It’s National Denim Day — when a horrific verdict in Italy that blamed the victim of a sexual assault on her tight jeans. So why do I preface a post about “Game of Thrones” with all this? Because I was set to hate this week’s episode. I am SO TIRED of women victims: The Killing, The Fall, Top of the Lake — name a crime series and almost always it begins with women or teen girls being victimized. (And there was that time an agent told me my head shots had to look for “victim-y” because that’s what casting directors were looking for? “At least a few women a week die on shows.”) You might argue, well, that’s the stats. It so happens that I’ve also been a crime reporter and so I can say to you with certainty that crime series do not follow stats. In “Elementary,” a show I love but there has yet to be a minority murderer, which falls way too much on the side of improbability simply due to the demographics of New York City (if you want to talk stats).
So, no, stats are not the reason women are victimized. On TV, often assault is gratuitous, a kind of voyeurism or fantasy reenactment in which women are disempowered. It’s used in cheap ways for thrills or ratings, much like the use of bloody, gory violence in B horror films, or most horror films, that do nothing for a story and instead reinforce a rape culture. When I read that “Game of Thrones,” a show I’ve always admired for its writing and execution was falling prey to the same lowbrow, shoddy resort to cheap thrills, I debated whether to even continue watching the show. I was also turned off by Alex Graves’, the director’s comments about how “it was consensual at the end” (if it’s a rape at the beginning, it’s a rape at the end; that’s the definition of rape otherwise it’s called rough foreplay in consensual sex). As a nod to how society is changing, none of the readers of that article, the author reported, agreed with Mr. Graves. Not one. Even the series’ author, George R.R. Martin was not in agreement with the direction of the show’s taken with that scene.
Then I saw the show. It was a masterful episode.
My views and hopes for what this scene means within the show’s world was said powerfully and eloquently by one of the best TV critics out there, Maureen Ryan, in “Game of Thrones Controversial Scene: 12 Reasons Why It Matters.” Highly recommend whether you are into TV, this show or the series, it is spot on about the handling of the crime of rape in our culture. (It should always be denoted as a crime, for starters.)
That scene fitted the character of the perpetrator, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who my hub and I both agree nails it as a leading man, as a cross between Aaron Eckhart, Viggo Mortensen (also Danish) and every other handsome, chiseled jawbone actor). Jaime once threw a little boy out a window with the intent to kill but as a silver lining caused paralysis. He’s not a good man. In case the audience thought, look he’s redeeming himself, maybe this was to send him to the bottom of our shitlist. In the scene, Jaime’s a bitter man, robbed of the one thing that defined him as a man, as it were: his warrior skills as a swordsman. He’s being rebuffed by a woman whom he loves and hates to love. Horrific? Yes. Could the story have gone another way? Yes. Gratuitous? Mmm…And this is the litmus test…Emotionally true to the story? Yes.
In addition, despite Mr. Graves’s comments, the scene was not titillating. There was a cutaway, nothing was prolonged. In the discussion of the episode, the writers didn’t justify it and called it out as a terrifying power play by a man who feels as if he’s lost all power.
As Mr. Martin also noted, the story he had to tell — and is telling (hurry up with the last book, sir!) — he told in the books. This show is not his story to tell. The writers are free to shape it as they see fit. For a while now, the show has deviated from the book and while this same scene was consensual in the book, the context was entirely different. There had been setup and context for the scene as it played out.
The true test is not in how the scene was played out but what will happen in subsequent episodes. As Ms. Ryan wrote, the writers must “give it weight and gravity.” Rape forever alters a person’s life. It can take years to heal and the residual effects sometimes never completely go away. So, as cold-hearted a person as Cersei is, she was shown to have dimension: a mother who loves her children, a long-suffering wife who’s been raped and cheated on and unloved, a chess piece on her father’s board. The one person she trusted and loved betrayed her in the worst possible way. Will she shrivel up further or will she call someone to give some King’s Landing type of justice to Jaime. One person in Deadfleet comes to mind:
This begs the bigger question of what writers have a responsibility to do, if they have any responsibility at all. We know the impact television and video games have on young minds (and bodies if they sit around long enough) but should that influence a writer’s decisions? How can we dictate a story? If it were up to majority rule, “Huckleberry Finn” would continue to be banned.
If stats show that mainly minority males are arrested for crimes, should writers show that? Or, pull aside the curtain behind the socio-economic reasons for it? Or be politically correct? I find this last reason to be boring as entertainment. It pleases no one by trying to please everyone. Instead of respecting a particular group, it disrespects all groups by not having any cultural or religious or any specificity of any kind to a person or group. Yet, how can we dictate another’s world view which is what a good story presents?
I also learned. If I had dismissed the story based on my politics or personal leanings, as it were, I would have missed an incredible story because that is what it is: a fictional account meant to entertain, horrify, and provide catharsis.
The best part of the inclusion of this scene was the outcry and discussion it sparked. It’s still a rape culture, sadly, but things have progressed. Slut shaming and rape jokes are more and more societally unacceptable. Legislation like Title 9 supported by my representative, Rep. Jackie Speier, whom I am proud to volunteer for and support, are spearheading changes to the approach to and protocols of sexual assault on campus. As a volunteer, I am producing a video that will provide education, resource information, and outreach to college kids across the country through a group of nonprofits who inspire me and are solely devoted to drastically reducing sexual assault and providing nurturing care to victims. Unlike the world of “Game of Thrones,” there is hope and though slow, progress is inevitable.
Each scene had favorite, thrilling moments that make me long to be in that writer’s room:
- Tywin’s counsel to Tommen, the young heir to the throne, was superb. I whispered “wisdom” before the young lad did, so enraptured was I with the whole dialogue.
- Tywin just killed this episode. Allying himself to the most hated enemy, Oberyn, was smart. This has the added benefit that The Mountain will fall and give Tyrion a shot for a just outcome. Oberyn strikes me as being fair and after the truth. He’s not under Tywin’s thumb.
- I love Natalie Dormer in everything from “Tudors” where I first saw her to “Elementary.” She nails all her parts. And her chemistry as Margaery with Olenna (Diana Riggs) as her grandmother are divine. Olenna is spot on with another good zinger after Margaery bemoans how her husbands all seem to die, “You did well with Joffrey. The next one will be better.” Romance isn’t dead in the matriarch. In fact, she got misty eyed just talking about her late husband, that old goat, and she clearly loved him. But there’s a time for practicality and a time for love so buck up, Margaery! You got a tween heir waiting to bed you, hurray!
- Tyrion “Cersei is not involved in a murder in King’s Landing. There’s a first.” I almost cried when Tyrion bid his squire farewell. The show reveals so much ugliness of human beings, and there’s a lot of ugliness in our species, that when true loyalty and humanity is shown, it drives us to tears. Those tears are hard earned, dammit!
- The only other humane relationship with no agenda is between Davos and Stannis’s daughter, the wretched girl — if ever the word “wretched” made sense, it’s here. But she doesn’t act it and is smarter than she puts on, as do most of the women on the show who survive. Best lines: “they don’t have enough of an army to raid my pantry” (Stannis) and “I tried to convince him the difference between a pirate and smuggler also.” (Davos)
- Dany throws shackles as the first launch to her enemy. Make the enemy of your enemies your friends is a strategy that works so well for our Dragon Lady. She is the only hope for that kingdom. She’s strong, smart, strategic, pragmatic, just, and merciful. Given this world: she’ll die, alas, and Stannis, with his penchant for attracting crazy ladies, will rule. (that’s me wailing, not a spoiler! I have no idea!)
- Jon Snow is still hot and brooding more than ever in his Crow furs (though I crushed on Rob Stark more). He will, no doubt, lead the fight against the cannibals, Wildlings, and the Undead. And the Lannisters thought their wars were tough…