In defense of HBO’s “unnecessary” nudity – Game of Thrones –

In defense of HBO’s “unnecessary” nudity – Game of Thrones –

“Game of Thrones” is an HBO series based on a series of books by noted sf/fantasy author George R.R. Martin. The full title is something like “Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book One.”

I was excited to see the series advertised; decent sf/fantasy series go begging on television, and in movies most times. I hadn’t read the books at the time — I haven’t followed the sf scene in a while — but I was a big sf/fantasy fan and when I saw a cast including Sean Bean and Mark Addy, I had high hopes. I was not disappointed. I read the first book between the ninth and tenth episodes, and have since read the second book (“A Clash of Kings”). So while I “spoiled” the end of the series for myself, I was still pleased at how it’s all going. Martin has constructed a world that’s well defined and has gone to the dependable medieval-ish world with kings and queens that gets the viewer/reader wrapped up in the power struggles.

And there’s sex. Plenty of it.

The article cited above notes an L.A. Times column that criticizes HBO and GOT for “unnecessary” nudity. Of course, to my husband, no nudity is unnecessary. Like airplanes, he feels that a show with nudity can’t be all bad (and I suppose if there were nude pilots, he’d be beside himself).

So what about the nudity? Quite honestly, I don’t much care. One thing not mentioned in the LAT article is that GOT-TV covers a lot of bases, sexually speaking — there’s incest, f/f sex (not really lesbianism, as the f/f sex is for show), and one implied homosexual act between Prince Renly and (if I recall) a knight named Ser Loras.

And it’s not as though the GOT creators pulled all this out of thin air; a great deal of it is in the source material, although nearly all of that is straight sex. And I have to say, if I wanted to go off on a tangent about the sexual content of the material, I’d note that the books have children involved. In fact, those characters were aged a few years for the TV series. The most notable would be Danaerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke. In the book and series, Danaerys is basically sold by her older brother, Viserys, to a nomadic warlord named Khal Drogo. Viserys is fixated on regaining the throne that his family lost, and is looking to “sell” his sister to Drogo for an army that will help him. Viserys isn’t much on cultural differences, despite the advice he receives from Ser Jorah Mormont, a Westerner like himself.

Sorry, I digress. At any rate, in the book, Danaerys weds Drogo in a strange and foreign ceremony, and that night they consummate the relationship. Now let’s look at some differences — in the book, Danaerys is thirteen years old. Drogo is, let’s say, in his late 20s, perhaps early 30s; I doubt his people, the Dothraki, celebrate birthdays. Also in the book, Danaerys is nervous, but intercourse with Drogo is at least implied to be pleasurable. Well, surely HBO could not have a 13yo girl enjoying sex; imagine the outcry. So instead, we have an adult Danaerys (age unspecified, but she easily looks 18), who suffers through sex with her husband. No one said much, that I could see.

But sex makes people act funny, let’s be honest. And despite the advances of women and minorities, the TV world is mostly run by older white guys. And hey, GRR Martin is himself an old white guy. Plus, there’s always been the problem with sex and violence. It seems it doesn’t matter how many people you have shot or stabbed or otherwise bloodied, you’ll likely get no worse than an R rating. But — whoa ho — try to show two people in love, or at least like, and physically expressing it, and you either have to cut it or get an NC-17. The movie Blue Valentine is the most recent example of this.

So is the nudity and/or sex in Game of Thrones “unnecessary”? I don’t think so. I don’t think it detracted, as is pointed out in the Salon article, it can reveal various things about the characters.

Plus — and I believe this was left out of the LAT article — for all this is a fantasy set in the “Seven Kingdoms” of “Westeros”, the story is in the familiar Middle Ages trappings. And, back in that time, women didn’t have a whole lot of options. If they were nobility, they may have had more, but probably not tons. The one thing the women could do was use their sex, their body, to obtain their goals or protect their objectives, and no doubt many did. If GOT is exploring this, and not ignoring this, then fine. That was the reality, and pretending it didn’t happen, and/or trying to adapt it to our standards, doesn’t make it any less real.

People have sex all the time. All kinds of sex in all kinds of ways. Yet we in the U.S. have a really hard time dealing with that. We can watch robots destroy Chicago a mere decade after actual destruction, that killed real people, occurred in New York City. We can have “torture porn,” in which sadistic people put other people through disgusting tests, and it’s a blip on the radar. But a breast? Run for the hills! Won’t someone please think of the children!? Gak.

So keep the nudity in GOT. I mean, under our clothes, we’re all naked, right?


8 responses to this post.

  1. As someone who watched the show but hasn’t yet read the books, I didn’t find any of the nudity to be excessive. In fact, compared to some of HBO’s other offerings, it was fairly modest. That is just my opinion, of course. 😉
    Thanks for the interesting take, Eve.


  2. Posted by Ramble on July 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Interesting but the problem as always is the issue of exactly whom is showed naked. Why is it considered acceptable for constant female nudity, and lesbian sex and heterosexual sex- mostly revealing women, rather than for graphic gay sex, or focus on the naked sexual male body? The show pretty much says women = sex and not much else. Why would I want to watch that?


    • Women do not equal sex in “Game of Thrones.” If you’ll note in the article, a very small percentage of the show has anyone nude, men or women. Yet that small percentage has led to quite the outcry. Yet there have been two beheadings (one in the first half an hour of the first episode), numerous battles, a knife through a man’s eye, a spear through another’s leg, and a child pushed off a ledge. No one’s complaining about those.

      Why are the sexual situations you mentioned “acceptable”? I’ll give one big answer that is incomplete in its general nature, but I think applies: straight white men run the networks, and this is what they like and what they think other straight white men will like. So it’s fine with them and they don’t blink. This is why women can be shown in full frontal nudity, but men only rarely so, and certainly not in an excited state.

      There is an inequality between men and women in “Game of Thrones,” as there is today in many places and as there was in the Medieval times that GOT is loosely based on. The women in GOT are strong, or at least as strong as they can be in their circumstances, be the women on the “good” or “bad” sides of events. They use what resources they have at their disposal, and in such a society, the weapon is often sex.


      • Posted by Surprise on March 29, 2012 at 3:23 am

        Frankly, I found the emphasis on female nudity and sexuality in HBO’s Game of Thrones distracting and disturbing. For instance, some observers said that the scene in which Littlefinger commands one naked woman prostitute to fist f**k another naked woman prostitute from behind was all about revealing Littlefinger’s controlling, pathetic character. Uh huh. Number one, this scene and the character, Ros, the prostitute, never appeared in the book. Number two, the camera did not linger on Littlefinger’s face in order to reveal his character as he gave these commands: the young women’s sexual actions were what the camera focused on.

        Why is that displaying women’s nudity and sexuality enables one to “explore a character’s nature” on HBO, but displaying men’s nudity and sexuality is never used this way? I was watching HBO’s Empire Boardwalk last week, and the same issues came up: women are portrayed with naked breasts, naked buttocks, and even full frontal nudity; men are, at most, and very rarely portrayed with naked buttocks. HBO seems to have a formula: produce excellent television drama focused on creative plots and character-driven narratives, use the word f**k A LOT, and include scenes of heterosexual or lesbian sex that display women’s breasts, buttocks, and full-frontal nudity. Men, if included in these scenes, are to remain covered.

        AMC produces dramas the equal of or even better than HBO (I’m thinking of Mad Men and Breaking Bad), but does not resort to gratuitous female sexuality and nudity.

      • AMC is not a premium channel, and so I’m sure it’s limited in what body parts it can show. I don’t watch the shows you mention, but I do watch “The Walking Dead,” so I know they push certain boundaries. Nudity is not one of them, at least not much.

        As for HBO and “GoT,” well, even though HBO is a premium channel, there are still unspoken rules, I imagine. Unless it’s one of their sex shows late at night. And the truth is, I don’t think there’s quite as much nudity as we *think* there is; I believe the article I read said it amounts to less than five or fifteen minutes of the entire running time (or something like that). So it may stick in your mind, but that doesn’t mean the show is nothing but nudity. “Boardwalk Empire” is likely the same, although I can’t say I know the nudity to non-nudity ratio there.

        I personally find the beheadings and other things far more disturbing than the sex.

  3. Posted by LL on July 13, 2011 at 7:45 am

    You are increasing my interest in watching GOT. I wanna see what all the noise is about.


    • I’d say when you get the chance (and I know you’re busy 🙂 ), try to catch up via On Demand, if you have it. And you have plenty of time, as season two isn’t airing until next spring. I thought this was really well done, well-acted, good production values, etc. I’d also so that if you read the book, you’d be just as ready for season two. They’ve changed a few things, but nothing major.


      • Posted by LL on July 13, 2011 at 10:53 am

        We don’t have On Demand. It will have to wait until it comes out on DVD or something.

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