Game of Thrones might be the biggest Emmy winning show in TV history, but it still gets knocked as the “t*ts and dragons” show.
Since the show first aired in 2011, it’s garnered as much attention for its thrilling action scenes and jaw-dropping plot twists as it has for its many, many nude scenes.
Over the years, critics, comedians, and fans alike have poked at the show’s nudity. Specifically, the show has come under attack for the preponderance of sexual violence against women and for using sex as a visual distraction to keep viewers interested during otherwise “boring” exposition scenes, aka “sexposition.”
But how did the show acquire this reputation and how bad is it, really? We went back to the beginning — Game of Thrones’ very first season — to try to figure out if that’s when it all began and if the criticism is earned.
WHERE THRONES SEASON ONE ACTUALLY DID LEAN TOO HARD ON SEX
One weird thing about watching each and every sex scene from Game of Thrones season one in succession of one another is that you realise quickly that the earliest scenes do a lot to reveal characters and advance important themes. The second weird thing you notice is that Game of Thrones often misuses its sex worker characters, specifically one by the name of Ros (Esmé Bianco).
The most egregious examples of “sexposition” in Game of Thrones season one seem to feature the clever and comely Northern courtesan. Now, it’s interesting to note that Ros was an original character created for the show’s pilot, where we meet her at the same time as Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). That scene, set in a Northern brothel, is a charming introduction to two characters matched for wit and a lust for life. Is there sex and nudity? Yes, but that’s kind of the point, and it underscores how smart both Ros and Tyrion are.
After that, the show brings Ros back to sit around naked in a scene with Theon Greyjoy, but this set up falls with a dud where the Tyrion scene sings. The conversation is a bitter back-and-forth about Theon’s insecurities, and Ros’s nudity is kind of … distracting and not the point.
Later in the season, Ros moves to Kings Landing to pursue a better life in Littlefinger’s brothels. This is where we get the most infamous example of “sexposition” in the series: when Littlefinger (Aiden Gillan) monologues while Ros has sex with another nameless prostitute. Sure, the point of Littlefinger’s speech is that he’s going to “f**k” his opponents, not fight them, but the camera is way more interested in the sex, even though Gillan’s performance is kind of the cooler part of the scene.
But Ros is not the only character this happens to.
In Episode 4, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” Doreah (Roxanne McKee), Daenerys’s handmaiden whom Viserys (Harry Lloyd) bought from a pleasure house, is in the bath with her owner … just so the audience can hear about the history of dragons? It almost makes you wonder if Game of Thrones chose to feature these types of sex scenes to wiggle out of expensive flashbacks. Especially since Game of Thrones understood how to shoot smart nude scenes from the very beginning …
HOW THRONES GOT SEX AND NUDITY RIGHT IN SEASON ONE
The most profoundly successful sex and nude scenes in Game of Thrones’ first season all tell us something about the people in them, the cultures we’re meeting, or the power dynamic at play. That is, Game of Thrones’ best sex scenes embraced what Game of Thrones is all about.
As we mentioned, early sex scenes and moments of nudity in the season introduce us to key aspects of the characters. Tyrion escapes his sorrows by overindulging in pleasure, while Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is broken down and horrified, vulnerable to the extreme, on her wedding night. Now there is a whole other conversation to be had about how the show twists Daenerys’ first time with Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) into a non-consensual encounter.
It is fraught with controversy and deserves its own essay, but you can’t deny there isn’t meaning behind how and why it’s filmed the way it is.
It also sets up where Daenerys mentally is at the start of the series. Finally, Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sex scene in the tower is fully clothed, but still illicit. It’s the pairing that is meant to be shocking, and their clothed forms show how careful they are about keeping this secret bottled up. They need to be in control, and not vulnerable in the slightest.
Episode 2, “The Kingsroad,” devotes a whole b-plot full of nudity and sexual positions to explain how the power dynamic shifts so quickly between Daenerys and Khal Drogo. The most erotic scene of the episode, however, doesn’t have any real nudity at all. Doreah gives Daenerys a lesson in the art of making love and it’s ferociously hot precisely because it’s about the younger girl learning pleasure, power, and taking control.
Other moments that successfully use nudity to tell us something about plot and character include our introduction to Tyrion’s lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli), the revelation that Cersei is sleeping with her cousin Lancel (Eugene Simon), and, of course, Daenerys and the dragons. Though Dany is fully nude for the first time since Episode 2, she is a newborn power. Her naked body is not erotic as much as it is magical.
AND THE ONE GOT SEASON ONE MOMENT THAT NEEDED MORE NUDITY …
So … here’s a funny thing. There’s an almost great intimate scene between Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) and Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) in Episode 5, “The Wolf and the Lion.”
The scene establishes that the two are lovers, but Loras slyly seduces Renly in the same moment that he’s pushing him to play for Robert’s throne. It’s a double seduction insomuch that, yes, these two are lovers, but that Highgarden is working on Renly to make their own move in the game.
However, even though the two are shirtless and the scene ends with off-screen oral sex, the guys are also wearing pants. Making it kind of a cop out. One of them should have been totally naked. That’s all I’m saying. If straight lovers are completely nude in their private moments, gay lovers should be, too.