“Game of Thrones” has, from the very beginning, been an examination of power. Who has it, how you lose it. Different kinds of power, different routes to power, different conceptions of power.
Tonight it’s different. Tonight, Jamie Lannister raped his sister, Cersei. And because the show has always been about power, there has been A LOT of rape in it. It’s easy to forget that one of the most powerful characters on the show, Danaerys, was raped in the first episode. That’s sort of been swept under the rug by the show, to the point where she reminisced about it in the Season 1 finale.
A lot of our characters have been threatened with rape. There have been dodgy moments for Catelyn, Ygritte, and plenty of others, and downright “almosts” for Sansa, Brienne, and Arya. But only Ros had nonconsensual sex. And we haven’t really questioned whether the various prostitutes are actually having consensual sex, whether men and women in arranged marriages–especially women–are having consensual sex.
So, basically, rape has been present in this world all along. It’s embedded in the fabric of a world where so much depends on strength. In the real world, people have worked for years to break the silence around rape, but in Game of Thrones, there’s no silence, no stigma, nothing.
But this scene wasn’t like all those scenes, where people got raped in backgrounds, where no one cared, and plenty of people barely noticed. Now, we’re all about to start talking about rape. And why? Other important women characters have faced this. It’s been happening on our screens for years. Why does the wrongness, the absolute horror, strike us so intensely about this scene (other than the plain old gross themes of incest and death)?
Jaime. Here’s the ugly truth, laid bare: we’re not freaking out because Cersei was raped. We’re freaking out because Jaime raped her. Because a person we’ve known for years, who we’ve watched grow, laughed at, enjoyed–a person we like–has done something horrific.
We’re talking about non-consensual sex between two people who have been together for decades, who have had three children together, whose relationship has lately been under a lot of strain. And when the woman started making signals and frustrated the man, he raped her.
We’re talking about marital rape.
The reason the scene feels so different from all the previous rape scenes isn’t the rape itself: it’s the man who raped. Jaime isn’t a monster, beyond our ability to empathize with or like. He’s a human being, in a relationship that, twisted as it is, makes sense to us. And rape is part of the darker side of human nature.
No one likes to talk about that basic truism: that men who rape are as horribly human as the rest of us. That they have motivations that may not be excusable, but are certainly understandable.
This is territory “Game of Thrones” hasn’t covered before, not in this way. It’s a damn gutsy thing for them to do, a painful thing–but they’ve covered infanticide, homosexuality in the medieval world, forced marriage, incest, rape, prostitution…the list goes on. Nothing is off-limits in this show, for better or worse.