Monday, April 28, 2014

How Game of Thrones failed its viewers

WARNING: Spoilers ahead! Do not read if you haven't seen season 4 episodes "Breaker of Chains" and "Oathkeeper."

Last week's episode of Game of Thrones contained one of the most disturbing scenes yet. GoT often pushes boundaries, with bloody battles, graphic sex scenes, and horrifying weddings named after colors of the rainbow. But Jamie's rape of Cersei right by the corpse of their son Joffrey is the most disturbing scene of them all. Many people have weighed in on their opinions of this scene and how off-color it is - not only because of its content, but because the scene was not a rape in the books. George R.R. Martin himself admitted that he was confused by the director's choice to make it a rape scene. Worst of all though, director Alex Graves won't even admit that he made a mistake, pointing out that the scene "becomes consensual in the end."

No, Graves.That's not how rape works.

By not admitting that the scene is a rape, Graves contributes to rape culture. Also, it looks like Graves does not even understand that the scene is a rape in the first place. He should read this Buzzfeed article on rape culture. Here's some highlights he needs to understand: No means no and a rape cannot "become consensual."

In a HuffPost article, Maureen Ryan goes through 12 reasons why the rape scene matters. She discusses how many other shows often do not depict the aftermath of rape - the emotional and physical pain it has on the survivor and how the survivor gets through the pain. She says:

My complaint about how rape is often depicted on TV boils down to this: Many writers treat it as the narrative equivalent of a cheap firecracker and don't get that they set off the story equivalent of a nuclear bomb. If rape occurs, especially one involving a leading character, it has to be given the weight and gravity it deserves and not treated like a lesbian kiss during sweeps -- a melodramatic event that is quickly forgotten. If "Game of Thrones" goes that route, it will be disappointing, not to mention irresponsible -- but I hope the show demonstrates intelligence on this front.

Unfortunately, GoT went that route. The one scene that shows Cersei in "Oathkeeper" shows her in her natural habitat: drinking wine and throwing shade. The scene is with Jamie and they don't seem to interact any differently than they have in the other episodes from this season - except for the rape scene of course.

The worst part about "Oathkeeper" is that it presents Jamie as a hero because he has decided to keep his oath with Catelyn Stark and protect Sansa. Although this is what happens chronologically in the books, it looks horrible on TV when shown after the TV-fabricated rape scene.

A friend of mine, Shira Hereld, posted her thoughts on the issue on Facebook today. Here's what she said:

Game of Thrones, you failed me last night. After the particularly brutal Jamie/Cersei rape scene last week, I waited with trepidation to see how you would deal with the aftermath...
And you proceeded with an episode all about Jamie, that gave him about 4x more screen time than his sister (and even when she was on screen, so was he), and caressed his glorious jawlines as he made positive decisions regarding his brother and a potential new love interest.
Meanwhile, Cersei had the opportunity to drink and act with about the same level of bitterness as usual, and we saw NOTHING about how the assault changed her - only a few minutes of how it changed her in relation to JAMIE. 
This isn't just a fictional, story-line issue. In the real world, the male director (who said the scene "started out as rape but became consensual [??!!] and the actor playing Jamie (who said parts of it Cersei was into and parts of it she wasn't...) have been quoted and requoted. Yet the most said about Lena Headey's reaction is that she had "mixed feelings." 
This isn't just a Game of Thrones issue. Every aspect of the media tells a story that people internalize, and we've heard this story way too many times: after rape, the media is more interested in figuring out the motives of the rapists than the impact the rape has had on the survivor. It's bad enough that the internet has been arguing about whether the scene was rape (seriously, we need more classes in consent), but the long-lasting aftermath of sexual violence is constantly swept under the rug and survivors' voices out-shouted by a media clamoring to "understand" the mindset of the perpetrator. We've internalized this so much that now even our fantasies force survivors into silence. 
Go ahead, GoT. Tell a good story. Humanize both sides of it, because the real world is messy and emotionally confusing. But don't silence the survivor while making love to the rapist. Don't ignore Cersei's storyline while obsessing over Jamie's. Because many people will eventually forget Jamie did anything wrong and turn on Cersei for her bitterness - they will see her cruelty and alcoholism and wonder if maybe she didn't deserve it just a little bit. And the rest of us - well, we'll just stay silent.

I couldn't have put it better myself. The scene is clearly one of rape and if the director didn't intend it to be, then clearly he knows nothing about rape, as most people don't. I believe that rape can be depicted in the media if and only if it depicts the aftermath and its effects on the survivor. But as we saw in "Oathkeeper," GoT failed to do that.

Thankfully, a cat saved the day. While we were all sitting on our couches upset and angry that Jamie was presented as a hero in the episode, we were introduced to Ser Pounce, Prince Tommen's adorable cat.

Now here's a video of a cat meowing the Game of Thrones theme song. Why? Because cats.

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