How am I Supposed to Feel About Jaime Lannister Now?
Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. A thousand others. Franchises first nurtured via the printed word, drawing in millions of readers and their vivid, and varied, imaginations before inevitably being translated to moving pictures and giving voice to said millions of readers who then shout in unison: “That’s not how I pictured it when I read it!”
Let’s get this out of the way real quick: adapting a popular franchise is the most thankless job in Hollywood. Directing a series or film of an established story is as rewarding as mowing the lawn. Nobody thanks you when you do it right. Shit, everyone read that book. Whaddya want, a medal or something? Besides, you didn’t even come up with this story. You’re a trained, camera-pointing monkey. So shut up and film the show I’ve been waiting for years to see, monkey. But if you mow down those prize azaleas, damn right you’re going to catch hell over it. And getting it right is excruciatingly difficult. How do you trim a slog of a conversation that lasted 18 pages in the source novel down to a couple minutes that not only doesn’t lose the audience’s attention but still contains the necessary import and gravitas and tone that advances the story juuuuust right? How do you juggle dozens of characters? Who needs their time in the spotlight? Who isn’t really necessary to the plot? Which actors and actresses will pair properly with the available roles? How on earth do you pull this off?
Now let’s say you’re tasked with adapting Game of Thrones. Everything I mentioned in the above paragraph fits here, each a separate obstacle to success. But GoT carries with it an extra really big problem. The story isn’t even finished yet. In fact, the infamously-slow author behind it all still has a couple books to write and has only granted you a cursory sum-up of how he expects his epic to wrap up. And millions of fans really feel for what you’re going through. Just kidding – this is a Big Deal. This was their “gateway book”; the first time they ever tackled an epic novel. They remember it like it was yesterday. It was the 7th grade. Jessica Landemeyer let me borrow her dog-eared copy in Geography class and she was so dreamy and when I read about Sansa I thought about Jessica and if you don’t get this right you’ll have ruined my childhood, you bastard!
This is what the GoT showrunners (and everyone else in the adaptation game) have to contend with on a weekly basis. That the show has been so successful and attracted so many fans (including myself) is a testament to their talents, undoubtedly. I have never read the novels on which the show is based and, as such, settle neatly into that GoT fan demographic that outlets such as the AV Club lovingly labels “newbies”. I am considered to be “new” to the series, as there is still a healthy amount of source material for the series to mine, novels that were written years and years ago, none of which I’m aware of. That, as well as my role as pseudo entertainment critic, gives me a helpful vantage point from which to watch the show. I am not beholden to expectations. Everything is new to me.
So how should I feel about Jaime Lannister at this point? Please, tell me. If you’ve read the Martin novels, tell me. If you haven’t, but you’ve got a good idea, tell me. Because I have no idea.
I’m being flippant, I know, but I honestly don’t know who this man is because the show doesn’t know who this man is, or who he should be, or who he is trying to be. As you’ve probably heard by now, if you’re a fan of the series, Jaime and Cersei Lannister surrendered (again) to temptation and got it on in last night’s episode. Next to their dead bastard son, no less. That’s the short version. The book version (and slightly longer one) is much the same: two incestuous siblings, long apart, have reunited. Both are different now due to the trials they separately endured. Things are no longer how they Used To Be. Then their secret son is poisoned. Among a swirl of strong, conflicting emotions, they re-consummate their creepy love on the floor of the sept where their dead bastard king child lay in state. It’s taboo and wrong on several levels, but both characters are put through tragedies that create a situation in which they are revisited and overcome by their old weaknesses, despite their attempts to avoid them.
In last night’s ‘Breaker of Chains’ (an ironic double meaning, whether intentional or not), Jaime’s attempt to put the moves on his sister in the sept was briefly (and I mean BRIEFLY) reciprocated before Cersei firmly pumped the brakes on the whole unpleasant situation. In response, Jaime straight-up raped a resisting Cersei, who begged off and said “no” repeatedly before and during the act. Now, I said that I’m not familiar with the novels, but I’m not averse to brief forays into certain storylines via Wikipedia when I need to, you know, write a piece such as this one. And I can tell you, while giving nothing away, that the Jaime/Cersei tryst in the sept is a fairly important moment in both characters’ arcs.
That moment, for all intents and purposes, has now vanished in the television series. So why the change? Jaime Lannister was introduced to viewers as a sleaze and a cad, who likes boning his sister. He pushed a young boy out of a tower window to what he had to assume would be the boy’s death so he could continue boning his sister. Basically the worst sort of person.
But the show has taken great pains to attempt to walk back many of Jaime’s negative traits, to show that he might not be that horrible of a guy. The loss of his hand, his humiliating defeat and capture by Brienne, and laying his life on the line to protect her in ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ slowly but surely turned one of the most despicable people in a series known for truly despicable people into more of a conflicted anti-hero than his former role as mustache-twirling villain. And then you come to find out that the hated ‘Kingslayer’ basically saved thousands of lives even while Westeros’ weird hang-up for turning on guys who kill kings despite said kings being insane and tyrannical crackpots has turned him into a permanent pariah. Sure, the guy would do anything to bang his sister, and he comes from a family of schemers and creeps, but he’s not all bad. Sometimes, character development can be a pretty cool thing to behol-…
Eh, scratch that. The dude just raped his sister because she didn’t put out. Two seasons of goodwill down the drain. For what possible purpose does it serve to shove Jaime Lannister this far off the beaten path compared to the source material? I can only think of two reasons. Either my fellow television viewers ‘in the know’ are supposed to be tantalized by the reason for this departure from the source material or we’re supposed to be tantalized by rape. It had better be the former, even though neither are even close to an astute narrative decision. ‘Chains’ director Alex Graves didn’t do himself any favors by flat-out denying that Jaime raped Cersei. Call me an amateur when it comes to understanding when rape is rape, but I’m thinking that when one of the parties involved repeatedly says “no” and sex happens anyway, that’s a rape, mister. And to say otherwise is monstrous and dehumanizing. So forget about ‘good Jaime’ who saved Brienne from the bear in Harrenhal. Forget about the ‘good Jaime’ who revealed to Brienne his heroic act of killing the mad and homicidal King Aerys and saving King’s Landing at the expense of his reputation. That Jaime lives on in the book, but the Jaime that millions of us see in the HBO series can never be that person again. He’s a sister-banger and, later, a sister-raper, once his sister tired of banging him; a loathsome monster given a golden opportunity to change and found wanting.
Disconcertingly, this isn’t the first time GoT has had a problem toeing the fine line between portraying the effects of misogyny and seemingly reveling in it. As pointed out by the AV Club’s Sonia Saraiya in an excellent article posted earlier today, Daenerys was not raped by Khal Drogo in the novels either. Rather, the 14-year-old experiences some clumsy “is this ok?” advances from her new barbarian husband before the deed is done. Is 14 a reasonable age of consent? Yeah, probably not. But the series steamrolls this iffy cultural taboo by just making it an old-fashioned, subtext-free rape. And then D falls in love with her rapist shortly thereafter, because as all women know, nothing says I love you like some rough, unwanted doggie-style plowing. Love stemming from tentative and scary arranged marriages can happen. It’s at least believable. Love stemming from rape, I’m guessing, sees a lower percentage of success.
Besides the obvious creep-factor of inserting rapes where they shouldn’t exist, the Jaime Lannister swerve (when coupled with the earlier departure of the Daenerys/Drogo relationship, pun not intended) is the first major crack of GoT‘s previously-unmarred facade. Apparently, at least one director of the ultra-popular series is unable to tell if a really, really obvious rape is, in fact, a rape. It’s an execrable opinion, akin to saying “she didn’t scream loud enough so she secretly wanted it,” and one which should be getting much more publicity than it has. It tempts me into wanting to ask Mr. Graves if we can expect more of these ‘rebooted rapes’ later in the series. Is this what the televised Westeros is slowly becoming? A consequence-free Bad Boys club where the cleverest woman’s stratagem can be overcome by a quick, handy rape? Perhaps The Hound can trade bodily fluids with underage Arya as a pleasant fare-thee-well once their particular journey is over. If she doesn’t kill him in the act then, gosh, maybe she wanted it all along! Sansa’s just begging to be raped by Littlefinger. You can tell. And don’t even get me started with Margaery. She’s a Queen without a King, so she’ll get itchy before long and I bet Tywin still has a rape or two left in those tired old bones.
Game of Thrones is more complex than that. It cannot, and should not, be boiled down to simple and silly treatises on social mores or humanistic expectations. It’s an epic, populated by complicated characters and their complicated lives, everyone either trying to make it to the top, trying to make it to tomorrow, or somewhere in between. Jaime Lannister was introduced to us as a bad man who did bad things. Over the past couple of seasons, the show then told us that we had him all wrong… right up until he raped his sister last night. So how am I – how are we – supposed to feel about Jaime Lannister now? I couldn’t tell you, and I’m not sure the showrunners could either.