• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

No means no - even in fantasy land

LOOK away now if you don't want to be subjected to spoilers without consent.

However, given the fevered reaction to the latest episode of Game Of Thrones, it would be surprising if there was a single fan of the series who didn't already know that, in the programme broadcast last Monday, there is a scene that looks very much like a rape.

It looks like a rape, it sounds like a rape - there are sobbing sounds as the female character pushes away, cries of "no" and "not here" and "it's not right". And yet the series director doesn't call it a rape.

In the pseudo-mediaeval fantasy world of Westeros, rape isn't uncommon, of course, but what marks this particular assault out is not just the scene itself, which upset many fans, but the fact that director Alex Graves described it as "­consensual". The woman wanted it.

The sequence itself is upsetting on many levels. The character Jaime Lannister tries to comfort his sister, Cersei, as she grieves over the body of their son, Joffrey. He is rebuffed (following a possibly consensual kiss), tells her she's "hateful" and then forces himself on her.

Incest, rape and a corpse, all in one scene, were always going to make for a shocking sequence, even for Game of Thrones. But the problem is not so much the rape scene itself - though that has been an issue for fans of the show who have not liked seeing a relatively sympathetic character doing something so horrifyingly nasty - but rather Graves's interpretation of what was going on.

When asked about it, he said it "becomes consensual at the end because anything for [Jaime and Cersai] ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle".

This appears to be a way of saying either that women change their minds or that a bit of force can make a woman say yes. Rather bizarrely, he says that visual signs of this include she fact that she "holds on to the table leg" towards the end of the rape.

It's also an odd comment because the scene seems to be moving towards an unambiguous non-consensual climax and ends with Cersei crying, "It's not right, it's not right", as Jaime bears down on her on the ground, saying: "I don't care, I don't care."

Equally troubling is the fact that, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, the actor who plays Jaime, when asked if Cersei was raped, said: "Yes and no."

Part of the problem here is that the idea that what happens between Jaime and Cersei is not rape relies on a belief that some women like to be overpowered. It sees a woman's "no" as just part of the vocabulary of sexual domination and fantasy, or as an element within an erotic power struggle. It's a notion that keeps rearing its ugly head, and which recently was suggested by Martin Amis when he said women secretly liked to be ravished. "I talked to women about this," said the author, "and they said it is a good fantasy, especially when you're young, because if you enjoy it it's not your fault."

Amis may have been doing no more than acknowledging that, back in previous centuries, women liked sex but weren't allowed, by society, to acknowledge that fact.

However, in an era in which women are permitted both pleasure and desire - even if there is a fair amount of "slut-shaming" - this is surely redundant as an explanation or excuse. The only people who might want to cling to it are men who want to redefine their criminal behaviour as a consensual ravishing.

But still some fantasies linger. Online, the debate over the Game Of Thrones "rape scene" has revealed that there are some who are willing to argue that Cersei is not in fact raped, that she kissed Jaime so she was asking for it, or that she simply did not fight him off hard enough.

Comments like these are a pretty good indication of one of the reasons why women still find it so hard to report rape, why there are so few convictions and why, even now, victims often blame themselves.

On one level, though, we should be comforted. The reason the episode provoked a fuss is that most viewers and commentators recognised the rape as a rape. They had absolutely no doubt.

And Alex Graves has been treated with suspicion for his comments, and considered either dishonest or a bit of a dinosaur, out of tune with the sexual politics of the times.

The grand jury that is the general public is saying, quite clearly, that even in Westeros, no means no.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

229359