The 2015 Emmy Awards take place next week, and Lena Headey’s nomination for her portrayal of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones Season Five has got me thinking about a slightly old topic that I haven’t written about here before — her Walk of Shame in this year’s season finale.
Lena Headey is one of the favorites to win the Best Supporting Actress Emmy this year, and it’s easy to see why. Cersei’s Walk of Shame, where she is forced to walk naked in front of an increasingly hostile crowd as punishment for her sins, is as emotionally challenging to watch as it must have been to film. But although the scene has already become a well-known part of pop culture (try walking through the streets of Dubrovnik, where this was filmed, and listen to the number of people saying “shame, shame”), it has also faced a lot of criticism.
First, the scene has been criticized for being too long and too gratuitous, adding to the show’s history of sexually exploiting its female characters. But it has also been criticized for not being gratuitous enough, or at least not gratuitous in the “right way,” with Lena Headey’s use of a body double attacked as both a lack of commitment from Headey and a “deception” to the audience.
The second criticism is probably more troubling, but the first one feeds into it, so let’s start with that. The Walk of Shame scene is seven minutes long — seven minutes of full female nudity while a crowd throws things at her, threatens her and screams insults. When considered on its own, it’s a difficult scene to watch, but not necessarily a problematic one. The extended nature of the scene drives home the brutality of it, allowing us to see every moment of Cersei’s progression from defiance to fear to being completely broken to her vowing vengeance. The show has usually (although not always) portrayed Cersei in a fairly nuanced and sympathetic light, giving her more depth than she receives in the books, and although viewers may despise her, the extended, graphic nature of her Walk of Shame is intended to invoke sympathy and horror for the misogyny that this “evil” character faces.