In Defense of Jaime Lannister, or An Indictment of David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Morality is murky in Westeros. Since the very first episode when Ned Stark rendered the ultimate sentence to a Night’s Watch deserter, Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have put on a master class in painting right and wrong using only shades of grey.
Benioff has gone on record that he believes themes are for “eighth-grade book reports.” However, time and time again, he and Weiss present seemingly deplorable actions and force the viewer to ask whether the ends justify the means. We have been asked to consider why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner. We have been asked to consider whether sparing the Seven Kingdoms the wrath of dragon fire is worth the assassination of a teen orphan a world away. And we have been asked to consider whether it is honorable to slay a King whom you are sworn to guard when he gives the order to burn them all. That objective right and wrong are merely a fantasy in one of Sansa’s stories and that Machiavellian morality sits atop the Iron Throne seem to be reoccurring themes, whether Beinoff and Weiss want to admit it or not.
But these non-themes were laid to waste last Sunday when Ser Jaime Lannister ostensibly raped his sister, the (still) Queen Regent, Cersei Baratheon in sight of Gods, men and the still-warm body of the product of their incestuous love. Murder can be, and occasionally is, justified, both in Westeros and the Real World. Rape can never be justified. There are no shades of grey. People don’t forgive rape.
Without spoiling anything, suffice it to say that this scene is very different in the books. Although Cersei initially objects due to the obviously inappropriate setting of their rekindling and a fear of being discovered, she is very much a willing participant. So either Benioff and Weiss made a conscious decision to drastically depart from canon and forever place Jaime on the sex offender registry or they just plain fucked up. All evidence suggests the latter.
Alex Graves, director of the episode, has categorically denied the rape charges. He insists that the coitus was “consensual by the end.” But Cersei’s cries of “no” and “stop” obviously belittles this claim. There is no if, and or but. Jaime raped Cersei. If you need more convincing, check out Margaret Lyons’ Vulture article here. Her point about the inherent contradiction in the concept that rape can be “consensual by the end” is especially salient. Nevertheless, Graves was telling the story and Graves believes that the sex was consensual. Its clear, then, that Graves was not in on any plot to frame Jaime for rape but, rather, that he failed to communicate the consent. Like the King and the Hand, when the director takes a shit the showrunners must be there to wipe. If this was an error in storytelling it is Benioff and Weiss’ error to clean up.
Further, Benioff and Weiss have no motive to destroy Jaime’s character. Since his epic walkabout with Brienne began, great pains have been taken to rehabilitate Jaime to the point that the average viewer might have forgotten that he once tossed a highborn moppet from a tower window. We’ve seen Jaime cry. We’ve seen Jaime protect. We’ve seen Jaime put others before himself. Why go through all that work just to write him off as a rapist?
The simple answer is that they made a major mistake in their storytelling that leaves Jaime holding the proverbial Wedding Goblet. Benioff and Weiss are typically and deservedly showered with praise for painting a world that lacks true heroes and villains and questions the nature of right and wrong. But now, Jaime finds himself charged with the one crime that has no moral grey area and that viewers are not like to forgive. But the sin that many have attributed to Jaime should lie with the two men responsible for telling his story, who carelessly presented a scene that should have been handled as delicately as Volantene silk. A trial by combat has erupted all over the internet and I, for one, am willing to act as Jaime’s champion. Benioff and Weiss must champion their own cause. But here, the only way to succeed may just be to admit their own failure.
-Arlow M. Linton
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