Monday, January 23, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 4.3: "Breaker of Chains"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.

4.3 “Breaker of Chains”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Alex Graves

This is a complicated episode, and not just in the fallout from the Purple Wedding. A lot of stuff happened (or didn’t happen) outside the episode, in post-episode interviews and criticism, and even on the DVD. So I’ll save the scene that caused all the kerfluffle for last. (Something to look forward to.)

The episode starts immediately after the last episode cut, with Cersei yelling for Tyrion’s arrest and demanding to know where “his wife” is. Tywin orders the capital locked down while Dontos and Sansa are running for it; they make it to a rowboat and head out to sea. Hours later (night has fallen and fog is rolling over the sea), they reach a ship, and (surprise!) it’s Petyr’s. Dontos having served his narrative purpose, Petyr has him killed, then explains to Sansa why he’s her only hope while standing uncomfortably close to her for a forty-something-year-old man talking to a fourteen-year-old girl. He explains the whole plot to her, which might actually have been easy to miss, considering how hard it is to spot the missing jewel on the necklace even when you’re looking for it. Also, I think the amethyst hairnet might have made more sense, because the jewels on the necklace are glass, so did they hide the poison inside them? Does that mean Olenna had to smash the jewel to get it out?

Olenna discusses what happened with Margaery, establishing that Margaery had nothing to do with it and her freaking out at the wedding was genuine. I kind of love the mentor relationship they’ve established here, with Olenna teaching Margaery to play the game of thrones and assuring her that she’s doing fine. Tommen should be easier to manipulate than Joffrey, she’s told. (Easier and way creepier.)

Arya and Sandor are still traveling, which gives the writers a chance to actually pay attention to the smallfolk for a minute and show what’s happening to them given all the wars and raiding and other chaos going on in the Riverlands. I guess some of this is better than none of this. When they shifted Brienne’s and Jaime’s respective storylines, we lost a lot of “look what war does to those who aren’t playing your stupid game of thrones.”

Further north, Jon is the Only Smart Person at the Wall™ and everyone else is Just Stubborn and Doesn’t Like Jon Snow’s Ideas™®. Jon says they need to go take care of the mutineers at Craster’s Keep in case Mance stops there and asks them about the defense of the Wall, a number that Jon wildly inflated. This whole plan doesn’t really make any sense to me, as what’s most likely to happen if Mance’s army comes upon the mutineers is they’ll just kill them all; and if they try to question them, the mutineers will tell them to fuck off and then they’ll kill them all; and if they torture them, they won’t be able to trust the information they get and they’ll kill them all. So, basically, Jon’s plan throws good money after bad and risks men they could be using to defend the Wall when Mance does get here. And considering that Olly’s village got attacked and they know that not only the group Jon crossed with but now also a whole bunch of Faux-Thenns are south of the Wall, they’re going to need every man they can get.

Oh, right, this episode also introduces us to Olly, who is a terrible character and should never have been introduced in the first place. I’ll definitely be telling you why in more detail as we get to know him better (as much as you can know a one-dimensional character).

Meanwhile, Sam is trying to protect Gilly from the men of the Watch by taking her to Mole’s Town, where the men of the Watch go to get their freak on, because that makes sense. Gilly’s super angry about this whole plan but goes along with it anyway because she loves Sam even when she doesn’t like him very much.

Davos is trying to put together an army for Stannis to go defend the Wall, and it’s not going well. Stannis is mad because Joffrey’s dead and he’s not in a position to take advantage of it. But he doesn’t want to hire sellswords because he’s Stubborn and Honorable (or something). The discussion makes Davos late for his reading lesson, and we get a super cute moment between Davos and Shireen ("you need to learn to read so you don't keep saying ka-niggit" "that was one time") during which Davos has an epiphany and asks Shireen for her help with a letter to the Iron Bank of Braavos.

Dany reaches Meereen, where the champion of the city rides out and challenges her; after some debate about who’s the most expendable, she sends Daario out to fight him. (I miss Strong Belwas.) Daario does some grandstanding and then kills the Meereenese champion’s horse with a thrown knife, then the champion when he skids to a halt at Daario’s feet. Dany then somehow magically projects her voice across several hundred yards of open space and up to the top of the city walls to tell the slaves that she’s here to help them be free, then pelts everyone with broken slave collars to prove that she’s already freed the slaves of Yunkai and Astapor. The slaves start to get ideas.

That leaves us with one of the more controversial scenes in the show to date, though it’s been overshadowed by what happens to Sansa next season. While Tommen is visiting his brother’s body, Tywin explains to him why Joffrey failed at being king and promises to teach him how to be a better one, then essentially takes him away from Cersei and leaves. Jaime passes them on his way in and kicks everyone out so he can have a private moment with Cersei and their son’s body. Cersei wants Jaime to kill Tyrion, which Jaime absolutely does not want to do, and she cries and kisses him, but then pulls away from his golden hand when he touches her with it.

This is where everything goes completely wrong.

Jaime grabs Cersei by the hair, yanks her head back, and kisses her again. She pushes him away and says “not here,” but he tears her underskirt while pulling at it. She says “not here” and “stop it”; he says “no” and pushes her to the floor. She says “it’s not right” and keeps saying “it’s not right” as Jaime penetrates her; he says “I don’t care” a couple of times and the scene cuts.

As it’s shot and presented, this is pretty unequivocally rape. Not everyone on the production team saw it that way. In the “Inside the Episode” featurette, Benioff refers to it as rape. Alex Graves, on the other hand, went on an interview tour saying it was not rape, that he hadn’t shot it as rape, that it “becomes consensual by the end,” and that there are clues in the scene that it wasn’t rape—Cersei kissing Jaime, wrapping her legs around him, and gripping the altar cloth. Unfortunately, the editing loses her wrapping her legs around him, the altar-cloth grip is ambiguous, and even though she does kiss him, she keeps saying no. Benioff and Weiss said nothing more about it—actively refusing interview requests regarding the scene—until nearly a year later, when asked about it in an open Q&A forum. Weiss sits there with a deer-in-the-headlights look while Benioff stumbles over himself admitting that it’s a disturbing scene and blaming viewers for thinking that Jaime was somehow in a redemptive arc that would make him incapable of acts like this. He reminds the audience member that in the first episode, he throws Bran out a window, as if protecting his secret relationship with his sister from a nosy kid he doesn’t even know and raping his sister are in any way equivalent acts.

So there’s a lot of problems here. A major one is, of course, that this scene utterly fails to faithfully adapt the antecedent scene from the books, wherein Cersei initially resists, but then verbally encourages Jaime and helps him open his pants and find his way into her. Martin’s response to the controversy was to wish that they’d kept his dialogue, as that would have made it a lot clearer that the scene was consensual and Cersei’s initial reluctance was due to the venue, not the sex itself. With the shift in timeline, Jaime’s been in King’s Landing for several weeks rather than a few hours, and Cersei’s been rebuffing his advances that whole time, which completely changes the tone of this encounter.

Secondly, Alex Graves has said that he didn’t read that scene in the books because he wasn’t shooting the book scene, he was shooting the scene Benioff and Weiss wrote for him. And apparently there wasn’t a lot of discussion about what they intended from it, since Benioff has said at least twice that it was rape and Graves did the interview gamut saying it wasn’t. So communication clearly broke down there. Benioff and Weiss’ utter refusal to deal with the issue is also a major problem; they left Graves out on his own without clarifying for a year, and there wasn’t even a commentary track on the DVD—this is the only episode on the DVD without a commentary track.

Third, while Benioff may yammer about Jaime being a “grey character” and not easily fitted into “D&D morality”—lawful good, chaotic evil, etc.—he does still have a character arc and character development, and this walks it back a great deal. Do real humans have difficulty making and keeping progress with their own personalities and lives and character quirks? Sure. Jaime is not a real person. Jaime is a character, and one of the things about good writing is that characters have arcs. Characters develop. And even if losing some of that development is necessary to the plot, Jaime (book-Jaime, anyway) is not a rapist. All this does is reinforce the toxic masculinity they’ve set up in the show wherein every woman is constantly at risk from every man, that given the opportunity to rape or sexually assault, no man will be able to resist (except Tyrion because he is perfect, apparently. We’ll get there). This is super problematic.

Finally, this never comes up again. If Benioff and Weiss intended it to be rape, there should be repercussions. There should be some sort of fallout—unless they think rape isn’t that big of a deal. Or that raping Cersei in particular, given what an awful person she is, isn’t that big of a deal. If it wasn’t supposed to be rape, then sure, it makes sense that nobody ever says anything, that Cersei and Jaime’s relationship doesn’t suffer, that everything goes on as normal. But the only person saying it wasn’t supposed to be rape was Graves. Even Nickolaj Coster-Waldeau and Lena Headey have given (uncomfortable) interviews talking about it as a rape scene. Graves isn’t in charge of the rest of the season; Benioff and Weiss are. And for them to ignore the emotional fallout of something like being raped by your own brother on the floor next to your dead son is just . . . bad.

Dontos Hollard
Olly’s father and various other villagers
Meereen’s champion (and his horse)

Next week: Dany takes Meereen. Jaime visits Tyrion. Petyr continues to be a creeper. Margaery starts being a creeper. Brienne goes on a journey.

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