ASOIAF vs. GoT, First: Lannister Twincest

EDITED TO ADD, 3/7/15: I have found another citation in the text. It has been added to the post below the cut.
I’m a fairly recent devotee to the Society of Ice and Fire, and I haven’t yet read all five of the presently available books from end to end. Maybe I’ll try and do that before too long. I won’t get much writing done in the meantime, but maybe I’ll reach the end of A Dance With Dragons just in time for The Winds of Winter to arrive, and I’ll celebrate along with everyone else. So far, my exposure to the book series and affiliated HBO series has been: 1. Binge-watch my dad’s copy of the Game of Thrones Season 1, 2. Order all three seasons on DVD from Amazon; pre-order Season 4; binge-watch Seasons 2 and 3 as soon as they arrive, 3. Scream, “OKAY, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!”, read A Feast for Crows, 4. Figure out that I missed some events between the third season of the show and the beginning of the fourth book; read episode summaries on Wikipedia, 5. Read A Dance With Dragons, 6. Read some parts of A Storm of Swords, 7. Read some parts of A Clash of Kings, 8. Binge-watch Season 4 as soon as it arrives.
You’ll notice that I haven’t read everything there is. I like a lot of the characters, but I seem to be more emotionally invested in the goings-on of the Lannisters and their associates, so they’re the ones whose narratives I seek out in the books. (I care about Brienne and Sansa unto themselves, but for the purposes of this accounting, we’ll list them as Lannister associates. Sansa is technically married to Tyrion and Brienne is emotionally tied up with Jaime.) I’m sure I like the Lannisters more than they deserve, but seriously? They’re not all Tywin and Cersei. In fact most of them seem like totally decent people. We all adore Tyrion, of course. Tywin’s brother Kevan seems like a good egg, and his sister Genna is hilarious and amazing. Well, okay, little cousin Lancel is a dumbass, but on reflection, Lancel’s main problem is that he’s young and impressionable and someone let Cersei get her claws in him. Jaime seemed like an asshole at the beginning, and he has certainly behaved like an asshole at times, but we’ve gotten to know him and he’s turning himself around. He seems to be a good guy after all.
Except for that part where he forces himself on Cersei in the Sept of Baelor. If you’ve watched the show through Season 4, you know the scene. That one.
For those who are new here: I seem to spend a lot of time on this blog talking about sexual violence and bodily autonomy. For those who aren’t new here: don’t be surprised that I’m focusing on this part first.
So, that’ll be the topic of my first examination of the differences between books and show: the Jaime/Cersei relationship, centering on that part where he violates her in front of their son’s corpse.
I will apply a heaping helping of TRIGGER WARNING to what lies below. If you’ve seen what happens, it won’t be a surprise, but nevertheless, I will repeat some details that may be upsetting, so take a moment to prepare yourself:

The principal difference between the way this encounter plays out in the book, and the TV version, is that the TV version makes Cersei’s refusal less ambiguous. The book version still isn’t really consensual. I respect authorial intent, but I don’t entirely know what Martin intended to say about Cersei’s response. I can tell you what I read in that scene in the book, though; I see a man who thinks of his sister as his wife, in a culture with no concept of marital rape (although his younger brother somehow manages to make the connection), and thinks he’s entitled to fuck her when he wants. I see a woman who doesn’t want to fuck at just that moment, she just wants to stand there with her son’s body. She’s happy to see her brother who is also her lover and the father of her children, but she wants to wait for a more appropriate setting to resume their sex life. I see a man who tells himself that his sister is consenting to sex, but actually doesn’t care whether she’s consenting; he tells himself she wants it because that’s easier than accepting she doesn’t want it at that moment. And I see a woman who realizes she can’t convince her brother to wait, so she cooperates in the act so he’ll get it finished before anyone walks in on them and gets incontrovertible evidence that the rumors are true.
The way Cersei acts in the book is not consent. That’s risk management.
It’s entirely possible that Cersei doesn’t think of Jaime’s actions as particularly abusive, so much as inappropriate. Their relationship has already set a pattern of him plowing over her refusal, and her enjoying it. This is not healthy relationship behavior, so perhaps Martin’s idea with the Sept of Baelor scene was to drive home that their relationship is inherently pathological.
One hardly needs a reminder that full siblings having a decades-long sexual relationship, and three children together, is pathological.
In A Storm of Swords, Jaime doesn’t return to King’s Landing until a later stage than he does in the show. By the time he gets to where he needs to be, the Purple Wedding has already happened, Joffrey is dead, Tyrion’s been arrested and Sansa’s gotten the heck out of Dodge. Jaime is a POV character, so we get to see him reflect that he’s nowhere near as broken up about his son’s death as he should be. He never bonded with Cersei’s children, mostly because she didn’t want him to. She made him keep his distance from them when they were babies, and they grew up believing Robert Baratheon was their father. When Jaime shows up at the Sept of Baelor where Cersei is standing vigil over Joffrey’s body, that’s the very first time he sees her since he high-tailed it out of King’s Landing a year before. A lot of shit has happened to both of them in that time, and Jaime’s had a lot of time with no company except his chains, and after all that time spent thinking, he’s not happy with the status quo of his and Cersei’s relationship. He’s tired of keeping their affair a secret and making the kids call him Uncle Jaime rather than Father.
The event of Jaime’s forcing himself on Cersei serves, whether intentionally or not, to highlight the way the twins’ priorities have diverged. Cersei has invested years of her life into being a parent, and she wants to grieve her son rather than fuck her lover. Jaime joined the Kingsguard at age 15 so he could be available to her, and he’s just been dragged through a world of shit and suffered a serious blow to his physical capabilities and identity on the way back to her. He’s not interested in keeping up the illusion of being a chaste Kingsguard knight while his sister plays the grieving widow and proper queen. He doesn’t spare a thought to consider that Cersei isn’t on the same page with him.
And in fairness to Cersei, she couldn’t have anticipated that her brother would choose that time and place to show up, that he’d be missing his right hand, or that he’d be more interested in the welfare of his former captor’s missing daughter than in the loss of his oldest son. He doesn’t share those thoughts with her, of course, and while she might have considered that he’d be changed after his captivity, she surely couldn’t have foreseen how he’d be different. She couldn’t have seen it coming that Jaime would show up in the Sept, clear the room, and decide to fuck her in front of Joffrey’s body.
Either way, that day in the Sept of Baelor is the twins’ very first interaction in a year, and Jaime is convinced that his desire to fuck his sister is more important than her need to grieve in peace.
On the show, Jaime’s already been home for a while, had plenty of interactions with Cersei, and was there to see Joffrey die. He’s had plenty of time to notice that Cersei isn’t resuming their incestuous relationship, and had plenty of time to be unhappy about that.
In the TV version, notice how Tywin is walking Tommen out of the Sept and beginning to give him the Official Sex Talk, explaining the details of how he’ll father children on his wife, just as Jaime is walking in. He pats Tommen’s shoulder and promises to make sure he’s okay. Once Tywin and Tommen are out of sight, Jaime orders everyone else to leave the Sept.
It’s a perfectly creepy juxtaposition, between Jaime trying to act like more of a parent to Tommen and his planning to do the sort of thing with Cersei that Tywin is about to explain.
Cersei begins telling Jaime that Tyrion must have been the murderer, tells him of how Tyrion threatened to hurt her, reminds Jaime that he saw it.
Jaime argues that he doesn’t know what he saw, in terms of Joffrey pointing at Tyrion.
Cersei tells Jaime to avenge their son. Tells him to kill Tyrion.
Jaime reminds his sister that Tyrion is their brother. There’ll be a trial to find out the truth.
She doesn’t want a trial. Tyrion will squirm his way to freedom given the chance.
Jaime moves in to comfort Cersei just as she’s crying that he has to, that Joffrey was their son.
They hug and kiss, and at first it’s nice and affectionate. Then she notices the gold hand, and recoils.
Jaime says she’s a hateful woman. “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?!” Grabs her, leans her back over Joff’s body, kisses her again.
As soon as Jaime tells Cersei she’s a hateful woman, his mentality in the encounter diverges from the books. Now we see that he’s angry at her, and he wants to dominate her, humiliate her, remind her that he can hurt her. In the book, he was acting out of entitlement, but not hostility.
She struggles, tells him to stop, he says no. He wrestles her to the floor, gets on top of her, she keeps saying it’s not right. “Don’t care,” he says.
In the book, the scene is told from Jaime’s POV, so everything we see from Cersei is through his eyes. On the show, the POV is outside them both, so Jaime’s perception is no more prominent than Cersei’s reaction. The primary difference in events is in how the show strips out ambiguity. We can see that Cersei clearly doesn’t want it, and Jaime can see it, too, but he doesn’t care.
I think that what bothers me the most about this event is how it’s left hanging without any reflection on either side. We’re shown an act of intimate violence, and then we’re asked not to think about it. The omission is more pronounced in the TV version. In the books, Cersei doesn’t get POV chapters until A Feast for Crows, by which point she’s dealing with other issues. We see Jaime’s POV in A Storm of Swords, and I think the book allows us room to be annoyed with him. He is a not-entirely-reliable narrator, and we have time to ask: “Wait, Jaime, you just did that to Cersei and you have the gall to be annoyed with her? Do you even hear yourself?” The TV show makes the rape more obvious and then demands that we gaze in the other direction. The next time we see the twins after the Sept of Baelor, Cersei is asking Jaime to prove his loyalty by bringing Sansa Stark back to her custody. Which will most likely result in Sansa’s head on a spike, I have no doubt. We’re back to the vicious, single-minded queen and the vulnerable, conflicted knight. From there, we go straight to Jaime provisioning Brienne for the quest of keeping Sansa out of Cersei’s reach. For the rest of the season, we don’t see a moment in which Cersei stops to consider that her brother inflicted violence on her, or when Jaime stops to ask himself: “What did I just DO to my sister?”
ADDENDUM: I have, indeed, found a place in the book which confirms that Cersei is disturbed by Jaime’s actions on her:
Jaime had spent his days at his brother’s trial, standing well to the back of the hall. Either Tyrion never saw him there or he did not know him, but that was no surprise. Half the court no longer seemed to know him. I am a stranger in my own House. His son was dead, his father had disowned him, and his sister … she had not allowed him to be alone with her once, after that first day in the royal sept where Joffrey lay amongst the candles. Even when they bore him across the city to his tomb in the Great Sept of Baelor, Cersei kept a careful distance.

Martin, George R.R. (2003-03-04). A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) (p. 913). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 There we go. Cersei won’t let Jaime be alone with her because she doesn’t want to give him another chance to attack her.
What kind of story does Game of Thrones tell us by dramatizing that rape and then completely eliding any reflection on it? It’s not as if the show has never gone near the subject of rape before now, and it’s not as if Jaime Lannister turns a blind eye to women’s suffering—as long as he’s not the assailant, and Cersei is not the target. He makes up some malarkey about sapphires to keep Brienne safe from Bolton’s soldiers, and we can see that she is allowed to be shaken by her near-miss at their hands. In the fourth book, he goes so far as to behead one of the Mountain’s soldiers for merely attempting to rape a serving girl at Harrenhal. This is well after we’ve witnessed Sansa Stark’s experience with the mob in Flea Bottom, which leaves her with nightmares.
In the real world, most rapes look less like the mob attacking Sansa, or those mercenary scum ganging up on Brienne, and more like Jaime’s approach to Cersei in the Sept.
Why do we never get any follow-up on Jaime’s assault on Cersei? Is it because Cersei is such an unsympathetic character? Because she’s already been fucking Jaime for decades? Because Jaime is mostly trying to do better, while Cersei is getting more homicidal, more spiteful, more reckless? Is it because Jaime is newly crippled? His missing hand didn’t stop him from pushing Cersei to the floor. No matter how vicious Cersei is, what he did to her was uncalled-for. She also suffered through years of physical abuse by Robert Baratheon, and while she was the less sympathetic character in that relationship, his smacking her said more about him than about her. Same with Jaime raping her; it says nothing about her pathology and everything about his sense of entitlement.
I’m left with the distinct impression that the show’s handling of the twincest rape implies two related messages: 1) Jaime’s assault on Cersei is an expression of the inherently destructive nature of their relationship, but 2) this behavior is confined to the affair with his twin, and will not carry outside to a new relationship. The second point is taken, but if the showrunners want us to see that his involvement with Cersei brings out the worst in Jaime, they could have chosen a less destructive way to convey that message. I’m sure there are many men in the real world who’d like to tell themselves, and others, that they raped their girlfriends because those women’s toxic attitudes brought out their worst impulses. If we’re to see Jaime headed in a redemptive direction—and, having read A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, I can assure you all that he is—he should not be allowed to fall back on the excuse of his sister’s bad influence in explaining his violent behavior on his sister. I’m rooting for Jaime to survive the series without further loss of limb, but he does owe Cersei an apology for his forcing himself on her. I’m sure he won’t have a chance to apologize to Cersei even if it occurs to him that he should, because he needs to stay the fuck away from King’s Landing if he values his life (there are plot developments in the fourth and fifth books that I will not divulge), but still, he shouldn’t have done what he did.
A final divergence that I would like to note between book and show is that the twins do not have another completed sexual encounter after this one. Not that Cersei doesn’t try, but the Sept of Baelor incident is their last copulation, consensual or not, in the text. When Cersei shows up in the Lord Commander’s chambers, Jaime decides that his sense of propriety is more valid than hers, and he pushes her away. The way they depart from that encounter makes it clear: this is the end of Cersei and Jaime’s incestuous relationship. Cersei is fed up with him, and Jaime is thoroughly alienated from her. Their time apart has changed them both in ways that they can’t reconcile.
Now I will finish off this already-long post with a conversation pasted from A Clash of Kings, between Cersei and Tyrion. For some reason, this exchange didn’t make it to the show. Ready for this? Here we go:


“Certainly,” he lied. “I am yours, sister.” For as long as I need to be. “So, now that we are of one purpose, we ought have no more secrets between us. You say Joffrey had Lord Eddard killed, Varys dismissed Ser Barristan, and Littlefinger gifted us with Lord Slynt. Who murdered Jon Arryn?”
Cersei yanked her hand back. “How should I know?”
“The grieving widow in the Eyrie seems to think it was me. Where did she come by that notion, I wonder?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. That fool Eddard Stark accused me of the same thing. He hinted that Lord Arryn suspected or … well, believed …”
“That you were fucking our sweet Jaime?”
She slapped him.
“Did you think I was as blind as Father?” Tyrion rubbed his cheek. “Who you lie with is no matter to me … although it doesn’t seem quite just that you should open your legs for one brother and not the other.”
She slapped him.
“Be gentle, Cersei, I’m only jesting with you. If truth be told, I’d sooner have a nice whore. I never understood what Jaime saw in you, apart from his own reflection.”
She slapped him.
His cheeks were red and burning, yet he smiled. “If you keep doing that, I may get angry.”
That stayed her hand. “Why should I care if you do?”
“I have some new friends,” Tyrion confessed. “You won’t like them at all. How did you kill Robert?”
“He did that himself. All we did was help. When Lancel saw that Robert was going after boar, he gave him strongwine. His favorite sour red, but fortified, three times as potent as he was used to. The great stinking fool loved it. He could have stopped swilling it down anytime he cared to, but no, he drained one skin and told Lancel to fetch another. The boar did the rest. You should have been at the feast, Tyrion. There has never been a boar so delicious. They cooked it with mushrooms and apples, and it tasted like triumph.”
“Truly, sister, you were born to be a widow.” Tyrion had rather liked Robert Baratheon, great blustering oaf that he was…doubtless in part because his sister loathed him so. “Now, if you are done slapping me, I will be off.” He twisted his legs around and clambered down awkwardly from the chair.


Italics from the text, bolding mine. You’re welcome.

2 thoughts on “ASOIAF vs. GoT, First: Lannister Twincest

  1. I appreciated your insights into the Lannister family, especially the differences (and subtle similarities…) between Jaime and Cersei’s encounter in the sept.

    (Also, thank you for calling Sansa and Brienne Lannister associates. Because they are and that’s a point that gets dropped a lot in people’s analyses of the show.)

    I’ve written a lot of articles about the show, originally mostly in defense of the allegedly bad decisions made by the Starks, but lately I’ve been writing about Lannisters. If you have any interest in reading what I’ve said about Jaime in particular and Jaime and Cersei in the controversial Sept scene, I’ll provide links.

    Best regards in passing the time until Season 5 starts up. We can only hope that The Winds of Winter is published before Season 6

    • Thank you! I do appreciate seeing your thoughts on the twins’ relationship. I am not at all surprised to see that some people are blaming Cersei for Jaime’s act of rape. Disgusted, but not surprised. I think it’s possible to hold two ideas at once: 1) Cersei is a thoroughly despicable character and I look forward to reading her obituary, and 2) She absolutely did not deserve and was not the cause of Jaime’s actions on her.

      The one does not cancel out the other. Victims aren’t always innocent.

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