Out of all the controversial scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation, none has drawn more fire than a sex scene between Cercei and Jaime Lannister in season four that many viewers considered rape. While standing over the corpse of their dead child, Jaime is overcome with emotion and pulls his sister to the floor where they have sex. As written by George RR Martin in the books, the incident was messed up but still explicitly consensual.
The show lacked that essential ingredient of clear consent on Cercei’s part, a fact that couldn’t be ignored even after the people who made the episode said they never meant to imply it was rape. And nearly a year later the scene still lingers in the minds of many, which is impressive considering how dark things get in Westeros on the regular.
To clear things up, Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau spoke to Entertainment Weekly in depth about the fallout from unintentionally filming a rape scene.
“It’s that terrible thing as a women — talking about something as horrendous as rape and dismissing it, which I’m not. But we never discussed it as that,” Headey told EW on the Thrones set in Dubrovnik. “It was a woman in grief for her dead child, and the father of the child—who happens to be her brother—who never really acknowledged the children is standing with her. We’ve all experienced grief. There’s a moment of wanting to fill a void, and that is often very visceral, physical. That, for me, is where she was at. There was an emotional block, and [her brother] was just a bit of a drug for her.”
Coster-Waldau was initially hesitant to talk about this subject, as is to be expected. Sitting in a bar in Spain, the actor said: “I’ve spoken to a lot of people [privately] about this. I haven’t spoken to the people who got the most upset, because they were online. Most people I spoke to got from the scene what we were trying to show — a very complicated relationship, and two people in desperate need for each other. All these emotions going through them, it was never intended to be something where he forced — it wasn’t a rape, and it was never intended to be. But it’s one of those things where you can’t [publicly] say ‘it wasn’t rape,’ because then everybody goes, ‘How can you say it wasn’t rape?!’ But that was definitely not the intention.”
It makes sense that the subject would resonate at a time when rape is a huge issue. Regardless of who is right or wrong (or if there even is a right or wrong here), the conversation itself is what’s important. People are watching the scene – a complicated scene featuring a complicated relationship – and they’re discussing what may take it too far and how.
It may seem a bit silly debating a sex scene set in an imaginary world, but if important issues didn’t cross over into pop culture sometimes, a whole segment of the population may never even consider them at all. And at a time like this, a conversation about consent doesn’t hurt anyone, least of all two fictional characters from a fantasy series.