First, I wish to apologize for this reviewer’s absence last weekend. While I regretted not being part of the madness that was the recap fallout after a certain psychopath king’s death by poison, it seems my reign was sabotaged as well. By that I mean I got pretty sick. I was unable to do much but sleep and watch Wolf of Wall Street for that entire Monday.
And it was particularly agonizing for me, because I was denied the opportunity to play one of my favorite games—I TOLD YOU SO. In my season premiere review, I correctly predicted that Joffrey would meet his end by poisoned wine. While I did not suspect Littlefinger of being in on the scheme, and did not link Ser Dontos’ necklace to the murder weapon, it seems I was correct in assuming that Lady Olenna Tyrell took part. PLUS, I unfortunately had the foresight to realize that Tyrion would be framed. While Cersei clearly thinks he’s the culprit (he has talked a BIG game as little bro over the years), I don’t think those involved truly did want him to take the fall. Lord Baelish clearly wanted Sansa whisked from the capital. Varys surmised his friend’s intentions asutely. Littlefinger sees Sansa as his key to power, and would not let anyone stop him. And while a husband does seem to put a damper on his plans to wed the heir to the North, it would have been impossible for him to know that Joffrey would have humiliated his uncle in the specific way he did—by forcing him to be his cup bearer. Getting that cup of wine into Tyrion’s hand was an unlucky coincidence. Lady Olenna pulling a crystal off of Sansa’s necklace and dropping it in the carafe of wine, however, was totally intentional. So, while I didn’t predict every detail, I am still clearly a God among Men and you should bow before me, or meet my wrath. And nah nah nah nah nah nahhhh.
Now onto the aftermath of the assassination. Like most of the work on this show, there was a healthy helping of awesome mixed in with cringy, horrible darkness. But while most weeks I will commend the integration of harshness in order to illustrate the wretchedness that is patriarchal society, this week had one scene that was completely and utterly unnecessary in its awfulness. And we’ll get there, as much as I’d like to pretend it didn’t happen. Thankfully we will get to bounce around the map again after spending thirty minutes at yet another excruciating wedding. George R.R Martin—most sadistic wedding planner EVER.
As mentioned, the drunken fool Ser Dontos promptly led Sansa’s escape from the capital. He rowed a dingy to a larger ship where he promised she’d be safe. He was all-around chivalrous. But then, Lord Petyr Baelish, who we last saw sailing for his new bride, Lysa Arryn, in The Eyrie, pulls Sansa aboard and has Ser Dontos shot by an arrow before receiving his pay. Turns out Ser Dontos’ bravery came at the rate of 10,000 gold coins and not out of reverence for Sansa. But according to Lord Baelish, “Money buys a man’s silence for a time, but a bolt through the heart buys it forever.” He’s a Westerosi OG.
Cersei mourns her son’s death in the sept (the Westeros version of a church), with her next youngest boy Tommen on her arm. Not quite sure how young this other blonde kid is, but he looks like 12 or 13. But immediately, his grandfather Tywin starts schooling him about what it means to be a good king. Simultaneously, he’s spitting on his dead grandson’s grave in the process. Tommen guesses holiness, strength and justice as being the prime values of a good king. But Tywin strikes those down by describing the cruel deaths of kings who exhibited those traits. Tommen, by process of elimination, realizes those kings lacked wisdom. And wisdom is knowing what you don’t know, and seeking the advice of those who do. Basically, listen to your grandpa and you won’t die. Probably true, but cold-blooded nonetheless. Thankfully, we’re spared the birds and the bees talk as they leave the sept, but from what I heard it sounded something like, “You need a queen to carry on the family name. Do you know how to have children? Well it’s pretty straightforward.” Remind me never to have sex with a Lannister. “Straightforward sex,” not for me.
*TRIGGER WARNING FOR THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED SEXUAL ASSAULT*
Let’s address the unpleasantness that is the next scene. So Jamie asks all the septons (see: priests) to leave Cersei alone. She’s clearly a distraught mother, doing some intense grieving. She is seeing red and asks Jamie to bring her their brother’s head. Jamie is rightfully appalled, and says Tyrion will stand trial. She simply wants vengeance, someone to die for what was done to her baby. She sobs in her brother’s arms and then seeks comfort in a kiss. Here’s where I want to interject. People who are grieving are often susceptible to impulsive behavior, and she clearly kissed him first, BUT just because she started with the affection does not mean that what follows is consensual. She clearly pulls away. From what I can tell, she can’t get past the fake hand. And while Jamie’s frustration that she either doesn’t find him attractive and/or has chosen not to sleep with him anymore is fair, Once again, he has no right to do what he does next. He curses the gods for making him love a hateful woman, and then he grabs her by the hair and kisses her forcibly. Unmistakably, Cersei pleads for him to stop. Jamie actively replies, no. He rips her dress, yanks off her underwear and pushes her to the ground. All the while she can be heard saying STOP. As he begins thrusting, she can even be heard saying, “It’s not right.” Jamie responds, “I don’t care.” Now, whether she is referring to his raping of her or having sex next to her dead son’s body in a church as “not right,” is up for debate. But at NO POINT does she give him complete and enthusiastic consent, and Jamie makes his disregard for her consent clear through by how he answers her objections. Jamie raped his sister. There’s no denying that.
The reason I am making this abundantly clear is because the way the scene is being discussed by fans, and by the creative staff of the show, is a much murkier conversation. In interviews, the episode director Alex Graves has answered that this was sex that started as not consensual and then turned consensual. This is hugely problematic, because it gives legitimacy to the idea of “blurred lines” of consent. There is no middle ground. If someone is not of consenting age, or is too intoxicated to consent, or does not give an emphatic and uncontested YES I WANT THIS, then the sex becomes rape. Even if Cersei did stop protesting after the scene changed (however she DID keep saying stop until we could no longer see), because he continued penetrating her when she had asked him to stop, whatever follows is rape. So not only is the decision by the writers and directors to film this as rape troublesome simply because of what it is depicting, but more importantly there seems to be questions as to whether they intended to show a rape or not. And if they don’t think Jamie raped Cersei, there is a fundamental issue of sexism at the root of this show. And that would be heartbreaking. Considering the number of woman characters who resist the misogyny and uproot patriarchal rules, how disheartening is it that their sexual agency is stripped from them, and their status as survivors of sexual assault unrecognized?
***UPDATE (4/22/14): Vulture was able to contact the episode’s director Alex Graves for comment about how “consensual” the sex was supposed to be. He is quoted as saying, “The consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, the other thing that I think is clear before they hit the ground is she starts to make out with him. The big things to us that were so important, and that hopefully were not missed, is that before he rips her undergarment, she’s way into kissing him back. She’s kissing him aplenty.”
*** Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched the scene several times now. Cersei IS fighting back. Whether she wraps her legs around him or not, I see a whole lot of resistance. Jamie is clearly the aggressor, they are not “making out.” He is forcing his lips on hers. Also, if she at some point “into it” then why is she saying, “Stop, stop!” Sure, she switches her language to “It’s not right!” and maybe she’s referring to having sex next to her son’s corpse, but Jamie isn’t considerate of any form of objection she makes. His blatant lack of concern for her consent is cemented by his “I don’t care.” It’s discomforting for me to hear Alex Graves (who is an exceptional director and completely capable of better work as displayed in “The Lion and the Rose”) suggest that it was through her body language that she gave her consent. It’s unsettling to think that any man would interpret something as inexact as body language into account when considering whether someone wants sex, especially when the words she uses contradicts his assumption. The legal system has already slighted women for centuries when it comes to serving justice in sexual assault cases. And Alex Graves’ justifications for calling what he captured “consensual” reflect that injustice.
*** I understand an artist’s impulse to defend his work, believe me. But when there is this much backlash, maybe you better start admitting that you were wrong. Or at the very least concede that maybe you don’t get to decide whether someone should feel violated or triggered by what you film. It’s scary to me that Alex Graves truly believes that what transpired “became consensual” but unfortunately men and women are socialized that way. Men are given the benefit of the doubt time after time. And if Mr. Graves can’t meet his fans and critics where they are and take responsibility, that’s disappointing. But maybe, I hope, this will be a teaching moment for the audience and an affirmation to sexual assault victims that not everyone sees this as acceptable.
I know this can be a divisive subject, and I’m sure some will have clicked on another review to avoid talking about sexual assault and get back to the brutal carnage and guilt-free nudity, but for those who did stick around, thank you. And if you wish to engage more in why the execution of this scene is upsetting on the level of sexism and in terms of betraying the narrative, there’s an eloquent and brilliant piece at AV Club by Sonya Saraiya you should check out.
While I have no knowledge of the books, learning that in the novel this scene was written with much less ambiguity around consent and that Cersei told Jamie she wanted it, felt like vindication for me. Because not only as someone who detests sexual violence did I feel betrayed, I felt wronged as a viewer. It was a decision that was inconsistent with Jamie’s characterization. He risked his own life, and ultimately sacrificed his right hand, to protect Brienne from being raped. Up until now, while uncomfortable, his love for his sister has been pure. He has shown more than lust, but unconditional love. Despite having to pretend his own sons and daughter are his nephews and niece, he has stood by Cersei. He dove headfirst into war to protect her reputation and solidify her claim as queen. But because she has denied him sex for a few weeks, he feels compelled to rape her? The third season spent much of Jamie’s screen time endearing us to him, shifting our perspective. Sure, he pushed a child out of a window, and he has no doubt done more dishonor beyond what we’ve witnessed, but we sympathized with him, we learned that he was more than just a “Kingslayer,” that he did have values he held high, and that he was capable of love and compassion. This scene taints all of that, and sours him forever. Now, maybe the show doesn’t discard this. Maybe they acknowledge his crime and we are treated to a nuanced portrayal where Jamie deals with his own guilt and tries to redeem the atrocity he committed. But if he and the show choose to hide from the unbearableness they brought upon us, then I will have lost respect for the character and the series.
Regrettably, I must segue to a fivesome. Ellaria Sand and Oberyn Martell are engaging with three prostitutes (male and female) when Oberyn begins to describe his feelings on his own bisexuality. He believes that in war, he sides with his native Dorne. But when it comes to what delights him, why should he have to pick sides? Well, at least the show exhibits some progressive attitudes toward sex, I suppose.
Though I do question why Ellaria’s bisexuality is not inquired about. I hope I’m just ultra sensitive this week, but it could be endemic of a wide societal attitude that all women are “bi-curious” (a term I loathe). This idea stems from heterosexual men who enjoy watching their female partners have sex with other women for their amusement. Heteronormativity seems to exist in this universe to the same degree as ours, so the omission could be a subtle commentary on our own society, but I’m pessimistic. While there has been men-on-men sex scenes in this show, there has been far more woman-on-woman activity which suggests the infiltration of the male gaze. Sorry to be a bummer, but it was hard not to notice the pervasive patriarchy this week. But credit where credit is due, they DID treat bisexuality with legitimacy for Oberyn instead of viewing it as indecision or perversion. But Ellaria should have been granted the same agency over her sexual identity, and not have been pushed to the background as Oberyn’s lover doing lesbian stuff in front of him as foreplay.
The five-way coitus in interrupted by Lord Tywin, who has a proposition for the Dornish prince. He offers Oberyn a seat on the Small Council and an arranged meeting with “The Mountain” (brother of The Hound and man responsible for raping and murdering Oberyn’s sister Elia) in exchange for serving as the third judge (in addition to himself and Mace Tyrell) at Tyrion’s trial. While the Prince is rightfully suspicious, his lust for revenge wins out and he agrees. I also found it interesting that Oberyn studied poisons at The Citadel. Is anyone else interested in a spinoff called The Citadel, where we learn what college is like in Westeros? I imagine the parties are pretty epic. Also loved Oberyn’s crack that the same people who believe Joffrey choked probably also believe the sky is blue because we live inside a blue-eyed giant. Witty, dashing and tempermental. Welcome aboard, Oberyn. Welcome aboard.
Lastly, we visit poor Tyrion in his cell. His squire Podrick smuggles in candles, sausage, cheese and quills and parchment. He informs Tyrion his trial will be in a fortnight and that he needs a list of witnesses. Tyrion asks Podrick to have Sansa testify and Pod reveals that she has fled. Tyrion knows she is no assassin, but worries he looks guiltier now. He contemplates who conspired to commit the murder and suspects, rightfully, Lady Olenna but also wonders if Tywin wanted Joffrey dead so he could advise the more agreeable and decent Tommen. He orders Podrick to leave the city before he is beheaded, too. Podrick wishes to stay and serve but Tyrion commands him. He sends him off with a fitting goodbye, “There has never lived a more loyal squire.”
While week one saw Arya embracing her cruel and vengeful side, this week showcased her wit and honor (or what little she’s held onto in spite of tragedy). As they water their horses, a man rides over the bridge and lays claim to the land. Arya apologizes and improvises a story where The Hound is her father, a widower and a warrior who lost his wife in a fire during the war. When the man asks who he fought for, Arya smartly answers House Tully. Considering where they are, it was a wise choice. The man invites them to try his daughter’s rabbit stew. Arya smiles, confident in her charms.
At dinner, The Hound is impatient with the prayer beforehand and slurps down stew before their host has finished. Arya again is apologetic and Maisie Williams shows off her range with a winning look of regret aimed at the daughter, followed by a “Really good!” pointing at the stew. While offended, the man can’t help but notice the size and strength his guest possesses. He admits he has hid some silver from the roaming bandits and offers The Hound some in exchange for protection and farm work. The Hound agrees. The next morning though, Arya wakes up to a squabble. Before she can intervene, The Hound has robbed the man of his purse of silver and conked him on the head. Arya is outraged, she can’t believe he’s okay with stealing from such a honest man. The Hound preaches back pragmatism. The man is too weak to defend himself, so someone else is just going to take his money anyway, and he’ll be dead by winter besides. No use wasting silver on a surely dead man. He also makes an insensitive crack about how many Starks need to beheaded before she realizes honor cannot be afforded in this world. It’s an interesting debate, and one raised often by the show. Is honor worth upholding when all around you honor is disregarded? Is it honorable to die for a cause, or more honorable to live at all costs?
Over at the dreary island, Ser Davos gets chewed out by Stannis for not assembling an army fast enough. With Joffrey dead, now would be the perfect time to pounce, but they’re not ready. Stannis also takes credit for the murder because he said Joffrey’s name when he threw the leech in the fire. What do you think are the chances he goes 3 for 3 and Balon Greyjoy bites the dust? Well, Davos is still skeptical and believes boots on the ground is the only way the war will be won. He suggests that sellswords from Essos might give them the edge. Stannis is too proud to pay for soldiers, he wants believers in his claim by his side. He threatens Davos by saying he’s running out of time.
Davos arrives late for his reading lesson with Princess Shireen. Disappointed, but eager to start, she fetches him a book to read which is about a First Sword of Braavos. Davos goes on a tangent about almost being beheaded by a First Sword. Then he mentions the Iron Bank of Braavos (to whom Tywin owes a large sum of money). Davos stops his gabbing and has an epiphany. He enlists Shireen to write a letter for him to the Iron Bank. We’re left hanging about what he’s concocting, but I bet he’s asking to borrow gold to buy his King an army. Remember Tyrion’s warning? If the Lannisters don’t pay their debt soon, the Iron Bank could start funding their enemies. Maybe that day of reckoning is coming.
Sam is taunted by Janos Slynt about his “whore,” referring to Gilly. This is definitely getting to him. He feels guilty for bringing Gilly there. He knows she is safer than at Craester’s keep, but now there are a hundred men thinking about sleeping with her. But this knowledge bothers Sam more than it does Gilly. She assures him she hasn’t been touched, but Sam still feels insecure that they are staring at her and thinking nasty thoughts. When she asks if he thinks about her, he doesn’t have the nerve to admit it. I have to wonder whether it’s possessiveness and jealousy instead of care and concern that motivates him to move her to a brothel in the neighboring village. He’s too cowardly to profess his love, so he tries to claim her as his without her consent. Once again, a character I had admiration for conducts himself in a not-so-subtly sexist manner. Her takes her to the brothel and makes the proprietor swear she won’t be sold for sex and will only serve as a maid, cook and nanny. But you got to wonder how long it will be till she’s forced into the sex trade, or raped by a patron. Is he doing her any favors? Is she safer? My feeling is no, and Gilly thankfully calls him out on it. She states this is only “better for him.” Before this I wondered if the show sided with Sam’s decision, so I was glad Gilly voiced her resentment.
The Night’s Watch gets word of a Wildling ambush of a nearby village. A poor boy who witnessed his parents be slaughtered is sent with the message that they were going to eat his mama and papa and that the crows would suffer the same. The Lord Commander realizes this a ploy to draw them out into the open land. Jon Snow confirms that they believe there are a thousand men guarding Castle Black when there are only a hundred. At that same time, rangers who had been imprisoned by the mutineers at Craester’s keep return to tell the tale. Jon Snow says they have to leave and kill the mutineers. If Mance and his men find the former rangers they’ll torture them until they reveal their low numbers. Silencing them might only buy them a little time, but without it they won’t stand a chance.
Finally, Daenerys reaches the walls of Meereen. They send out a “champion” to face one of her men. GreyWorm, Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jorah all volunteer, but they are too valuable to risk. So she allows Daario Naharis to serve as her champion. Meereen’s champion pisses in the sand declaring Dany’s army “cock-less.” Daario insists on not using a horse. Although they are faster, they are also dumber than men. When the Meereen champion charges on horseback, he throws a dagger in the horse’s eye. The horse crashes to the earth and the Meereen champion is on his knees when Daario beheads him. The masters look on stunned as Daario pulls out his own penis to piss on their land.
Daenerys takes advantage of her captive audience. She speaks only to the slaves. She tells them all how in Astapor and in Yunkai she has gathered thousands of now free slaves to support her cause. They stand behind her now. You see the masters slowly walking away from their slaves. She catapults barrels full of shackles, collars and chains into the city’s towers. And the broken restraints come crashing down. A slave picks up one of the severed collars, stares at it quizzically, and then looks back at his master before we cut to black. Will Daenerys inspire mutiny? Will the loyalty that has been seared into them be as easily broken as the chains in Astapor and Yunkai? My guess is Daenerys doesn’t acquire allegiance so easily this time. But will she show mercy on the slaves that resist her liberation? We’re about to find out how just and/or ruthless a leader she will be.
Well, that wraps up this week’s installment. I was disappointed in how rape was used for this particularly plot point. They regressed Jamie’s character significantly and completely shattered all the progress he’d made last season in saving Brienne from the very violence he subjected his own sister to, by his hands. The ambiguity around whether it was supposed to be filmed as a rape when force and lack of consent are so apparent, disturbs me greatly. Plus, the chauvinism extended to yet another man I had considered admirable before this episode when Sam sent Gilly away to work at a brothel against her will. His insistence she not be a prostitute does not excuse the fact he abandoned her because he didn’t want his brothers at the Wall ogling her anymore. Pretty damn selfish if you ask me. While Arya, Dany and Tyrion continue to pull at my heartstrings and inspire me with their developments and their personal codes, other characters seem to be descending into a less gray area morality. They have become just plain horrible, misguided and selfish. And I expect better. The show is capable of elegant nuance when it comes to the shadowy area where right melds into wrong. For Sam, but more so for Jamie, I see only wrong being done by them, AND to them from a narrative lens. Here’s hoping next week they are treated with more respect, and that they treat the women they profess to love with more respect as well.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a reader of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Please, by the light of the Seven, DO NOT DARE speak of spoilers—meaning any plot point or character revelation that hasn’t happened in the TV show—or I will show no mercy. If you are not an avid watcher of the show, I will be operating under the knowledge that you HAVE seen seasons 1-3. So any questions about previous episodes is acceptable. We will only be discussing events as they have unfolded on the show. I am not in the business of comparing two distinct works of art. I’m only here to discuss the merits of the stories as they have been told in the television medium. I respect the books as their own entity, please respect the show as its own thing. Basically any mention of “the books” will not be tolerated. Thanks.