The Library Fantastic

That Jaime & Cersei Scene…

I thought I was done commenting on the Jaime & Cersei scene in episode 3, but I keep seeing one annoying article after another on the subject.

Now, anyone who knows anything about my feelings regarding Game of Thrones would be aware that I hate unnecessary changes with a fiery passion. So, yes, I am on board with the “why change that scene?” criticism. At least to a point, that is. You see, I found the change to the Dany & Drogo scene in episode 1 of season 1 much, much, much more infuriating from a “purist” point of view. There was absolutely no reason to change the tone of that scene so radically. And yet, at the time there were quite a few fans and reviewers who spoke up in favour of that change, mainly citing that they did not find the scene in the books believable anyway.

In contrast, there are quite a few reasons for why the Jaime & Cersei scene could not play out as it did in the books. GRRM cited the “butterfly effect” on his Livejournal and it is absolutely true that by now, in the fourth season, there are many previous changes that demand further changes (this was not the case in ep 1 of season 1, however!). I very much dislike some of those previous changes—I disagree with the decision to have Jaime back in King’s Landing so early and I most definitely disagree with the decision to make Cersei such a radically different character—but the fact remains that those did limit what they could do with the scene in the sept. It could no longer play out as it did in the books, in part because it was no longer a surprising and very emotional reunion between Jaime & Cersei and in part (or so I would argue, anyway) because the Cersei that Lena Headey plays is a very, very different character from the Cersei of the books. She is much less passionate, much less sexual and, it seems, much more dubious about her relationship with Jaime.

In my mind there’s no doubt that the scene was intended as largely consensual. Yes, Jaime initiates it and does so forcefully. But if we look at the books, we have three examples of this sort of interaction between Jaime and Cersei where he initiates a sexual encounter quite forcefully/insistently and where Cersei initially protests. This is clearly part of the dynamic of their relationship. Keep in mind that they do not exactly have a normal, healthy relationship. Any sex they have carries the risk of discovery and severe punishments, meaning that most of their encounters are carried out with a certain urgency. To imagine that this doesn’t leave a mark on how they interact is impossible. I also believe that Cersei is turned on by Jaime expressing that he has to have her, right now, because it shows her power over him.

Of course, in the books these encounters, although apparently initiated against Cersei’s will, soon turn into clearly consensual activities where Cersei verbally expresses her desire to continue. I have, however, seen plenty of people argue that even this is too much, seeing as Jaime initially pushed on without her consent. I dismiss such complaints as ludicrous - you’re talking about a relationship that has gone one for decades, which has its own rules worked out. But, returning to the scene from episode 3, it differs from the books in that there’s no clear verbal consent from Cersei. There is, however, physical consent. Partway into the scene, she kisses him back, she probably (it is hard to see for sure) helps with his undressing and she wraps her legs around him. Again, in a long-established relationship, physical consent has to be every bit as valid as verbal consent.

A lot of people point to what is said by Cersei as a further problem and further evidence that she does not want this to happen. However, I cannot understand how people can equate her “It isn’t right.” with a “No”. This completely takes it back to her protests in the book, which are all about the risk of the discovery and the time and the place being inappropriate. Cersei keeps repeating this even as she is giving into her desires for Jaime (the hand clenched around the funerary cloth must be meant to indicate this) and I feel that this is where the changed Cersei is shown most clearly: her dubiousness about the incestuous relationship, especially in such a risky situation, is so strong that she feels a need to express her concerns even though (or perhaps because) she actually does desire Jaime and does desire the sex at that moment. It is as if Cersei on the show is ashamed about her own reaction and I strongly feel that her “It isn’t right.” is something she is vocalising to deal with her feelings of shame/guilt rather than a further attempt to discourage Jaime.

Obviously, this was not how many people interpreted scene and I do agree that this was probably not the best way to handle this scene. In particular, even though I feel I understand its purpose, the “It isn’t right.” should not have been there. There should have been something more affirmative to make it plainer that Cersei wanted the sex to continue. But ultimately, this is a problem of intent, execution and interpretation. I do not believe, as some have tried to put forward, that TV (or any other media, like books) have a duty to avoid scenes of ambiguous sexual conduct. They wanted to show a darker, more ambiguous scene between Jaime & Cersei than in the books. This is perfectly acceptable and does not in any way make them rape apologists. The established relationship between the characters (and yes, I do count the background material from the books here as well as I do not view this show as separate from the books) allows for this kind of interaction without it being rape. However, the end result apparently came out too ambigious from the point of view of many watchers. That is a fault of theirs, a fault which could have been avoided even with the changed circumstances and the changed characters, but ultimately it does not change their intent.

Which is why anyone who is expecting this to be “dealt with” in the next episode is fooling themselves. And, in the case of professional reviewers who should know better, fooling their audiences just to be able to act even more outraged next week. The season is in the can. They did not shoot a rape scene, thus there will be no follow-up to a rape scene.

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