Feminism / Sex / TV

We Need to Talk About Jaime

We all saw the last episode of Game of Thrones, right?

***SPOILERS AHEAD***Jaime-Lannister-house-lannister-24542414-1638-1092

You know, the one where Jaime Lannister rapes his sister, Cersei? He wants to have sex at the foot of their late son’s royal slab, she doesn’t, tries to stop it, but it happens anyway. It’s been talked about quite a bit at this point, and thankfully there’s been little time wasted arguing over whether or not what happened was actually rape. Jezebel did a pretty good piece on it a few days ago, criticizing the show’s penchant for casually depicting violence against women. I like their take, but I can’t get on board with their thesis. They say changing what was, in the book, a vaguely consensual love scene, to a devastating rape scene, is disgusting and wrong. I disagree. This was a valid change.

Let’s not pretend Jaime Lannister is a good dude. Sure, he gets a bad rap, as the laws of Westeros make him an asshole traitor for killing the king, even though the king was a crazy fuck. He correctly thinks Brienne is a pretty cool person, and he was probably grossed out by Joffrey’s behavior. But he tossed a little kid out a window because he didn’t think he could convince people Bran was just repeating gross rumors, that I’m sure were flying all over, about Jaime and Cersei boning. He tried to kill a ten-year-old. As bad as last episode was, trying to kill Bran is probably the worst thing Jaime’s ever done, and it’s something you don’t get to come back from, no matter how charming.

So when people say “Jaime saved Brienne, his captor, from being raped! Why would he rape his own sister he’s in love with?? It makes no sense!” my eyes start rolling out of my head. It makes plenty of sense, in too many ways.

Reactions to the scene, and the scene itself, demonstrates a false dichotomy between instances of rape. Jaime, and far too many modern people, understand rape as between strangers, something violent, accompanied by screams and attempts to escape. “Legitimate rape.” Something that doesn’t happen when there’s an existing bond. Something bad guys do. Couldn’t Jaime think “Oh shit, Brienne is being taken away by those violent thugs, I know what that means,” and then a couple months later think “Why is Cersei being like this, I know she wants me”? That seems like common sense, to me. That’s why we need to educate about rape, right? Because it’s so easy for people to fall into that logical trap and not recognize their own behavior as wrong.

21-game-of-thrones-cersei-jaime-2

Jaime doesn’t necessarily know that he raped Cersei, which is true, too, of most rapists, who neither realize or believe they are rapists. By our modern understanding, obviously that’s what happened, but I find it really easy to see what Jaime was thinking. It’s a misogynistic and outdated way of seeing things, but when has Westeros ever been progressive? Cersei is his sister and his lover. Pointedly, Jaime says he’s only ever been with her. He’s ultimately faithful, in a world where bastard children are so common they have their own last names. But that doesn’t mean he respects her. His unfaltering loyalty and love for his sister doesn’t make her any less HIS, in his mind. It makes her MORE his.

It’s not out of character for Jaime to get fed up with Cersei being distant and mopey and just take what he wants. In fact, that sounds a lot like what he’s done in the past. Being entitled and impulsive, not giving a shit about consequences or other people. Attempting to murder a child cause he doesn’t want to bother covering up his incestuous relationship, attacking the HAND OF THE KING because his brother Tyrion has been taken captive (due to Jaime’s attempted murder of said child).

The original text is being pointed to as to why the HBO series’ rape scene is so wrong. “It’s not just out of character [it isn’t], it’s not even accurate!”

She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. 

This kinda…reads like a rape scene? After this, once Jaime’s made it clear he intends to get what he wants, Cersei gives up her proper facade and starts begging for it. This is a common story beat,  where the woman is being sexually assaulted until it feels good enough and then she starts saying “Yes!” Which, as a narrative, is incredibly bad, and disturbingly common. It perpetuates “no means yes” thinking. It encourages people to override consent until they personally feel things have gone too far. This idea of having to overcome or even ignore many “no”s is a pillar of rape culture. So it’s not as if changing this to an out-and-out rape is the violation many people seem to think.

Cersei_Lannister

The director of the episode says Jaime’s story is the struggle of knowing he’s a good guy but not being able to embrace that (I guess cause the Lannisters are evil so he has to be evil). Goodness corrupted by an unfair structure like feudalism or the power of being royalty. But it seems to me like his real purpose in the show is to demonstrate the danger of the chivalrous myth. Recently, Jaime’s been given a good face. We’ve seen him being heroic, funny, a protector. But from the beginning, and in the end, Jaime is a violent bully. And while he wants to be good (who doesn’t?) he really, really isn’t.

Jezebel argues that Game of Thrones as a show is a little too interested in rape, treating it as an exclamation point, something to make scenes more shocking. That’s a valid concern; violence against women is a common, lazy method to engage the audience. It takes advantage of the fact that the real problems of rape and violence are so common to fit in nearly any context and give a sharp thrill. It is often used just as Jezebel says, and that could be what happened in this week’s episode. Even though I think it’s in character for Jaime, changing this scene is an arc-defining moment, and the show is really going to have to commit to that for this to be okay.

6 thoughts on “We Need to Talk About Jaime

  1. This a great analysis. It pains me to think that so many people are going to have watched that episode, with so much food for thought, and not even consider the issues that have been raised here.

  2. Thank you for this. I’m not totally convinced that this was a “change” from the books, though. (That said, I’ve only read the books. I haven’t been able to watch the show yet. So maybe it did change…?)

    When I read the books, I read both of the scenes Jezebel mentioned (Jaime and Cersei, and Dany and Drogo) as rape scenes. That might just be my reading, but I thought it was pretty clear that these relationships are non-consensual. You could make the argument that Dany’s and Drogo’s becomes consensual (and that Jaime’s and Cersei’s once was), but I’m not buying it.

    I’m still not actually quite sure what George R.R. Martin is trying to say about rape and violence towards women in his books. It’s something I struggle with as I read them.

    • Yeah, I SUPER don’t buy it when people talk about dany and drogo’s first sex scene as consensual. I haven’t gone back to look at the text but I remember reading it the first time and being like “UGH.” Plus the circumstances and everything, it just feels evil-lawyer-y to try and say that was consensual.
      For Jaime and Cersei, I think it’s arguable that it was consensual, but what I said about that type of scene still stands.

      • That scene with Dany and Drogo was so disturbing to me. It almost broke my view on marriage and sex. Like, JEEZ CAN SEX EVER BE TRULY CONSENSUAL? WHAT IS THIS SAYING ABOUT THE NATURE OF ANY MARRIAGE EVER? OMG WHAAAAAT NOOOOOOOOO

        But saying that women can never truly consent to sex because of the way it’s socially constructed… I think saying that takes away women’s agency… and I think we should avoid that.

        Which is why I’m having so much trouble figuring out Martin’s books. |D Because by saying that Dany didn’t actually consent to the relationship… are we taking away her agency? Or is it true that, since she’s a teenager and by our contemporary standards, she can’t consent? What about after he dies, and she thinks of him as her “sun and stars”? Is that love? Or Stockholm Syndrome? Or something else? Does “love” have anything to do with consent?

        (I don’t know the answers to these questions. Maybe the point of Martin’s books is to make us think about these things? Is that what he’s trying to do? Maybe he doesn’t mean to give us any answers?)

        As for Cersei and Jaime, I think you’re right, that for the most part, it’s consensual, except for that scene. It’s a good example of how someone you trust can still be your rapist, that rape isn’t just a “stranger” thing. It’s too bad that a lot of people seemed to miss that part…

        I can’t wait to see what happens with Jaime. He’s not a good guy… but I feel like he’s not totally evil either. George R.R. Martin seems to like ambiguity, so I don’t think there’s a clear-cut line between “good” and “bad,” like the audiences want. Humans are too complicated to be labeled either “good” or “evil,” and the characters are very clearly human. Which is what makes them great characters–and which is what makes us so uncomfortable, probably.

        • ” Because by saying that Dany didn’t actually consent to the relationship… are we taking away her agency? ”

          I’m sorry this line of thinking makes me extremely uncomfortable because it implies that it is worth ignoring/overlooking how women are harmed/victimized because agency is just so imporant. As someone who was abused, I want people to acknowledge that I was abused even if you think it means I don’t have any agency-and in a way my abuser did take away my agency, you could say that’s what abuse is, but that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that abuse isn’t a thing. Idk, I’ve seen to many people look at a possibly abusive situation and decide that it can’t be abusive because the woman has to have agency and the only person who really benefits in the abuser–it’s also interesting that in those cases the abuser’s agency is never mentioned. When we are talking about rape/abuse, men have been able to disgaurd their agency so they don’t have to be made to take responsibility (the “I couldn’t help it” excuse), why don’t we talk about men’s agency? If your analysis is “women’s choices can’t be limited because that would mean that women can’t have agency”, it’s the patriarchy not women who benefit from that analysis, because I can tell you right now, as a woman my choices are limited, it doens’t benefit me or any other woman to pretend that their not, but it does benefit the patriarchy because if we pretend my choices aren’t limited, we don’t have to confront how my choices are limited.

  3. A couple of my thoughts (which surprisingly caused my first internet fight ever):

    -I was not convinced that the book scene wasn’t rape. I made a point in another post that Cersei’s initial protests and fighting back (even with “feebly”) is clearly her saying NO; regardless of her “begging” for it later. In addition, Cersei had just lost her child, he was laying there in front of her, she was about to condemn her younger brother – she was in no fit state to consent to something with full knowledge of what was happening. Also, she was on her period and women don’t want to have sex during that time; but that’s off the point.

    Commenters had a problem with my post claiming that we live in a culture where women are considered raped even if they’re putting a man’s manhood inside them. This invalidated rape and pissed me off.

    -Dany was 14 when she married Drogo, her “consent” is invalid at that age. Enough said.

    -I had a problem with the rape scene because I felt it trashed all of the redemption the show had given Jaime over half of season 3 and all of season 4 so far. It felt out of character for who the writers were building Jaime to be. Regardless of Bran’s attempted murder, Jaime changed after that.

    I understood why they did it, and I even argued (controversially apparently) that Jaime’s actions made sense for a man grieving and still loving a women that is repulsed by him. He was overcome with emotion of his son’s death, hurt by Cersei, and wanted to hurt her; I can see that happening. NOT that it made it okay, but it’s something that could happen. The problem was them building a sympathetic character, then making him do something widely known as completely unforgivable.

    Good post, though :)

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