Warning: Spoilers for "Game of Thrones" Season 4, episode 3 "Breaker of Chains" are contained in this article.
Upon first viewing the episode, I too was shocked by how far the scene deviated from the novels. In "A Storm of Swords," Cersei initially protests that she and her brother shouldn't have sex, but quickly succumbs to her passions and is turned on by the situation they find themselves in. In "Breaker of Chains," Cersei is pushing at Jaime and muttering "It isn't right" until the last moments of the scene, implying it never is consensual.
After seasons of watching this show stray from the source material but ultimately stay true to it, I let my surprise at the scene pass and left my trust in showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to make the rape important. Whether it serves as a reminder that deep down, Jaime still is the person who pushed Bran out the window back in the pilot, or is the schism that splits apart Jaime and Cersei for good -- or at the very least get brought up again -- my belief was that the rape would have significance in the greater story the showrunners are telling.
That might not be the case, though. Alex Graves, who directed last week's "The Lion and the Rose" as well as "Breaker of Chains," spoke with both HitFix and The Hollywood Reporter about the controversial scene. What is so deeply troubling about his comments is the fact that he seems to believe he was filming the scene very similarly to how it played out in the books -- a consummation of passions, if you will -- instead of Jaime forcing himself upon his sister.
To THR, he says, "[Joffrey] is their first born. He is their sin. He is their lust, and their love -- their everything. If he's gone, what's going to happen? Jaime is still trying to believe as hard as he possibly can that he's in love with Cersei. He can't admit that he is traumatized by his family and he's been forced his whole life to be something he doesn't want to be. What he is -- but has to deny -- is he is actually the good knight, like Brienne."
Graves' comments make it seem like he viewed this scene as an act of love from Jaime, and one that was ultimately consensual. But the way that he shot the scene led to a very different audience interpretation. Was Cersei's hand clutching the sheet on Joffrey's altar supposed to be a sign that she was enjoying herself? Because it read as her holding onto her dead son in light of telling her brother/lover that it wasn't right to have sex in this room.
One great point about Graves' explanation of the scene and others' criticisms of it is that they often focus entirely on what the rape means for Jaime. It knocks down his characterization as "the good knight," and also serves as a culmination of his frustrations with finding himself no longer fitting in the world he once loved.
"To understand the psychology behind it, and why he goes as far as he does, was really difficult," actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau tells The Daily Beast. "It's one of those things where he's been holding it back for so long, and then out of anger he grabs her, and instinct takes over, and he lets loose. He says, I don't care. He wants to not care. He has to connect to her, and he knows this is the most f***ed up way for it to happen, but in that moment, he knows it's all he can do. It's an act of powerlessness."
But what about Cersei? Jaime hated Robert Baratheon for forcing himself on Cersei, and now she receives the same treatment from her brother. Tyrion reminds audiences later in the episode that Cersei loves her children more than anything, and watching her get raped as her dead son "watches" definitely makes her more of a sympathetic character than the "hateful woman" Jaime calls her.
The controversial scene could be the launching pad for an interesting storyline and exploration into these two complex characters, which could justify its existence and the fact it's so far removed from the source material. But if this scene really just is a miscalculation in direction (and potentially the writing of Benioff and Weiss, neither of whom have yet commented on it) and doesn't get any payoff later in the season, then it truly deserves all the criticism it has been receiving.
Photo/Video credit: HBO