On Monday, George R.R. Martin, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and director Alex Graves all weighed in on Sunday night’s Game Of Thrones, in which fan-favorite character Jaime Lannister raped his sister Cersei. The story element, which doesn’t appear in the books the show is based on, took fans by surprise, and it’s become clear that their reaction and interpretation has, in turn, surprised the show’s crew. Multiple explanations have been offered, based in varying arguments of characterization or overall significance. But at times even these explanations are at odds with each other—and considering that the season’s episodes have already largely been produced, it’s unlikely the creators will find a way to respond to fan concerns this season.
The first set of responses to the episode—and perhaps the most disturbing—came from Graves, who directed “Breaker Of Chains” and last week’s “The Lion And The Rose.” He weighed in at a few different publications, including HitFix, Vulture, and Hollywood Reporter. In all three interviews, he defends the scene as rape that “becomes consensual.”
Tellingly, he also explains that the point of the scene is plot elements besides the rape. To THR, he says, “I’m never that excited about going to film forced sex. But the whole thing for me was about dead Joffrey lying there, watching the whole thing.”
And to Vulture:
How does this interaction change Cersei? She’d been raped by Robert. How does Jaime’s aggression in this moment affect her?
She needs Jaime to deal with Tyrion. That’s really what that scene is about. It’s her saying, “I want you to kill him,” and Jaime saying, “I don’t see why I would kill him.” That’s probably the main reason she consents, is to pull him in, because she’s results-oriented, period. The only man she really feels any respect and admiration for, and authority for, is her father. Beyond that, she loves her children. I think — and I say this personally — she’s largely using Jaime and he hasn’t figured it out yet.
Given that the scene ends with Cersei pushing Jaime away and sobbing, the interpretation of the character as both consenting and “results-oriented” is generous, at best. Graves added to HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, “That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.”
Martin, compelled to respond to emails and comments about the scene on an unrelated post, wrote on his blog that the leap in content from text to screen is part of the “butterfly effect” that happens in adaptation.
The whole dynamic is different in the show, where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other’s company on numerous occasions, often quarreling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why Dan & David played the sept out differently. But that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.
Also, I was writing the scene from Jaime’s POV, so the reader is inside his head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing.
If the show had retained some of Cersei’s dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression—but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.
Martin adds that he regrets any disturbance the scene has caused.
Meanwhile, Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime on the show, offers his own interpretation at both IGN and The Daily Beast. He admits that it is “fucked up,” but believes that it’s a manifestation of Martin’s vision. “That’s certainly George R.R. Martin at his best, at his finest hour,” he tells IGN. “Of course [Jaime] is forcing himself,” he adds. At The Daily Beast, he had a slightly different interpretation:
There is significance in that scene, and it comes straight from the books—it’s George R.R. Martin’s mind at play. It took me awhile to wrap my head around it, because I think that, for some people, it’s just going to look like rape. The intention is that it’s not just that.
The interviewer asks if it is rape. Coster-Waldau responds, “Yes and no.”
Whether or not Coster-Waldau interpreted the scene in the script as rape, the contrast between Martin’s interpretation of his own work and Coster-Waldau’s interpretation of it is apparent. There’s some disconnect about what Martin’s vision is—and, indeed, what his “finest hour” looks like.
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who also wrote the script for Sunday’s episode, have not yet addressed the controversy. However, as Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins points out (via The Washington Post), Benioff’s commentary for HBO’s behind-the-scenes featurette for “Breaker Of Chains” at least seems to acknowledge that it’s rape:
It becomes a really kind of horrifying scene, because you see, obviously, Joffrey’s body right there, and you see that Cersei is resisting this. She’s saying no, and he’s forcing himself on her. So it was a really uncomfortable scene, and a tricky scene to shoot.