Season four of Game of Thrones seemed to be setting up a pretty compelling redemption arc for Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister. After attempted child murder, successful cousin slaying, and much much banging of his sister Cersei, his unlikely friendship with Brienne of Tarth was turning this royal douchebag around. But then there was that scene.
Siblings Jaime and Cersei have sex at the foot of their dead son. That’s fucked up on a lot of levels before you even consider how this was depicted on the show, with numerous cues (like Cersei saying “no” and physically resisting her brother’s advances) suggesting to many viewers that this was rape. The ep’s director Alex Graves was quick to insist it wasn’t, and that Cersei was reluctant but ultimately liked it. Eventually, the actors in the scene Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey offered sheepish responses that toed the company line. And now with season five being launched this weekend (!!!!!), they’re giving it another go.
“It’s that terrible thing as a women—talking about something as horrendous as rape and dismissing it, which I’m not. But we never discussed it as that. It was a woman in grief for her dead child, and the father of the child—who happens to be her brother—who never really acknowledged the children is standing with her. We’ve all experienced grief. There’s a moment of wanting to fill a void, and that is often very visceral, physical. That, for me, is where she was at. There was an emotional block, and [her brother] was just a bit of a drug for her.”
Even to EW, Coster-Waldau was still reluctant to address a scene—that for better or mostly worse—will define his character to the show’s fans. But he said:
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people [privately] about this. I haven’t spoken to the people who got the most upset, because they were online. Most people I spoke to got from the scene what we were trying to show—a very complicated relationship, and two people in desperate need for each other. All these emotions going through them, it was never intended to be something where he forced—it wasn’t a rape, and it was never intended to be. But it’s one of those things where you can’t [publicly] say ‘it wasn’t rape,’ because then everybody goes, ‘How can you say it wasn’t rape?!’ But that was definitely not the intention. Of course, whatever people get from it, they get from it. But it did surprise me. I thought the outrage would be about that they were having sex in front of their dead son.”
Basically, rape was never the intended read of that scene. But they get why you’re mad. And yet, because the show’s makers refuse to accept the reading so many fans got from it, there will be no repercussions from it. Please carry on thinking Jaime is a potentially good guy whose greatest vice is his consensual sexy times with his sister. Because the show doesn’t think he’s a rapist, so there’ll be no redemption offered on that point.
I don’t envy the corner the Game of Thrones team has painted themselves in here. It’s not like they can just go back and retcon that scene Fast and the Furious style. But no matter how much they talk about their intentions, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, much of the show’s fans saw that sex scene as rape. We can’t unsee it. We can’t unfeel that violation on behalf of Cersei.
It’s a mistake to just dismiss such massive fan response to a scene as pivotal as this. Because it refuses to acknowledge that your audience is now operating from a different point of view on Jaime than the show’s writers are. Not adjusting for that difference, could make for a divide that will could just grow wider, steadily turning us against a character who’s meant to be transforming into one of the good guys. For many of us, Jaime is tainted. And no amount of well-meaning soundbites are enough to wash that away.