By Megan Spengler
Little stands out more in Game of Thrones than its explicitly sexual and violent nature.
Still, many viewers won’t really think about the actual role of sex in the show. Are the explicit scenes merely gratuitous spectacles to attract more viewers, or do they actually serve a purpose in furthering the plot?
Last Monday night, Communications Professor Dr. Aymar Jean Christian answered this question at “Sexual Power Dynamics in Game of Thrones,” a discussion hosted by SHAPE on the representations of sexuality on Game of Thrones and cable television as a whole.
“When I think of sex on Game of Thrones, I first think of ‘sexposition,’” said Christian, explaining that the term was coined by television writers specifically for Game of Thrones. “Because it’s a fantasy world, and there are so many different tribes and characters, the show has to explain to viewers who haven’t read the books what’s going on. But that’s boring and bad storytelling technique, so the show has avoided this by making sure that women are naked when they explain things. Instead of exposition, it’s sexposition.”
This idea of sexposition can be seen in Game of Thrones as early as the first episode of season one. Tyrion discusses his family tree while receiving oral sex from a prostitute, and Viserys explains the Targaryen dragon ancestry to a different sex worker while naked in a bathtub in Essos.
Sexposition isn’t the only reason for sex in Game of Thrones; many sex scenes, especially the graphic and uncomfortable ones, serve as character development and really give the audience insight on the personality and morals of certain characters.
“We particularly see the use of prostitutes and sex workers to explain things,” said Christian. “For example: the classic scene where Littlefinger is teaching his workers how to pleasure a man. One woman is teaching another woman how to get a man excited, but at the same time Littlefinger is explaining his love for Catelyn Stark.”
Joffrey’s sadistic treatment and murder of prostitutes, meanwhile, shows that he is even more evil than everyone thought, while Cersei and Jaime’s incestuous love affair shows the innate narcissism in both of them. They can see themselves in each other, which only fuels the attraction.
In addition to promoting character development, the sex scenes reflect the power dynamics found in the societies of Game of Thrones, specifically between men and women. As an example, Christian showed a clip of the first instance of rape on Game of Thrones: Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding.
It’s common practice in Game of Thrones for women to be sold into marriage as property, a common price for power. Daenarys, the “Mother of Dragons” who now commands several armies, is introduced in the show as a young power-less girl being married to a barbarian. The scene shows her all in white–a powerless color–and scared of a forceful man who is clearly about to have his way with her.
It’s interesting to note that in the books, the scene plays out very differently and the sex is very explicitly consensual. One audience member on Monday believed this difference was due to poor writing and directing on the show’s part, but Dr. Christian believes it actually makes for a more interesting story progression.
“She doesn’t have agency in the beginning; she’s being sold off for money. Then when she does become this woman that is the Mother of Dragons, it makes her turn around even stronger,” said Christian. “Having her start off completely sexually confident and aware would have been kind of boring. I think they wanted some kind of arc, and I think they got that arc.”
Photo credit to Game of Thrones Facebook page