Author George R.R. Martin has craftily distanced himself from a graphic scene on the TV version of Game of Thrones.
As you’ve likely heard around the office watercooler, Sunday night’s new episode of the epic medieval-fantasy series featured a disturbing scenario that has fans of the books outraged and accusing HBO of taking creative liberties.
Consider all spoiler warnings in effect from this point onward.
In the controversial scene, the central Thrones character of Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) seems to sexually assault his own sister Cersei (Lena Headey), while the corpse of their incest-sired son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) lies right next to them.
What has fans irked: In the book, the sex between brother and sister is portrayed as consensual (though unquestionably wrong); in the TV version, there’s little evidence of consent as Cersei struggles and repeatedly cries “no” and “don’t” throughout the scene.
Although the episode’s director, Alex Graves, has said that the scene “was meant to be consensual,” that doesn’t appear to be the perception of viewers.
Or, for that matter, by the man who created Game of Thrones.
On Tuesday, Martin went onto his personal website to make clear the distinction between what he wrote and what was depicted on the TV series.
“I think the ‘butterfly effect’ that I have spoken of so often was at work here,” wrote Martin. “In the novels, Jaime is not present at Joffrey’s death, and indeed, Cersei has been fearful that he is dead himself, that she has lost both the son and the father/lover/brother.”
Which appears to be the departure point between book and small screen.
“And then suddenly Jaime is there before her,” observed Martin. “Maimed and changed, but Jaime nonetheless. Though the time and place is wildly inappropriate and Cersei is fearful of discovery, she is as hungry for him as he is for her.”
In the same post, Martin suggests viewers shouldn’t expect GoT, the series, to employ the identical storytelling approach as GoT, the books.
“The whole dynamic is different on the show,” he writes, “where Jaime has been back for weeks at the least, maybe longer, and he and Cersei have been in each other’s company on numerous occasions, often quarelling.”
Adds Martin: “The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why Dan & David [show-runners Daniel Weiss and David Benioff] played the [scene] out differently.”
To which Martin tags the proviso: “But that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.”
Martin has spoken about the “butterfly effect” on previous occasions, with the basic principle being that any deviation that the TV series makes from his original story will inevitably result in plot shifts down the line.
The 65-year-old author helpfully points out another key difference between his literary tomes and the TV series: The books tell the story of the battle for the kingdom of Westeros from different points of view; the TV show couldn’t possibly take the same tack.
As for the contentious scene, Martin said, “I was writing the scene from inside Jaime’s POV, so the reader is inside his head, hearing his thoughts. On the TV show, the camera is necessarily external. You don’t know what anyone is thinking or feeling, just what they are saying and doing.”
Of course, Martin slyly took the opportunity to point out that the makers of the TV series could have approached the moment differently.
“If the show had retained some of Cersei’s dialogue from the books, it might have left a somewhat different impression – but that dialogue was very much shaped by the circumstances of the books…” he wrote. “I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.”
In other words: Don’t blame me, I just wrote the source material.
Martin diplomatically ends his missive with the comment, “That’s really all I can say on this issue. The scene was always intended to be disturbing … but I do regret if it has disturbed people for the wrong reasons.”