HBO is by no means the only cable channel to traffic in gratuitous nudity, but it may be the most notorious, what with a backlist that includes “Rome,” “Deadwood” and “The Sopranos.” But unlike those shows, “Game of Thrones” is based on a much-loved and closely analyzed series of books, which means that fans can — and do — compare the scenes Martin imagined with the ones that show-runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff often arbitrarily insert.
These scenes seem not only forced but exploitative. As Huffington Post television critic Mo Ryan put it in a review: “Sometimes ‘Game of Thrones’ uses sexual scenes to shed light on character. But quite often, it shows naked women because it can.” It is telling that few, if any, of the series’ most fully realized and complex female characters — and there are many — are ever shown naked, with the exception of Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen and the just-introduced Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). And it’s probably no coincidence that as the character of Ros — a titian-haired prostitute played by Esme Bianco — becomes more nuanced the less the series requires her to disrobe.
Television critic Alyssa Rosenberg, a writer for the political and pop culture Web site Think Progress, disputes the proposition that sex and nudity that don’t appear in the book serve no purpose in the series. “I feel nudity is a driver of personality more than the show gets credit for” in Season 1, Rosenberg says. “And I guess I don’t mind seeing women naked at the same time that the show is giving them personality and humanity they don’t have in the novels.”
One could also argue that the series’ creators are only trying to communicate Westerosi society’s disregard for the lives of women or trying to establish a connection between the way they are objectified and the accompanying, constant threat of assault, but the show’s softly lit and erotic staging of any scene involving a naked woman evokes Playboy of the 1960s and ’70s more than it underscores sexual politics or a culture of violence. “While readers wade through sex, violence, and even sexual assault as part of the ruthlessness of Martin’s fictional world, television audiences can seemingly only handle two out of three,” wrote the Daily Beast’s Jace Lacob last June.
As for the men, well, they aren’t asked to bare all very often, if ever. By my count, it has happened only once, to actor Alfie Allen (brother of pop singer Lily) who plays the turncoatish and arrogant Iron Islander Theon Greyjoy. But Allen’s nude body is not presented as pleasurable eye candy; viewers are not persuaded to desire him but to despise him. And the man straight female fans are arguably most likely to want to see disrobe, Kit Harrington’s Jon Snow, is likely to remain bundled up in the animal skins and iron armor favored by his military brotherhood, the Night’s Watch.