Back to IndieWire

Women & ‘Game of Thrones’: How ‘Breaker of Chains’ Broke the Bechdel Test

Women & 'Game of Thrones': How 'Breaker of Chains' Broke the Bechdel Test

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.

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.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox