The Times has an article today about Game of Thrones and “rising unease” over rape as a story element in both the books and the TV show.
Rape is often presented in television plotlines, where it has far-reaching and lasting consequences for the affected characters. But critics of “Game of Thrones” fear that rape has become so pervasive in the drama that it is almost background noise: a routine and unshocking occurrence.
George R. R. Martin’s reply to such criticism is:
“Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day. To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonestand would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.”
And really, I think that’s all he has to say. He’s 100% right. GoT is brutal and, though fantasy, depicts humans as they actually have been and, to a certain extent, continue to be today. Dragons and undead snow zombies aside, I think what happens on the show is pretty realistic.
The thing I find most disturbing about the Cersei/Jaime rape scene is not the scene itself but the comment by director Alex Graves that the sex depicted “became consensual by the end.” That’s just all kinds of fucked up. The fact that an adult male in our society could say that the forced sex was consensual in the end and not rape with a straight face and actually mean it is chilling.
Unfortunately, the way the TV story has progressed beyond that episode suggests his interpretation was correct. Cersei and Jaime’s scene in S04E04 “Oathkeeper” showed no ramifications whatsoever from Jaime’s actions. This is what’s wrong with how rape is used in fiction and on TV. Not that it happens because, as Martin says, it really does happen and is a part of the human experience, but that it happens as if it’s not that unusual of an activity and life just goes on afterwards. It plays into all the worst rape-shaming and “she was asking for it” kind of perversion that I feel we as a culture have been trying to banish for years. And yet here it is again. Undead like a White Walker.
When Downton Abbey introduced a rape storyline I recall the internet lost its shit and wrung its hands with concern that it’d be portrayed as incidental. I think the show ultimately did a good job of showing what rape is and how it can impact lives. The producers obviously understood the significance of rape. Too bad the producers of GoT don’t.