The 'Game of Thrones' TV Book Club: Let's talk about that Jaime/Cersei scene

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Image Credit: Neil Davidson/HBO

Welcome back to the Game of Thrones TV Book Club, a discussion space for Thrones viewers who have also read the five books (so far) of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This week, Darren Franich and Hillary Busis talk disturbing sex scenes, the value of adaptive changes, and just why Davos deserves better than his TV treatment. (You know there’ll be spoilers for the books and the show, right?) For more Thrones fun, check out James Hibberd’s full recap of “Breaker of Chains” and his interview with newly returned Thrones star Aidan Gillen.

HILLARY: Okay, Darren, it’s time to address the dragon in the room: We need to talk about Jaime. And Cersei. Specifically, Jaime and Cersei’s Big Scene, which has already been dissected ad nauseum during the, oh, 14ish hours since it first aired. The basics: When the incestuous Lannisters finally reunite in A Storm of Swords, it’s in the royal sept, where Cersei is mourning her murdered son. Naturally, they only make a few pages of small talk before they’re having icky, problematic yet enthusiastically consensual sex. (Sample, written in GRRM’s inimitable sex scene style: “Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now.” 50 Shades of Thrones!) In the TV series, however, that encounter morphs into one of unambiguous rape.

Say what?! Why would TV Thrones choose to change this moment in such a horrific way? Or could it be, perhaps, that Jaime always raped Cersei, but we just didn’t see it that way in the books because we saw the scene from his perspective?

DARREN: On one hand, you’re getting into the thing I love most about the books that only comes through occasionally on TV: The POV perspective, which gives us privileged insight into some characters’ inner thoughts (even as it keeps some characters at a remove — there’s a reason why Robb Stark was such a non-entity before the TV show.) On the other hand, I think that the book’s depiction of that scene tapped into the crazy emotions of both Jaime AND Cersei. In Storm of Swords, that’s the first time the twincestuous siblings have seen each other in years; they’re alone together with their first son lying dead on a slab; Jaime is tired and still recovering from the loss of his hand, Cersei is absolutely emotionally demolished, and so the scene plays out with a desperate insane logic (two very crazy and crazy-in-love human beings seeking respite), whereas the presentation in the show is much more disturbing in its directness.

Like, Swords includes a long scene AFTER the sex, which is equally complicated (Jaime makes a lovelorn marriage proposal; Cersei demands that he leave the sept, and he does) whereas the show cuts away on the most horrifying moment of the scene. I realize we’re stepping into dangerous waters, but on the page, that scene enriched my understanding of both characters and their relationship, even with all the troubling implications. Notably, in the original depiction, Jaime never says “Why have the Gods made me love a hateful woman?” — a line that the TV show added in, which in context makes Jaime look like an abusive rapist (the gods made me do it!) while casting Cersei once and for all as a stone-cold ice queen. Hillary, do you think the subtle-but-major changes in the scene point towards a greater shift in the show’s Jaime/Cersei story arc? Or am I reading way too much into a few lines of altered dialogue?

HILLARY: I don’t think you are, Darren. Up until this point, I thought the show had cast Cersei in a much more sympathetic light than the books. Perhaps, that’s partially thanks to Lena Headey’s wry portrayal; perhaps it’s also because we don’t get to see things from the queen’s own P.O.V. until A Feast for Crows, by which point she’s gone totally off the deep end and morphed into a heinous sex monster.

I wonder, then, if the rape was on some level a misguided attempt to give Cersei even more pathos, a la the convenient backstory rapes that have become depressingly common on prestige TV (and Scandal). This scene also casts TV Jaime more cleanly into a classic prestige TV antihero mold by backpedaling on all the ways he’s changed since his long trek across Westeros with Brienne; how could the same man who saved the Maid of Tarth from that hungry bear treat his own beloved flesh and blood this way? And finally, I wonder if TV Thrones‘s writers just have a tendency to change problematic book sex scenes into clear scenes of unconsensual sex. Remember that they did the same thing way back in the pilot, when Khal Drogo raped Dany instead of waiting to consummate their marriage until she gave him her permission.

Because that part of Book Thrones always bothered me — uh, it’s okay for a grown man to have sex with a 14-year-old if it turns out she’s kinda into it? — I didn’t mind as much when it got altered for the screen. Here, though, there are so many unpleasant implications that I wish Jaime and Cersei’s tryst hadn’t been made even more disturbing. Maybe we should change the subject to something a little more pleasant: Hey, your boy Davos finally got some screen time this week!

DARREN: I want to make one thing very clear. Starks, Lannisters, Martells, Tyrells, Greyjoys, all the various Confirmed Targaryens and Maybe Targaryens: None of them compare to my boy the Onion Knight. I realize saying that Davos Seaworth is my number-one, top Ice and Fire character is like saying Hawkeye is my favorite Avenger — which he might be, SEPARATE CONVERSATION HILLARY — but from the moment he’s introduced in Clash of Kings, Davos brings a whole new fascinating mindset to the saga. He’s the everyman, but he’s also the only guy who unequivocally wants to do the right thing. He believes in his King and stands by him, even when Stannis is at his craziest. He loves his family but also tries to balance that love with his duty to the realm. Most of all, I think that Davos believes in JUSTICE in a way that eludes even the most noble of Westeros Nobility, who always have one eye on improving their status. (His closest analogues on the page are Jon and Dany, but Davos doesn’t have a tragic noble-bastard backstory or a Grant Destiny: He’s just a dude who used to be a bad man and now wants to be a good man.)

So it’s been a running bummer for me that Davos and the whole Stannis story arc has spent two seasons in Pensive Grimace Limbo, especially since I like all the actors involved. Last night’s episode had yet another cutesy interaction with Shireen Baratheon — she even provided Davos with a Lightbulb Realization. (“The Iron Bank of Braavos…THIS GIVES ME AN IDEA!”) Given Shireen’s expanded role, I have to believe that the show is either A) building up to some kind of horrific tragedy with her or B) just biding time until the big End-Of-Episode-9 Stannis-at-the-Wall reveal. Can anything save my poor Davos from another season of grouchy Stannis and Spelling Class?

HILLARY: I can tell that came from the heart — and hearing your eloquent reasoning almost makes me wish for an extra helping of Davos. (Almost.) Knowing what happens next in his book storyline, though — after Stannis goes north, Davos goes to White Harbor to persuade Lord Manderly to join Stannis’s cause, then disappears until A Dance with Dragons — I’m not sure what else the show can do to keep him around, short of wheel-spinning. (Book Davos has that whole subplot about smuggling the bastard Edric Storm out of Dragonstone, but thanks to the reappropriation of Gendry, the possibility of following that thread has gone out the window.)

Speaking of drawing things out: Book Tyrion spends exactly one chapter alternately in prison and enduring his show trial, then one more declaring Prince Oberyn as his champion and watching as the Red Viper is ultimately defeated by the Mountain. In Show World, however, we’ve still got two weeks to go before the trial even begins — and you can bet TV Thrones won’t rush that process, especially knowing that Benioff and Weiss have said season 4 spends “something like 70 minutes” in Tyrion’s cell. What do you make of this slowing? I know it’s hard to judge without having seen it first, but I worry that it may grow tedious to watch Tyrion have a series of quippy conversations with his enemies and few friends — though granted, TV Thrones‘s take on Imprisoned Ned was certainly gripping.

DARREN: Optimistically, I’m hoping they moved to decompress the Trial of Tyrion so they could really drill down into their mascot-character’s kafkaesque nightmare, betrayed by everyone he used to trust. Or the show could just be giving Peter Dinklage the Wrongfully Imprisoned Emmy Reel of his dreams. (Side note for a future entry in our series on the Gender Politics of Westeros: Commenter James Ball noted that all the changes in Shae’s character could be an attempt to “justify” Tyrion’s murdering her, since her actions in the trial will be much more of a clear betrayal than in the book.) But, I wanted to get your learned opinion on another big change. The mutineers at Craster’s Keep mostly disappeared in the book, their ultimate fate tied up in lots of North-of-the-Wall arcana (Haunted Forest! Coldhands!) But last night, TV-Jon clearly set a new mission for the Night’s Watch: Kill The Mutineers. Are you excited about this unexpected return trip to Craster’s Keep? Is anyone ever excited about going to Craster’s Keep?

HILLARY: I’d say I’m about as excited as Jeyne Poole is to marry Ramsay Snow. (Nerd alert!)

DARREN: Even more urgent question: New Daario. Thoughts?

HILLARY: Hotter. Although do you also get the impression that the recasting notice said “younger Jorah Mormont type”?

DARREN: “Wanted: Jorah Mormont, except younger and capable of smiling. Ideally should look nothing at all like Season 3 Daario.” I like the new guy, but I do kinda miss Strong Belwas. Vin Diesel would’ve really brought a lot to the part.

Tell us, book-readers: What did you think of “Breaker of Chains”? (And should we have spent more slash any time talking about Daenerys?)

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