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OPINION: 'Game of Thrones' successfully balances sex, violence, and human experience

Posted by Alex Pearlman  March 28, 2012 09:38 AM

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game of thrones.jpgBy Megan Riesz

HBO shows are known for being three things: cinematic, uncensored, and chock full of unbridled sex. The medieval epic-drama Game of Thrones is no exception. With the second season premiere coming up this Sunday, April 1, fans are undoubtedly clamoring to see more battles and bloody carnage. But the sex, most of it forbidden, makes it that much harder to look away.

Based on George R. R. Martin’s book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones features a plethora of ruthless, power-hungry characters with insatiable appetites for intercourse. It’s a recurring theme on HBO, which also boasts soft-core porn in the form of the vampire drama True Blood and did so even with The Sopranos before that. But Game of Thrones goes where vampires, werewolves, and gangsters have never gone before by depicting rape, incest, and quite a few prostitutes. Last season’s premiere -- which included, among other events, warlord Khal Drogo raping his wife-by-force Daenerys Targaryen and a glimpse of the incestuous relationship between brother-sister duo Jaime and Cersei Lannister -- set the tone for the series and proved that Game of Thrones was going to “go there” without any apologies.

Should we bask in HBO’s gratuity or question the network’s motives, especially since Game of Thrones’ second season will probably feature as much or more male-dominated sex? I believe there are two sides to that coin.

First off, we can’t blame the Game of Thrones writers and directors for staying true to Martin’s books, which include both the incest and rape. HBO is outside of the FCC’s realm, so the network has the luxury of fully realizing good scripts and scenarios and bringing to life the most fantastical experience viewers could possibly imagine.

At the same time, it’s hard to ignore the fact that women in Game of Thrones are dolled up for the male viewer -- which is interesting in and of itself, considering the lack of available mascara and blush in Martin’s Lord of the Rings-esque era. It’s also no coincidence that most of those women are having sex, forcibly or otherwise, on their hands and knees. There’s a fine line between bringing books to life and turning them into a 13-year-old boy's fantasies (or, in an absurd twist of fate, the fantasies of the many young women who swoon over Jaime Lannister and Khal Drago).

But unlike True Blood, most of the sex in Game of Thrones serves a purpose (not to mention, it’s not entirely contrived). At a certain point, watching vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters and humans get it on in every other scene is exhausting. But watching Daenerys become gradually intolerant of Khal’s (and her brother’s) sexual maltreatment of her? Now that’s a reason to include a sex scene or two. It makes Daenerys dynamic rather than static, whereas female characters like Sookie Stackhouse are often the latter.

When it comes to sex on TV, there shouldn’t be just passion and pleasure; there should be a bona fide reason to include a sex scene, especially when it’s portrayed as non-consensual (at least, if the producers are interested in more than just money). Game of Thrones has found the perfect balance between giving the audience what they want -- sex and violence -- and incorporating all the elements of the human experience into entertainment. Although it’s set in a fantasy world, the show speaks to modern-day issues through sex and the power that comes as a result of having it.

About Megan -- Megan Riesz is a junior at Boston University studying news-editorial journalism and women's studies. Her passions are women's and social issues, as well as U.S. politics. On the weekends, you can find her re-watching "Game of Thrones" episodes or playing the latest installment of "Assassin's Creed." Or enjoying a nice brew.

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