Game of Thrones showrunners address Cersei’s controversial ‘walk of shame’

16 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

#GOTscience: Why the Walk of Shame Won’t Work on ‘Game of Thrones’.

With that out of the way – actress Lena Headey’s character Cersei Lannister went on a stark naked “walk of shame” through town for sleeping with her cousin. Much of Sunday night’s season finale of Game of Thrones was hard to watch, but amid all the violence and despair, perhaps the most troubling image was that of a naked female body.Granted, it’s hard to call anything “too far” in a season that featured the barbecuing of Shireen, the rape of Sansa, and Arya yielding to a fate that even Oedipus Rex wouldn’t have wished upon her.Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has been one of the most formidable characters in “Game of Thrones” since its very first episode — a calculating and ruthless political operator who has outmaneuvered the many men her orbit who have underestimated her because of her gender.

Entertainment Weekly reported as much, and Reddit users went a few steps further by doing frame grabs that seem to show Headey’s face digitally placed in another woman’s head. The show is notorious for sprinkling the screen with female nudity purely for the sake of titillation (show director Neil Marshall even suggested that HBO executives aggressively push directors for a higher boob quotient onscreen).

I know Cersei’s humiliation is no less barbaric in the book, nor would it be any less terrible if it happened in real life. (Go ahead and Google what happened to Jane Shore, the mistress of King Edward IV.) Still, as I watched the High Sparrow demand that Cersei strip naked before a mass of angry commoners, force her to walk on bleeding feet as she was pelted with rotten fruit and worse, I couldn’t help but feel like this was too much. Scheming, amoral, and ruthless, the queen was a character we all loved to hate – until, as punishment for her adultery, she was forced to undergo a naked walk of penance through the streets of King’s Landing, and we all started to feel just a little bit sorry for her. But season five saw Cersei’s fortunes begin to change, after her youngest child, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), ascended to the Iron Throne and married the equally cunning Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), a woman whose ambitions were just as lofty as Cersei’s and whose strategy was to beguile instead of intimidate.

It’s the sort of humiliation that harks back to medieval times, when adulterers were forced to walk naked through their villages, and were left vulnerable to beatings along the way. In Margaery, Cersei may have met her match, and after succeeding in getting her rival and Margaery’s brother Loras (Finn Jones) imprisoned by the Faith Militant, Cersei fell into her own trap.

Although you could argue that other characters have endured worse. (Poor Theon!) Maybe it was the fact that Cersei’s humiliation warranted so much screen time in an episode that spared other villains such a drawn-out punishment. While the character was shown completely naked, eagle-eyed viewers were quick to point out that the body in question wasn’t Headey’s; instead, she’d used a double. More than any other in the show’s history, this season showed the writers’ deep understanding of sexual violence: that it’s not about titillation or sexual gratification, but about dominance. Some dedicated “fans” on Reddit even went to the trouble of comparing the show with Headey’s topless scenes in the 2007 film 300, just to make it absolutely clear that the two women weren’t the same.

As Lena Headey told EW of her character, “Cersei has done wrong, but she doesn’t really deserve this.” Even if you believe she’s the worst person in Westeros, why not just kill her off? Some reports suggest that Headey have been pregnant at the time of filming, although she may have simply been reluctant to undertake an outdoors nude shoot, in front of a large crowd of extras.

After earning an Emmy nomination for her powerful performance last season, Headey is once again an awards contender for Cersei’s stunning fall from power in season five, and Variety spoke to the actress about her character’s unexpected trajectory and where Cersei will go from here… After all, a Lannister always pays their debts. That they cut off her hair, which my colleague Amanda Hess notes was a female-specific bit of medieval sexual humiliation, makes the double standard all the harder to deny.

I think what really bothered me is that sexual violence and humiliation have become TV’s laziest trick for getting viewers to sympathize with cold female characters. Either way, despite these two (perfectly valid) explanations, some audience members simply weren’t happy with the switch, and swiftly took to Twitter to voice their dissastifaction. By the time she is done with her walk, even the most hardened Cersei hater is raging not at her, but at the hypocrites and religious fanatics who have put her through this. According to showrunner David Benioff, the walk of shame was designed to make us hate Cersei a little less. “One of the things I find interesting watching Lena is this character has always been an antagonist,” he told EW. “We all love Tyrion—and and she’s tried to kill Tyrion.

The image below (from the website Uproxx), for example, highlights how the CGI effects appeared to lengthen Headey’s neck, and altered the shape of her head, making it appear rounder. So, I was really excited to take this character of privilege and denial and break her down a little… although I don’t think Cersei can ever truly be broken. The show hasn’t been the best in the past when it comes to sexual abuse and violence, most notoriously in a scene that viewers clearly saw as rape but, for some reason, the director seemed to think was just a particularly over-the-top sex scene.

The identity of Headey’s body double is currently uknown, but actress Hannah Waddington, who played the Septa who accompanied Cersei on her walk (periodically calling out “Shame!”), recently spoke to Vulture about the unknown woman, telling the website: “Our fantastic body double was just so brave. So what we hope is, by the last shot, is you’re almost rooting for her, in a way, and hope she gets her revenge on those who have mistreated her.” Already, this explanation is problematic. More reasonable criticisms came up about a scene in which some Night’s Watchmen attempt to rape Gilly, but even then, the actual assault was rooted in this understanding that rape is about power, not sex. All season long, writers were seeding the idea that the Night’s Watchmen reject Jon’s attempts to make peace with wildlings, and this assault was part of that—a way to signal that any wildling left unprotected for a moment was subject to violent assault. Every terrible instance of sexual abuse in this season has a real-world analogue: The attack on Gilly felt very much like a hate crime, while Cersei’s forced march evokes the kind of ritualistic shaming—including forcible hair-cutting—that has re-emerged in the era of social media.

But the history books are also replete with accounts of criminals being locked in stocks or pillories for public humiliation, and of kids being forced to wear dunce caps in school. Public shaming has also fallen out of favor as a childrearing strategy, at least in Western societies. “There’s still lots of humiliation in schools, but there are no codified practices,” Stearns told NBC News. For example, some defendants have been sentenced to hold up signs in public saying “I Stole Mail,” or “I Am a Thief,” or “I Stole From a 9-Year-Old on Her Birthday.” Meanwhile, social media networks have provided new avenues for public shaming. Stearns pointed to the case of Nobel-winning biochemist Tim Hunt, who was pilloried last week for sexist remarks about “the trouble with women” in science labs. “This guy was shamed and degraded in two days,” Stearns said. She and her co-authors tested more than 400 prison inmates on their feelings of guilt (“I did a bad thing”) vs. shame (“I’m a bad person”) — and correlated the results with their likelihood to reoffend within a year.

If the inmates accepted blame for their humiliation, they were less likely to get into trouble. “There are judges who are understandably trying to experiment with alternative punishments, because the current system isn’t working very well,” she said. “But I think public shaming is going down the wrong path. Community service sentences seem to be more likely to produce the desired result.” Would Cersei repent her ways if she were sentenced to community service? I said to Nutter, “she just has to walk, no head turning, no eye contact, just keep moving.” When she gets to the gates of the Red Keep with fewer eyes on her then she can break a little.

It’s exciting, getting the scripts, because there’s always one or two big scenes that you read and they are full of gifts: emotional, motivational, surprising moments.

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