“Game of Thrones” and the Myth of the Evil Rapist


I’ve been thinking about rape lately. It’s mostly been spawning from finally getting a TV, which means I can watch all my favorite TV shows on a big screen, from my couch. And it’s been inspired by the conversation around a incestuous rape scene in this season of “Game of Thrones,” and, since this past Sunday, the lack of punishment for that rape. Now don’t get me wrong, “Game of Thrones”‘s unequal depiction of male and female nudity, and it’s willingness (even reveling) to depict sexual violence against women is what makes the show such a conversation starter, and I have no doubt that creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss know that.

To back up, the third episode of this season of “Game of Thrones,” “Breaker of Chains,” has Jaime Lannister raping his sister, Cersei, on the floor of a sept (the Westeros version of church) next to the body of their dead son. In the next episode, “Oathkeeper,” Jaime is shown doing all manners of knightly, noble things, such as giving his sword to Brienne so she can help save Sansa, who Cersei wants dead.

In the recap of  “Oathkeeper” for Vulture, Nina Shen Rastogi writes that:

Jaime’s raping of Cersei in episode three is being played for … nothing.
The creators don’t just avoid using that scene to complicate Jaime’s new sensitive, good-boy aura; they’re actively doubling down on that persona. Every scene Jaime appeared in last night cast him in a heroic light.

I can’t agree with that assessment since the same thing happens in real life. What “Game of Thrones” is doing so well is showing how even rapists have dimension. In the same episode, a Night’s Watch mutineer is shown tenderly kissing the naked body of a woman he raped. And what the episode, and all the reactions regarding Jaime shows is the lie that we all tell ourselves about rapists: that they’re evil criminals who none of us have ever met, who follow you down dark alleyways. What rapists are not, in popular culture and in societal imagination, are men who are capable of good deeds and tenderness, teenage football players who are going to college, or husbands.

In reality, a woman is more likely to be raped by a man she knows, who is her friend, lover, acquaintance or husband than she is by a stranger walking down the street. And perhaps the genius of “Game of Thrones” choosing to not punish the golden-haired rapist is an indication of our society’s own unwillingness to punish our golden-haired rapist.

Of course, that doesn’t justify them showcasing multiple rape scenes per season, but considering that non-sexual violence against men in the form of stabbing, beheading, dismantling, etc have become almost normalized in contemporary America, the fact that rape depiction is still seen as shocking and game-changing and “Oh my god, I’m done with this show,” speaks more to our sensibilities than it probably does to the sensibilities of the writers of “Game of Thrones.” It says that even when violence can become mainstream, sex still isn’t and moreso, sexual violence.

I’m not sure if that’s indication of general American prudery or if people really feel that protective of the women they see onscreen. Or perhaps it’s an ugliness in human nature that we’re all trying to hide, such as when a woman is rape and sexually assaulted, it’s her fault and therefore preventable and controllable.

So I really can’t be too angry at “Game of Thrones,” because for all of the sex-position and violence, they’re showing the ugly side of humanity, toe-to-toe with the good side. Rapists are people, who, like anyone, are capable of both heroic and horrendous deeds. And just like in real life, those “good” people who rape usually get the benefit of doubt and, if they are men in power, they are rarely punished, just ask Woody Allen.

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