Game of Thrones fans are used to being shocked by deadly plot twists. But Sunday night’s episode divided viewers in a very different way with an incestuous rape scene. In the fourth season’s third episode, titled “Breaker of Chains,” Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) forces himself on his former lover/sister Cersei (Lena Headey) while they’re beside the corpse of their murdered son (Jack Gleeson).

Back in September, Coster-Waldau described the scene to EW as “a very dark encounter, [a] passionate encounter” and explained that “on a visceral emotional level, she feels disgusted by his [metal] hand. It goes from bad to worse. I [Jaime] want to help her, and finally she reaches out and needs Jaime, and she’s just disgusted with him. It’s a great scene.”

Much of the online uproar stems from the way the show altered the original Jaime/Cersei scene, which appears in George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords. In the novel, Cersei is only briefly hesitant before quickly reciprocating Jaime’s advances. To some, the scene in Sunday’s episode represents adding an unnecessary act of violence against a woman, and an act that’s out of character for Jaime — who has seemingly been on a rocky path to redemption since last season. To others, Jaime’s mounting frustration with Cersei and history of solving problems with violence make this moment quite believable, suggesting his character is not evolving in a straight calculated line but rather taking a more fractured path.

While HBO and Thrones producers have declined to comment, Martin (who wrote the previous week’s episode) weighed in on the matter on his blog, adding some context to the conversation:

“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. And then suddenly Jaime is there before her. 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.

The whole dynamic is different in the show, 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 quarreling. The setting is the same, but neither character is in the same place as in the books, which may be why [producers] played the sept out differently. But that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.

Also, I was writing the scene from 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.

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, delivered by a woman who is seeing her lover again for the first time after a long while apart during which she feared he was dead. I am not sure it would have worked with the new timeline.

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.”

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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