May 25, 2014

Reality vs Fantasy in Game of Thrones

Posted in Pop Culture at 11:08 pm by chavalah

Cersei and Jaime Lannister, as played by Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

Cersei and Jaime Lannister, as played by Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

So I had this idea, awhile back, to do a “mid-season check-in” for year 4 of Game of Thrones. Flash forward a little bit, and suddenly we are 3/4ths of the way through. 😛 But, as this is Memorial Day Weekend, and since there is no new episode tonight, I figure why not now?

This is the first time I’m writing about Game of Thrones in the middle of a season, and about a non-religious topic. The event that first grabbed my attention this year is the event that first grabbed everyone’s attention—(Purple Wedding notwithstanding; I should amend to say, the first controversial event,) wherein Jaime and Cersei Lannister engage in sex at a viewing of their dead son.

In the book, it was not rape. On the show, we found out from those in charge, it was not meant to be rape, but instead a violent, but ultimately consensual, act. It came across to a large chunk of viewers, including myself, as a definite rape—Cersei saying “stop,” and Jaime saying “I don’t care.” It’s a unique controversy when it comes to the show, imho. We book purists like to get our knickers in a twist, sometimes justifiably (I’m just saying, they completely altered the character of Catelyn Stark, and ergo erased a lot of the pertinent themes about being a mother in this patriarchal society,) and sometimes ridiculously (“peachgate” and “only Cat” vs “your sister” come to mind.) But you don’t have to be a book reader to recognize signs of assault. Going by reviews, and how long the issue stayed relevant in pop culture news, the showrunners experienced their first widely acknowledged failure in production.

The strange thing, for me, is how well that scene might have worked as a rape. Fandom will agree or disagree with this point in a multitude of ways, but personally, I found that it fulfilled what rape scenes in serious fiction are meant to fulfill—it informed Cersei’s character, as well as gave the audience a non-titillating example of standard, violent sexism in a patriarchal society. Jaime, IMHO, like most men in longstanding relationships with women, felt entitled to her. “Why must I love a hateful woman?” he lamented, seeing himself as the victim of their relationship before attempting to take back power for himself. In the next episode, Cersei is angry and distant with him. In the one following, she tells another character, Oberyn, who is trying to vouch for the safety of her daughter, that “everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.”

Except for the incident with the not/rape, I always felt like the showrunners and I were on the same page with Cersei, moreso than I was with the book series’ author, in fact. While they made Catelyn into a more one-note character, fretting fruitlessly in the corner when she wasn’t dead set on violent revenge, Cersei became more complicated, more sympathetic as a lonely and abused woman, even as her victimization led to villainous behavior. The scene between Oberyn and Cersei is one of my favorites—I saw clearly that she was genuinely concerned for her daughter, Myrcella, yet she also wanted to use these feelings to sway Oberyn against her wronged brother, Tyrion. A couple of episodes later, Oberyn and Tyrion, in conversation, confirmed this for me. “Making honest feelings do dishonest work is one of her many talents,” Tyrion says. Overall, I think the writing of Cersei, plus Lena Headey’s haunted portrayal, is a triumph in showcasing how Westerosi patriarchy turned her into a victim-come-villain.

Is Game of Thrones/ASOIAF merely an escapist fantasy, with way too many pornos in the former, or is it a series of reflections that are congruent with the real world? This is another controversial issue for fandom; I come down pretty strongly with the latter. Around the time of the controversial rape scene, almost 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by militants to be sold as slave brides, proving that sexist oppression in patriarchal societies is still alive and well. As Daenerys Targaryen argued with her advisors and new subjects about how to deal with the slavers who crucified 163 children, a condemned murderer’s botched execution has US states rethinking how they administer the controversial death penalty.

And just yesterday, a man in California killed 6 people before shooting himself because he felt entitled to more attention from the opposite sex than he got. Sexism, entitlement and the repercussions of patriarchal society should exist in fiction because they exist in the real world. In Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, Petyr Baelish had his lover poison her husband, and then took steps to start a war that destroyed families, lives and the countryside, all because he felt wronged by society for not “getting his dream girl.” In the last episode, he told said dream girl’s teenage daughter, “in a better world…you might have been my child” before putting the moves on her, too.

Look, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade if they’d rather see this franchise as escapist fantasy, or more fascinating for it’s mythological worldbuilding and prophecies. There’s more than enough room for all of us in Westeros and Essos. 😛 But I remain steadfast that the best and most compelling fiction, certainly the type that I would dedicate all of this time and attention to, is supposed to give us a fuller picture of the real world, through characters we can relate to more than we can to names in the news. And in analyzing how they are affected by these issues of prejudice, sexism and patriarchy, hopefully we will have more empathy for the real world, and more of a drive to fix what needs fixing.

I’ll see you again next month at the end of season four. “Game of Thrones” currently airs on HBO Sundays at 9 pm.



  1. […] my last entry, I talked about how Game of Thrones/ASOIAF relates to real-world social issues. From a different […]

  2. […] my last entry, I talked about how Game of Thrones/ASOIAF relates to real-world social issues. From a different […]

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