Cersie and Jaime in Game of Thrones
August 16, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Update: The Ode to Incest Continues

Proclaimed the most popular TV show in the world, the cast of Game of Thrones was recently featured on the cover of Time magazine to promote the July premiere of Season 7. Despite all of the hype, it is important not to lose sight of the persistent, perverse, and sadistic sexual themes Game of Thrones (GOT) promotes.

This medieval fantasy features feuding ruling families in a gory battle for power, complete with dragons and zombies. Since the show’s inception, sexual violence and exploitation regularly have been used to “embellish” the storyline. With upwards of 23 million TV and online streaming viewers, HBO has given a stage to rape, prostitution, child abuse, sexual violence, and wholesale carnage bringing the ambiance of torture pornography to the American living room.

We are currently more than halfway through the new season and while there are changes, GOT is still GOT.

First the good news. The most notable and positive change is that, thus far, themes of sexual violence and rape have played only a minor part in the new season.[1] This is a major departure for the show which has heretofore depicted sexual violence with seeming relish. Many television shows have depicted rape before, but few, if any, can equal the frequency of rape or the dismissiveness of the pain and suffering that rape causes its victims, as has been portrayed in GOT. (For a thorough discussion of this and other forms of sexual exploitation portrayed in the show, see our letter to HBO. Trigger Warning: the letter details the sexually explicit nature of GOT. Reader discretion is advised.)

While this is definitely encouraging—albeit seven seasons too late—we are particularly troubled by the continued prominence given to incest in the show. Indeed the principle storyline, the one on which all the ensuing action has hinged, centers on the incestuous relationship of the characters Cersei and Jaime Lannister, twin siblings.

As the list below demonstrates, in previous seasons incest has been given lavish obeisance in the GOT narrative:

  • Cersei and Jaime are seen having sex by a young boy who climbs a tower and sees them through an open window. Jaime pushes the boy from the tower in an attempt to kill him and thereby keep the incestuous relationship a secret.
  • Cersei and Jaime have had three children as a result of incest. These three children are central figures in the story.
  • Aerys II Targaryen, the “Mad King” married his sister (both of whom have died before the GOT storyline begins). Three children were the product of this relationship, two of which (Daenerys & Viserys) are central to the plot.
  • There are incestuous overtones to the relationship between Viserys Targaryen and his sister Daenerys, as evidenced when Viserys disrobes her and fondles her breasts.
  • Cersei Lannister also has a sexual relationship with her first cousin, Lancel Lannister.
  • Theon Greyjoy unknowingly attempts to seduce his own sister; she, however, is aware they are siblings and allows him to fondle her.
  • Craster takes his own daughters as wives. Through these incestuous marriages he sires many children—99 of which are sons (the number of daughters is not communicated).
  • Jaime rapes his sister in the Sept of Baelor where their dead son’s body is laid in repose.

Then there is dialogue like this:

Season 1, Episode 7: You Win or You Die

“The Targaryen’s wed brothers and sisters for three hundred years to keep bloodlines pure. Jaime and I are more than brother and sister, we shared a womb, came into this world together, we belong together.”

~ Cersei Lannister to Ned Stark

The sexual nature of Cersei’s and Jaime’s relationship noticeably cooled in Season 6, but has fully revived in Season 7. The siblings have been portrayed engaging in sex, and it is clear that Cersei unabashedly intends to make the sexual nature of her relationship with her brother open and public. Additionally, Cersei has revealed to Jaime that she is pregnant with their fourth child (the other three have all died).

Yes, the lack of sexual violence in Season 7 thus far is a very welcome and refreshing change, but don’t be fooled. GOT continues to supply plenty of nudity, softcore sex scenes, savage violence,[2] and to overtly normalize incest—a form of sexual abuse. As one writer put it, “Game of Thrones Is All Incest All the Time.”[3]

Unfortunately, HBO is not alone. Numerous TV programs and networks seeking to push boundaries in order to gain a following have used incest, among other sexually exploitive topics, to do so. Examples of those using incest include Pretty Little Liars (on Freeform owned by Disney-ABC Television Group), American Horror Story (on FX owned by 21st Century Fox), Two and Half Men (formerly on CBS), and others. Even so, GOT/HBO out does them all. GOT’s storyline is a veritable ode to incest.

Why is HBO Still Airing Such Graphic Content?

This raises the question, “Why is HBO airing such a program?”

Could it be because incest-themed pornography is incredibly popular? After all, porn users shape culture.

Alarmingly, in the annual report of a major pornography tube site, three of the top ten 2016 pornography search terms in the U.S. were incest related: #1 “step mom,” #5 “step sister,” and #10 “mom.”

While it’s just a theory, we can’t help but wonder if the widespread use of incest-themed pornography by countless numbers of pornography users is having an impact on television programming. If so, HBO/GOT in particular seems a ready and enthusiastic outlet for imposing a glamorized and pornified perspective of this form of sexual abuse on audiences.

On behalf of all the real-life survivors of incest out there, please help us tell HBO that incest is no “game.” Learn more and take action via our Shame of Thrones campaign at endsexualexploitation.org/gameofthrones.


[1] Bran Stark discusses his sister Sansa’s rape with her in a way that, shockingly for GOT, suggests compassion and sadness. The fact that Bran knows about her rape comes as a surprise to Sansa and she is clearly traumatized by the conversation—perhaps by the fact that he knows, perhaps by the memories the discussion resurrects, or both.

[2] While the violence against women this season has not been sexual in nature, Season 7 has heavily featured male versus female combat. The result, in some instances, has been savage beatings of women.

[3] http://www.ranker.com/list/tv-shows-with-incest-plotlines/jacob-shelton?var=9&utm_expid=16418821-321.JB5yr2hCTp2WeaBHXzLclg.2&utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F (accessed August 15, 2017).

Lisa L. Thompson

Vice President of Policy and Research

As Vice President of Policy and Research for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Lisa conducts policy analysis and advocacy, advances understanding of pornography’s public health harms, and liaises with public officials, advocates, and academics to advance strategies combating the web of sexual exploitation, including pornography, stripping, prostitution, sexual trafficking, sexual assault, and more.

Lisa joined NCOSE following two years with World Hope International where as Director of Anti-Trafficking, Lisa oversaw sex trafficking recovery programs in Cambodia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Lisa is a contributing author to Hands that Heal: International Curriculum for Caregivers of Trafficking Survivors, as well as the book Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking:  Europe Latin America, North America, and Global. Lisa also routinely speaks and trains on sexual exploitation topics for a diverse range of audiences. Lisa served for more than 12 years as the Liaison for the Abolition of Sexual Trafficking for The Salvation Army USA National Headquarters.

Lisa earned a Bachelor of Arts in Government from Western Kentucky University, and Master’s degree in Leadership, Public Policy and Social Issues from Union Institute and University.

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