Look: I am eager to learn stuff I don't know--which requires actively courting and posting smart disagreement.

But as you will understand, I don't like to post things that mischaracterize and are aimed to mislead.

-- Brad Delong

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Song of Jaime and Cersei

There's been a great deal of commentary on this week's GoT episode, Breaker of Chains, and a disproportionate amount of it, along with associated reader commments,  has been focused on a certain 51 second long incident involving everyone's favorite set of incestuous twins.

Here is a particularly forceful condemnation.

There was no ambiguity to the scene. Cersei repeatedly said no. She said, “Stop.” She said, “Not here.” She said, “This is not right.” She resisted Jaime’s efforts, to no avail. The scene was unequivocally a rape scene and it was not merely shocking. It was thoroughly senseless.

But Roxane Ray is wrong.  Cersei never says, "No."  She says the other things that are actual quotes, but she never says, "No."  Further the scene is not glamorized as her article's  title claims.  Nor is it sensationalized, as she claims in the text.  Neither of these assertions makes any sense, as far as I can see.

Ms. Ray's final paragraph is revealing.
Rape is used to create drama and ratchet up ratings. And it’s rare to see the brutality and complexity of a rape accurately conveyed on-screen. Instead, we are treated to an endless parade of women being forced into submission as the delicate and wilting flowers television writers and producers seem to want them to be.

She has a beef that reaches far beyond the world of Westeros and Essos.  This distorts her view of what is happening in GoT.  And if she thinks the women in GoT are delicate and wilting, someone should introduce her to Olenna, Margaery, Catelyn Stark, Arya, Osha, Ygritte,  Danaerys, or - wait for it - Cesei.  In fact, the only prominent female in GoT who comes close to resembling this false description is Sansa, who is traveling her own trope-defying character arc.  But, alas, Ms. Ray isn't alone in her beliefs.  Here is a particularly stupid example.

An extended discussion of the scene as rape occurs in comments to SEK's recap post at LGM.  The commentariat there is unanimous in calling it rape. In fact, if anyone has written an article or blog post suggesting that this incident was not rape, I haven't seen it.  If you haven't either, you're about to.

Let's start with the scene on the book, which you can read here. [Give your browser a few seconds to scroll down to the 4/24, 8:01 a.m. comment.]  Clearly, that is not rape.  That it is not rape in the TV version is far less clear, so I'll grant that this deliberately disturbing scene is also ambiguous. Director Alex Graves is quite explicit that the scene is shot and edited exactly as he wanted, and that it is not rape.  Very few are accepting this from him.

GRRM's response to fans' concerns about the rapiness of the scene is rather disturbingly ambiguous as well - even to the point of calling into question the validity of the book version of the incident, from Jaime's PoV.  I haven't notice GRRM playing unreliable narrator tricks in the novels, so I'm going to discount that possibility.  Nor will I attempt either to psychoanalyze GRRM or speculate on his relationship with the show runners.

Let's stop for a moment and consider what rape is.  It is a sexual act, intercourse in the subject instance, initiated upon someone without their consent.  That can take a variety of forms, but what we're concerned with here would be direct physical and forceful coercion.  So the operative question is - did Cersei consent or not?

Here's the time line of the scene from the show, in seconds.

Here is somebody else's captured video.  [Embedding disabled]    Note that it starts earlier in the scene than my time line, so the the counts are different.

I think this is more true to the book than people are generally willing to concede.   The slight push at 39 seconds corresponds to this: "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  .  .  ."   And I think the "He never heard her," totally blows the unreliable narrator theory.  We're in close 3rd person, but clearly as an objective viewer, outside of Jaime's head. 

At the very end of the video you can see that she has her legs wrapped around him.  What I see Cersei objecting to is not the act itself, but rather the timing and the circumstances - just like in the book.  In the end, she gives in - but to her own lust, not Jaime's.

Let's give some thought now to the Characters.  This is Cersei Lannister.  The only man she has ever been willing to subjugate herself to was her Father.  This is Jaime Lannister, who has been used and manipulated by his twin sister since they were infants.  I'll posit that if Cersei seriously wanted him to stop, she would have made it so.  Jaime has never been in control of the relationship, and, I'll further suggest, Cersei is dominant, and he is the codependent enabler.  Their relationship is depraved, on about any level you can imagine, and more so than ever in this scene.  But I don't believe Jaime raping Cersei is a valid possibility.

I'll grant that this heterodox view is not definitive.  Jaime's innocence is not proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.  But I think the preponderance of evidence weighs against conviction.

One derivative aspect is that some viewers are complaining that this incident spoils Jaime's redemptive character arc.  Evidently, since he used chicanery to prevent the rape and likely murder of Briene, and went out of his way to save her from the bear, he must have become a good guy.  Jaime lives by an honor code, though its not one that many in the real world would find honorable.  He's true to it, as best he can be, but is deeply flawed, and likely to falter at an inopportune moment.  He is a complex and fascinating - maybe even compelling - character, but he's still the guy who casually shoved a small child off a window ledge, expecting it was to his death.  He's still the guy who ambushed Ned Stark in the streets of King's Landing.  In the show, he murdered a relative so he could attempt to escape from the Starks.  He is honorable, by his own standard, but not nice, not pleasant, and will never be a good guy by any reasonable standard.

But, in my humble opinion, he is not a rapist.


The Arthurian said...

It is as if people miss or misinterpret the story line so they can have an issue to be outraged about. That seems to happen a lot, these days.

Jazzbumpa said...

Valid point. There is a lot of talk about rape culture these days - LGM is one place where it happens, and people see things through their own subjective lenses.

When it is as ambiguous as this one - and deliberately so is my guess - people will naturally see it different ways.

There are very few who see this scene as I do.

But I'm not bringing an agenda with me.