: The reaction to the now infamous scene in this week's Game of Thrones has been heartening. (Spoilers throughout so don't read on unless you have seen the episode 'Breaker of Chains')
Jaime Lannister raped his sister Cersei in front of the body of their dead son Joffrey, and everything about it was abhorrent. But it is wonderful to see fans and commentators make noise about it, denouncing the act, decrying the change from the novel it was drawn from, A Storm of Swords, and criticising the episode's director for claiming Cersei was, at least at some point, a willing participant.
Rape is an unspeakably immoral crime and the recognition and respectful discussion of it is to be welcomed.
Author George R.R. Martin has already addressed the upset, writing on his personal blog that "the scene was always intended to be disturbing... but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons."
It is entirely possible that director Alex Graves, as well as series creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, may also come out and admit they were wrong for creating it that way. Graves reportedly told Hit Fix in an unrelated interview that the scene "becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle".
But until then, we must accept that it was a deliberate creative choice to make that change, and so must evaluate why such a move might serve the story (at least, the TV version of the story) better.
In his post about the controversy, Martin described the sequence in the book:
"Jaime is not present at Joffrey's death, and indeed, Cersei has been fearful that he is dead himself, that she has lost both the son and the father/ lover/ brother. And then suddenly Jaime is there before her. Maimed and changed, but Jaime nonetheless. Though the time and place is wildly inappropriate and Cersei is fearful of discovery, she is as hungry for him as he is for her."
Cersei's objections to a sexual encounter are overcome, and the pair have sex on an altar. It was consensual, but still disturbing, as Martin said.
By protesting then consenting, the chain of events show Cersei as highly disrespectful towards Joffrey, a child she loved fiercely, despite his many flaws.
In contrast, the TV sequence has her kissing Jaime willingly, before pulling away and using the words "Not here", "No" and "Stop it". It is supposed to be a moment about Joffrey, not them, and Cersei's protestations in this instance are showing respect for her dead son.
Jaime's imposition of his body on hers shows his disregard for her agency in their relationship, and a lack of any feeling, paternal or otherwise, towards his bastard son.
Just before the action cuts away, Cersei is heard repeating the phrase "It's not right", while Jaime responds with "I don't care".
It is this ghastly diminishment of his sister's security that lies at the core of fan upset with the change.
Jaime was supposed to be our shining redemptive light. His suffering after the amputation of his hand, and his growing friendship with Brienne gave him a prodigal son appeal, even something approaching hero status.
Our heroes are not supposed to die, but Game of Thrones turned that on its head by dispatching Ned Stark's actual head after the first book/season. It then toppled his righteous, avenging son Robb two books later.
So why, in the same world, would we assume our heroes would be above despicable acts?
Even if Jaime did murder the Mad King Aerys to save King's Landing, this is still the man who pushed 10-year-old Bran Stark out of a tower window after he witnessed an illicit assignation. This is the same man who left Ned Stark crippled after a puffed up show of family loyalty resulted in a massacre in the streets.
Jaime Lannister is a terrible man and terrible people do terrible things.
While the rape of his sister was a change from the books, their relationship is beyond messed up, and so it sadly was something entirely within the realm of possibility. This makes it a viable creative choice.
For the writers on Game of Thrones, flipping our expectations of Jaime once again opens up potential plotlines.
Rather than reconfirm their incestuous relationship, this new dynamic tears at its fabric. Cersei was already backing away from Jaime physically, so what now?
There is also the issue of Brienne of Tarth. She was nearly raped last season. The prospect of discovering the man who saved her from that fate not only commits incest but has raped his sister makes for a potential fiery encounter.
Cersei believes Brienne is in love with Jamie, as evidenced during their chat at the wedding feast. Surely Cersei is not so stupid to leave such a possibility for alliance or revenge unexplored?
And how will Jaime himself respond? Will he show remorse, or does he really not care?
Book readers know more, of course, but the TV show has altered plot pathways in the past.
Rape is unconscionable. And that rape scene was abhorrent. But in the world of Game of Thrones, it still serves a purpose, creatively speaking.
- Sydney Morning Herald