A Companion Piece on *That Scene* from Season 4, Episode 3

I’ve written a bit here and here on the Jaime/Cersei scene from “Break of Chains,” but tonight I have a more complete argument that should be going live on Esquire.com just after the episode.

EDIT: here’s the link

However, there wasn’t room for a full analysis of Alex Grave’s comments in the piece, so I’m linking to them here.

The showrunners’ problems with their response to the reactions to Episode 3 started with the now-infamous interview that Alex Graves did with Vulture in which he unpacked what he thought the scene depicted:

“Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle. Nobody really wanted to talk about what was going on between the two characters, so we had a rehearsal that was a blocking rehearsal. And it was very much about the earlier part with Charles (Dance) and the gentle verbal kidnapping of Cersei’s last living son. Nikolaj came in and we just went through one physical progression and digression of what they went through, but also how to do it with only one hand, because it was Nikolaj. By the time you do that and you walk through it, the actors feel comfortable going home to think about it. The only other thing I did was that ordinarily, you rehearse the night before, and I wanted to rehearse that scene four days before, so that we could think about everything. And it worked out really well. That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.”

None of this came through in the dialogue, blocking, or shot choices in this scene; that’s my opinion, but it’s one I’ve seen echoed by the reviewers above or show-watchers commenting on a variety of internet fora. Graves is an experienced, talented director – so why didn’t it come through the way he intended? Well, things become much more complicated when Graves also describes this scene as “forced sex” – was he intending to have the scene be “consensual in the end?” Or was it supposed to be rape, as the writers and showrunners stated pretty conclusively in their Inside the Episode interview?

This inconsistency between interviews and between director and writers/showrunners pointed to something having gone very wrong in production – whether it was a lack of communication between the various parties about what was supposed to be happening in this scene, or something happening in the editing bay which changed the meaning and import of the action dramatically, or an overall lack of understanding about the characters, their relationships, and their character arcs.

A second interview has since provided more information, but rather than settling any controversy, only shines further light on some troubling facts.

  1. Graves says that “- “There wasn’t a lot of talk about it, to be honest. Everybody knew and then confirmed with each other this is a sort of animalistic, desperate escape moment in the middle of a tragedy that is twisted enough that only Jaime and Cersei could pull it off…they have sex. It’s the last place you think anyone’s going to have sex.” Given the extreme nature of this scene, and the issues involved, this scene should have been unpacked in depth before filming started; everyone should have been very clear about what their interaction was supposed to be and attuned to whether it came out that way on the screen. The fact that there wasn’t this conversation is really troubling, raising questions about how the production is being managed.
  1. There also seems to be a major problem with how people on the show understand consent. Graves describes the scene as “not consensual as it began, but Jaime and Cersei, their entire sexual relationship has been based on and interwoven with risk. And Jaime is very much ready to have sex with her because he hasn’t made love to her since he got back, and she’s sort of cajoled into it, and it is consensual. Ultimately, it was meant to be consensual…” As the reviewers cited above pointed out, depicting someone raping into consent is the original sin when it comes to Hollywood’s contribution to rape culture, going all the way back to the days of Gone With the Wind. Both the directors and the showrunners should have been aware of this so that they could have made sure that this didn’t happen in their shoot. Comments from Graves about how “anything for [Cersei and Jaime] ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle,” suggests that that awareness was completely lacking.
  1. A lot of the failures in this scene seem to come down to how it was blocked. Even if they’d gone with the book version, in which Cersei enthusiastically consents to having sex with Jaime, it would still have been an extreme scene. After all, it’s brother-sister incest, in a high holy place, next to the dead body of their child – there’s taboos going off left and right, even leaving out the period sex in the book – and that needs to be handled carefully to make sure that the already shocked audience can still interpret the scene correctly. However, Graves’ seems to have relied on insufficient guidelines to do this. As he puts it, “ the consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, the other thing that I think is clear before they hit the ground is she starts to make out with him. The big things to us that were so important, and that hopefully was not missed, is that before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.” A hand clenched onto a tablecloth, the position of the leg – these are very subtle and ambiguous blocking directions that are easily missed when the dominant visual of the scene is Cersei pinned on the ground and crying, as Jaime is gruntingly saying “I don’t care” to her demands to stop.

If the intent was to have a scene in which Cersei is initially reluctant but then consents to sex, there were many ways to fix that. The dialogue that Benioff and Weiss wrote showed Cersei refusing consent and telling Jaime to stop over and over again – a major screwup the showrunners are responsible for if they intended the scene to be consensual – so change it to something like the books where Cersei says “Hurry…quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime…Yes…my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you.” Barring a script changes, there are many ways to block the scene to make it resemble what Graves says he wanted – have Cersei undo her own garments or Jaime for that matter, have her get on top of him, have her make physical gestures of engagement and desire that can’t be easily missed. But then again, these are easy things for an experienced director to 


52 thoughts on “A Companion Piece on *That Scene* from Season 4, Episode 3

  1. Alfred Borden says:

    Excellent piece, as always. And this might be a naive question, but no chance you could post your dissertation somewhere? I’ve read everything of yours I could find here, on the Realignment Project and on LGM and I really enjoy the analytical depth and educated perspective you bring to your writing.

    • That gets into tricky copyright issues in terms of getting the dissertation published. It is available on ProQuest if you have a subscription or are part of an institution that does.

  2. Petyr Patter says:

    Thanks for rounding up the show creators comments. Your responses sound spot on to me.

    I’ve watched this episode twice, and that scene was actually worse the second time through. There is just no sense of consent what-so-ever. Meaning there is no justification for this scene. It wasn’t rape in the book, the changed timing of Jaime’s return makes the sept encounter out of place regardless, it is incredibly detrimental to Jaime’s character, and last but not least the scene is incredibly unpleasant to watch.

    However, I don’t blame Graves. Sure he was the director and either through accident or poor communication filmed a rape scene. Yet, there was no reason to KEEP the scene. I’m sure the cutting room at HBO is littered with scenes that “just didn’t work.” This one should have joined them.

  3. Andy says:

    Yeah, the problem is really with the script. She’s repeatedly refusing, so invoking body language is a moot point. It’s already questionable in the book, where Cersei is into it almost immediately, as you quoted. Seems the showrunners wanted to put some more edge into the relationship, but the scene feels like it’s from another decade.

    Obviously everything’s in the can, so I assume this will not be addressed on the show and the scene will be treated as the production misstep it was, much like the (ongoing?) white savior fantasies of Slaver’s Bay.

    • I think it’s both the blocking and the script. There’s a way to say “this is wrong” in a way that sounds like “oh my god this is so wrong it’s hot,” but the visual of her being pinned to the ground crying is what dominates.

      As for the white savior fantasies – I actually thought Ep 4 did a good job at fixing some of that. Firstly, in that they’ve hired a lot more white extras as slaves so that it’s not just a sea of brown faces being liberated. Secondly, by having Meereen fall to a slave uprising gives the slaves a lot more agency – complete with an extended debate about their choices. Thirdly, by having Dany go ahead with the max executions makes her much more of a double-edged character.

      • Mitch says:

        I believe in the books Dany crucifies the same number of masters as slaves she found along the road to Meereen. So her choosing justice over forgiveness isn’t really a deviation from the books, but they do underline her choice a bit more explicitly with the dialogue.

  4. Roger says:

    I think Cersei says “no” at least three times. That’s very no-consentual to me. Also it shows the plot doesn’t understand Cersei/Jaime relationship at this point of the novel, where Jaime wants to keep his oath and he rejects Cersei. Of course first they have a passionate meeting at Jeoffrey’s funeral. But that’s after months separated, and things cool fast after that.

    • Well, I don’t think it’s problematic for Jaime to sleep with Cersei at this point, to show that he’s torn between these two paths. Having them hook up in a desperate moment makes sense, having Cersei try to seduce Jaime to get him to kill Tyrion makes sense. But rape doesn’t make sense.

      • Roger says:

        I agree, but in the previous episode Jaime shows interest in keeping things going as before. And is Cersei who has cooled. That seems a bit problematic.

  5. Andrew says:

    The one comment I have about this scene is that even in the book, it feels like raping into consent (she initially says no, she’s pounding on his chest and he’s ignoring her). Without the book dialogue from Cersei, the TV scene is a lot worse but the scene from the book is still very much forced sex.

    • I disagree – in my reading, and most people’s reading, Cersei raises objections about the location and timing, not having sex itself and before penetration actually takes place is enthusiastically consenting.

    • Maddy says:

      I don’t necessarily disagree with this upon rereading that chapter (and it’s an unfortunate trope) but they could have taken out the problematic stuff from the book chapter and made it consensual from the start. The scene doesn’t even make that much sense in the different show timeline anyway. They had choices and they clearly made the wrong one here.

  6. Winnie says:

    To me the whole thing was yet another chapter for why Game of Thrones needs a WOMAN, on the production staff and in the editing room.

    • MightyIsobel says:

      Indeed, a production staff that can’t keep even a single woman on the writing team (Vanessa Taylor left after Season 3) may have some problems going on behind the scenes that HBO should step in and require D&D to deal with. It’s a real shame that those problems, if they exist, could be manifesting on screen.

    • Absolutely agree. And the writer’s room.

    • Maddy says:

      They need more diversity on their writing staff and production team in general. It’s no guarantee that stuff like this scene and the infamous ‘Mhysa’ scene don’t happen, but it at least it helps mitigate it.

  7. JREinATL says:

    The scene was so horribly mishandled from both a writing and direction standpoint that, for better or worse, I’m just going to excise it from my mind and pretend it was left on the cutting room floor.

  8. rw970 says:

    Seeing as they intended to make it consensual, that’s what I’m going to pretend that scene was until they re-shoot the scene for the DVD.

  9. Cinderella says:

    See, my main problem here is that D&D said that the scene was rape in the “inside the episode” video and Alex Graves said that the scene was rape to the “Hollywood Reporter”. I really think the main reason they went this route is because they have a Madonna/Whore complex with Cersei and Brienne. honestly I’ve always thought that the writing for the women on this show has been rather flat for the past couple of seasons, and they love adding unnecessary sexual violence. Anyways I get the feeling that Cersei will try to seduce Jaime at some point in this season which sickens me.

    I also have a feeling that Shae might suffer some type of sexual violence. I think this is the weakest season.

    • Sure, they said that on those occasions, but Graves said something verye different to Vulture in an extended interview. And Jaime and Cersei weren’t acting like it happened.

      Disagree about the season thing.

  10. Cinderella says:

    Also the Margaery/Tommen scene was fucking weird. Show margaery is a sexual predator.

    • I thought it flirted with weirdness, but the kiss on the head thing was more about Margaery figuring out that her role is to be the fun big sister more than the lover.

    • Maddy says:

      I think there were definitely underlying creepy vibes but Natalie Dormer toed the line on it really well – she recognised how young and innocent Tommen was and adjusted her actions accordingly, even though there was the promise of more in the future. Not sure how she got past all those Kingsguard though – Jaime really does suck at his job. He wouldn’t be my head of security.

  11. get over the sexual shock, it´s suposed to be medieval, everything it´s more rough not just the sex of the main cast.

    • This is a very old argument – firstly, rape was considered a major crime in medieval times, so I don’t see that as an out. Secondly, the writers and directors are not medieval chroniclers; they are modern creative workers who understand they are writing for a modern audience – we should expect them to know the difference between consensual sex and rape. Thirdly, there’s a difference between rough sex with both parties consenting and Cersei pinned to the ground crying.

      • Julian says:

        I’ve seen you elsewhere asserting that rape is considered a serious crime in Westeros, but that assertion is pretty simplistic. Some rapes, of some kinds of people, are serious, especially when the female is higher-class than the male (Gregor Clegane and Elia Martell). Other rapes are not even rape, or are considered de riguer. Nonconsensual sex between an upper-class male and a lower-class female seems is not the kind of rape anyone cares much (as in, actually does anything about) in the books. Remember when Jaime observes that Steelshanks Walton is the kind of soldier who will kill, pillage, and even rape when his blood is up, but after war will return to his family and not be a sociopath? Jaime has (at that time, at least) the very soldierly view that rape is normal part of war, something empowered men do to the disempowered victims of violence. I know he later hangs one of the Mountain’s men for raping Pia, but that’s part of Jaime’s redemption arc, where he starts seeing things in a way that is out of line with usual Westerosi modes of thought.

        So, to the point at hand, if we ignore all of the taboos in the Jaime/Cersei rape scene, a man having sex with his female sex partner basically cannot be rape according to Westerosi morality. I know they’re not married, but rape within a marriage was considered an oxymoron in medieval law, right? Jaime probably sees his rape of Cersei the same way.

        • Julian says:

          Another example that springs to mind: In the books, Tywin telling Cersei that she WILL marry again and WILL produce more children, because every child she has proves Stannis more a liar.

          That’s pretty rapey, right? But not to Tywin–to him, women, even pure Aryan Lannister women, are property, and when the patriarch orders a woman belonging to the clan to produce children, that’s not rape, because it’s “authorized” forced sex.

        • I can think of several counter-examples:

          1. “non-consensual sex between an upper-class male and a lower-class female” – Roose Bolton had to murder Ramsay’s mother’s husband and remove the tongue of her brother-in-law, and pay hush money because he knew that the Starks would execute him for rape.

          2. The abolition of prima nocta points to a more general understanding that it’s not acceptable for a lord to rape his smallfolk.

          3. Jaime specifically objects to Aerys’ rape of his wife Rhaella, and felt the same about Robert and Cersei. It’s not that he’s seeing things differently, it’s that he’s taking action (i.e, following his vows as a knight) instead of looking the other way).

          4. Rape between members of the same social order is definitely illegal and punished as such – hence the practice of castrating rapists or sending them to the wall. Chett, Lark the Sisterman, etc. are both convicted rapists. As for between highborne, well – Gregor Clegane and Rhaegar both paid the price.

          • Julian says:

            1. Good point.

            2. I believe you, but do you remember where in the books it says that prima nocta was abolished?

            3. Jaime’s views seem unusual. Maybe it’s just because he’s a POV character but we don’t hear them echoed in the books.

            4. Gregor “paid the price” only in the sense that he got killed by someone motivated by the rape. He wasn’t formally brought to justice, and the person who put him in that duel (Cersei–Tywin didn’t seem to have been consulted) was doing it to save her own skin.

            As for Rhaegar, to oversimplify a bit, Robert killed Rhaegar because he believed Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna. I think it’s plausible that one reason Robert believed that (erroneously, right? the consensus is that Lyanna went with Rhaegar willingly after he romanced her/told her the prophecy) is because Robert’s viewed women as property, saw Lyanna as his property, and assumed that another man interfering with her had to be rape. He didn’t think that Lyanna might have enough agency to decide to be with Rhaegar.

            I don’t mean to be unfairly harsh on Robert, if unfairly harsh I was. Maybe the available evidence back then really did make Rhaegar and Lyanna’s elopement seem like a kidnapping.

          • 2. Yes. King Jaehaerys outlawed it at the behest of his wife, Good Queen Alyssane. (AFFC CH 33).

            3. Ned reacts the same way when he learns what happened to Cersei, Tyrion refuses to force Sansa, Dany is certainly traumatized on the road to Vaes Dothrak and reacts accordingly, etc.

            4. He wasn’t formally brought to justice because he didn’t leave any witnesses – but everyone’s very clear why having the charges brought up in a formal setting like a trial by combat would be legally dangerous. And yes, Robert was very much a product of his misogynist society, but we don’t know what the circumstances were.

  12. I wish they had just not had the scene. I feel they are never going to refer to it again and that’s hugely problematic – like rape doesn’t matter (which hugely goes against the message of the books, at least to me). And I can’t help but feel the implicit message here is that Cersei made him do it because she’s the one who ‘makes’ Jaime a bad man, whereas Brienne makes him a good person in this weird madonna/ whore dichotomy that flattens and simplifies those characters. And it sets up huge problems for later when or if Cersei reaches out to him again.

    The books aren’t perfect but I feel like GRRM at least made an attempt to show how sexual violence is especially horrible and how it affects women – there’s a difference between misogyny in the setting and misogyny in the narrative and to me, at least in this particular instance, the show has stepped over that line (at least in how they’ve handled it so far). The rape fest at Crasters in the latest episode definitely didn’t help.

    I really want to like this show, and I do most of the time, but sometimes they make it really difficult.

  13. Maddy says:

    On the ‘inside the episode’ they didn’t talk about Cersei at all – they just talked about how hard it is for Jaime because his sister was being mean and rejecting him, and how he’s such a nice guy going to see Tyrion. Because you know what we need more of on TV – feeding into a culture that blames the victim for their own assault and telling a rapist redemption story. Regardless of their intent – I can foresee how this is going to play out. I’m hoping to be proven wrong but I’m not optimistic.

    • Yeah. Lena Headey’s interview about the scene only confused things more because her description of Cersei’s motivations was more in the vein of the “it was consensual” story than the “it was rape” story, so the show is still talking out of both sides of its mouth.

      • Maddy says:

        That is really weird. I totally get why people just want to pretend that scene didn’t happen or that it was consensual – it has to be easier to watch this way when that seems like that is what the show itself is doing. I just feel like that’s letting them off the hook on this too easily though – Just because they ‘didn’t mean’ to film a rape scene doesn’t excuse the fact that that’s what happened in the show canon. And there is no way that Jaime and Cersei as characters wouldn’t recognise what happened in that scene as rape.

        I’m already worried about what they’re going to do with upcoming Ramsay material (which was already super awful in the books anyway).

        • I absolutely agree.

          And the Ramsay material – yeah. Especially since Jeyne Poole was never named in the show, I don’t know where they’re going with that.

          • Maddy says:

            At least it’s unlikely that we’re going to get a Ramsay redemption story. Trying to find the silver lining here.

          • Very true. Although I find myself constantly creeped out by the people who are very into SHIRTLESSRamsay and S&M (although apparently not so much safety words and other key elements of consent).

  14. FF says:

    New reader here, I just found your blog today and really enjoyed reading your political analysis. When I saw you had written about this episode I was initially apprehensive, fearing that I was about to stumble on rape-apologia that would ruin my enjoyment of your political analysis, but I was pleasantly surprised by your sensitive treatment of this scene and how it messes up the story and characterization going forward. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your blog. This fandom trends to attract a lot of vitriolic misogyny (as evidenced in the Esquire comment section) and it’s refreshing to find a place for intelligent, in depth discussion that isn’t littered with comments that make me question whether I should stop trying to engage with the ASOIAF fandom altogether.

  15. YZQ says:

    To me, that scene just screams “That came out wrong.” It would have been so much less controversial if they had scripted Cersei as playfully reminding Jaime where they are, and when Jaime said “I don’t care”, merrily went along.

  16. […] movie is way old, that shit doesn’t get made today! Actually, my good friend Steve Attewell wrote this and this about the rape romance that went down last season on Game of Thrones. I won’t go into […]

  17. […] is a rape. However, to many readers, this scene may be perceived as what is plainly is. Rape. This rape romance is much like the scene in Game of Thrones in which Jaime rapes Cersei at the funeral of their son. […]

  18. […] actor who plays them, I feel that Lena Headey has not been served well by the show. In addition to that scene from Season 4, from the very beginning there seems to have been a decision from the showrunners to […]

  19. […] very old and very tired “rape to consent” argument (see Steve Attewell eviscerate this argument here). And last season I wrote about how they manufactured a repeated rape and sexual torture of Sansa […]

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