(Reader Advisory: Discussion of graphic content follows.)
Every day the media reports new incidents of sexual assault and violence. Social media is full of protestations that college campuses aren’t doing enough to protect its students and that rape culture needs to end. Interspersed throughout these cries for justice are rave reviews of Game of Thrones—posts from people who see no connection between watching sexual violence and committing it, and fans who can’t wait to see what the next episode will bring. But we know all too well what’s in store. Spoiler alert: the next season will be replete with graphic violence, explicit sex, nudity, incest, sexual violence, and objectification of women. That’s been par for the course on the Game of Thrones.
As season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones (GOT) nears its end, it is time to reflect back on the pornographic, violent, and exploitative nature of the show that 23.3 million people watch each week.
So far in the season, producers seem to have listened to public’s outcry against the gratuitous rape of Sansa Stark by her husband on their wedding night in season 5. There has been noticeably less sexual content and sexual violence. However, this does not mean that in season 6 Game of Thrones show runners suddenly embraced decency or the dignity of women.
For instance, in season 6 episode 4, the sadistic character Ramsey Snow has Osha brought to him. Their encounter is a sex-laden power play, with each trying to outwit and murder the other. They begin kissing. Osha sits in Ramsey’s lap and more heavy kissing ensues. She reaches for a knife intending to kill him, but Ramsey pulls out a knife of his own and swiftly stabs her in the throat. Blood spews and Osha collapses on the floor, bleeding to death as Ramsey cleans his knife and watches in bemusement. Thus, GOT chalked up another sexualized murder to its credit.
Additionally, brothels and the nearly naked women in them continue to be a show staple. Brothels are a convenient backdrop—an excuse to portray topless women. This “sexpositioning,” as it has been called, is a comment on both the plot and the producers.
When the plot is wearing thin, naked women are a sure thing to keep people tuned in.
While the same producers that employ sexpositioning argue that the nudity and sexual violence in the show are meant to be “historically accurate,” we know otherwise. For instance, Neil Marshall, a Game of Thrones director, said in an interview that one of the executive producers once told him, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side—I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene.” So is the nudity in GOT historically accurate or pandering to “perv” viewers?
Not only are naked women a backdrop for the boring parts of the show, but women continue to be portrayed as public sexual commodities. In episode 4 of season 6, young females (presumably prostituted women) are traded as part of the deal to abolish slavery. According to Game of Thrones, sex slaves don’t count as real slaves, they just exist to be passed around and traded to seal political deals.
The dialogue in GOT is particularly pernicious and full of misogyny. The term “c***” is used unabashedly and may be the show’s most frequently used profanity. Sexism is a routine part of dialogue occurring during “man-to-man” talks, and women are sometimes the objects of verbal abuse.
In episode 1 of season 6 Daeneyrs has been taken prisoner and is being marched to a Dothraki camp. As they ride their horses and look down upon a bedraggled Daeneyrs, her captors engage in the following conversation (commenting on her light skin and hair):
Man 1: Maybe she saw a ghost. My friend’s mother saw a ghost it turned her hair white.
Man 2: Pink people are afraid of the sun. It burns their skin. This one stands too long in the sun her hair goes white.
Man 1: “You think she’s got white p**** hair too? You ever been with a girl with white p**** hair?”
Man 2: “Only when I was f****** your grandma.”
Man 1: Makes kissing sound to get Daenery’s attention.
Man 1: “I’ll ask Khal Moro for a night with you. What do you think?”
Daeneyrs: Makes no reply.
Man 2: “Pretty eyes, but she’s an idiot.”
Man 1: “She doesn’t have to be smart to be f***** in the a**.”
Man 2: “I like to talk when I’m finished. Otherwise, we might as well be dogs.”
But this is just a TV show, it can’t possibly have any connection to real life, right? We wish. Unsurprisingly, Game of Thrones creators are currently in a legal dispute with Pornhub, a popular pornography site, because sex scenes from the TV show are appearing on the porn site. “Surprise, surprise!” GOT is porn.
Additionally, data from Porn hub shows that the website experiences a decrease in traffic during Game of Thrones’ airtime, and that Game of Thrones related searches jumped nearly 370 percent on the day of its premiere. It is undeniably clear that this HBO series is pornographic in nature.
And porn sites aren’t the only ones taking cues from the show. The Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel in Nevada, now offers Game of Thrones experiences in response to requests from sex buyers. Dennis Hof, pimp and owner of the brothel, explains that he and his prostituted women get together on Sundays to watch the show and take notes. Cersei’s “Walk of Shame” package is already a popular choice. This “Walk of Shame” includes a naked parade around the Bunny Ranch property.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the “Walk of Shame” happens in season 5 after Cersei confesses to an incestuous relationship with her cousin. She is then stripped of her clothing and forced to walk through the capital city while people jeer at her and yell “shame!” This is the sexual “fantasy” men go to the Bunny Ranch to experience.
At a time when society is struggling with severe child and adult exploitation, sexual violence, sexual assault on college campuses, and human trafficking for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation, continual depictions of sexual violence and pornography only exacerbate these problems. These are issues that have a severe impact on individuals and society.
President Obama, an avid fan of Game of Thrones, said, “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, by how it treats its women and its girls.”
What about how it treats women and girls on TV?