In Game of Thrones, there are many scenes which could easily be referred to as “that scene.” There’s “that scene,” you know, The One Where They Cut Ned’s Head Off. There’s “that scene,” you know, “The One Where They Kill Everyone At The Wedding.” There’s “that scene,” you know, “The One Where That Dornish Guy’s Head Got Smooshed Like A Grape.”
And then…there’s “that scene.” The One Where We Can’t Agree On What Happened.
There’re a lot of controversial topics in Game of Thrones, including the violence and the sexual exploitation of characters. (This is, after all, the show that coined the term “sexposition.”) But the scene in the sept, where Jamie and Cersei have sex next to their son’s dead body, presents a particularly thorny issue.
The show would obviously like to make it clear that it never meant for the scene to read as rape. That was obvious from the outset, as Alex Graves, who directed it, came out and said plainly that he did not see himself as directing rape, but in fact a really weird sex scene. Although the actors stayed mostly mum at the time, now, a year later, both Headey and Coster-Waldau agree that rape was never the intent. As actors in the moment, they didn’t see themselves as acting out a rape scene either.
For Headey, it was an emotionally screwed up scene, but one her character wanted:
“It was a woman in grief for her dead child, and the father of the child—who happens to be her brother—who never really acknowledged the children is standing with her. We’ve all experienced grief. There’s a moment of wanting to fill a void, and that is often very visceral, physical. That, for me, is where she was at. There was an emotional block, and [her brother] was just a bit of a drug for her.”
For Coster-Waldau, it was a complicated scene, but he thought it would be more about the fact that they were having sex, you know, over their son’s dead body.
Most people I spoke to got from the scene what we were trying to show—a very complicated relationship, and two people in desperate need for each other. All these emotions going through them, it was never intended to be something where he forced—it wasn’t a rape, and it was never intended to be. But it’s one of those things where you can’t [publicly] say ‘it wasn’t rape,’ because then everybody goes, ‘How can you say it wasn’t rape?!’ But that was definitely not the intention.”
“Of course,” the actor quickly adds, “whatever people get from it, they get from it. But it did surprise me. I thought the outrage would be about that they were having sex in front of their dead son.”
Although I had read the books and knew this scene was coming, I was genuinely shocked seeing it performed live. After all, in the books (where the scene is seen from Jaime’s perspective) Cersei does consent, and the sense we as readers get from it is exactly as Headey and Coster-Waldau describe–two people who can’t even admit publicly this was their kid, finding solace in a freaky moment.But that’s just it. The scene is seen from Jamie’s POV. You read his emotional state, you sense the connection he has with his sister. This is not something that can be easily translated to a third person POV of the kind presented in the TV show.
We should also note that this was not the first time the show’s third person POV changed something that felt “right” in the books to something that felt “wrong” on the screen. After all, there was no such thing as “Stupid Ned Stark” when people first read the books. When reading Ned’s story from his own perspective, telling Cersei he knows everything and giving her the chance to get out of dodge is the right thing to do. Trusting Littlefinger is the right thing to do. After all, everyone is honorable at their core, right?
But when I went back and reread the Jamie/Cersei sex scene, what had been clear cut in my head when I read it the first time suddenly became much murkier. Especially if you drew back and asked if Jamie’s perspective was dead on, or if it was skewed, the way Ned’s was. After all, people see things the way they want to. Jamie certainly would never want to see himself as forcing himself on Cersei.
So the show had a scene that was murky to begin with–which, to their credit, Benioff and Weiss, who wrote the episode, both acknowledged immediately. The problem–and this is partly an editing issue–is that no one took the time to make their intentions clear. Perhaps being within their own heads, as Jamie was, Benioff and Weiss thought it was obvious that these two were having this emotional moment. But as the scene is written murkily, it plays murkily. It would have been better if the scene had played an extra beat or three so that the audience could get a clear moment of Cersei changing those “nos” we clearly hear her speak on camera, to “yeses.”
But as Coster-Waldau says “Whatever people get from it, they get from it.” That’s the nature of art. Once it is released to the public, we see it as we will see it, and intentions fall to the wayside. But if there are more murky scenes to come–and on Game of Thrones, I would assume there will be–perhaps everyone should be a little more careful to make their points clear on film next time.