“Did Game of Thrones Go Too Far?” That was the headline plastered all over the interweb following Sunday night’s controversial episode, “Breaker of Chains.”
For those who need a refresher: King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), the evil son of incestuous brother and sister Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), was poisoned to death. So, the grieving parents gather in the Great Sept of King’s Landing and gaze at the “Mother’s Altar” displaying their secret love child. Cersei had been giving the Jaime the cold shoulder since his return, and the one-handed “Kingslayer” reaches his breaking point. He embraces her and, in a fit of demented anger and frustration, sexually assaults her against the altar of their dead son.
Both the episode’s director Alex Graves and star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau questioned whether the scene was indeed rape, which prompted a rash of essays about why the fictional scene on a fictional show that is set in a mythological, Lockean hellscape where traditional social and sexual mores don’t apply was, in fact, rape.
But was it the most controversial scene in Game of Thrones history? Let’s take a walk down Westeros Lane.
As far as the sheer number of taboo-violations is concerned, the rape of Cersei Lannister by her brother Jaime against the altar of their dead, incestuous spawn, Joffrey, is the most disturbing yet. Ever since Jaime returned to King’s Landing with his one hand, which was later turned to gold by Cersei, she’s been shunning him. “You took too long,” she says, shooting down his advances in the season premiere. After Jaime calls off the guards, the two find themselves alone in the Great Sept. They’re in mourning. They kiss, and then Cersei catches a glimpse of Jaime’s gold hand out of the corner of her eye, and recoils. “Why have the gods made me love a hateful woman?” Jaime asks. And then Jaime attacks Cersei, ripping her dress. She screams, “Jaime, not here… please… stop it!” but her objections fall on deaf ears. The Kingslayer shoves her against the altar of their dead son, and then to the ground beside it. “Stop… it’s not right!” yells Cersei. Jaime mutters back, “I don’t care,” and proceeds to thrust away at his sister. The last image we see is her hand holding on to Joffrey’s altar sash for dear life as she yells, “Stop!” It even inspired author George R.R. Martin, upon whose tomes the series is based, to take to his blog and comment on it since it reads as more consensual in the book.
Bring Me the Head of… George W. Bush?!
Game of Thrones and its creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, found themselves in a bit of hot water after the head of George W. Bush made a cameo on the show… impaled on a spike. During the 10th episode of the show’s first season, the evil boy-king Joffrey forces his betrothed, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), to gaze at the head of her decapitated father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean) on a spike. The camera moves and several other heads impaled on spikes are seen—including one that looks an awful lot like former President George W. Bush. The creators acknowledged it was in fact Dubya on the Season 1 DVD commentary, and later apologized, saying, “We use a lot of prosthetic body parts on the show: heads, arms, etc.,” Benioff and Weiss said. “We can't afford to have these all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush.” HBO also apologized, calling it “in bad taste,” and removed the episode from their streaming services, as well as any future Season 1 DVDs.
The Evil Shadow Baby
During the second season of Game of Thrones, the evil Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Red Priestess of the Lord of Light, has sex with Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), the older brother of the late King Robert Baratheon—and self-proclaimed rightful heir to the Iron Throne—with the promise of giving him a son. Afterward, Melisandre reveals that she’s pregnant and, in a cave, gives birth. But this isn’t a normal birth, this is a Game of Thrones birth, so the religious fanatic delivers a demonic “shadow baby,” which flies out from between her legs as Ser Davos watches in horror/amazement. The shadow baby then forms into a larger creature, enters Renly’s camp, and kills him right in front of Catelyn Stark and Brienne of Tarth.
Joffrey’s Sadistic Kinks
After the devil incarnate, King Joffrey, strips down his bride-to-be, Sansa, in the throne room and threatens to kill her with a crossbow, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) thinks it best for the lil’ bastard to relieve himself of whatever sexual frustrations he has with a pair of prostitutes. So, he sends the teen Ros and Daisy, two of the best. Things take a dark turn when Joffrey forces Ros to beat Daisy with a whip, while he aims his crossbow at the pair. Later, he exchanges the whip for a club. But that’s nothing compared to Ros’s gruesome end. After Littlefinger realizes that Ros has been meeting with Varys daily to report on his scheming and double-dealing, the goatee-sporting pimp decides to pass off Ros to Joffrey (again), who’s interested in trying something “new and daring.” In Joffrey’s thoroughly messed-up world, this means using Ros as a live target and firing several arrows from his crossbow into her, pinning her bloody body to his bedpost.
The Red Wedding
It’s the scene that made the Internet lose its collective shit. During the Season 3 episode “The Rains of Castamere,” Lord Walder Frey invites Robb Stark, his heavily pregnant wife, Talisa, and his mother, Catelyn, to attend the wedding of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey. The gang are all settled into the banquet hall when the doors are suddenly closed, and the band begins playing an instrumental version of “The Rains of Castamere.” The song serves as a signal to attack, and an assassin sneaks up behind Talisa and begins stabbing her repeatedly in her pregnant belly, as a group of assassins with crossbows (disguised as musicians) fire arrows down upon the Stark contingent, with several hitting Robb. He’s wounded but not dead, and Catelyn, in an act of desperation, takes Walder Frey’s eighth wife, Joyeuse Erenford, hostage pointing a knife at her throat. But the move doesn’t faze Walder for a second, who remarks, “I’ll find another one.” With that, Roose Bolton walks over and stabs Robb in the heart, while Catelyn lets out a wail and slits Joyeuse’s throat… right before her own is cut by Black Walder Frey. You see, Robb had promised to marry one of Lord Walder Frey’s (ugly) daughters, but he broke the marriage pact between House Stark and House Frey by marrying a nurse, Talisa. Big mistake.
Daenerys Consumes a Horse Heart
After Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) sleeps with her hulking husband, Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), she learns that she’s pregnant. But the Dothraki priestesses, known as the dosh khaleen, have a special lil’ ceremony for expectant mothers: the pregnant khaleesi must consume a whole raw stallion heart as the dosh khaleen chant omens. If the mother-to-be succeeds, the child will be strong, and if she fails, it’s a bad omen. After almost vomiting a bit of it up, Daenerys manages to take down the entire heart. With her mouth covered in blood, she proclaims to everyone that she’ll name her prince “Rhaego”—combining the names of her dead brother, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, and her husband, Khal Drogo. According to Clarke, on the Season 1 Blu-ray, she said that the heart, whose arteries were made of dry pasta, tasted “a little like bleach,” and the gag reflex during the sequence wasn’t acting.
Theon’s Botched Beheading
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the heir of Lord Balon Greyjoy and longtime hostage of House Stark, is a troubled young fella. He burns a couple of children to send a message, accidentally goes to second base with his sister while on horseback, and is tortured and castrated by the psychotic Ramsay Snow. Theon, however, is ultimately a callow, frustrated man, and one of the most gross-out examples of his inadequacy comes during his attempt(s) at beheading Ser Rodrik Cassel. The elderly man doesn’t think Theon has the guts to follow through with publicly executing him, so he mocks him in front of his men, labeling him a “traitor.” And it takes Theon four gruesome hacks with his sword—followed by a kick—to decapitate the poor old bastard.
The Slaughter of a Baby in a Brothel
This is, for me, the most disturbing scene in all of Game of Thrones. In the second season premiere, “The North Remembers,” Stannis Baratheon pledges his allegiance to Melisandre’s god, the Lord of Light, and publicly claims himself as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, as well as the fact that Joffrey’s bastardry, and the rumor eventually makes its way to King’s Landing. So, King Joffrey does what any sadistic son of a bitch would do: Orders the Gold Cloaks to slaughter all of the late King Robert Baratheon’s bastards. One of these executions involves a baby getting her ankles slit by a dagger in a brothel, and while the act—and aftermath—occurs off-camera, it’s still one of the most unsettling scenes in TV history.