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

16 Jun 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

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.According to Entertainment Weekly, the scene took three days to shoot with Lena and her body double reenacting each brutal moment over and over again in Dubrovnik, Croatia. 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).

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. 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.

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. And the actress appeared to give yet another spoiler away as she vowed on behalf of her character: ‘I think she’s got some people to kill before she’s done.’ 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. Naked and shorn she faces a public that only weeks before feared her, revered her, heralded her every move, and worshipped her as their Queen, or Queen Mother.

Although it appeared that actress Lena Headey was naked throughout the scene, she used a body double for some of the walk. “Our fantastic body double was just so brave. 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. 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. 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.

I had a lot of respect for her,” actress Hannah Waddingham — who, walking behind Cersei, rang a bell and said, “Shame!” in the scene — told Vulture. Speaking on the show’s Belfast set soon after shooting (along with a body double) the controversial march in Croatia, Headey discusses Cersei’s childlike mentality and her fall from grace. 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. She steps gingerly through puddles of filth and feels the slime of the street upon her skin as she winds her way through the narrow city streets thronged with people who taunt her, hurl insults and rotten food at her.

But this is her only option: Confess to fornication, endure public humiliation and shame or face death, execution as a traitor—an even more shameful end. 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. As Lena Headey told EW of her character, “Cersei has done wrong, but she doesn’t really deserve this.” But 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. 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…

A: I always think of Cersei as a wayward 15 year old who’s never had any real parenting. (With her father gone) she’s driven by a desire to find Tyrion and kill him. 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. 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.

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. I love Cersei, I love playing her and I’ve always said it: She’s just driven by the need to be a great parent and, like most of us who are parents, she’s not perfect. 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. 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.

In the medieval period, adulterers were often subjected to exactly this punishment—a naked walk through crowded streets—not as torture but as a lasting consequence for their sinful behavior. 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. The most fiercely debated rape scene on the show, when Ramsey Bolton attacks Sansa Stark, is also one of the most clearly defined in terms of motivations.

From Guinevere’s ill-fated romance with (no naming coincidence here) Lancelot to actual French customary laws, images that reflect Cersei’s ordeal are abundant. 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. Her procession is the public spectacle of the shamed, her reputation in tatters; an inversion of Lady Godiva, whose nudity was covered by her hair and the public prohibition against peeking. 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.

When I first spoke to (Game of Thrones executive producers) Dan and David they told me this was as far as they knew because this was as far as George had written. In a faint echo of Lancelot, Lancel Lannister—incestuous lover-turned-religious fanatic—will actually accuse the Queen to ease his own conscience. 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 in the case of all queens who fornicate with someone other than their king, Cersei is also guilty of treason (not to mention the regicide of planning Robert Baratheon’s untimely demise) and the charge of treason would generally have resulted, finally, in public execution—which does not bode well for Cersei, even after her confession.

To play somebody who’s deeply flawed and yet presents themselves as this image of perfection when underneath there’s this deep paranoia — all of the sh-t she’s trying to contain and ride and just tell herself it’s all going to be alright. The most important aspect of this is the idea of fama—Latin for “fame”, “reputation”, or “good name” which had several equivalents in medieval vernaculars. 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. 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.

The Old French customary law, the Coutumes de Beauvaisis (1283), the Etablissements de Saint Louis (ca. 1257), the Counseil a un ami (1253), and the Occitan Costuma d’Agen (13th century) all address the issues of good name and notoriety as proof and social standing. Nutter didn’t choose to only shoot Cersei from the neck up, which might’ve had an even more jarring effect, forcing us to consider what was happening with her mind every step of the way, instead of allowing us a break to consider her body. This moment is so small and she’s so close … she’s the person that lives nearby the throne at all times so she just thinks it’s going to happen, ‘I just have to get rid of everybody.’ She doesn’t see the bigger consequence.

If someone was found guilty of a particular crime, then their fama generally suffered as a result and they would no longer be deemed trustworthy or honorable members of society and if they transgressed again, their previous crimes would be held against them. 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? An image of this punishment, of two lovers bound naked, flanked by trumpeters in procession survives in a manuscript of the Costuma d’Agen: Agen, France, Archives Départementales de Lot-et-Garonne, MS 42, fol. 42v. It is this kind of very medieval punishment to which Cersei is subjected in the Season five finale of “Game of Thrones.” She is told that it is the only way to save herself; but she has doubts and wonders if there isn’t an ulterior motive.

She’s stripped and her hair is shorn and she has to walk through miles of people who despise her, who are hungry and homeless because of her, but she doesn’t care. Because admitting to her crimes—confessing—leaves her open to further charges of murder and treason, charges that cannot be answered by this public humiliation. Of course, his rescue kills more of Arthur’s faithful knights, who were unarmed and trying to protect Guinevere, and so the fateful trajectory towards tragedy continues.

Out of remorse for their affair and his part in the dissolution of the Round Table, Lancelot does become a religious hermit like Lancel, but Jaime is more likely Cersei’s Lancelot. In the fourteenth century “Stanzaic Morte Arthur,” that Malory’s adapts, when Guinevere is falsely accused (for once) of poisoning a knight at her table, publica fama works against her. Just as queens like Eleanor of Aquitaine (c. 1124 – 1204) and Isabeau of Bavaria (c. 1370 – 1435), rumored to have had an affair with her brother-in-law Louis of Orléans, were tainted by allegations of adultery, Guinevere’s reputation among the knights is tarnished by their perception of her relationship with Lancelot. In legal proceedings, publica fama—the testimony of two reputable witnesses that the accused was widely believed to be guilty, or capable of guilt—was probable cause to charge someone with a crime and elicit a confession.

In the decree Qualiter et quando of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Innocent III perfected the inquisitio where clamor et fama [public outcry] replaces the accuser and the judge conducts the case, presumably after publica fama had been proven. The Assize of Clarendon (1166) established the grand jury system in England that used the ordeal of water in the actual trial until its abolition in 1215; a full jury trial took its place under Henry III. People believed that juries could be bribed, so trial by battle was often preferable, even though there was a certain amount of skepticism regarding the efficacy and justice of judicial duels.

Contrary to popular belief, adulterers were rarely subjected to more violent of brutal punishments and torture could only be used to extract a confession from people of low repute. Torture was illegal in England, except in extraordinary cases determined by the king and only on his authority, which seems to rarely have been given. In medieval law, the whole point of the public humiliation was to permanently brand the offender, not with a burn upon the skin, but with a visual performance of the confession, to establish the publica fama. 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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