Game of Thrones: The Sexplanation Show

Geek Culture

I've been naked but, hey, at least my scene was essential.

I’m relatively new to Game of Thrones fandom and that fact that I call it that rather than A Song of Ice and Fire probably shows how new. I got hooked on the story about halfway through HBO’s televised adaptation of the first of George R.R. Martin’s books. When the show ended, I kept reading.

Lucky for me, this was about the time A Dance of Dragons was released, so I was quickly caught up, insofar as anyone could be caught up on the vast story. Then I started indulging in the same pastime as everyone else who’d read the books — I started examining the show for differences.

Read behind the cut at your peril. Major spoilers for the HBO show, seasons one, the current season two and possibly the books. [Note: some mature subject matter after the break.]

So far, the biggest difference is that the HBO show seems determined to introduce sex as a method to explain the hefty backstory in the books. I find this frustrating, a little bit offensive but mostly detrimental to the story.

In season one, there was Petyr Baelish’s monologue about who he really is set to the tune of two female prostitutes learning how to pretend to please each other for a male audience. Grand Maester Pycelle had a lovely morning with yet another prostitute, then we had a scene with Theon Greyjoy and his hired companion to explain why Theon is, well, Theon. (The same prostitute was in both Theon’s scene and Balish’s scene. I can just see the wardrobe order for the actress: ‘supply this one with easily shed tunics.’)

Now, Shae’s night with Tyrion is in the books and Cersei’s liaison with Lancel is in the books too. Those were absolutely necessary scenes, especially given how those liaisons turn out.

But in only four episodes the second season, we’ve had Joffrey beat up two prostitutes hired by his uncle, Margaery Tyrell’s nudity to add something to Renly’s story, namely that he’s really, really gay, as if we didn’t know that from his (mostly clothed) scene with his lover, Loras; Baelish again, explaining to one of his prostitutes how he’s going to sell her to a seriously abusive person if she doesn’t stop being upset about watching a baby be destroyed; and Theon again, with the daughter of the captain of a ship and trying to fondle his sister. Theon’s escapades are in the book, too, and the scene with Yara is character driven, so I give that a pass too.

And we won’t count Melisandre’s “your vagina is haunted” moment either because that was one of the most harrowing scenes in the books. I will count her and Stannis on top of the battle plans in an earlier episode, however. Seeing Stannis have sex was not on my list of most wanted scenes in an adaptation.

I’ve no objection to nudity on cable channels. Spartacus on Starz is one of my favorite shows and you really can’t fit more nudity or sexual escapades than are in that show. But there’s a balance to Spartacus, in that the men are often as the women to be involved in either sex or violence and the nudity is equal opportunity for the most part. It feels part of the fabric of the story.

I also don’t find A Song of Fire and Ice as a whole anti-female or anti-feminist as some other critics of Martin’s series have. He’s chosen to write in a medieval-style world where women are valued as they were in our medieval age: for the children they produce and the alliances they can make. HBO has even made Catelyn Stark somewhat stronger on screen than in the books, especially in this new season. I credit that to the actress, Michelle Fairley. Similarly, Cersei comes off as more sympathetic on the show than in the books.

There’s also Daenrys and Arya, characters who are as strong in the show as in the books.

But this constant need on the part of HBO to insert naked women to let us know that, say, Joffrey is a sadistic creep or that Baelish is someone not to be trusted is completely unnecessary and throws me out of the story.

It was very clear that Joffrey is a nasty piece by the scene where he wants to have Sansa beaten naked in front of his court and Baelish’s betrayal of the honorable Ned Stark last season is plenty of reason to remember that he’s not a good guy nor one to be trusted in any form.

There’s so much story in these books and some of it, such as the full story of Davos Seaworth, get only a quick mention instead of the greater focus that it deserves. We could see more of Joffrey’s Kingsguard and what they’re like and more of the City Watch as well. I know what they’re like from the books but if I were watching the show without reading, the banishment of Commander of the City Watch wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

I hope the trend doesn’t continue because it’s frustrating to watch the show resort to nudity as a device to catch viewers when the books are so rich. With Joffrey’s scene last week, this is now firmly a trend. Enough.

There are plenty of actual reasons for nudity to happen for the story, we don’t need to add more because someone high up on the show or at HBO thinks the story needs more breasts to be good.

Because what’s happening is exactly the opposite: it’s making the story worse.

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