Gratuitous Female Nudity and Complex Female Characters in Game of Thrones

by BUST Magazine

Ros from Game of Thrones. Full frontal nudity in 3…2…1…

Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, premiered in April 2011. Since then, the show has received attention for its sprawling scope, large cast, morally complex characters, strong acting (particularly the performance of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister), and the numerous shots of prostitutes and naked boobs in almost every episode.

Yes, Game of Thrones is a show that loves its nudity. HBO is known for gratuitous displays of naked ladies in many of its show, but Game of Thrones might as well exist on a network called HBOOB. The series premiere alone had more boob close-ups than a Girls With Low Self-Esteem video (yes, that was an intentional reference to Arrested Westeros!) Numerous feminist writers have commented on the gratuitous nudity of the show, with Melissa McEwan at Shakesville and Madeline Davies at Jezebel nicknaming the program “Game of Boners.” (I prefer Game of Tits, myself).

Doreah: not nude in this scene, but give her a minute

Now, Game of Thrones is hardly the first show or film to show a lot of gratuitous female nudity, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. What I find interesting about the criticism of Game of Thrones’ gratuitous female nudity is that it’s not limited to feminist outlets and blogs. Mainstream television critics and humor outlets are talking about the soft-porn quality of the nudity and sex scenes:

  • Myles McNutt, critic and academic blogger, coined the term “sexposition” to describe the nudity on Game of Thrones, a term adopted by Alan Sepinwall and used in other criticisms of the show.
  • Someecards came out with a Game of Thrones-related “romantic” card that reads, “I want to get you as gratuitously naked as a Game of Thrones character.”
  • The Onion wrote about the season premiere with an article entitled, “Game of Thrones’ Season 3 Opens with Every Character Getting Fingered While Discussing the Arrival of Winter.”
  • Saturday Night Live did a sketch last year about Game of Thrones and its two creative consultants: author George R.R. Martin, and a 13-year-old boy who adds naked women in the background of every scene.

Apparently, all this talk of sexposition displeases and even offends the producers:

“A frustrated Weiss responded to a question about the amount of sex and nudity on the show, and the commentary about it, by saying, ‘We put in the show what we think belongs in the show. There are going to be people who think there’s too much of something, or not enough. If you create a show with a committee of a million people, you’re not going to make a very good show. We do what’s right to us.'”

Well. I’m satisfied. *cough*

Still, even though I’m glad to read these criticisms, I can’t help but wonder–why this show? Why is Game of Thrones unable to escape the “sexposition” jokes when other shows with gratuitous nudity are praised for grim dark realism?

I have a couple of theories about that, but I think the main reason Game of Thrones‘ nudity has become a popular punchline has to do with the show’s wide array of complex female characters. 

Daenerys Targaryen, between one nude scene and another

Game of Thrones is not like Lord of the Rings or other popular fantasy series that forget that women exist. Women are prominent in the society of Westeros, whether behind the scenes or fighting on the fields.

Game of Thrones has traditionally feminine characters like Catelyn and Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, and Margaery and Olenna Tyrell, queens and noblewomen who exist mostly in the domestic sphere but also show keen shrewdness about the way the world is stacked against them.

Game of Thrones also has female characters who break traditional gender roles, who would rather fight with a sword or a bow and arrow than get married and have children: Arya Stark, Osha, Yara Grejoy, Ygritte, Meera Reed, and Brienne of Tarth.

Game of Thrones has Daenerys Targaryen, a woman who combines traditionally feminine traits and a fierce warrior spirit by coining herself as the Mother of Dragons. (She’s also one of the few female characters who has had nude scenes that actually served a purpose.)

 Game of Thrones even allows some of its female characters more complexity and development than they received in the book. Shae, a prostitute and Tyrion’s paramour, is a giggly non-entity of a character in the novels. On the show, she is a sharp observer of human behavior and compassionate to Sansa.

Game of Thrones has a scene where a female knight pledges fealty to a woman. How many times has that occurred in television history?

Considering the presence of so many complex women in Game of Thrones, it seems like critics might save their nudity-related complaints for other programs that populate their shows with mere ciphers (if they cast any women at all). So why are we still talking about nudity on THIS show? 

I think our culture has become so accustomed to seeing naked women used as props in advertising, film, television, and in other forms of media, that we don’t always notice objectification anymore. Those of us who are actively feminist will notice unnecessary boobage in a show, but more casual consumers of media and popular culture might not pick up on the objectification in such displays of nudity, because the objectification iseverywhere.

Game of Thrones, however, gives us scenes with characters like Cersei and Catelyn and Arya and Brienne and Daenerys, shows them as complex and complicated and morally gray as any male character on the show–and two minutes later, gives us a scene where a male character talks to a woman who exists as nothing more than a naked giggling prop.

 The shift is jarring, as if the show is saying, “Women are complex, just like men–now here are some more boobs in soft glowy lighting, brought to you by The Male Gaze™.” It’s jarring enough that even a casual viewer is more likely to notice. You can’t be oblivious to the naked giggling props when there are so many fully-clothed, complex human beings around, reminding us that women are people. 

 Or maybe the most casual of viewers can look at a scene where a man exposits all his schemes and dreams to one prostitute finger-fucking another prostitute and think, “Okay, that’s a little too much, even for me.” Lady T

This is a repost from Bitch Flicks. Thanks to Bitch Flicks and Lady T for this piece! Read more over at Bitch Flicks.

Photos via Bitch Flicks

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