No one could accuse Game of Thrones of being boring. It's got kingslaying, war-waging, dragon-taming, and then some. But even a world as exciting as Westeros and Essos sometimes needs to deliver slightly less exciting background information so that the audience can understand why the main characters do what they do. What better way to get us to pay attention to all that lame talking than with naked ladies? Check out more about Game Of Thrones sex scenes.
This saucy style of relating backstory is known as sexposition. According to the blogger Miles McNutt, who coined the term in May 2011, sexposition is defined as:
The use of nudity or sexual acts in conjunction with the communication of information related to character, plot, or mythology.
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Another critic, James Poniewozik, also adds that while Game of Thrones might be the one using sexposition the most at the moment, it hardly invented it:
I wouldn't say 'Game of Thrones' is the first – I think of all the 'Sopranos' scenes in the Bada Bing, with strippers on the pole while two characters discuss plot points, or Deadwood, when Al Swearengen would deliver long monologues to a whore who was fellating him."
Both McNutt and Poniewozik also make the important distinction that not all instances of nudity are sexposition — a distinction that Mary McNamara, the TV critic for the LA Times, refers to as "the difference between tits and breasts." By McNamara's standard, when Daenerys emerges from various fires, having burned up all her clothes along with the oppressive patriarchy, those are breasts. When a handful of unnamed prostitutes move around with their tops off while Ned Stark and Littlefinger have a conversation, those are tits.
Ros: The Leading Lady Of Sexposition
One oft-naked lady in particular made a name for herself as the Wonder Woman of the Sexposition Revolution. It's Esme Bianco, better known as Ros the Prostitute, the woman in whom the great lords of Westeros confided all their secrets for three seasons.
In an interview with HBO, Bianco described how she turned a character that wasn't even in the books into a recurring gig:
"I was supposed to be in one scene in the pilot, the scene she has with Tyrion in the brothel. Just after they got the greenlight, I got an email from David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and they said, 'We love your character, we really like what you did. Would you consider coming back if we wrote you in?' So they kept sending me scenes and it went from there. It progressed naturally as they were writing the season."
Pretty soon, Ros became the go-to girl for background nudity, including the (in)famous scene where Littlefinger directs her and another prostitute to pleasure one another on a couch in front of him while he tells the story of how he's always loved Catelyn Stark. Romantic, no?
Unfortunately, Ros's time on the show came to a tragic end when Littlefinger found out she was spying for Varys and gifted her to Joffrey, who used her as target practice.
Is Game Of Thrones Done With Superfluous Sexposition?
Everyone knows that sex sells, but how effective is it at selling bland background stories to viewers? Most critics seem to agree: not that effective, and more than a little harmful to the representation of women in the media.
Dan Ketchum of Rack Focus Blog wrote a lengthy analysis of Thrones' use of sexposition, ultimately arriving at the following conclusion:
In the 21st century, it is unacceptable for the graphic display, torture, and sexual enslavement of women to be celebrated and glorified as popular entertainment or ‘edgy’ high art. The brothel scenes are a dark mark in an otherwise expertly written, highly-crafted, visually stunning work. Beinoff and Weiss have had many opportunities to openly acknowledge their chauvinistic mistakes, but they refuse to take complaints and criticisms on the topic seriously.
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Ketchum wrote these comments in 2013, before the third season of Game of Thrones had aired. It's worth noting that over all six seasons, there has been a steady decline in the amount of nudity and sexposition on the show; Season 1 contained by far the most nudity, and then steadily declining until Season 5, which spiked slightly, and then dropped to a record low in this past Season 6.
As a matter of fact, Season 6 was almost entirely lacking in sexposition — the largest exception being the scene in which Yara is enjoying a topless prostitute (which was actually quite an effective scene in that it developed a strong, lesbian character).
There was also some decidedly unsexy sexposition in the scene where the play actors are changing, and the viewer is treated to a full frame of one actor showing us his genital warts, and then the young actress taking her top off, getting hit on by the dwarf, and then promptly slapping him on the head. This scene was a far cry from the 90% female nudity of wordless prostitutes back in Season 1. Could it be that despite their original stance, Benioff and Weiss have decided to tone it down on the tits?
Some have argued that the lack of sexposition simply reflects the control of the Sparrow over King's Landing, and the general depression of the Seven Kingdoms after the War of the Five Kings. But just because Littlefinger's brothel might have closed doesn't mean they all have. There were prostitutes all over the Known World in the earlier seasons, so why were they largely absent from Season 6?
Instead, what we saw was what McNamara would have deemed "breasts": an exhausted (and old!) Melisandre revealing her true self, a triumphant Daenerys emerging from the flames.
Whatever the reason, Season 6 marked a drastic improvement in how women were represented on screen in Game of Thrones. Here's to more breasts in Season 7!
More into violence? Check out this compilation of every death from Season 6!