Game of Thrones: Don’t Judge a Boob by its Cover

When one thinks of Game of Thrones, some themes that come to mind are fantasy, dragons, violence, death and nudity. The show has a very complicated relationship to its use of nudity. It can be very gratuitous and vulgar and it obviously caters more towards the male audience. This adheres to Laura Mulvey’s “male gaze” theory, in that both male and female viewers view female characters from a male’s sexually objectifying viewpoint. The term “sexposition” (coined by Myles McNuff), specifically because of the show’s sex scenes. “Sexposition” is a plot device used to give additional information about the story while characters have sex. Game of Thrones has been criticised a lot for the pointless use of nudity and for their distasteful rape scenes (specifically those involving Khal Drogo). However, there are instances where the show has perhaps not been given enough credit for a particularly good use of nudity, or even lack of.

Tyrion and Sansa’s Wedding Night

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) far from enjoying their wedding feast.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) far from enjoying their wedding feast.

Much to the credit of Game of Thrones, they have often deviated from the A Song of Ice and Fire books, whether they combine characters, give certain characters completely new storylines or kill off someone who is still alive in the books. They have also done so a few times regarding nudity, when they could have so easily just stuck to their source material. The scene following Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding is just one example.

In the eighth episode of season 3, “Second Sons“, one the most awkward weddings in television history occurs. Both Tyrion and Sansa are forced into the marriage and neither can do anything about it. Of course, the whole debacle is made even worse with the presence of King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) who gives Sansa away and by genrally antagonising his drunken uncle during the wedding feast. Tyrion does eventually snap angrily and violently at Joffrey. Although he plays his threat off as a mere joke, his father, Lord Tywin (Charles Dance), bails his son out and agrees that there should be no bedding ceremony and the two newlyweds take their leave to their chambers.

When in their bedroom, Sansa has accepted the fact that she will have to commit to Tyrion physically. Both drink a glass of wine for courage and Sansa starts to undress. Fortunately, Tyrion stops Sansa and tells her that they will only do the deed when she is ready. Sansa asks if she is never ready, Tyrion replies with “And so my watch begins.”

This scene is remembered for Tyrion’s empathy towards his new wife, but it was not him that stopped Sansa from undressing, it was the writers. It is true that this is probably a case of not allowing to show nudity of a character below an underage girl (a girl under the age of 18) naked. Nonetheless, in the books Sansa does fully disrobe. If she had done so on-screen it would have removed her innocence, her virtue, and her sweetness. As viewers, we have grown with Sansa and she has become a sister or a daughter to the audience. To watch her undress fully would have become incredibly un-watchable (and why the Black Wedding events were all that more upsetting). Nudity can be a sign of weakness, of having nothing to shield you, but Sansa, having been through so much already, cannot get much lower. It would’ve become unbearable to watch. It may have been easy to have Sansa get naked in the scene, but it demonstrates a strength from the writers to decide against it.

Another show deviation from the book that decided to not portray nudity was during Daenerys’ time in Qarth. In the books Dany wears clothing that exposes her breasts. This seemed fairly unnecessary and the show, to its credit, did change this, but had it not, Dany’s plot arc for season two would have had unnecessary costumes to match her almost irrelevant storyline.

This sort of deviation from the book should be applauded. Although, these deviations do not make all other examples of “sexposition” and pointless nudity on the show acceptable or defendable, because there are a lot of degrading scenes, but it still shows nous on behalf of the showrunners and writers.

Jaime and Brienne Take a Bath

jaime-brienne-jaime-and-brienne-31038357-1280-656
Jaime Lannister (Nikloaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) share more than they thought they would on their way to King’s Landing.

When Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) ordered Brienne of Tarth to escort Ser Jaime Lannister to King’s Landing in exchange for her daughters, few would have thought that this could blossom into a friendship. As well as there being some mutual love and respect for each other. Jaime saved Brienne from getting raped by promising Locke (Noah Tayler) sapphires from Brienne’s home of Tarth, although he lost his hand for it. He also went back to Harrenhal for her, when she was forced to fight a bear for the amusement of Bolton’s men. Brienne has also protected Jaime along their journey, although she was doing it because of her oath to Catelyn.

The relationship between the two really evolves into more of a friendship when the they become “prisoners” of Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) at Harrenhal. Brienne is taking a bath, when Jaime enters and rather rudely, joins her. The Kingslayer acts rather nonchalantly and arrogantly, as always, and antagonises Brienne, to which she reacts angrily and she stands up, fully naked. Brienne is not the traditional woman on Game of Thrones, she is a knight by nature (if not by name) and she doesn’t expose her feminine side all that often. However, she literally shows this side of her, that she feels so uncomfortable and out of touch with, to the one person that annoys her more than anyone else. Jaime apologises to her, persuades her to stay and tells her why he really killed the Mad-King Aerys II Targeryen. He then becomes light-headed and collapses into Brienne’s naked body

Both characters are obviously nude, but we see nothing really; the camera doesn’t show anything below Brienne’s neck line. The weakness she has allowed Jaime to see, is specifically, only for Jaime. The audience are not meant to be privy to Brienne’s womanhood, it is something only meant for those in the scene. Brienne shares with Jaime her vulnerability and, in return, Jaime shares his with Brienne.

This scene from “Kissed by Fire” (season 3 episode 5) is beautifully acted and directed, but it does not get the credit it deserves for not showing any full frontal nudity when they so easily could have. This scene, then, is an example that the nudity in Game of Thrones is not always meant for our eyes.

In the BBC collection of essays, Ways of Seeing, John Berger states that there is a difference between being naked and nude. Nakedness is purely the human body without any clothes on or anything else covering the body, whereas nudity displays an artistic element, which may or may not completely show a naked body. A body may be naked but it may not be considered nudity and likewise, nudity may not encompass a completely naked body. The two terms are definitely not synonymous. This scene is an example of Berger’s nudity; it does not solely show the naked bodies of Jaime and Brienne, it exhibits some artistic integrity without the need to actually present to the audience, any fully frontal naked bodies.

The Red Woman Shows her Power

Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) also known as "The Red Woman".
Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) is perhaps the most notorious character for stripping off.

Melisandre, a priestess of the Lord of Light and advisor to King Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), is one of the characters on Game of Thrones who is a serial undresser. It is not often that a scene in which Melisandre exposes her breasts is not considered “sexposition” or just being done for the sake of it. The shere number of scenes however, does mean that there will, most likely, be more of a statistical chance of her nude scenes having greater significance, more often than one would initially think.

For instance, there is a scene in the season 4 episode, “Mockingbird”, in which Melisandre’s bathing is interrupted by the Queen Selyse (Tara Fitzgerald). The Red Woman reveals to the Queen that not all of what she does is by divine intervention; there is some deceit, some cloak and dagger elements to her magic. For the entire scene, Melisandre addresses Selyse completely naked.

it is visible in Tara Fitzgerald’s performance that Selyse is quite clearly uncomfortable by Melisandre’s naked body. Equally, in Carice Van Houten’s performance, it is also easy to see how little Melisandre cares for Selyse’s awkwardness and embarrassment. This is a character whose family supports Stannis’ claim to the throne. Someone who could become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and if she had just said the words, Melisandre would have surely covered up. But the Queen’s power seems insignificant to those Melisandre holds. Forgetting that this is a woman who can give birth to shadow/smoke creature that can, in turn, assassinate a king (Stannis’ brother, Renly) her opinion is sorely coveted by Stannis and is perhaps only matched by Liam Cunnigham’s Ser Davos. This is something that Queen Selyse will never have. During several other scenes it’s clear to see that Stannis wants Melisandre as his most trusted advisor as well as a lover, much more than his own wife and Queen.

This scene is an epitomisation of the power Melisandre holds in Stannis’ court, by actively expressing her independence from the Queen has any hold over her. Selyse also holds Melisandre in such high regard, too. She believes Melisandre is as much their saviour as Stannis is. From what is portrayed on-screen, it seems that Selyse is her most avid supporter. She doesn’t bat an eyelid when her brother is burnt on a beach at Dragonstone, such is her converted faith for the Lord of Light and Melisandre. While nudity is often something that represents weakness, it is then somewhat strange to see it as a sign of strength and how one character holds power over another. You would not, for example, expect to ever see Missandei naked while addressing Daenerys, because it would represent conflicting traits of power between the characters. While the audience may be well aware that Melisandre holds more authority than her, Selyse’s various reactions show that this may be the first time that she has contemplated this herself and their relationship is never quite the same since.

There is another aspect of nudity that is somewhat overlooked, regarding this scene and, indeed, the scene featuring Brienne and Jaime. This is the importance of authenticity. During a sex scene in a film or television programme it is, more often than not, a moment killer when a male or a female is not fully naked while in the act of having sex. It reminds the audience that this is just fiction and these people, are just actors. The two aforementioned scenes in Game of Thrones, being both bath scenes and are in the same vein as these sex scenes. If a character was wearing clothing it would feel somewhat odd watching someone bathe while wearing a tunic. If nothing else, Game of Thrones’ nude scenes do follow this “rule” of authenticity, whether they are sex scenes or scenes where characters bathe themselves, some credit must be given to the show for this, at least.

Cersei’s Walk of Shame

Cersei
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) would have been in need of a drink after her walk through King’s Landing in the season 5 finale.

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not caught up to season 5 episode 10, it would be wise to avoid this final section.

This final scene which should receive some praise because of its creative use of nudity, is also the most recent, having occurred in the season 5 finale “Mother’s Mercy”, a title that refers to Cersei’s storyline directly. For an episode that left so many cliffhangers ready to be picked up next year in season 6, arguably the best scene in the entire episode concerned Cersei and her walk of shame.

As atonement for her adulterous and incestuous relationship with now Sparrow and cousin Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), Cersei is made to walk from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep, after confessing to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). Before the walk, Cersei’s hair is cut extremely short and is then forced to complete the walk with no clothes on, with the walk ending at the Red Keep. During the walk, Cersei is guarded by a few Sparrows and followed by a Septom (this world’s version of a Catholic nun) shouting “Shame.” It is clear in an earlier scene with the High Sparrow, that Cersei has only confessed her guilt to see her son, King Tommen Baratheon.

Cersei’s motivations are all that more meaningful during the walk, as it shows her commitment and love for her children. In an earlier season, it is Tyrion who says that one of Cersei’s redeeming qualities is her love for her children. This walk, while naked, having curses, rotten food and faeces thrown at her, just shows the amount of pain and suffering she is willing to put herself through to just see her son. Every so often the camera cuts to the Red Keep (where the King resides) to remind us as to why Cersei is putting herself through this torture. What is seen here is a very human side to Cersei that has so rarely been evident on the show.

This is another scene that has some narrative and artistic point to the nudity of Cersei. We have seen something similar to this before, earlier in the season, when several sparrows stripped the High Spetom and forced him to walk through the streets King’s Landing. Therefore Cersei’s scene is a callback to this scene and, therefore, something that we (as an audience) know the Sparrows do when one goes against the Seven Gods. The artistic aspect is that, again, this shows Cersei at her weakest and with nothing to protect herself. Yet at the same time, it demonstrates her strength and will power. It would have been easy for Cersei to have just stopped and fall down in the middle of the streets, defeated, but she carried on through this torment. Even during her weakest moment, Cersei’s character and will power is still incredibly strong.

What is incredibly interesting about this particular scene is that the actual nudity was not provided by Lena Headey, but a body double. Actor Rebecca Van Cleave has said in interviews (such as her interview with EW) that it was actually an incredibly gratifying experience and one she was immensely thankful for. Van Cleave has now worked on the biggest television programme in the world, even earning a credit as “Naked Cersei” on IMDb. She does not see her performance as an objectification or degradation, but rather as an opportunity to showcase her acting talents, which is refreshing take on an actors views on nudity.

This is Not a Defence

Game of Thrones
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her army of seemingly inept Unsullied.

Despite these scenes representing good examples of when the show has exploited nudity in an artistic and meaningful way, here is still plenty of pure nakedness (if we are conforming to John Berger’s view point). There are so many female characters that have stripped off for pointless reasons or purely for “sexposition” and it has rightly earned the show a stigma.

It is also significant to acknowledge that the amount of female nudity vastly outweighs male nudity/nakedness by such a huge margin. This is something that needs to be addressed by the showrunners. However, as opposed to upping the male nudity count, the show should, instead, reduce the amount of nudity altogether. Game of Thrones sometimes loses sight of what it is all about when some gratuitous, vulgar and pointless “sexposition” scene comes on; scenes which have not benefited in any way because it features nudity and the point of the scene would not be any different if the characters were clothed.

The nudity and naked bodies have also heavily affected some characters and how we view them, too. The character of Daenerys, for example, in season 1 had a lot of scenes where her character was naked, scantily clad or was having sex (consensual or otherwise) and because of that, she has been objectified ever since and her character has not been allowed the same development as other strong female characters. Characters such as Cersei have only appeared naked sparingly and because of this, the audience are able to get invest their time into her character and storyline. Whereas, with Daenerys, because of the first season there most likely always be a portion of the audience that are consciously watching just for the chance to see Emilia Clarke naked, which may have been the major reason why the actor’s decision to no longer to full frontal nudity on the show.

These scenes are not a defence of the amount of or of certain uses of nudity, but rather just a plea for viewers to not judge a boob by its cover (or indeed, lack of). Not every use of the naked body is distasteful, in fact many pieces of artwork and sculptures revolve around the naked body and these scenes somewhat embody that artistic element. We, as a collective audience, then must somewhat remove ourselves from these moments and stop assuming that all of these types of scenes in Game of Thrones are distasteful and ask ourselves whether there is, in fact, a reason for the nudity.

Works Cited

Berger, John. 1973. Ways of Seeing. London: British Broadcasting Corp.

Mulvey, Laura. 1975. Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema. Screen 16: Oxford University Press. Pg. 6-18

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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85 Comments

  1. I just pray that Sansa doesn’t get pregnant — I can’t imagine the hue and cry that would come up then — because she could NOT have that baby.

    • A friend and I were talking the other day how there’s so little pregnancies in Thrones compared to the amount of sex on the show. But I agree, I really hope Sansa doesn’t get pregnant, nor do I think she will. But we never kow with this show…

    • I agree! I so badly hope that she and Theon band together and kill Ramsay. Ever since the death of Jeoffrey, he has been the character whose death I’ve been waiting for the most.

  2. ILustHair
    0

    Jaime and Brienne are possibly my favorite characters, and why their relationship is my favorite in the books.

    • I’ve only read the first three books, and although Jon and Ghost (I know this is currently contentious, but the Stark children’s relation to their wolves is just brilliant) is my favourite relationship in the books, the Jaime-Brienne stuff was just wonderful on paper and on-screen.

  3. I’m looking forward to watching Melisandre die a long, messy and painful death.

    • Meg Knox
      0

      You’re going to be left wanting, I think. I’ve got $20 says she makes it to the end of the series.. (or near as makes no difference)

    • Uh, why? She’s pretty clearly one of the good guys, just uses extreme methods.

  4. SadFace
    1

    The Red Woman is a great character, worshipping one of the few gods in the realm that actually shows himself to have some power as opposed to the seven who just… sit there…

    She’s one of the few sane religious fanatics the show has.

    • I really love the religions in the show and equally love how the most dismissed religion in Westeros is the most visibly powerful.
      I would also put money on there just being one God, being the same one for each religion.

  5. justinius23

    for all of cersei’s sins (and there are many) the length and degrading aspect of the walk of shame softened my attitude towards her a little. after all, isn’t it true a lot of her questionable deeds HAVE been done with the safety and well-being of her children in mind.

    • Despite being a horrible person, Cersei is one the best and one of my favourite characters. Unlike Joffrey or Ramsay she does actually have two redeeming qualities. Her children and her cheekbones.

  6. Monique

    The bit about Lena Headey using a body double – I believe that was done because Headey has a large number of tattoos all over her body, and editing or covering them all for the entire scene would have been more difficult than using a double.

  7. conorsmall

    I think some of the gratuitous nudity is meant to be tasteless in order to bring Westeros to life. The show’s creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have said during interview how closely they work with George R.R. Martin in bringing GOT to the screen, and I think Martin has striven to create this male-dominated world at the expense of women. It is objectifying and, I agree, it sometimes feels unnecessary, but this throws the artistically inclined nudity into sharp relief. Jaime and Brienne’s bath scene, Cersei’s walk through King’s Landing… Martin, Benioff, and Weiss make those scenes so powerful by showing women rising above the social oppression of a male-dominated world and making a statement beyond objectification (even if, in Cersei’s case, her ulterior motives are unknown to the crowds of commoners flinging those insults at her). I find it one of the elements that makes Thrones so interesting when considered on the whole.

    • I think it’s somewhat a sign of a great television show just one aspect of a show can spark such discussion and without it it would be much less interesting. On the whole I do agree with you, but just because something is meant to be tasteless doesn’t necessarily it will still work.

      • conorsmall

        Yeah, the amount of discussion over even one aspect of the show is what makes Thrones such a juggernaut. Here we are entering season six and, despite some detractors, the series keeps on growing in both its fan base and story arcs beyond the books.
        And, what’s more, we’re both clearly getting something different out of the show.

        • I mean thank the Gods there is this sort of opposition and discourse, otherwise I wouldn’t have had an article to write!

  8. DClarke

    Nicely done. I think that you were ultimately fair to both the books and the television adaptation as well as being fair to the use of nudity and coverage. I also appreciate your conclusion where you explain that this is not a defense. It shows that you have given real thought to the material and are challenging the rest of the viewers to pay attention.

  9. Lewandowski
    0

    Tyrion had the best line of the wedding, “And now my watch begins”

  10. I know this is not a popular opinion. The concept of marriage, sexual conduct and the treatment of women (and men) have evolved since medieval times (or even within the past 50 years a la Mad Men), and thankfully so. Thus, it irritates me when some people apply current day values and mores to those of more distant times. For example, I would be much more horrified by the depiction of a character who conducts human trafficking in today’s world than I would be by the depiction of a story about slavery, which is basically the same evil thing. But that is me, and perhaps I am too jaded or cynical to understand a lot of people’s anachronistic responses.

    • I know where you’re coming from and agree that the that it being a reflection of history should not be dismissed, yet I was still reluctant to talk about it. Sometimes I think people are just willing to condemn something whatever. There are multitudes of arguments for and against why this point is valid (authenticity) or not (it’s fantasy amd could therefore it doesn’t have to reflect history (which is a pretty flimsy argument)). But really, I don’t think Thrones is going to change this approach now and I’d much rather have something based on some form of reality than not.

    • Crowder
      0

      I think we can all agree that women were treated pretty horrifically back in Days or Yore (not really sure how to cover such huge swathes of time linguistically here). However, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have discussions—even heated ones—about such an uncomfortable topic, as long as we don’t devolve into name-calling or finger-pointing.

  11. I really appreciate the time and thought you have put into this post.

  12. carice is the hottest chick on GoT

  13. Should have 2 seasons per year. The wait kills me..

  14. Aurelio
    0

    Great work for all actors and cast to bring to life a epic scenes not just for a fiction called Game of Thrones but giving us a glimpse of a historical fact practice in human civilization.

  15. Regarding Cercei scene using a double, I’m sure this woman is a good actress, but I don’t buy that HBO hired her for any reason other than the way her body looks and her bust size. If they cared about the integrity of the moment they should have hired someone Lena Headey’s age with a body that actually resembles hers.

    • I initially didn’t know that a body double was used. I genuinely couldn’t have guessed it was a double. When I watched the episode again it was clear where the double was used, but I still thought her appearance mirrored Lena Headey’s as did her movements to Headey’s facial emotions.

    • Yeah, they should have had the female equivalent of the flasher, if you check up her stats she is 5’91/2″, 35-25-35 & 9 stone. i.e. About a stone or more underweight (totally normal for Hollywood ‘average’).

      That is almost fashion-model thin (they are perhaps 11/2-2 stone underweight).

      Whatever, you don’t need numbers to see she is very slim with a flat belly and well-defined waist, far from ‘normal’ outside of Hollywood. Maybe normal-looking women are simply too ashamed of their bodies to even consider such a role.

  16. Diedra Voss
    0

    Thanks for this article. Pretty fascinating insight into the work of a mostly seen-but-unseen part of the movie industry.

  17. Tell me about it— look at us all, scrounging around the internet for hints weeks after the season finale. I wonder how long I do this before I forget about GOT and what the hell is going to happen to Jon Snow! A one year wait is a bitch. If they don’t resurrect him until season 7, that will be even more cruel.

  18. AmadoBeebe
    0

    I still can’t get over the fact that of all the things we’ve seen on GoT, which one could easily say is the most shock-value TV series ever made (need I remind you of the gory eviscerations, the disembowelments, the beheadings, the flayings, the tortue, THE OTHER RAPE SCENES, the crushing of living human skulls like grapes), the rape is where so many viewers draw a line in the sand.

    • That is a fair point that other aspecs of the show should be given more discourse, so on the bright side this has at least given me an idea for another article.

  19. Another fantastic post. Thank you! Tolkien and GRRM are my favourite authors.

  20. I can only imagine how George has to get into each of these characters’ heads and think how they feel etc. Gods to have that kind of imagination and intelligence

  21. English
    0

    I have always been interested in the fact that Jaime followed Cersei in the world clutching her heel.

  22. MylesReis
    0

    Carice Van Houten is captivating as this character. I always get excited when I know she’s going to be in an episode. The ambiguity of her performance is mesmerising, compelling, fascinating.

    She is the perfect realisation of GRRM’s most interesting character creation, the Red Woman.

    Thank you Carice for bringing magic and mystery to an oftentimes very bleak program. You have the old style Hollywood charisma that makes for a true star.

    • Van Houten is one of the best performers in the show and a part of the actors who are shoved under the rug a little. Others like Alfie Allen, Iain Glenn. John Bradley, the list goes on.
      Melisandre is almost the embodiment of the show with the ambiguity and not knowing a character’s true intentions.

  23. I can’t stand Cersei, but I do look forward to her revenge on that nun.

    • Shame! Shame! Shame! STFU you annoying cow!! LOL I hated that nun as well.

  24. JenaGee
    0

    Honestly, thank you for all of this. It is a great analysis.

  25. castellanos
    0

    You still know nothing, Jon Snow.

  26. I actually love Red Woman character. She always leaves me wondering what the hell she’s up to;)

  27. Somehow, I think Cersei’s promise that the tormentor, the bellringing brutal Septa’s last sight while she was still alive would be Cersei’s face, will come true.

    • While pretty much all the storylines in the finale ended in a cliffhanger, Cersei’s was one of the few that gave us any insight to what will happen in season 6 and I can’t wait for her revenge.

  28. Very interesting article. I really like how you connected Melisandre’s nude scene in season 4 to the power she has over Selyse. I agree with your point that the show could limit the use of nudity as opposed to adding more male nudity. In fact, they sometimes do this once or twice a season and honestly I don’t miss the nudity. Nudity may be essential to a few of the scenes on this show but sometimes it is excessive.

    • Thank you! I think they are reducing it gradually, but I think it’s only being done because of the external “outcry” against it. A lot of people will just be against nudity full stop. But really if done right, then an entire film or television show could be film entirely in the nude.

  29. Me Haul
    0

    I love Game of Thrones.

  30. Kristen Tomorszki
    1

    Your detail and analysis are both intelligent and inspiring. Thank you so much for your writing. The differences between the books and the show regarding nudity are, as you say, deliberate in regards to how the audience is supposed to regard characters and their relationships. Innocence, vulnerability, power, sheer will, children – these are the things that define and motivate normal people in real life. It only makes sense to highlight them in such a tragically heroic show.

    I took certain things from the show differently than you did, however. For example, during Cersei’s walk of shame, I thought that showing Red Keep meant her focus on power, especially because of the shrinking size of the small council all season. Yes, she loves her children, but as one was shipped off to Dorne and the other died, she seamed to grow to love power more or just as much during season 5. Another example is Daenerys’ nudity in season 1. Where you suggest that the character was objectified and unable to develop, I argue that those “naked” beginnings – being sold to Kahl Drogo, used at the whim of her brother, being dragged around from city to city – are crucial to her development. As with most real people who have to overcome obstacles, we never lose sight of where we came from and are able to develop despite of hardships. Maybe people do watch Dany because they want to see her boobs, but they end up rooting for her nevertheless. I find her early nudity just as powerful as Melisandre’s in that she took control of it by denying it in the present time. Finally, I’m curious… which nude/naked scenes did you find pointless? Of course, as a fan of the show, I can find justification for all of the naked scenes 🙂

    Fantastic writing. I hope your article appears in both media and feminist studies’ curriculum.

    • Wow, this is my kind of comment!
      Firstly, thank you and it’s absolutely great that you’ve got different interpretations to these scenes. It’s what I love most about any art form really, but especially cinema (and I think we can consider some television cinema.)
      With the Cersei scene I do agree with you, power is something she is striving for and of course that’s what the Red Keep symbolises, also. But because she is so stripped down physically and mentally, so are her desires and at the heart of Cersei her strongest desire is her love and wanting to protect her children.
      Rather ironically, I guess, I was looking at Dany’s senes objectively there too. Her scenes are defnitely good character development (with that regards I think I mean her arcs after season 1 and season 2 especially). Also, speaking as a male viewer, her scenes especially S1 are very prurient. They do arouse and they are plentiful. Not that these scenes were bad as such just… too much of a good thing perhaps (if you know what I mean).
      For those “pointless” nude scenes (this should be fun) I would suggest that: S! Theon and Ros in the brothal; S1 Ros showing Theon her vagina for one last time; S2 (I think) Hodor’s nudity; S2 (again unsure) Ros and another whore are “initiated” into Littlefinger’s brothel; S3 Tyrion rewards Pod with three lovely ladies; S5 Obara teasing Bronn; S5 Grey Worm eyeing up Missandei in the river. These are just a few and I’m sure I could find more if I really wanted.
      Finally, thank you again especially for that last senetence, it really does mean a lot.

  31. Morgan R. Muller

    Clever title and very interesting article!

  32. You definitely have a way of making your arguments both valid and interesting. I never fully considered how much thought went into the use of nakedness and nudity in this show but I’m impressed. Also, great title. Way to grab someone’s attention!

    • Thank you very much! I think because of the show’s stigma the nude scenes just all get labelled the same without any receiving any recognition. And thank you again; I may speak with a bias, but I do love the title.

  33. Rachel Elfassy Bitoun

    I have to agree with the previous comment! Your title catches the attention very well as you already set the tone of your piece. You deal with sexuality and gender codes through nudity in the series in a very clever way. It is definitely not something people would think about at first when talking about GOT but you make us realise that it is actually a very significant question and theme! Great job 🙂

  34. what I like is that the amount of skin shown also shows where you might be from(fashion), what class you are and if you are pure or not. In kings landing alone we can tell you is a literal whore by what they are wearing. Kingdoms like Quarth and fitness the people show more skin due to the weather they are bit more wild compared to the capital.

  35. I definitely agree that there are strong, character-development-driven reasons for nudity, but I find the most problems with the rape scenes. In every case (whether with Danaerys, Sansa, or other), the writers seem to use rape simply as a way of indicating that a female character is having a rough time emotionally. Rather than providing her with some form of agency or emotional expression, they use rape as an explanation for negative female emotion.

  36. Morgan R. Muller

    Interesting defense to the pointless nudity on Game Of Thrones and a compelling topic to explore and analyze. Love the witty title and voice of the article, great job!

  37. George R.R. Martin does a great job of creating these characters and making the reader invest in them each individually. The show continues this tradition by leaving the audience with shock and awe as our favorites quickly die.

  38. Well said, this article really puts a great spotlight on the use of nudity in Game of Thrones. Im curious how season six will evolve

  39. Marcie Waters

    Love the topic. It’s one I’ve thought about writing about, so I’m glad someone actually did. I just wanted to make a correction. The person who coined the term “sexposition” was Myles McNutt (not McNuff). He was actually a teacher of mine in college.

  40. Emily Deibler

    Love the witty title! I’m a bit fatigued when it comes to GOT’s use of (very well-formed and normally well-shaved) women’s bodies, but good job highlighting less grievous instances where nudity can lend to the moment rather than be gratuitous and solely for the heterosexual male gaze.

  41. This article seems somewhat hung up on nudity. As far as i can see the show has mirrored the books in reflecting a grittier more animal reality than we normally see. Im also curious that there is no mention of how game of thrones is using nudity to show differences in social attitudes between different parts of the game of thrones world, i.e. A more relaxed and sensual south that wears less and looser clothes vs a colder more prim north. Finally i guess i’m left somewhat concerned that the focus is on nudity being unacceptable whereas the wholesale violence and torture happening at the same time gets no mention at all. Leaving the rapes aside in general a large portion of the nudity – male and female seems either to reflect people who are more relaxed and sensual or to show you have joined the characters on a more intimate level. If some of tne people involved are also easy on the eye then wheres the harm in that?

    • Thanks for your comment, but I don’t really understand what your grievance is.
      Yhis article is “hung up” on nudity because it is specifically an analysis on nudity/nakedness in the show. This is like saying an article on feinism in comic books, GoT, or anything for that matter, is hung up on being about feminism. I feel the most disputed aspect of Thrones (nudity, biolence, rape) all deserve to be focused on separately, as there is so much to discuss on each.

      Social difference – Honestly, I hadn’t thought of to analyse the show in that way. I wish I had included that and I like your brief analysis on it.

      “i guess i’m left somewhat concerned that the focus is on nudity being unacceptable” – I’m not sure what you mean. Are you saying you find the article’s focus on the subject of nudity unacceptable or that you believe it to be saying nudity on the show is unacceptable? On both accounts, I disagree. This article was and will always be about how the audience views GoT’s nudes scenes and how they immediately jump to it being something gratuitous and vulgar. I tried to bring well-executed scenes of nudity from the show to light to show that this isn’t always the case.

      If you’re irked by no mention of violence then here is an article I wrote on the subject: https://the-artifice.com/game-of-thrones-violence-gore/
      I am also intending to write one concerning rape on the show.
      Hopefully this covers all of your points.

  42. Winterling
    0

    This is an interesting article! I hope you don’t mind if I disagree with it – I’d love to talk with you about it in the comments!

    I think, first and foremost, this is a very…American analysis. European cinema has very different rules about nudity, and to be frank very different views on the human body. You mentioned Dany in Qarth wearing outfits with bared breasts as if it were distasteful, and that the writers of the show had done a good deed in not showing us those outfits. But I find it ironic, considering that the historical buffs always jump down throats when someone mentions that they find rape distasteful, to say that the traditional robes of Qarth (which are based just as much on historical past cultures as Westeros is) are ‘degrading’ because boobs. Here’s my thing: breasts are not sex objects. Obviously, people in Qarth do not treat them as such. It’s exactly the same as a dude going shirtless, which god knows enough of them do in Westeros.

    And here’s the thing: in Westeros, boobs ARE sex objects! If you really, really want to use an excuse, this is a good one. You can claim that you’re just filming from a Westerosi PoV and move on. But using this excuse is like saying “But Victorians thought ankles were sex objects so filming from a worm’s-eye view makes sense for these characters!”

    As for your analysis of Sansa’s marriage… I have a couple of questions.

    1. Tying Sansa’s ‘goodness’ and ‘purity’ to her NUDITY, not even her sex life, which is bad enough, but simply her NUDITY, is something I…disagree with. You seem to imply that just by undressing she would somehow lose her ‘innocence.’ She is still Sansa, the girl who makes snow castles at the Eyrie and catches snowflakes on her tongue, and that’s long after her marriage to Tyrion. She is still Sansa, and the kiss Littlefinger stole from her doesn’t make her less innocent, and Tyrion ogling her breasts doesn’t make her less innocent, and Marillion molesting her doesn’t make her less innocent either.

    2. Okay, so this is totally book purist of me but you also brought it up so I hope you don’t mind? In the book, yes, Sansa is totally naked. BUT SO IS TYRION. WE GET A LONG DESCRIPTION OF TYRION’S DICK. Is that necessary in the show?? No, and frankly I was relieved when we didn’t have to see either of them naked. But if you’re going to point out that she was naked in the book and not in the show, then it seems fair to balance it out with the fact that Tyrion was also very naked. (This goes back to what you talked about in the beginning with female versus male nudity in the show, which I completely agree with!)

    3. You mention them not showing her nude because of acting laws (the actress was under 18) and because it was literally illegal for the show to do so. Okay, I’ll give you that, but what makes this point so incredibly nauseating is that she did turn eighteen. And then they filmed the Black Wedding. SO clearly this was not any concern for the actual integrity of a literally teenaged girl OR her even younger character, but only legality, which I think is even grosser.

    4. I would admire the writers more if they made choices that were not clearly pandering to a white male audience and/or literal acting laws in modifying nudity from the books. I haven’t made an actual count or anything, but somehow I think they’ve ADDED a lot more skin than they’ve taken out.

    I frankly don’t agree with your Jaime/Brienne analysis either, but this is turning into a post of it’s own and I feel quite bad for unloading it on you. 🙁 Yours, Respectfully,

    Winterling

    • Thanks for your comment and thanks for disagreeing! (I really mean it)

      I think the notion of prurience in Essos is a very relevent matter. The Dothraki, for example, are not considered as such for their clothing and sex scenes because of their tribal nature. Qarth is a more sophisticated place, more akin to Westerosi cities, so I do believe that nakedness in Qarth would more likely be considered prurient. All i meant by it being a good decision not to shows Dany’s breasts as was done in the book was because there didn’t seem to be any reason to do so.

      Re sansa stuff: 1. The undressing does not mean that her character changes, but how we as the audience look at her. She does not become any less innocent etc, but we see her in a different way.
      2. Yeah, fair point. i definitely should’ve included Tyrion’s nakedness in there.
      3. This is just a devil’s advocate here, BUT it was probably because no nudity was actually shown. I still thought that because her character was underage they still couldn’t show something. Apparantley not the case…
      4. I think someone has actually not some statistical analysis of book vs show nudity and I beleive the bok came out on top completely. I’ll try and find the link. The white male audience will also be pandered to, whether intentionally or not, and that is quite sad. I do believe that this is getting better slwoly, though.

      I’d have liked to have heard what you disagreed with regarding the Jaime/Brienne scene and what you thought about Mel’s and Cersei’s scenes.

      Also, never feel you have to apologise for having a different opinion. In fact, I’m glad you did disagree with most of what I said.

      • I’m really glad you’re not upset! It’s always touch and go, on the internet, how someone will react to a differing opinion. But I love talking about (and debating) the things I enjoy reading/watching.

        Without further ado: on Qarth and outfits! Again I’m going to focus on the difference between the books and the show. 😛 Obviously in the books women wearing dresses with one breast bare would be normal, not obscene or prurient. That is something we as viewers bring with us. (Though I agree that they would find nakedness degrading just as we do.) The decision made in the show to change the design seems solid for several reasons; they talk about it on the wiki page: http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Costumes:_Essos

        But I think the discussion of having one breast bare ‘degrading’ Dany’s storyline is misleading. If it was filmed and treated as normal, it would be one step closer to BECOMING normal. It’s only ‘distracting’ because of the expectations we come to the screen with. The first time we see the Mountain he’s out killing people shirtless, but you don’t see people complaining that this undermines the seriousness of his scenes?

        (this is on the wiki, not you) but I find the claim that having extended dialogue scenes with her breast bare would undermine her character is ESPECIALLY rich coming from the writers of the show SO full of scenes with naked women and extended conversations that people came up with a term for it!

        I guess the only conclusion to draw from that claim is that its only undermining when the women are the ones supposed to be powerful. Apparently they can’t do that wearing a dress with one breast bare. Though GRRM has said that Qarth does not correspond to any real historical group, here is an interesting pin for this conversation: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/559572322425314203/
        Showing that high fashion in the 17th century sometimes involved necklines so low you could see a woman’s nipples. And yet somehow they went out in public and had conversations and presumably men heard what they were saying without being so ‘distracted’ that they literally couldn’t focus on the conversation.

        This is a funny turn around for me, because normally I’d definitely be arguing for less nudity, not more! But the thing about Game of Thrones (the show) is that it’s (almost) never about the characters themselves or what they are experiencing. It’s all about the viewer and how the viewer is getting off to the violence and the nakedness. When put that way, it makes sense to cut the outfits from Qarth: the women there aren’t naked for the viewers’ arousal/amusement. They were just living their lives, and in the case of Dany, arguing for ships.

        That argument ties back into what you were saying about Sansa: that it would change the way the viewers felt about her, not necessarily Sansa herself. By filming this way, the viewer does not empathize with the female characters and instead views them as an object. And if you at how the bedroom scene with Tyrion is filmed, you see that that’s exactly the case! We are watching Tyrion’s reaction to Sansa’s undressing, Tyrion’s feelings and conflict. The camera treats Sansa as a thing, and so does the viewer.

        I’m not a prude, arguing that there should be less sex and violence on TV. I’m saying that because of the choices the show writers have made, they display nudity /only/ in sexual contexts, and thus eliminate the fact that women exist outside of those contexts. In Qarth, that dress is not revealing. It is just a dress. The fact that they chose not to show it doesn’t mean they didn’t want more boob scenes with Emilia Clarke; it means that they are literally incapable of showing breasts as anything OTHER than sexual. And that’s a problem.

        • Very, very well said and argued. I completely see your point now. The argument can be made then that it is the audience need to lter their expectations rather than how the show portrays nakedness and nudity. Of course, this isn’t the whole case, the show still uses nudity only as sexual. In fact, the only non-sexual example of nakedness on the show I can think of is that one brief scene where we see Hodor’s penis. Saying that, he is also a non-sexual character, simpleton, and a male (not that he cannot be found “sexy”).

          I still think Qarth is an odd place. I completely agree with your statments on cultural differences and historical contexts, and if a one boob out Dany was in Mereen or Yunkai I would definitely agree, but Qarth just seems too civilise, on the show that is. Obviously, they still have their own rules and standards because of their culture, but it is probably the most Western city in Essos, and hence I still feel the boob out attire would still feel a little off. Something like this has to be established very early on, and I don’t believe we are given any hints that the fashion is ridisculously different copared to what we’ve already seen – I think in the context of the show the way Qarth was portrayed was to make a substantial distinction between them and the only other culture we’d seen up until that point – the Dothraki. So I belive that if some form of fashion staement with a breast exposed would’ve blurred the lines between sophisticated Qarth…eens(?) and the Dotjraki.

          I ususally watch the show before my brother does and when he gets home he will usually ask me a couple of questions, and normally one is about whether there was boobs in the show. This annoys me to no end A) because he supports the notion of only viewing nudity as sexual and B) the nudity shouldn’t be one of the primary interests of the show.
          I do believe that some examples of nudity in the show isn’t sexual, but this is probably just from my sole perspective (hetero male viewer btw). Unfortunately, my brother embodies the majority that sees all boobs as sexual, and that’s just so disappointing.

          • Your comment on Hodor is really important! However, while not sexual in and of itself, it plays on the same theme – it is a sexual joke, just made visual. Like making a poop joke on screen, it is meant to be vulgar to the viewer, though obviously Hodor has no concept of vulgarity.

            And as for Qarth, I agree that on the show there were multiple, solid reasons for changing the costume. Not limited to the fact that they were filming in Morocco, and it would have been difficult to find enough extras and also obey local obscenity laws. In the end, we can’t always separate the fictional norms from the real-world problems. (Though I think when one is filming a television series, attempting to do so enriches the feeling of actually being in another world!)

            Game of Thrones had the possibility to be a gritty, explicit fantasy show that reached further than most ‘genre’ television, beyond boobs and blood, as it were. Sadly, boobs and blood are what sells, and in the end the people running the show are out to make money. Which they are doing but the bucket-load.

            I still think conversations like this one are vital to have! After all, what we watch influences who we are and how we act in the real world. I’m not saying watching Game of Thrones is going to make someone a more violent person, but when our media condones and actually approves of violence, physical and sexual, then people internalize the idea that this is how one responds.

            A little off topic, but let me just say that you can film a very violent movie without condoning violence! Mad Max Fury Road was noted for it’s high death toll and crazy stunts, but everything from the soundtrack to the reactions of the characters made a point of saying that this violence was BAD.

            The GoT books make no judgement towards the violence they represent – they are simply reporting what happens. The show, however, glories in the violence and horror it creates. THAT is where we need to draw the line.

            I’ve had a great time talking to you! I wish more people on the internet could reasonably discuss their differences and find points of agreement!

            • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it! It’s been really mentally stimulating talking with you. Hopefully I get to read an article of yours, which I’m sure will be every bit as intelligent as this discussion has been. Valar morghulis.

  43. Thanks for your comment and thanks for disagreeing! (I really mean it)

    I think the notion of prurience in Essos is a very relevent matter. The Dothraki, for example, are not considered as such for their clothing and sex scenes because of their tribal nature. Qarth is a more sophisticated place, more akin to Westerosi cities, so I do believe that nakedness in Qarth would more likely be considered prurient. All i meant by it being a good decision not to shows Dany’s breasts as was done in the book was because there didn’t seem to be any reason to do so.

    Re sansa stuff: 1. The undressing does not mean that her character changes, but how we as the audience look at her. She does not become any less innocent etc, but we see her in a different way.
    2. Yeah, fair point. i definitely should’ve included Tyrion’s nakedness in there.
    3. This is just a devil’s advocate here, BUT it was probably because no nudity was actually shown. I still thought that because her character was underage they still couldn’t show something. Apparantley not the case…
    4. I think someone has actually not some statistical analysis of book vs show nudity and I beleive the bok came out on top completely. I’ll try and find the link. The white male audience will also be pandered to, whether intentionally or not, and that is quite sad. I do believe that this is getting better slwoly, though.

    I’d have liked to have heard what you disagreed with regarding the Jaime/Brienne scene and what you thought about Mel’s and Cersei’s scenes.

    Also, never feel you have to apologise for having a different opinion. In fact, I’m glad you did disagree with most of what I said.

    • Aaand, if you want me to go on, go on I will! About your discussion of Jamie and Brienne – I think the problem is much the same as Dany’s (and indeed you talk about her extensive nudity in s1 as a factor in this): the idea that a naked character is always sexual. Because Game of Thrones frames it this way, I can hardly blame viewers for internalizing this idea.

      Now this is an explicitly showrunner problem – I actually completely agree with your analysis of the meaning of the nudity (and lack thereof) in this scene! It was powerful, and meaningful. However. If you as a showrunner are so completely divorced from your female characters that showing them naked is ALWAYS a vulnerability, ALWAYS a sexual act, then what does that say about your female characters? Mostly it says that you can’t write them.

      Look at it another way – if we had been filming the female body as neutral, as just a body, then it wouldn’t have /mattered/ whether or not the viewers saw Brienne. In fact, we could have focused the shot on her face instead of Jaime’s.

      As for Melisandre’s role and her power over Selyse, I definitely agree that Stannis values Meslisandre more. He actually low-key despises his wife for being unable to produce a healthy male heir. Melisandre brings him power (and pleasure, lets not deny).

      BUT again we come to the cultural aspect. Selyse is uncomfortable because she is Westerosi (and a prude). Melisandre is comfortable because she is from the Free Cities, where it is shown that sex is a natural part of the Red God’s worship. Melisandre doesn’t care about nudity or even sex because that is part of how she was raised – the Westerosi would say she was raised in a whore-house, but she was raised in a temple and it is VERY different.

      Here’s how I see the scene: there are three people in it. Melisandre, Selyse, and the viewer. Selyse and the viewer see the Red Woman’s nakedness as sexual (the viewer is aroused by this, the Queen disturbed). But the Red Woman herself? Is just bathing.

      Okay last scene! Cersei and her walk of shame. Okay okay okay. Talking about cultural disconnect, and then we have a purely Westerosi and a purely Andal ritual. The Seven and their fanatical followers (whom Cersei has unwisely encouraged, thinking they would aid her) are a HUGE part of how Westerosi view social norms. When they cut her hair and make her strip, they are forcing humiliation on her.

      I actually rewatched the scene and realized that this ties back to what I said earlier: the viewer is meant to be aroused by this. This is a humiliation of a powerful female character, and it is filmed so that the viewer can say ‘oh yes, that bitch, getting her comeuppance.’

      Now I completely agree that her children are her motivation! She would do absolutely anything for them. As power hungry as she is, it is all in their name. And absolutely her strength in that walk was remarkable; that she made it all the way to the Red Keep without falling is testament to her strength. Sadly, I do not believe that the show writers were lauding that strength as much as they were displaying her nakedness.

      • The Brienne scene in some ways pulls the wool over our eyes with this, as her femininity and showing as such through her naked body is a genuine “weakness” of hers that she hates showing. I don’t think the showrunners have always shown nudity as a female vulnerability, but definitely more so than not and by a long way.

        Another good point on cultural differences. It is often easy to forget that Mel is not from Westeros because she is just so comfertable (confident is maybe a better word) around everyone. I really like this scene because it brings together so many elements of nudity and nakedness: prurience, authenticity, cultural context as you so rightly pointed out, and now there is the theorisation that Mel was in her true form (the old woman from the S6 premiere). This brings in a completely new element to the scene. Selyse being a true believer and not needing to seeing the beautiful Red Woman, while the viewer (the objectifying viewer) still needs the beauty to be convinced to go along with Mel; it is not until the audience wants and “needs” her most that she reveals her true self to us (which was a great scene, too). The audience is willing to not care who she is or what she looks like for one thing everyone (seemingly) wanted – Jon Snow.

        I see what you mean when you say the audience is meant to be “aroused” by Cersei’s humiliation, but I believe a better word to use would be schadenfreude (taking pleasure in others’ pain/humiliation etc.). The one issue i have with this scene, Cersei’s all too perfect body. We’ve scene recenlty with OAP Mel that an accurate depiction of an elderly woman was done excellently, but why couldn’t they have done this with a mother of three? If we had seen the toll of three pregnancies on Cersei’s body it would’ve been a scene much more focused on her punishment than on her nakedness being a main focus.

        • On Brienne, I completely agree! Especially in this scene, her dislike of her own body is used as a weapon against Jaime – she believes no one can see her as beautiful, so she sees it as something she /inflicts/ on him as much as a display of her own vulnerability.) 🙁

          Agree on Melisandre as well! I think Selse’s fanatical belief is super interesting, considering their relative positions in the court. In a world where SO MUCH of what these people do is a mask, a political convienience, it’s almost disturbing to see the Queen so openly fervent. (I think it’s possible, though I’d have to rewatch the episode to be sure, that Selyse is MORE comfortable once the Red Woman has removed her desirability from the equation. That once she reveals her ‘true form’ Selyse is allowed to distance the object of her devotion from the mistress of her husband.)

          On Cersei, yes schadenfruede is useful, but I think it goes beyond that. This is more for the scene before her walk, when her hair is cut. There are long, lingering shots of her breasts and…there is no polite word for this…her privates, her butt; barely focusing on her face (this was also because a body double was used, I believe) or her emotion – this is a scene not meant to show Cersei’s strength, but to display her female weakness.

          And I 100% agree with the idea that they could have displayed an actual female body rather than a Hollywood model!! It would have fit in so well with Game of Thrones ~realism~ but again we see the hypocrisy. The ‘realism’ extends only as far as rape and brutal, violent deaths. It is not meant to be real, but to be titillating, as we see here.

  44. Dany’s nudity in the first season was truly pointless. On the other hand, when she emerges from the fire (nude), I find it to be very powerful. It shows us her raw capacity to rule the world.

  45. Nudity where and when required is acceptable, but unnecessary nudity is just a way to attract viewers. Brienne and Cersei’s Are still acceptable, but Dany’s..ah.dont think so..

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