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by Ben Travers
April 22, 2014 11:54 AM
14 Comments
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Women & 'Game of Thrones': How 'Breaker of Chains' Broke the Bechdel Test

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie Lannister, Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones" HBO

HBO's massive medieval hit "Game of Thrones" gets plenty of attention for a variety of qualities. Its shocking twists, gruesome deaths, and many battle scenes -- sometimes all arriving at once -- are trademarks. Heck, Indiewire even has a weekly power ranking of who's most likely to die next. In the midst of all this madness are the oft-ignored women who populate the show. From Daenerys Targaryen to Cersei Lannister to Sansa Stark to the countless naked prostitutes, the women of "Game of Thrones" play an integral role in a show that often treats them like pieces of meat. While gender inequality may be an accepted custom of the invented time period -- Daenerys is certainly working to change that -- it isn't for the viewers who watch every week. This column will serve as a recap and analysis of what Daenerys, Cersei, Sansa, and the lesser known ladies go through each week, touching on issues brought up by the characters' actions and treatment via one, simple jumping off point: the Bechdel Test.

In case you haven't heard, the Bechdel Test gets its name from the American cartoonist Allison Bechdel and provides a means of judging a film or television show based on three basic questions: Does it have at least two women characters identified by their names? Do they talk to each other? And is there conversation about something other than a man? "Game of Thrones" obviously passes the first requirement, but has been hung up from time to time on the latter two. This week's episode, "Breaker of Chains," did feature an early scene in which two women spoke to each other (huzzah!). 

Margaery Tyrell and her grandmother, Lady Olenna, discuss Joffrey's death and what it means for Margaery's future. Is she queen? Is she cursed? Her husbands keep dying, after all. Olenna reassures her of her improved status, both in general and in regards to not living with Joffrey. "You may not have enjoyed watching him die, but you enjoyed it more than you would have enjoyed being married to him," she says. Though the conversation turns to political scheming in the end, it all revolves around her husband(s) and therefore men. Whether or not this scene merits the episode a passing grade is moot considering the egregious actions in a scene forever labeling the episode as a failure (to say the least). 

After only two days after its airdate, the discussion of Cersei's rape has drawn almost as much attention as Joffrey's death in the previous week's episode. Donna Dickens at Hitfix said "Breaker of Chains" broke fans hearts, while Inkoo Kang at Indiewire's own Women in Hollywood blog said the show "gave viewers reason to severely doubt [the showrunners] judgement when it comes to rape." Sonia Saraiya at The A.V. Club was quick to point out which aspects of the episode differed from the book. While Cersei and Jaime did have sex in front of their son's corpse in George R.R. Martin's version (which, really, is disturbing enough), the sex was consensual. Cersei initially told him not to, but seemed to be overwhelmed by her love for Jaime or at least her desire for him at that very moment. It's far from a perfect scene in terms of respect, but it looks like an after-school instructional video when compared to HBO's version.

Director Alex Graves has gone on the record when talking to Slate saying the act was not technically rape, claiming the "sex becomes consensual by the end." But Slate was right to call the longtime "Game of Thrones" director's claims "nonsense." When a woman repeatedly cries out "stop it!" during intercourse that began with her begging him not to do it, she continually resists throughout, there's no other way to interpret it: This was rape. It was horrific. And it did not belong in the episode, as we discussed in the initial review of this installment.

Instead of defending the show's characters, Graves should have stood up for its character.

Graves' reasoning as to why the act was consensual is because "anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle." While still a misguided statement, it makes you wonder what the consequences for Jaime's actions will be -- if anything. Criticwire's Sam Adams argues that Cersei's rape was a way of "burning his bridges" with the Lannister family and wonders whether "a permanently tarnished soul [...] will weigh upon him [if at all]."

Considering Graves doesn't believe it's a rape, wouldn't it make more sense for Jaime to simply move on with his life as if nothing has changed? Will Cersei? Could she? You would have to believe her relationship with her brother is over, but that's not nearly enough. Graves isn't a producer or writer on the show, but as the scene's director you would imagine his view reflects that of the showrunners as well. 

Therein lies the concerning issue in "Game of Thrones." Graves' statement is too oblivious to warrant careful consideration, and some fans -- not all, mind you -- are quite loyal to their favorite shows. Everyone wants to defend something or someone they love when they're attacked, deserving or otherwise. Graves' statement may be convincing enough to woo some avid fans over to his side, to see this not as a violation of Cersei's basic human rights but some sickening choice she made to cry out against her attacker when she really wanted him to keep going. Even if it convinces no one, which seems reasonable considering its obvious flaws, Graves has cast "Game of Thrones" in a dark, deeply concerning shadow of ignorance. He's given it a perspective of blind denial to a topic that has plagued the show for years. Instead of defending the show's characters, he should have stood up for its victim in this scene: "Stop it" means exactly that.

14 Comments

  • JACKSON | May 20, 2014 3:10 PMReply

    Could rape possibly occur in a world such as GOT? Gee, Ben, y'think? How positively medieval.
    It's part of the STORY -- no one's forcing you or anyone else to watch if they'd prefer not to. Remember the OFF button on your remote next time, while I recall the X on my IndieShlock browser...

  • Mark | April 23, 2014 5:12 PMReply

    Here's the thing. In the book, it was clearly not rape. And Jaime gets to keep his merit badge that says "Almost Redeemed", which helps as we follow him in his journey. The show basically ruins that.

  • DarkSoliton | April 23, 2014 3:46 PMReply

    Okay, hmm, let's see...Cersei sided with her father in public, by laughing along in the mocking of The Red Wedding where he paid for a slaughter of Sansa's family, and that Rob should be murdered and beheaded, as well as his Direwolf Greywind, Catelyn was murdered, Talisa *pregnant* was stabbed to death in her obvious condition, all those people with Rob's party were murdered...
    Cersei never cared one iota that her inbred psychotic son was killing prostitutes so brutally.
    She's also tormented a young naive teenager, assumedly once her daughter-in-law, with mental and emotional cruelty.
    She threatened Margaery any number of times...
    She also wanted all of Robert's 'bastards' (like Gendry) to be eliminated in a rash of murders.
    She's tormented Jaime psychologically, and he's had to be her 'breeder' without ever being able to father her children or claim them as his own in her continuing bloody masquerade of wannabe Queen. And guess who would have suffered if Ned had brought that fact into light? Not dear delicate scheming viper Cersei! It would have been Jaime's head on a pike! Yes, he shoved Bran over that wall, and that was wrong and brutal, but overall, I'd say he's suffered for the impossible love of his twin and at that, a cold-hearted woman incapable of compassion for anyone other than herself. I think the question of her being 'raped' is moot... this isn't real life, this is a mirror of our own messy, convoluted medieval and modern--history in a nutshell.
    And Cersei is not a victim.

  • LS | April 23, 2014 2:59 PMReply

    Okay this just BEYOND lazy journalism now, but I get it, intentionally misinterpreting things to create outrage click bait is easier than an actual rationale discussion.

    " Director Alex Graves has gone on the record when talking to Slate saying the act was not technically rape"
    "Considering Graves doesn't believe it's a rape"
    He never said this. He is on record calling it rape. So why the hell are you propagating these lies?

    "And then he succeeds, and then Jaime comes in and he rapes her." His direct quote. Found here: Hollywoord reporter
    game-thrones-director-controversial-scene-


    He said ""Well, it becomes consensual by the end", and this is perhaps talking about a cut of the scene we didn't see as the interview was conducted before it aired, also this quote is provided absent of a leading question, he could be talking about the books. But even if not, saying it becomes consensual by the end doesn't equate to the previous part not being rape as he clearly states that it is. You're in the wrong for making that connection.

    Now on to the abundance of idiotic journalists trying to dictate the creative paths of characters none of them are writing or have any idea of the arcs that are planned out for them. You need to realise you have no power here, and I'm glad for that.

    "And it did not belong in the episode, as we discussed in the initial review of this installment."

    You don't decide what belongs in the show, why are you under the impression you can force other people creative visions in to what you want? You have no idea about the future of these characters or what this scene will serve or be a catalyst for, so for you to make such an arrogant statement as if it were fact just shows your lack of reasoning skills.

  • Curtis | April 22, 2014 2:45 PMReply

    I was sickened by the scene with Jaimie and Cersei, just as I was sickened by the scene of the Thenn leader telling the little boy he would eat his parents. This is what you sign up for when you watch Game of Thrones. We learned from the "Red Wedding" that as sick as the book could get, the show will make it darker.

    One thing, in all of the outrage about the third episode for this season, that everyone has forgotten is the conversation Oberyn Martell had with "Lady" Cersei and her father, Tywin in the second episode of this season, right after Joffrey's wedding, where he calls out the Lanisters and their values:

    "People everywhere have their differences. In some places the high born frown upon those of low birth; in other places the rape and murder of women and children is considered distasteful. What a fortunate thing for you, former Queen Regent, that your daughter, Myrcella, has been sent to live in a latter sort of place."

  • jawsnnn | April 22, 2014 2:39 PMReply

    I am missing the part where the director's or the reviewers' interpretation of the fact that a rape indeed occurred makes any difference to the overall narrative of the show. I mean, what does it matter? These are people who smiled in cold blood when others were beheaded, raped and tortured for no good reason. Suddenly a rape makes Cersei Lannister the champion of "No means no" brigade?
    These are fictional characters living in a violent world where there is no regard for human lives or morals. I think the scene achieved what it set out to do - Jaime's and Cersei's relationship has been doomed without hope of resolution. What Graves, Hitflix, or Allison Bechdel thinks of it makes no difference.
    Also, I am not rooting for Jaime Lannister here (the guy had revenge sex besides his dead son, rape or not), but I really think that considering Cersei's characterstic traits - delusions of extreme power and bitchiness - and her halfhearted "this is wrong" reactions to the act... this really does not qualify as a rape.

  • SowZ | April 22, 2014 11:18 PM

    Dude, whether a woman is Adolf Hitler incarnate has zero effect on whether or not she was raped. If the Devil himself were pushed off a bridge, I wouldn't say, "Well, he was really the worst, so this doesn't actually qualify as being pushed off a bridge." Cersei's evil has no bearing on what happened. Implying it does is exactly what rape shaming is.

    She struggled and said to stop the entire time. There is absolutely no definition of rape not defined by pure misogyny that would keep this from being totally rape. Don't let your hatred for Cersei and love of the show cloud of the judgement.

  • Rebecca | April 22, 2014 2:13 PMReply

    I think it is somewhat naive to slander the director for this scene; perhaps if you understood the characters, and the entire show for that matter, in more depth you'd realise that this by no means has any connection to current moral ethics but is instead a source of entertainment. I don't believe this scene has a sinister intention at all; but willing the display of such issues to be hidden will not do anything to hinder them from happening in real life. I noticed that there is no comment on the other 'controversial' topics included in the show...hmmm...

  • SowZ | April 22, 2014 11:19 PM

    But the director saying that rape isn't rape because the woman enjoyed it absolutely is an ethical issue. And a serious one.

  • Emmanuel Tannoux | April 22, 2014 1:13 PMReply

    This show is a depiction of a seudo-medieval world that has never existed (it has magic and dragons, remember?). It also has a unique value-system that might resemble or not the one we had back in middle ages. It's absolutely dull to judge anything related to ethics in the content of the show with the point of view of the present, even worse, looking at it as if it happened in real life. You might judge how the show speaks about current society an its odds choices of amusement in TV. In my case, I never saw the scene as rape untill media brought it up. I still think it was a extremely wicked sexual interaction, but I don't think the word "rape" fits here.

  • RHDW | April 22, 2014 12:49 PMReply

    This show has given us rape, murder and incest LITERALLY since episode 1 but for some reason show outrage if they're in the same room! It's like people suddenly expect or even want this world to play by normal rules which is backwards. You want dull homogeneity? There's plenty out there for you. In the meantime, keep your whining to yourself.

  • Abraham | April 23, 2014 6:38 AM

    I couldn't agree with you more Emmanuel. And though the show's story telling is birthed and raised within pseudo-medieval world that bares little to no moral intelligence let alone regards to it , the interpretation however of the themes of war, survival, gender, ethics but to mention a few are being done in modern day 21st century. The premises of judgment will be based on these influences because modern generation has developed a thinking that is far above such a time when women were considered trophies/objects of pleasure and no matter how the director wants to spin the story, he cannot absolutely control the audience's interpretations/expectations.

  • No | April 22, 2014 12:38 PMReply

    So, once again, people are upset about the sex --nudity, incest, homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and rape--but not about the violence? So, American.

  • Joe | April 22, 2014 12:49 PM

    Well, the rape is technically violent. But I get your point.