Game of Thrones and Women as Props

Game of Thrones - Why They Died

Yeah, I’m not touching the topic of GoT’s violence yet.

I just finished watching up to the end of season 4 of Game of Thrones. It is purely coincidence that I caught up to there right after it drew a lot of controversy for a rape scene in this past week’s episode. I haven’t seen the episode, and won’t until it’s on Blu-Ray (if even then). I can’t comment on that rape scene in any meaningful way. I can say I didn’t particularly see as much of a problem with the scene of Jaime raping Cersai right in front of their dead son’s body as some did. To me, it was clearly rape and presented negatively, not saying it was consensual or anything like that, but I know some others interpreted it differently and they probably have a point.

I can also say where I do have a serious problem with the show, enough that I’m not sure yet whether to pick up season 5 or not. That problem is the prevalence of naked women as props. I don’t particularly mind nudity used to tell a story. For example, the early Daenerys story was well done. We meet her and she is quickly naked, established as essentially being the property of her brother to sell off in return for an army. She’s virtually a sex slave and her brother is clearly the villain. But then, a few episodes in, she takes control of what she can control, starting with dramatically taking charge while having sex with Drogo – her forced husband. That turns into an actual love story and her acting like a real Queen the rest of the way, including freeing slaves everywhere she goes. She may be the only character that everybody likes, and that story wouldn’t have worked as well if she wasn’t naked at least once or twice early on. The actress has since stipulated in her contract that she will no longer appear naked, which is great for her if she didn’t want to, but also is no longer necessary in her story arc.

Those aren’t the stories or the nudity that I’m talking about. I’m talking about the brothel scenes where it adds nothing to the story that two men are talking about something important. If those scene was in the palace, the story would have progressed basically the same way. Some modern movies will pull the same stunt with strip clubs and it always feels like the creators were just asking “how do we get boobs in this movie?”

Probably an average over one per episode, there is a naked woman – sometimes full frontal, often just upper body – and I’d say about half of those scenes actually add to the story in some way. Of course, there is also the occasional penis, but it is much more occasional and I would say always when it actually added something, not surprising since penises typically don’t bring in the same ratings.

Before I conclude this miniature rant, another variant is how remarkably well-groomed all of these naked women are by modern standards. It doesn’t matter that this is essentially a medieval world where many don’t even have the luxury of regular bathing. All of these prop women are completely hairless – including pubic when they go full-frontal. They always have remarkably perky breasts for a world presumably without bras. They are always perfectly clean, not just in the high-end brothel of the capital but also on front-lines of battle or in backwater taverns sitting on top of filthy men (literally filthy/dirty). They aren’t unnatural-looking like porn stars or anything, but they are clearly actresses hired to look good by our standards naked – as opposed to actresses hired to fit the kind of world Game of Thrones is set in. If they’re claiming that this is supposed to be a realistic patriarchal, gritty world, these are inconsistencies. It’s not just demeaning to women – it’s also bad storytelling.

Will I watch next season? I don’t know yet. So far I’ve felt like the positives – including the incredibly powerful women in the central roles – have outweighed the negatives, but this tendency is definitely a cause for worry.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.