Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Game of Thrones and the tool of sex

I feel like I should write a post about Game of Thrones and have been wracking my brain since last Monday and the start of series 2 on Sky Atlantic.  I loved the first series but Game of Thrones is fantasy on an epic scale.  There are four families, both filled with characters and companions which means the cast list is horrendously long.  Each episode can only concentrate on so much so it is difficult to review as I don’t feel I’ve seen the full picture yet.

The one thing I am enjoying about series 2, and I feel the need to mention it, are the enormous Dire Wolves that we met as cubs in series 1.  They are beautiful and I want more of them, please.

However, this week’s episode got to me.  Something niggled away at me throughout and it was this; sex.  The use of sex as a tool and, most notably, incestual sex.  It is one of the taboo subjects in fiction along with bestiality and rape.  A writer must be careful when using any of these themes in their fiction, they must be used as a tool, with a purpose.
A successful example in Game of Thrones is the incestual relationship between Jaime and Cersei Lannister.  There is nothing visibly forced about what they do, in some way there is a sense of genuine affection, and it has resulted in the youngest Stark, Bran, becoming disabled and left to lead Winterfell in the second series and, of course, in Joffrey.  Joffrey, the awful child king, is now the centre of the war – he is not the true son of the king and therefore not the rightful heir which is a pivotal plot point in Game of Thrones.  Joffrey is at the centre of most of the storylines running through Game of Thrones.  All of this results in this incestual act between Jaime and Cersei feeling acceptable.

We had another brief glimpse of something incestual when we first met Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen.  Again, I found this to be acceptable as it gave an overview of Viserys ‘s character within seconds; this man is a horrible character who deserves a painful death at the hands of his sister.  It also showed that he viewed his sister purely as a piece of meat, a bargaining tool and to hell with what actually became of her.

An example of incest in series 2 comes from beyond the wall where we find Jon Snow (one of my favourites).  Here the Night Watch find a man who marries his daughters and, possibly, sacrifices his sons.  He is a disgusting oaf of a man surrounded young girls bearing his children.  While I shuddered at the thought of this storyline, I actually found it clever.  Here is a man who has found a way to survive beyond the wall, safe from the Wildlings – how?  Why?  What will become of his pregnant daughter who goes to Jon Snow for help and what will become of him?  This story on its own is intriguing but only because Jon Snow is an honourable, trustworthy and likeable character.  The viewer feels safe with him as he speaks with this horrible man, interacts with his daughters and follows him, carrying a crying baby, into the woods.  This example of incest is not acceptable but it is a tool that has been cleverly used in this particular plot point.

This week’s episode showed Theon Grerjoy riding astride a horse with a woman.  Now he doesn’t know she’s his sister (although she does), and technically the viewers don’t know (although it was easy enough to guess) but his grotesque fondling of her left me shuddering.  It was too much and pointless – we already know this man’s attitude towards sex and the only thing this scene produced was a small amount of embarrassment for -- but even that was outweighed by his father’s reaction to the sight of him.

In order to put this scene into context, Theon had just left a ship after having sex with a woman on board and treating her like filth.  Perhaps there is method behind this seemingly useless madness.  Theon is the best friend of Robb Stark, the new King of the North, a likeable character.  Theon brings an instant dislike into that particular camp.  I can only hope that this story is going somewhere other than bringing a new faction into the war.

Throughout series 1 of Game of Thrones we had acceptable incest and unacceptable rape that turned into a thriving relationship.  The sex in series 1 was complex and challenged the viewers values.  The sex in series 2 is harsh; the belittling of women, prostitution, incest for incest sake, sex for the sake of creating a son.  It does not make for pleasant viewing and most viewers will only be able to take so much.  It is a sharp reminder to writers that sex must be used as a tool for a purpose in fiction; what can be gained for this interaction between these characters? 


  1. Interesting article. Harsh? Yes. Perhaps on purpose? If this turns out to be the 'sex' episode in the second season i think it will have served it's purpose; if however it is just a taste of things to come, keeping up with the spartacuses then it's the producers fiddling with the story line.

    Matt has read all the books, I'll see what he thinks about it

  2. You mean I'm being harsh? Come on, there's more incest sex lately then non-incest sex!
    You're right, if that was the only episode with all the creepiness sex then it's served it's purpose.

    I thought they were diverting from the books anyway?

    1. No, not you. The scenes were harsh.

      I've not read the books. If a literary work has reached the screen, big or small, before I have started reading it, then I am invariably better off not reading until I have seen the visual spectacle. I can then enjoy the extra depth that the books offer by reading it subsequently.

      Except Dexter, by the third book I realised the TV was far superior to the books; for me at least.

    2. Ah, yes, sorry. They were very harsh! I hope tomorrow's episode is better.

      That's interesting about Dexter, in my experience the book is always better than the tv series/film. I think it's better to read the book after if you can, it usually means you're not disappointed because you watch the poorer version first :)