WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE SEASON FINALE OF GAME OF THRONES!
The message boards are buzzing this morning after Cersei’s walk of shame on the season finale of Game of Thrones. Is it sexist to force a woman to walk naked through the streets for adultery, especially when no other men on the show have done the same? ABSOLUTELY! But readers and viewers should keep in mind the heavy influence of Medieval history on these politically incorrect plot points.
In 1483, a woman named Elizabeth “Jane” Shore suffered a similar punishment to Cersei Lannister. George R.R. Martin admits that his books were inspired by the War of the Roses, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume Cersei’s walk of shame was inspired by Jane Shore’s. While both women suffered similar punishments to atone for their promiscuity, any similarities between these two women stop here. Cersei Lannister uses sex as currency to pay men for murder and conspiracy. Jane Shore merely caught the eye of one king and the wrath of his successor.
In 1471, King Edward IV—a known womanizer—began an affair with married Jane Shore. Edward often grew bored with his conquests and set these women aside, but he kept Jane—whom he called “the merriest harlot in the realm”—until his death in 1483.
To make a long story short, Jane’s affiliation with Richard III’s enemies (William Hastings and Edward’s dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville) angered the usurping king. On June 13th, Richard imprisoned both women on charges of witchcraft and beheaded Hastings. For some reason, Richard reduced Jane’s charges to “promiscuity” and sentenced her to walk through London barefoot and bare-breasted. The punishment backfired. Rather than ridicule the scantily-clad woman, her on-lookers pitied her and admired the dignity she summoned.
While Cersei’s enemies certainly aided in her downfall, it was the church of the seven who sentenced her, not a king. Unlike Jane Shore, Cersei Lannister is certain to face a trial for greater charges, such as incest and possibly treason. The greatest difference, however, was in the walk itself. Jane was partially clothed, and her gawkers pitied her. Cersei’s had to make the walk naked while her on-lookers ruthlessly taunted her and flung refuse in her face.
I think everyone can agree that Cersei’s punishment illustrates sexism and misogyny in this make-believe world, but it has historical roots, and anyone schooled in history will know that women, like Jane Shore, have faced sexism and misogyny for centuries. I think those who say the series is sexist are missing the point. It’s important to recognize the atrocities committed against women in our past, even if that is through fiction. It shows how far women have come in the fight against abuse and discrimination.
Didn’t get to watch Game of Thrones last night? Watch a snippet of the epic scene below.