TV

‘Game of Thrones’ Rape Scene Isn’t So Different From The Books

Controversial scene is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual violence in Westeros, particularly where the books are concerned.

Over the past week there’s been a lot of back and forth about the controversial Jaime/Cersei scene on the last episode of “Game of Thrones.” And this discussion only got more heated when author George R.R. Martin came out to lament the treatment/changes of the scene from book to screen. With that in mind, it’s probably important to remind people of one basic fact: it’s not like there isn’t already a lot of rape in the books.

And more importantly: that doesn’t make it okay.

A step back for context on the whole situation, and some spoilers for the show and the novels “Game of Thrones” is based on: during the most recent episode, “Breaker of Chains,” Jaime Lannister forced his sister to the ground in a church, next to the dead body of their son and had sex with her.

During the incident, Cersei — who had previously been in a long-standing incestual relationship with her brother before they were separated for several seasons of the show — tried to stop him, hit him and yelled “no.” With this context, viewers were under the impression that the incident was a rape, compounding an incident that was already several levels of horrible.

Not so, said the director of the episode. In an interview with HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, Alex Graves said:

“Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.”

That’s some troubling language there in regards to sexual assault on its own, but more damning was the response from author George R.R. Martin, who wrote the books the show is based on:

“The scene was always intended to be disturbing,” Martin said, “but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.”

Martin is referring to the version in the book which is played — for better or for worse — as a love scene, with the two characters igniting passion after a long time apart. In the books, the scene is definitively not a rape.

But that said there sure are a lot of other rapes in the books, even if the Jaime/Cersei scene doesn’t have one.

Given that people seem to be using the argument that the show went too far and wasn’t true to the books, I went back to those books and counted the number of times the word “rape” was used in each volume in the series. This includes rape, raped, rapes, rapers and one use of the term “unraped,” whatever that means.

Let’s look at those numbers. The references to rape dropped from the first book to the second; but by the third book — the one the show is currently adapting — there are 44 instances of the word rape. That number does drop slightly in the fourth and fifth books, but is still disturbingly high.

I’m mentioning this not to necessarily criticize, but to point out that rape is part and parcel of the world of “Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It’s something that not just happens, is threatened, but is also referred to with alarming frequency.

Since the books debuted in 1996, and the show in 2011, fans have constantly discussed the physically violent scenes. Beheadings, deadly weddings and the severing of limbs/phalluses are a frequent source of long think pieces and tweets alike. But until there was a change from non-rape to rape, as happened this week, sexual violence wasn’t really part of the conversation.

What people need to realize is that if you are a fan of the books or the show, rape is something that is already inherently there. It’s not just a feature of the world of the show; it’s a large feature. It’s an omnipresent part of the world of Westeros, and ignoring it would be like pretending there aren’t a lot of dragons.

That also doesn’t mean it’s okay, just because there’s an abundance.

There are those fans who read the books and say, “Well that’s more realistic to the setting. Rape happens in the world.” Those fans are perhaps ignoring that “A Song of Ice and Fire” takes place in a fantasy world filled with reanimated corpses, giants and magical shadow babies who kill kings. By definition, nothing is realistic to the setting.

So what it comes down to is that the frequency of rape is a choice on the part of the author, and by extension the creators of the show. You don’t have to put rape in the books or show. That’s their choice.

And by that choice, you as a viewer or reader can accept it or not. You absolutely can discuss it, you can analyze it like we’re doing here. But you can’t ignore it, or only bring it up when it deviates from the plot of the book. As a fan, you need to make a choice: is this world, a world where rape is a constant and often off-hand part of the plot, one you want to spend time in?

What do you think about the issue? Does “Game of Thrones” go too far?

Writer/Editor at MTV News. You can follow him on Twitter, but not in real life because that would be weird.
@azalben