Game of Thrones is infamous for depicting shocking and explicit acts of Middle Ages-inspired barbarism. But the most controversial scene in the HBO series’ history is, if anything, perhaps too ambiguous. Now stars Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are getting more candid than ever about their take on season 4’s dramatic sexual encounter between Cersei and Jaime Lannister.
The set-up: As their son King Joffrey Baratheon lays dead nearby, Jaime pushes himself onto his sister and longtime lover Cersei, who seems to resist. (“Stop, it’s not right,” she says; “I don’t care,” he says). The scene was dubbed “rape-cest”—and the outcry was heated (with one critic calling it “the most screwed up sex scene” in TV history). In George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords, the encounter is more clearly consensual—but readers also receive the benefit of knowing the characters’ thoughts at the time, whereas the show only displays outward action. The director of the episode, Alex Graves, waded into the line of fire to say this wasn’t rape—and was promptly blasted by some who claimed he didn’t know what he was talking about.
But in separate interviews, Coster-Waldau and Headey also tell EW the scene was never meant to depict a rape. It’s a scene they’ve both discussed in passing in a few previous interviews, strongly hinting at similar lines of thought. But they have perhaps not previously expressed their behind-the-scenes takes on the situation quite so directly.
“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.”
“Of course,” the actor quickly adds, “whatever people get from it, they get from it. But it did surprise me. I thought the outrage would be about that they were having sex in front of their dead son.”
Coster-Waldau notes that one reason fans of his character were so upset, he thinks, was because Jaime had shown such progress in his attitude toward women on the show, thanks largely to his relationship with Brienne.
“People had almost a sense of betrayal,” he said. “I think people had invested in the Jaime and Brienne storyline. She brought out the best in him, and he helped her and saved her. And then he goes and wants to have sex with his evil sister. Everything he does makes sense—Jaime keeps saying, ‘I have to get back.’ He says to Brienne, ‘We don’t get to chose who we love.’ He loves his sister. So I think there was a sense of betrayal, that ‘that’s not supposed to happen.’”
There’s another scene later in season 4, the actor notes, where Cersei pushes Jaime for sex and he’s reluctant. It’s a moment that was meant to be a mirror of the controversial scene.
Overall, the actor says he has no regrets. “It was a great scene to do,” he says. “The same people that get upset about that, it’s like they suddenly want things to be black or white. But it’s all human, it’s all confusion—people say one thing and do another. It’s human, it’s complex.”
Previousy we revealed some details about Headey’s character arc this season. Coster-Waldau’s Jaime also has a strong year, which will see the one-handed swordsman journey to Dorne on a mission to bring back his daughter Myrcella—which also means he gets out of King’s Landing after releasing his brother Tyrion from prison.
“He has to deal with the consequences of the end of season 4,” Coster-Waldau says. “He’s also grieving his father. He’s taking and accepting more responsibility. He just wants to make things right. In some ways, he wants to make things right he can’t make right. He embarks on a journey that’s very personal and very important. I think there’s also a part of him that doesn’t mind getting out of town.”
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For ongoing Game of Thrones scoop, follow me on Twitter @jameshibberd