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'Game of Thrones,' Sex and HBO: Where Did It Go Wrong For TV's Sexual Pioneers?

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by Bethany Jones
June 2, 2014 6:51 PM
58 Comments
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When it comes to sex, has HBO jumped the shark?

Pinning down a moment of exact decline has its limitations, but for me there was a definite shift around 2005, towards the end of the 'Sopranos' era, and shortly after the advent of "Deadwood". And the show that crystallises the shift most readily is "Rome".

So what did Rome do that marked the decline? The most obvious thing was the introduction a phenomenon now so common it's become a tired TV convention: the fight-fuck.

Take this scene in "Rome", where Titus Pullo (which you might translate as Honourable Chicken) beats and fucks his slave. Now, you can justify this scene by saying that men in ancient Rome beat and fucked their slaves all the time. I'm sure, afterward, those same bleeding slaves murmured to their masters, through the post-coital happy miasma, 'you can do whatever you like…'. This is just historical reportage, dammit! It's responsible reportage! Ditto, presumably, the roadside rapes, and the middle-of-the-tavern breast-washing-from-a-bowl that happens in at least one scene in "Rome", incidental to the action, but somehow finding itself in the foreground of the shot. I'm sure archaeologists have uncovered many touching tableaux, etched lovingly into the dusty vellum, of ancient women washing their breasts with sudden urgency in the middle of taverns. Them streets were dusty. But, back to Honourable Chicken beating and fucking his slave. Or, to use the touching description from the video's YouTube uploader: "Titus Polo and his slave girl get hot".


The latent justification for the fight-fuck in this scene, the things that makes it all ok, is presumably that a) it's the (oblivious) wife who's ordered the slave to be beaten in the first place, silly girl cuckold! So it's not really male sexual violence, it's just a totally hot Punch-and-Judy show. Then b) the slave girl fights back. And really fights back. Also, she's completely carnally into it. I bet all the slaves were into it. I bet that's why they applied to be slaves. So: she fights back, and she's a good fighter, she's a strong woman dammit, and he's 'a lion of a man', so there's nothing problematic here, HBO, with the dreaming up, scripting, casting, shooting and disseminating of high-end historical softcore that shows, for a titillating laugh, a meaty professional soldier beat and fuck a smaller woman who's his legal property, because hey, all of a sudden she knows kung-fu, and she kisses him first.

And that's the problem of the fight-fuck: it blurs the lines, and not in a helpful way. It's Robin Thicke as wannabe-Tarantino. It plays at the edges of rapey fantasy. It's the first step on the path to the idea that a man can begin raping a woman and it can then become consensual sex.  The fuck-fight uses a rapist's logic: that you can make her want it, that she wanted it all along. And I single it out because it's a telling precursor to HBO's recent carnival of rape in "Game of Thrones". It follows much of the same logic of power-struggle as sex play. It has in common with rape scenes like that Jaime-Cersei one the idea – articulated by Alex Graves, who directed the episode - that rape can "become consensual by the end".

In which case it's useful to unpick the logic that unites the fuck-fight and that rape scene, and the fuck-fight and the rapist's reasoning. It goes something like this:

1. Desire is a kind of animosity
2. The physical closeness that comes with violence resembles the physical closeness that comes with sex
3. So, the physical closeness of violence will stir similar feelings to the physical closeness that comes with sex
4. If you fight her for long enough, desire will occur
5. Resistance is foreplay
6. Consent is inevitable

Now, this is very fucked-up. It doesn't tally with most people's experience of violence or sex. It certainly doesn't tally with the experience of people who are forced violently into sex. Violence shouldn't be the leitmotif of attraction. In fact, most sexual relationships that have violence at their core look more like this (a clip from the days when HBO approached sexual violence with brutal realism).

But even working with this 'logic', that something can 'become consensual', in a fuck-fight, in a 'sex scene', is to acknowledge that things need to be happening against consent in a sustained way in the first place. A rape might already be occurring. And when is that ever anything but deeply horrifying? Why aren't we all horrified?

Of course, HBO isn't the only network guilty of the banal fantasy fuck-fight. (It's pretty widespread: you can find a recent example from CBS's The Good Wife here, though the writers in this case realised pretty quickly that this wasn't the most sensitive way to portray domestic abuse, and abruptly shelved the storyline). In fact, the fuck-fight in different shades is so ubiquitous from bodice-rippers to sci-fi that that season six of "Buffy" included a meaningful spoof when Buffy and Spike – who actually are supernaturally-endowed fighting equals, unlike Honorable Chicken and his chick – fuck-fight until the house falls down around them. But mostly, the fuck-fight is straight-out frisson, a kind of choreographed wet dream.

But this scene, and "Rome" in general, marks a definite moment when the freedoms of cable television (longer shows, bigger budgets, more graphic scenes) weren't just being used to extend the possibilities of what’s acceptable in television for the sake of story, or verisimilitude, or critique, but as a titillating end in itself. It's the first time I felt that you, HBO, were – to use the standard lingo – 'pushing the boundaries' not in the service of revealing the world in all its complexity but rather to reduce the world to cheap fantasy.  That's what makes the shocking quality of some of the violence and sex (and sexual violence) in "Rome" – and in "Game of Thrones" – so different in character to the sex and violence of "The Sopranos". The sex and violence in "The Sopranos", for all its gloom, was illuminating.

And to point all of this out is not to say for a second that all sex should be tediously soft-tinted and petal-strewn. There's definitely a place for submission and domination, and combativeness, in consenting sexual acts, and plenty of adults play those games and enjoy them. But the point of those games is that they don't have blurred lines at all. In fact, they have very clear lines: 'safe words', agreed-upon boundaries. And those clear lines are put in place because the grey area is so dangerous (which is often why it's interesting to people in the first place). Similarly, in the world of TV and film, the danger of sexual combativeness should be played with responsibly. Show human complexity, sure – show the very human horror and humiliation that is rape – but don't show it gratuitously, or as a titillant. Don't callously present it as 'edge'.

Just don't do this:


About that scene

Does that look like it 'becomes consensual', Alex Graves, Daniel Weiss, David Benioff, HBO? Really?

But what about your other defences, A.G., that "the consensual part of it was that she wraps her legs around him, and she's holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what's going on." And that she's clearly at one point 'kissing him back.'

Both these 'defences' articulate well some of the confusion surrounding rape. First, the idea that kissing also means consent to sex – as though every time a person makes out with someone else they're also up for intercourse (which would make going to the cinema an awkward event to say the least). Second, there's the idea that bodily actions (like the opening of legs) are somehow interpretable and meaningful over and above the literal meanings of actual spoken words (in this scene, 'no, no', 'stop', 'it's not right' etc., which as words go, aren't exactly ambiguous). It's unnerving, to put it mildly, that these classic rapey apologia are put forward as arguments by a major TV director of the world's most popular television show. As Myles McNutt has argued, this was always going to be a shocking scene in terms of character development, but it wasn't necessarily an unthinkable scene: what has been most shocking is the apparent inability of this director to see that he'd filmed a rape at all.

Add to this the fact that Graves also filmed this scene apparently without analysis or discussion of the issues involved. Says Graves:


"Nobody really wanted to talk about what was going on between the two characters, so we had a rehearsal that was a blocking rehearsal… By the time you do that and you walk through it, the actors feel comfortable going home to think about it. The only other thing I did was that ordinarily, you rehearse the night before, and I wanted to rehearse that scene four days before, so that we could think about everything. And it worked out really well. That's one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done."


Well, as long as everyone thought about the issues privately, what need is there for a director to direct their interpretation? Even though the fact that "no one wanted to talk about what was going on between the two characters" was a pretty fucking sure neon sign that there was something unusual and disturbing going on between the two characters to begin with? All of which makes the 'it was consensual' apologia extra creepy: because the defence of 'kissing'! and 'look, leg-wrapping!' is coming from such a rote and reflex space, and not a space of thought and analysis, and certainly. There's also the disturbing fact that these are classic date-rape defences.

If Alex Graves had done some research into rape or even into heterosexual sex from a female perspective as part of his preparations to, you know, direct scenes of rape or heterosexual sex, he might have a more nuanced view. So here's a tip, A.G.. If a person is being penetrated, and that person can't break free, that person might as well open their legs a bit as a protective gesture. This might seem counter-intuitive to someone who doesn't get penetrated as part of sex (in which case, as a director, research! think! ask!). But the fact remains that the incorporation of something into your body might be done in such a way as to minimise the harmful effects of a violent coercive penetration you don't choose, without meaning for a moment that the penetration isn't therefore coercive (such as if a rapist holds a knife to your throat to ensure physical cooperation, and you open your legs and angle your pelvis toward him to minimise harm).

In the case of the 'wrapping her legs' scenario in the Cersei-Jaime rape scene, even a cursory look at the mechanics reveals that a woman in that situation might do this to prevent even more piercing pain and probable tearing to her already too-dry and unaroused vaginal walls, and to prevent wrenching bruising to her thighs; a woman in this situation might as well hold onto a table to keep her balance and to stop her head being pounded on the stone flags. Moving your legs and arms about while also saying, repeatedly, 'no, no' doesn't somehow cosmically change the meanings of those words, just as protecting your face by lifting your arm, or holding on to a stool to keep your balance, or using certain parts of your body to protect other parts of your body, while lying on the ground being kicked – instead of fighting back – doesn't thereby mean that you consent to being kicked.

And it would be one thing to show this because it happens, because it's part of the general horror of human life, because relationships between the sexes are often fucked-up, for a battery of complex reasons. But it's another thing to choose to show it for no obvious reason at all, when it illuminates nothing (except perhaps, the gender dynamics of a pretend patriarchy, in another dimension/planet, that's been amply 'fleshed out' already), and when there are no obvious consequences for character (Jaime and Cersei seem to have forgotten about it by the time we roll on to 'Oathkeeper', the next episode). It's beyond understanding why you, "Game of Thrones", HBO, constantly choose to take acts of consenting sex and mutual desire from your source material and turn them into rapes. And then to pretend that a woman saying 'no, no' and 'it's not right', up to the very moment that she's forcibly penetrated – next to the body of her dead son no less – is somehow not being raped at all.

Remember when you knew what a rape was, HBO?

Fantasy can be serious.

And ethical objections aren't always veiled pruderies. 

Direct it like you mean it

Let's assume then, that HBO has taken a downward slide from its 'golden age'. And let's assume too that in the case of "Game of Thrones", the problem is less with source material than it is with direction and mise-en-scene.

So let's imagine another scenario. Let's imagine that in the background of most episodes of "Game of Thrones" we saw dark-skinned semi-naked people casually or brutally humiliated because of their race: lynchings, gratuitous beatings, n-words thrown about, all the horrible theatre of race-hate, say. Imagine that the incidental exposition scenes of "Game of Thrones" didn't take place in a brothel but in a slave market, for no real reason. And in a slave market where the slaves showed signs of contentment and arousal at the point of sale. Imagine that in the background of incidental scenes of "Game of Thrones" we saw dark-skinned people being tarred and feathered, or whipped, or branded, just incidentally. And imagine that the camera dwelt lingeringly on the small physical details of these acts, just for the hell of it. And then, as a finishing touch, imagine that all of this was done spuriously, as a departure from the source material and for no meaningful narrative gain, but just to spice up the action, to show some pecs and tits, to give an impression of grittiness, to get some people off. Imagine a non-white person was subjected to the most violent instance of racial hatred, and then appeared to forget about it in the following episode. Imagine if having resisted being beaten, and imagine whilst saying 'no, no' to their abuser, they shifted their body in an ambiguous way, a way that could have been interpreted as inviting further punishment but could also have been seen as self-protection. Imagine if this meant we were told it was no longer an instance of racial hatred but a mutually consenting act.  Imagine we were asked to forget all we know about the historical and contemporary power dynamics that structure and inform racial violence.

Would you think that was ok, HBO? And how many people would think that was ok?

But rape is an act of domination and hate, much more than it's an act of desire. And it's tangibly damaged millions of people, just like racially motivated crimes.

So why do we need to ask and ask for it to be treated with care and complexity?

The above race-based analogy is imperfect, but it illustrates an ongoing problem with understanding the issue of rape, especially in the wider historical-political context of the repression of women. Many people won't treat the historical fact of the repression of women with the same seriousness that they grant to the historical fact of the repression of non-white peoples, despite all the things they share in common: (relative) forms of segregation, especially from social and political spaces of power; denial of voting rights; denial of education; systematic inequality of pay; denial of ownership of property; denial of legal autonomy. But despite all this, sexism isn’t quite the taboo that racism is. Some of the same people who might applaud the historic struggle for civil rights, say, are suspicious of the contemporary claims of feminism. People who would never use racist clichés as humor will use sexist ones. You can’t walk into a mainstream store and buy a golliwog anymore, thank Christ, but you can buy the modern version of a scold's bridle. Because it's funny, see? And this disparity often comes into play during discussions of rape and gender-based exploitation, particularly in popular culture.

There are many reasons for this, not least that feminism can complicate long-cherished aspects of male eros. And that's one of the tensions in "Game of Thrones" – its very daring, very contemporary openness about the body isn't matched with equally daring contemporary insights into the significance of those bodies. It often seems you get the same old story, but more graphically.

If anything, the machismo seems more open, more energized.

One brief example. In the season three episode 'The Climb', Joffrey murders the prostitute Ros, who has been given to him by Littlefinger in retribution for her spying. We don't see the act itself; instead the murder is revealed during Littlefinger's 'chaos is a ladder' speech to Varys, during which the camera cuts across a montage of scenes. Joffrey, who earlier in the episode has been proudly showing his crossbow to Margaery, is seen wielding it again, looking satisfied; the camera then pans across the room and reveals, trussed up above the bed, the dead body of Ros, arrows protruding from her chest and groin. From a wide shot, the camera then zooms in, and takes in the details of the body:


Compare this to a similar scene from a far older TV show, the BBC's 1976 adaptation of Robert Graves's 'I Claudius'. Both feature a murderous, young mad king, John Hurt as Caligula in the "I Claudius" case. In this scene, Caligula is playing a sex-game with his sister-lover (today's theme!), and trusses her up above a bed. She's pregnant with his child, and he's dressed as Zeus. Emulating Zeus, he decides to remove the unborn child from the womb, and cuts into his lover's stomach with a knife, killing her.

It's worth noting that the director of the much older "I, Claudius" reverses the order of shots we see in the Joffrey-Ros scene. Instead the camera takes a long shot of the room, and then zooms in not on the body of the woman but on the mad face and the wielded knife of the king. And the episode's closing moments dwell lingeringly, and with horror, on Caligula's bloodied face and beard.


This movement away from the body and towards Caligula isn't done for reasons of censorship – the naked body of Caligula's lover has already been shown in the wide shot, and her stabbing death is shown in real time. But the difference of the focus of the close-up in these similar scenes betrays their different emphases: in "I, Claudius" the point of fascination isn't the body of a woman but the madness of a king. And the camera expresses this by dwelling closely on the signatures of that madness: the foolish costume-beard of a pretend-god, the widened rapt eyes, the partly-opened and fascinated mouth of Caligula as he contemplates the body of his sister and stabs her.

On paper – in the script of 'The Climb' – there were probably similar intentions when it came to the Joffrey-Ros scene: to show, to a horrifying extent, through the murder of a woman, the 'ladder of chaos' and the cruelty and madness of a particular king. But direction is interpretation. And the camerawork here offers a pervy counterpoint, different priorities. The fascination here, the emphasis here, is on the butchered body of Ros (sexually butchered too: remember the arrow in the groin). This is where the camera dwells. Sure, you could argue that a focus on her brutalized body is the best argument for Joffrey's depravity; you could argue that it echoes grimly the mannequin that Arya has shot earlier in the episode, also in the groin, as she recites the names of those she intends to kill (though, in that case, wouldn't the meaningful parallel to make here be between Arya and Joffrey? In which case why is the camera so cursory when it comes to Joffrey's reaction and psychology after this murder?). And maybe in a different show, with different tendencies, those possibilities would be enough. But a TV show is, among other things, a meaningful sequence of images, and it's hard to separate this image of a dead woman on display from the other women on display throughout "Game of Thrones", and the general freeness and delectation with which the show treats female flesh. Ros's body here is fetishized, posed, a curated and desirable corpse. (In contrast, scenes of the torture of Theon Greyjoy show much less interest in Theon's body and more on his experience; there’s also a sustained and interested focus on the psychology his torturer).

This shot of Ros's body can be read as the more Boschian end of the "Game of Thrones" sexual panorama. And it's depressing to see a contemporary show come off nastier and more retrograde when it comes to fetishizing sexual violence than a show that was made before I was born.


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58 Comments

  • Tom | July 15, 2014 4:27 AMReply

    Who bloody cares!!!! It's a great show and I don't mind of the nudity and sex scenes. If you don't like the show shut up about it and change the freaking channel.

  • Charles | July 13, 2014 1:28 AMReply

    I love Game of Thrones, and in fact felt that the final two episodes of Season 4 were the strongest back-to-back showing in the series' history. But the show has gone so eye-rollingly overboard with the pointless female nudity and sexual violence that any pretense to 'realism' is long gone. This is also the case with the repeat murders of heroic and likeable figures, most notably the gruesome demise of Oberyn Martell, which just felt like shock value and the waste of a good character.

    I worry that GoT is in danger of a downward spiral into self-parody, which certain scenes this season already felt like. It doesn't bode well that the books have been criticized for progressively seamier content and more extreme sexualized violence at the same time as the narrative has stalled out. Hopefully the show corrects course and the garbage doesn't overwhelm the strengths. Tellingly, the last two episodes had no tits or ass in them, as the story simply didn't have the time, and the show didn't seem to suffer at all. Hmmm.

  • Barbapappa | July 12, 2014 6:18 AMReply

    Wow.
    For a website where readers pretend to be pop culture buffs or something, the comments here are so dimwitted that it just leaves me speechless.
    When was the last time you looked into film analyses 101?
    A scene is not mainly analyzed in terms of the plot but camera, lighting, editing etc.
    If you can't even tell that the reason why GoT is showing rape-porn and snuff-porn instead of an interesting analyses of "ye harsh middle ages" is in the way the camera, editing etc is directed, you really don't belong in a comments section of a film critic site.
    If you enjoy watching (or filming) rape-porn and snuff-porn, own it. Just don't whine about how this is all about historical accuracy or "the noble freedom of the artist".

  • Zed | June 10, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    It amazes me how many people say it's okay to show a lot of the rape scenes in GoT because "that's how it was back then." Here's a news flash: this is FICTION. Someone wrote it, and then someone else adapted it to television. Yes, some aspects of GoT reflect things that went on in ancient times: incest, beheadings, rape, etc. You know what else goes on, even today? Child molestation and rape. Are you going to show those things too for the sake of shock value? It's not the depicting rape that's the problem, it's how it's depicted. GoT was a good show, and it's gone too far.

  • Mindset | June 9, 2014 4:22 PMReply

    Otherwise a fairly good article, but Sansa will *not* be raped this season. That Telegraph article is an out-of-context misunderstanding of a recent interview with Sophie Turner, in which she described the *attempted* rape scene in Season *2*. Original interview here, so you can see it for yourself: sophie-turner . com/gallery/displayimage.php?pid=4398&fullsize=1 . Please retract.

  • chris | June 9, 2014 4:53 AMReply

    The author's point is that the portrayal of sex on most HBO and cable drama period nowadays is completely one dimensional and unless you're a prude, which Bethany clearly isn't, isn't remotely challenging in the slightest.

    I'm no fan of GIRLS but I've found the 'how dare she take her clothes off' bashing Lena Dunham has gotten proves that point. Documenting the romantic and sex life of a female character who isn't conventionally attractive(the concept of SEX AND THE CITY as well as GIRLS ironically), by media standards, is actually a far more grownup example of why cable, and HBO in particular, was an attractive alternative to writers and viewers who didn't want to see the same old shit on regular tv or mainstream films.

    The soft core pornifying of female sexuality is no more adolescent than glut of superhero flicks that at times seemingly make up most major movies nowadays.

  • Sand | June 8, 2014 2:40 PMReply

    Game of thrones is of course garbage, but this text reaks of PC clichés.

  • Chris | June 7, 2014 4:27 PMReply

    I don't mind these things that they show in game of thrones. It's how things most likely where in those times. Murder, rape, incest, nudity, etc... Were all common in these days. People could get away with it. It happened. You have to take yourself out of the present time and get in a mind frame of how life was in these times. You can't choose to focus on the harsh nature of human sexuality and be ok with the murders, be headings, and constant gore. Life wasn't all rainbows and teddy bears when it came to sex. That's why they had whore houses everywhere. To keep rape down. It's was hard to be caught, convicted, and tried for these acts. Also common people where not educated and didn't know what to do in these situations. So if it's to much for you then don't watch. I applaud HBO for being real and not holding back. It's the problem with society. Instead of controlling what your kids watch or do, people want someone else to be responsible to make sure games, shows, and movies are produced in a manor that's "acceptable" for everyone. The truth is if it offends you don't watch. They are just tits. You have probley seen them and touched them if your watching this show. I would say seeing a mans head get squeezed like a grape should raise more questions that boobs and butts.

  • Kayla | June 14, 2014 2:24 AM

    It's a fantasy show about dragons, not an exercise in historical realness. And it's not just tits. In scenes where the books had no mention of rape at all, characters on the show are seen talking and carrying on while brutal, screaming-for-help rape happens in the background. We get it, this time period was brutal, blah blah blah. But if they can have giants, they can also take it easy on the gratuitous rape scenes that do nothing to further the plot in any way. Brutality has been established.

  • Mike | June 7, 2014 10:01 AMReply

    I do wonder whether a show where the same levels of sex was present BUT where the main positive characters were all LBG or T would have gotten such a response?

    I also wonder whether its being claimed that in the middle ages type era which the series is styled on albeit not actually set in DIDNT have such goings on and is therefore completely and totally befeft of even a snippet of accuracy?

    Many of the classics contain very graphic sexual content including rape and incest because all WERE occurences in those times but where those are concerned such things seem to magically slip under the radar because of being classed as classics

    But lets not forget that all art was merely contemporary in its day and I daresay many of our "filthy" classics were viewed with scorn when they were first unleashed on the world too

  • Sandee Sutphin | June 7, 2014 7:09 AMReply

    Gave up on the repulsive HBO years ago! Well writing, true dat article!!!

  • Jo | June 7, 2014 4:36 AMReply

    Thank you for the article! Expressed my personal experience of the shows perfectly.

  • dtvluke | June 6, 2014 8:04 PMReply

    The article for me shows two long running trends: American Puritanical thought that won't die off (the reason show runners put in sex scenes like the ones described is that it gets the Column inches/Views and repeat viewers whether fans or foes - you're oxygen for the fire!); and the death of true intellectual discourse at the hands of Post Modernist Cultural Theorists, who have taken their position as being Professional Underdogs, wrapped themselves in the mantle of Political correctness in order to adopt a position of Cultural superiority over anyone not viewing the world from their perspective. It's just a story, it's not a manual on how to live a full and proper life. More to the point, if it offends you don't watch it!

  • Ks | June 6, 2014 6:11 PMReply

    This is the article I've always wanted to write. Thank you for it; it is excellent.

  • William | June 6, 2014 5:06 PMReply

    The show has a a 9.8 score out of a possible 10. So how could so many people be tired of the sex and yet it beats the other shows that are on in the same time frame? It has the highest ratings of any show. This point of view is not reality. The truth is people like sex mixed in with violence. People who complain are hypocrites. All they have to do is turn it off if they do not want to watch it but that is not going happen. They set there eyes glued to the screen just hoping it even gets more erotic and then when it's over they jump on to the computer and talk about how awful it was. The whole time hoping that next weeks show will be even more erotic.

  • Steve Baker | June 6, 2014 3:51 PMReply

    If you don't like what's on the screen, change the channel or read a book. Do NOT tell me/us what we should & should not like. I'm not interested in your views. I'll decide for myself. Go join the Tea Bags, carry a long gun into a Starbucks and bitch about Liberals. Sounds like that would suit you better than writing drivel about your views about sex, rape, violence and whatever else you find disturbing for the next column. Nonsense. Drivel.

  • Dave | June 7, 2014 9:25 AM

    Or alternatively, it pointed out the ridiculousness of the article as the stupid whiny rant that it is. Game of Thrones is a brutal, harsh series of books and a brutal, harsh television show. It is a counterpoint to the cartoonish sex and violence movies often depict, which I am sure would be criticized by this writer as well. Many of us don't want to watch Sex and the City, apparently the gold standard for this writer. So, I won't watch her show, and she doesn't have to watch mine. Just don't complain that I'm watching it.

  • Donna Watkins | June 6, 2014 6:08 PM

    It is as if you read the column on opposite day and took the exact opposite message of what was intended and then broadcast your misunderstanding to the world, or what is basically the world- the Internet.

  • abluevoice | June 6, 2014 2:26 PMReply

    I love HBO and their programming. Enough with this censorship and prudish attitude toward sex and nudity. We get enough of that crap from the religious right and hypocritical Republicans Bethany. Grow up, and if you don't like it change the channel. Stop trying to impose your will and dislikes on the rest of us and HBO. Shame on you.

  • Sherry clark | June 6, 2014 7:34 PM

    Prude huh. HBO went wrong when it stripped all decency with nudity, indecency of all kind, sex put in the gutter. Sex was never intended for public entertainment. I don't have to turn it or read a book I wouldn't have it if it were free. SHAME that is laughable. You have no shame or morals.Ever heard of the road,on the fast track to hell. You better wake up. Grow up ? That is what you call being an adult. Wallowing with the pigs? Let me know when you decide to grow up. I'll help you all I can.

  • Donna | June 6, 2014 6:09 PM

    Is that really your take from the article? That the author hates sex on TV? Wow.

  • Crystal | June 6, 2014 2:14 PMReply

    Can we please stop making the argument that the rape scenes in GoT are a problem because they were more ambiguous and/or non existent in the book. It's totally weakens the argument. And it's not like the GoT books are some kind of feminist parable.

    The rape in the show is a problem because of the way it's handled. Not because it wasn't in the books. Frankly, as a non book reader, I don't give two f**ks what was or wasn't in the books.

  • Kelsy | June 6, 2014 2:06 PMReply

    Very on point with your criticism regarding rape scenes. They should be focusing on the rapist, not making it an "enjoyable" porn type of thing. It's disgusting.

  • Michelle | June 6, 2014 2:01 PMReply

    I can't watch HBO's shows anymore. I'm sick of the objectification of women's bodies. Seriously, I gave up on Game of Thrones a long time ago. Then I started True Detective and it made me sick as well. Why is the camera ALWAYS pointing at the female body in sex scenes? It's like female audiences don't even exist to them.

  • david | June 6, 2014 1:21 PMReply

    I don't even watch GOT, but you made some very valid points, but a couple of quibbles, SITC realistic? Come on... do you always have sex with your bra on? And Gawd do I hate Girls, wit, complexity? you gotta be kidding.. I think we need a show called Guys where every guy is a total, self absorbed jerk and all their girlfriends act like complete idiots.. nobody would be saying oh what a great show.. it'd get cancelled within four weeks of the backlash...

  • Noelle | June 6, 2014 12:43 PMReply

    To me there is nothing more boring and distracting than an over abundance of sex thrown into a Good Story that quite frankly did not need it and detracts greatly. Too bad some of these idiot producers feel the need to submit more sex when not needed. More story content and less sex would make a much more compelling and interesting show all the way around.
    Thank you.

  • Jacob | June 6, 2014 12:05 PMReply

    It looks like a lot of the comments below are picking apart an argument that was never made. I could be wrong about this (since the article was a difficult read for me), but the author isn't saying that rape can never be shown in any show, ever. I think she is trying to point out that IF rape is going to happen, there needs to be a reason for it. There needs to be consequences, or aftermath. Cersei needs to react to it in other episodes. It must not be used as a "shock" factor as that only perpetuates the problems we currently face.

  • Deborah Pintonelli | June 6, 2014 9:28 AMReply

    Beautifully, exhaustively, put. Plus, love Caligula references.

  • Erik | June 5, 2014 4:25 PMReply

    This season has produced some of the best monologues and dialogue I have seen in years. I think the shock and awe of this show is magnified because it is indiscriminate. Your favorite character may and will die at any moment. How can any show survive when the main character is killed 8 episodes into the first season? Cable shows have the latitude to show terrible things, that's the point. One step further, I've seen more provocative things on walking dead. As far as equal treatment of women, some of the most powerful characters on this show are female and really pulling all the strings. Both homo and bi sexual men have had major camera time and plenty of men have been emasculated, ie Jamie lanister and Reek/Greyjoy. I think you are looking too far into it and missing the fact whether male or female, can be the play thing of someone more powerful whether they be male or female.

  • anonymous | June 5, 2014 4:02 PMReply

    I have some problems with how HBO handles sex. There's too much female nudity and/or not enough male nudity and some sex scenes are pointless and actually detract from the story. I think one of the guys behind True Detective or another show like that said that HBO mandated some of the sex/nudity and if it were up to him there would be less.

  • blah | June 5, 2014 4:00 PMReply

    Your article sucks.

  • anonymous | June 5, 2014 6:13 PM

    That's some articulate criticism.

  • Laurie Mann | June 5, 2014 3:48 PMReply

    I agree with much of what the author's complaining here - the "even more rapes" of Craster's widows, the rape of Cersei, and, in particular, the murder of Ros (a wonderful character who does not appear in the books). There are times when the SNL satire about boobs on Game of Thrones (where the network executive is a 13 year old boy) feels more documentary.

    However...

    I would be much more outraged if this wasn't set in "medieval" times, when women were constantly treated like property. It was certainly true on earth and George Martin has made the same determination that Westeros was the same way.

    And...

    Even though there are many scenes of violent sex and just plain violence (including the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, and the gruesome death of Oberyn), Game of Thrones has also has a lot of quiet, character-developing scenes that even include intimacy. The bath scene last season between Jamie and Brienne was much more about emotional intimacy than their nudity. Even the somewhat creepy scene this season where a much older Margery crept into bed with a much younger Tommen; sure she was being manipulative but she was also being kind to a boy who's been thrust into a job he didn't expect.

    I was fairly horrified by some of the violence in Rome (which co-starred Indira Varma, AKA Elena Sand this season in GoT), but I also remember it was one of the rare times that featured full-frontal male nudity on a TV show (James Purefoy having a training fight, set during a time when male nudity during athletics was common).

    I haven't given up on GoT on HBO; I've read the books so I know what's canon and what's not. I hope the show-runners and HBO execs focus on the characters and the plot and pull back a little from the rapes and violence. A rape is never a "ballet."

  • Anonymous | June 4, 2014 10:55 PMReply

    Maybe what No Way was saying was that Sex and the City is one of the most sexist television shows ever made, so it's ridiculous that it was used in this article. In my opinion an article written about the negative aspect to the dark side of literature (which is where the story came from, including it's sexual and violent parts) probably shouldn't include examples from a television show that undermines the entire point that their article is trying to make. The whole article just sounded like the author had never read the books. Maybe they were watching sex and the city instead!

  • No | June 5, 2014 4:32 AM

    Can nobody read anymore? For one, the author points out that it's controversial now to say sex and the city is groundbreaking but argues that we shouldn't forget some of the ways it broke boundaries. Sure, SatC was problematic in all sorts of ways, but it was also one of the first mainstream shows to present female masterbation, and female sexual pleasure, as part of a woman's lived experience. This author wanted you to try and be a little nuanced in how you saw that show. Not her fault you can't do that. Also, your point about "literature" just doesn't stand - this article was about the TV shows. She actually points out moments were the show departs from the book. And she shows that that's often to add rape where George R. R. Martin hadn't written one. If you're not interested in asking why the creators took that decision, or looking at how rape is presented then you just don't have a particularly inquiring or creative mind. Fine. But don't bitch off at other people who want to think about stuff just because you don't.

  • omg | June 4, 2014 10:38 PMReply

    It's literature people. Rape happens. That is a fact. It makes sense that it would be in stories that human beings write and create.

  • The stupid burns | June 5, 2014 4:37 AM

    No one is saying there shouldn't be any depiction of rape. The argument is we should think about how and why we depict sexual violence. That is the *entire point* of the comparison with The Sopranos. The author of this piece argues that the writers on GoT have started to show rape and abuse of women just for titillation, for no apparent plot point and with no thought. I tend to agree. Disagree by all means, but don't pretend that all presentations of rape are just the same, or don't need interrogation.

  • REALLY NOW | June 4, 2014 5:04 PMReply

    The author tohether with the worryingly growing number of people are abusing, even "raping" the idea of tolerancy. Gladly, with this approach these people would probably not get much sexual attention, so their genes will not make it further.

  • no way | June 4, 2014 2:37 PMReply

    Seriously? Sex and the city?

  • Yes way | June 4, 2014 2:39 PM

    Seriously. It was evidence for a specific argument about the historic presentation of sex on HBO. What's your point?

  • Sharon | June 3, 2014 7:44 PMReply

    Um . . . there's no denial that rape is a prevalent behavior throughout history, but in Jones' article, I'm getting her disgust with how GoT is repeatedly going for female exploitation and degradation in their frat-boy approach to sexuality.
    Yes, Martin's books are dark and disturbing, but character trumps titillation in them and plot is the whole purpose. ---Not so in HBO's product. I'm in the same place that Jones is here----just about to stop watching because the series is so stupidly and boringly sexualized and because I dread each episode instead of anticipating good entertainment.

  • james | June 3, 2014 12:53 PMReply

    B/c rape and sadomasochist behavior were not rampent at the level of societal development that Got is set in. Your looking at history with some pretty rose colored glasses.

  • Paulina | June 3, 2014 12:16 PMReply

    "Under 8 percent of HBO's original dramas and miniseries came from women, and 2.6 percent came from people of color. Less than 5 percent of its one-hour dramas -- one of the most high-profile entertainment products in the world -- were created by women. That's over the course of nearly 40 years." Huffington Post.
    There you go, that's where the sex on HBO comes from, creepy old white guys.

  • nope | June 3, 2014 9:44 AMReply

    you're wrong

  • Troelski | June 3, 2014 8:50 AMReply

    There seems to be a prevailing notion in North American culture that, yes, you can show nudity, but you need a DAMN good reason. Which is odd to me. The rape scenes notwithstanding, it's hard to not look at an article like this as anything but born out of a culture that is essentially horrified by nudity and will only accept it in the most dire of circumstances. When it serves the holiest of holy artistic purposes, or a point which could simply not have been made without the nudity.

  • Troelski | June 3, 2014 8:52 AM

    Because at the end of the day the writer seems to be unable to imagine a casual depiction of nudity or sex that's not inherently pornographic. Exploitative. That's not a necessary evil, or a last resort in the realm of artistic endeavors.

    But in fact, as the writer seems to be aware, the nudity - and simulated sex - serves a totally intrinsic purpose in the scene. Sex, to Littlefinger, is not about pleasure or even the transaction of money. It's about power through deception. Like he says:

  • Troelski | June 3, 2014 8:50 AM

    "[Littlefinger's girl-on-girl sexposition scene] was about connivance through performance, see? It was metaphor, not tits!"

    Snark aside, it WAS about the connivance through performance. Quite masterfully so. Yet the writer delivers this 'concession' to the artistic merits of the scene with eye-rolling exasperation, and calls this tendency 'tiring' now that we're in the fourth season.

    The implication seems to be that behind the scene's pretensions to profundity, it cannot escape the fact that it's still smutty and gratuitous frathouse pandering.

  • Alright | June 3, 2014 7:39 AMReply

    I just read three pages of drivel and I still don't have a clue what you're talking about.

  • Oh dear | June 3, 2014 7:45 AM

    Your problems with basic comprehension are interesting why? Excellent piece, IndieWire. More good writing please.

  • Alyssa | June 3, 2014 4:07 AMReply

    I was with you until the comparison to racism. Racism is alive and well and just as big a problem as sexism. There is plenty of racism in GoT, most of it just as blatant, some of it intersecting with the sexism. For example changing Drogo and Dany's wedding night to rape is both sexist and racist, making Drogo into the trope of a raping savage. Otherwise great post! HBO needs to step up it's game.

  • Laurie Mann | June 5, 2014 3:51 PM

    The wedding night scene was pretty similar in the books (and, in the books, Denereys is even younger).

  • Stephanie | June 3, 2014 1:21 AMReply

    Did you read the books?

  • Ser Ibramus | June 2, 2014 11:52 PMReply

    Man, GoT may be trying to reflect the middle ages or something but the depth of its depravity just makes it plain not enjoyable. The human drama is not enough to make up for the evil it portrays and the total disregard for the cersei/jaime rape is puzzling. It had to be poorly written and directed for them to make such a hazardous miscalculation of the audience's sympathies.

  • sirfartsalot | June 2, 2014 11:42 PMReply

    What a crock of shizzit. HBO has been at the forefront of pornographying America. Now that the porno is starting to reflect the darker corners, you bullshizzit artists are getting your panties twisted.

    You wanted it. You wanted your sex and violence and Robert Fuccccccking Mapplethorpe. Now you're being gagged on your own bullshizzzzit and riding whips.

    Good.

  • Joe H. | June 2, 2014 10:15 PMReply

    maybe you should go watch Oz? I think you'll be pleased by the ratio of male-to-female nudity in that one...

  • Bunglemas | June 2, 2014 10:21 PM

    Well, I think you are one of these people that going crazy with Brokeback Mountain almost ten years later.

  • Bunglemas | June 2, 2014 10:02 PMReply

    I say what i said in other topic against GoT. HBO have the best TV shows since Oz (1997) period. The nudity, gore and language put him in the same line with the best films of this age which by the way are not in America. The films of Europe, Asia, South America nobody cares about how polemic and explicit are because nobody watches.

    Well a lot of people watch GoT so let's go and attack them and attack the network too.

    Thanks HBO to surprises in each episode of shows like Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, Treme, Looking, etc. The other networks are very regresive creatively speaking (except Mad Men. Matthew Weiner do a such great job creando sexys love scenes even not been explicit) and dealing with politically correct plots.

    The Cinema is dying with these "remakes of remakes" and "Superheromovies". There also are develop this "storys" in TV right now, but we can save it... don't we?

  • Joe | June 3, 2014 11:57 AM

    AMC > HBO. So no.

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