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When ‘Game of Thrones’ Ends Are We All Losing Our Mainstream Porn Fix?

The HBO series has sometimes been called "Boobs & Dragons." But does sex on 'GoT' actually mean something?

HBO

It’s no secret that sex is a big part of Game of Thrones‘ DNA. Whether it’s secret incestuous affairs, countless trips to the local brothel, or a questionable use of leeches in the bedroom, the HBO show never turns down the opportunity to include some good old fashioned fucking along with the epic battles and political intrigue.

But how is Game of Thrones using sex in its story? Does the constant flow of boobs and dicks fit in with the larger context of the show or are we really just pausing on the actual stories to watch 2-3 minutes of glorified, high production pornography? After all, this is the show that is sometimes condescendingly referred to as “Boobs & Dragons” so is that a fair assessment? It’s often thought of as a sexy show but, in reality, does Game of Thrones‘ sex all flash and no substance?

The answer is a bit of both. On the one hand, the show definitely likes to show off the fact that it can feature nudity by featuring breasts, butts, or penises that are entirely irrelevant to the story. Think of the countless times where a scene has been set in a brothel for no reason other than as a not so subtle form of fan service. Sure, Dany heading to bone zone with Daario was sexy but did it move the plot forward in any tangible way? Not really.

So yes, there is no shortage of sex and nudity in the show that seems to serve no purpose other than filling a quota and reminding people that they’re not watching TV, they’re watching HBO. But to say that Game of Thrones only uses sex in a pornographic way is reductive. The show is smart enough to realize that sex is not just a flashy way to appeal to viewers, it can additionally be a way to reveal the desires and fears of its characters in a way that gratuitous violence and Shakespearean monologues never could.

Take our introduction to Oberyn Martell. We see him at King’s Landing, looking over Little Finger’s offering of prostitutes. Typically, this type of scene serves as a cocktail of debauchery and shame but not so with Oberyn. He is making the selection with his partner Ellaria and they are openly communicating about their preferences and desires, including the fact that both happily exist in the bisexual area of the sexual spectrum. When we are given a glimpse of the gender-fluid orgy, the male prostitute asks Oberyn whether he favors men or women, insisting that “everyone has a preference.”

“Then everyone is missing half the world’s pleasure,” Oberyn replies.

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Is this scene sexy? Of course but beyond that, the sequence gives us a perfect understanding of the Dornish Prince long before he’s had much interaction in the larger plot. Oberyn is freed of the chains of tradition that hold so many other men back. He is open-minded in a way that allows him to seemingly exist in an equal relationship with Ellaria (or at least about as equal as relationships get in Westeros). And while others seek glory and honor and power, Oberyn’s primary focus is pleasure. By seeing him engage with sex, we gain a sense of how he engages with the world as a whole.

And Oberyn is hardly the lone example of this, as sex is consistently utilized as a tool for character development. For Dany, she sees sex as a means of control and power, which makes sense, given the fact that she is forced into having sex with her husband in a way that offers her no personal or sexual satisfaction. But once she learns to wield that power and take ownership of her sexual relationship with Khal Drogo, she finds joy in it that she lacked before. Jon’s first sexual encounter with Ygritte in the cave serves as a stark contrast to most of the men of Westeros we have seen at this point. He is curious, humble, and seeks out his partner’s pleasure just as much as his own. In both instances, we can better understand the core of these characters through their relationship with sex. Dany is ambitious, while Jon is deferential.

Even in the show’s grimmest sexual moments, there is, more often than not, a deeper motivation behind even the most abhorrent actions. Think of Ramsay cutting off Theon’s member. On the surface, this is merely a cruel way for Ramsay to torture his prisoner but it also provides insight into both characters. Ramsay doesn’t just want to defeat his enemies to gain power, he finds pleasure in removing another man’s penis. Meanwhile, for Theon, his gigantic dick was a point of pride and joy in his life and it’s only once he loses it that he truly becomes Reek.

None of this means the abuse of sex and power is justified; it just means the show is smart enough to give sex purpose in these moments, rather than just shock for the sake of shock. And while Game of Thrones certainly isn’t above flexing its sexy muscles by including some shameless nudity in an otherwise boring scene, for the most part, it avoids becoming pornographic because sex is also used as a way to explore the deeper motivations of most of our favorite characters.

So next time a friend or spouse complains that Game of Thrones is nothing more than “Boobs & Dragons”, kindly remind them that without Robb’s steamy hook-up with Talisa, we’d never buy his decision to spurn the Freys by backing out on his agreed upon marriage. And while Game of Thrones is certainly sexy, more often than not, the series resists shamelessly using sex as a cheap way to attract viewers.