I sat on this post for a long time, because I really wanted to get my thoughts together on this and wait until a few episodes into the season. However, it’s painfully clear that I am not the only in the ‘Game of Thrones’ fandom to take issue with the sexism and the race issues being brought up in the show this season.
From Tumblr pages to ONTD to well-written essays on the topic, it seems like one or both of the aforementioned issues I am wrestling with regarding the show are being discussed, whether people like it or not. Does ‘Game of Thrones’ have a race and sexposition problem?
Sexposition is defined as the using sex to give the characters something to do, or grab the audience’s attention, as opposed to really contributing something major. Don’t get me wrong, sex scenes can be quite vital, but in this season of Game of Thrones, there tends to be a trend to add sexually graphic scenes to grab our attention, not develop the characters I mean, in season two, there were women wiping some man nectar from their mouths in a flagrant show of sexposition. What was the point in that?
Sex in The Seven Kingdoms: Where’s the Beef(cake)?
Sex in HBO’s version of the Seven Kingdoms seems to be a primarily male pastime, with the women on the fringes or on the receiving end of a piping down.
As a fan of the ASOIAF books, I know that sex is not taboo but isn’t as prevalent as in the series. Sexist and misogynist men are, but that’s natural because that’s keeping with the time and attitudes of the world. For example, Brienne of Tarth encounters grief for having the nerve to be a woman in armor and mail because she’s actually very good at fighting, seems vastly uninterested in sex—even though she was in love with Renly, she wanted to protect and defend him by force, not by providing him a womb and her bosom—and she’s rejected the idea that only men are powerful and in control of their destinies while other women in Westeros just have children and hope for the best. Yet, it seems like the series adds lots of boobs and lady parts just to titillate the audience. My question to the producers, the writers, and the HBO honchos who approve this is who in the audience are you trying to tantalize? It doesn’t titillate me at all, but leaves me wanting to go smoke a cigarette or post on Twitter because it’s like watching a Divas match on the WWE (the TNA Knockouts are much more enjoyable, by the way)… It’s just there for the people who, for whatever reason, need to see tits and ass (and more) and get all hot and bothered for it. I have plenty of sex in my own life. I don’t need an already built in plot from the books usurped by sex scenes that don’t make sense or waste time. We wasted time on Roslyn and the man nectar scene when we could’ve learned more about Catelyn, Robb’s trials as a new king, Tyrion, Sansa, even Arya… Game of Thrones’ doesn’t need to be softcore period porn for me to enjoy the show.
Then again, I don’t think the producers or the writers are catering to me. I think they are courting a male demographic that they believe will enjoy that kind of thing. Sex is not taboo to George R.R. Martin when it comes to writing it into the books. We’ve got all manner of incestuous relationships going on, along with hetero and non-hetero relationships. I was and am able to enjoy the books easily. The problem is the series is clearly doing too much. It’s the TV equivalent of girls who kiss each other in a nightclub, not because they enjoy it, but because they think it looks “hot.”
To add insult to injury, we see women’s bodies constantly on display for the male gaze, but what about the female gaze? NEWSFLASH: We like seeing cute guys with nice bodies. Yeah, we got one to two episodes where there was one scene with Theon and Gendry showing their well-built bodies off. We saw Theon topless in episode one—but then again, we also got a whole lot of naked wench in the bed with him… But what about Jon Snow, Robb Stark, and Tyrion Lannister? Hell, even the Kingslayer at this point. I’d even take Littlefinger. We are watching too, and we are legion. If we are going to be flagrant with the sexposition, then we could at least make it equal. We don’t even get that much of Renly and Loras, and they are canon characters who are (although implied in the books thus far) a couple, albeit a forbidden one.
Sometimes the sexposition goes into very brutal territory, which seems to be an extreme effort to really distract the reader, as we saw in the “Garden of Bones” episode. In “Garden of Bones” (read my recap here), Joffrey enters his room only to find two prostitutes, one of them being Ros (of course!) and the other named Daisey. Tyrion had sent them to his room so that they could maybe loosen up Joff sexually, and then maybe he’d be a softer person. Why? There’s really no way that the Tyrion I know from the books would’ve have made such a misstep because he knows Joffrey is a rat bastard and the worst human being alive, aside from Cersei and Littlefinger. He’s Joff’s uncle for God’s sake. Yet, the writers opted to put that in there for reasons I really can’t understand or get behind because it was obvious pandering.
While I don’t agree with everything, Myles McNutt from Cultural Learnings explained my issues with Ros going down on Daisey for Joff’s “enjoyment” more eloquently than I could parse:
Without perhaps getting into the whole conversation, I do agree that sexposition often says something about sex. However, I’d also argue it says something very problematic about sex, at least in its most common manifestation. There is a logic to using sex as a space for exposition, as it’s an environment which takes place in private and shows people often at their most vulnerable, thus making them more likely to open up. The sequences also often reveal something about the sexual politics of Westeros, which are a key part of Martin’s books even if he explores them through language more often than through the carnal act in and of itself.
The problem is where that lesson about sexual politics actually lands. Scenes between characters who are both tied into the story, like Renly or Loras, end up developing those characters in relation to those sexual politics. By comparison, scenes in which Ros or another prostitute are effectively tools to be used to reveal information doesn’t allow for that lesson (about the power dynamics of Westeros as they relate to gender and sexuality) to develop within the female party. Ros was featured in countless exposition sequences, but we never really learned anything more about her character even through her cumulative – oh jeez, that unintentional pun is too terrible to delete – appearances would create that potential. Ros was being positioned as an object within this world, but the fact that she was simultaneously functioning as a narrative object seemed to devalue any larger political statement that could be made here.
He’s more generous than I. I didn’t really find Ros necessary at ALL because she was not necessary in the books. She’s not a canon character. Ros was a prostitute that Theon was fond of before she left for King’s Landing to service richer clients. That is the last we should have seen of Ros according to the books. I certainly don’t remember much mention of Ros because she was just a character mentioned here and there to illustrate the sexuality of the male characters like Theon and Tyrion and their ability to do whatever they want sexually. We could’ve gotten an idea as to what was happening to the common folk through Arya or maybe even Davos (or others). Instead, we get a medieval/TV equivalent of a Girls Gone Wild scene that did nothing but state the obvious. We get it. Joff is a punk.
Where’s Chataya and Alayaya?
In A Clash of Kings, the book that this season is *loosely* based on, Tyrion deals with Chataya and Alayaya. Chataya, a Summer Islander, is implied to be a woman of color. In fact, she’s quite clearly black and so is her daughter, and employee, Alayaya. Where Ros caves and bends to the whims of men and alternately hates, then enjoys her job, Chataya and Alayaya own the brothel, they own their sexuality and they like sex. We can argue how this could be potentially problematic, but that is best for another post.
I wonder if the producers and writers on the show were worried about how the viewers would deal with the fact that Tyrion was not only attracted to Chataya, but extremely attracted to Alayaya (he pitched a tent in his pants in the book). Were the producers and writers afraid that people would run from an interracial attraction? If so, who cares what those people think?
I found the excuse to get rid of canon POC characters for Ros (Esmee Bianco) utterly unacceptable. We met Salladhor Saan very briefly and we were fine. And I wasn’t the only person to find their exclusion from season 2, but the addition of Ros, to be irritating and extremely disconcerting.
I don’t even want to get started on Salladhor Saan’s foaming at the mouth for Cersei. Yes, he definitely wanted to get it in with Cersei in ACoK, but he was foaming at the mouth in the scene where he talks with Davos Seaworth, enough for me to cringe because the implications and the way most people–regardless of race–understand the scene are far less innocent and a lot more racially charged.
So either they are completely oblivious to what’s going on with the viewers and the fans (especially readers of the books) or they don’t care, which is a problem for me. I love GRRM, but the way sex and race are being executed in the show is troubling and a disservice to the books.
Will there be changes in the next few episodes? I don’t think so, but hopefully they will learn for next season. But as long as these issues remain ignored, the show might find itself creating a rift within the fandom, as well as losing those who would remain loyal without having to use sex as a tool to bring in views.