(Massive, ruinous fucking spoilers to come for the show and Once Upon A Time In America)
This show has always been dark. It comes from the source material. Murder, torture, incest and events offscreen that would only seem fun to the Imperial Japanese Army. But they generally have been able to handle it, until tonight. This episode went off the deep end.
Jaime is fucked now as a character. It is impossible to sympathise with him after this. It is impossible for his up until this point impressive redemptive character arc to continue. It is impossible to want to continue watching what he’ll do. For the first time, an episode of this show was unpleasant. I should probably explain what I mean by that. I don’t mean that there has never been uncomfortable subject matter on this show, nor do I mean that I am jaded to the point where the slaughter of babies does not phase me. I mean that at no point did I want to stop watching. Anything subject matter can be shown onscreen in a compelling way, be it rape, torture or child molestation, but it has to fit with the work as a whole. This does not. It can not. The entirety of the last series had Jaime starting to redeem himself and us coming around to him despite everything we’d seen him do and that is the only way his arc can attempt to continue. But it won’t work.
The books are the most obvious comparison point so let’s start there. In the books this scene happens right after Jaime returns to King’s Landing. He arrives maimed to find his son dead and his sister/lover inconsolable by his corpse. In all this he starts coming onto her and after some initial protestations over the possibility of being caught next to their son’s body she gives in and they energetically fuck each other’s brains out. This is fucked up to an impressive degree, yes, but it does not make either character completely irredeemable. That’s the thing with rape in fiction: it cannot be justified. Murder, sure. Even the killing of innocent children can be carried out by a sympathetic character (usually as the lesser of two evils) but there is not a single sound justification that can be found for rape. We all hated Joffrey, we wanted him to die in a painful way and eventually we got it, but no-one ever wanted to see Joffrey being violated. Because that would have been unpleasant.
I think a good example of what I mean is one of my favourite films: Once Upon a Time In America, Sergio Leone’s lifetime-spanning gangster epic. Roughly two-thirds of the way through this film the protagonist Noodles is attempting to woo a childhood friend of his who reveals that she is leaving New York to pursue her dreams of acting. Noodles, who up to this point has been an interesting and morally complex character, responds by raping her in a drawn-out, very uncomfortable scene which destroys any sympathy you may have had left for him. But that it the point. Noodles is meant to become irredeemable. We still watch him because we want to see how his story ends but we are not meant to sympathise with him as it comes to a close. Unlike Jaime.
The rest of the episode wasn’t a whole lot better. The new wildling tribe are so cartoonishly villainous that they are impossible to take seriously, Aiden Gillen appears to be taking the piss by this point, the Hound mugging people was just unpleasant to watch and Benioff and Weiss prove once more that they have absolutely no idea how to write a gay character, as yet again we have the point of Oberyn’s bisexuality hammered into our skulls with a fucking piledriver. This isn’t even the show’s infamous sexposition as there is no sex, apparently our writers are just too insecure to have two men actually fuck onscreen. After Loras and Renly, whose may as well have been renamed Slutty McFucksaround and Wimp respectively we also have Oberyn’s girlfriend Ellaria Sand, whose literally only character trait is ‘fucks women’. This episode isn’t dark. It’s stupid. Unpleasant. Written by people who have no fucking clue what they are doing with this material and subject matter and if this course continues I will start burning my bridges with this show like a glowing child just turned up and told me to pick a colour.