Nudity and power on Game of Thrones


The report that one of the Game of Thrones actresses is refusing to do any more nude scenes has got me thinking a lot about nudity in the show. I can certainly understand the actress's protests. Game of Thrones has become infamous for its ridiculous overuse of nudity, and its "sexposition" scenes, and being involved in that sounds potentially degrading, both in the message the producers send to the actresses ("your only worth in this scene is if you're naked!) and the message it in turns sends to people watching. She didn't play a serious character, people might think. She wasn't a serious actress. She was just eye candy while the important people said their piece.

It's terrible that actresses are trapped in a kind of catch 22, where refusing to do nude scenes might limit their ability to get roles, but where agreeing to do those scenes might lead to them being taken less seriously as actresses. But I think this proves, once again, how much damage Game of Thrones is doing to itself with its obsession with female nudity and sexposition scenes.

Because not all nude scenes are pointless. Many of the ones in Game of Thrones are, especially when we consider the disparity between the nude scenes for male and female characters, but occasionally, nudity actually plays a major role in the show, expressing not a female character's background eye-candy status, but her strength. It can say important things about character... but not if people are so used to seeing it that its loses all impact, and not if people have been conditioned to dismiss every one of those moments as ridiculous.

One of the show's most iconic moments is Daenerys stepping into Drogo's pyre, and emerging, naked but unburnt, with three baby dragons. What could be more badass? She stares across the land as her new Khalasar fall to their knees in respect, wordlessly strong.

And I think we saw a similar thing in the famous bath scene with Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. Jaime goads and mocks Brienne, and so, furious, she stands up to stare him down. It's a moment that makes her look strong, powerful, someone who should not be messed with. And it's a move that certainly startles Jaime back to his senses, and to speaking to her with more honest and respect.

I would even argue that Daenerys stepping out of the bath in the most recent episode showed a similar kind of strength, although the lingering of the camera negated it to some extent. Yet instead of shying away from Daario, as he might have expected, she refuses to let him hold any power in their conversation. She steps out of the bath and faces him down as though he is nothing to her, as though she is utterly unconcerned by his presence. She is Queen, and he does not matter. It's a major change from the Daenerys we saw in the first season, who was also frequently naked, but in a way that showed her vulnerability, her powerlessness, as she was sold to Drogo and expected to be utterly passive and weak.

These are all powerful, important character moments, involving skilful acting from the actresses involved, and it's terrible that critics and viewers may think that the actresses are less serious or less talented because they did them, just as it is terrible if the actresses feel that they have no other choice than to do these scenes, even against their will. But that is the context that the show's producers themselves have created. They have pushed the boundaries of on-screen nudity to the point that it is laughable, and they have said, again and again, in episode after episode, that the female characters and actresses are there for viewer eye-candy, as part of the scenery, rather than as important figures making decisions in their own right. In that context, who can be surprised when people do not take the actresses seriously, and the actresses in turn feel that they cannot perform even serious nude scenes without risking their career?