I’ve long lost count of the bare breasts I have seen on Game of Thrones,” and there’s still two episodes to go. In the most recent episode, dragon-mother Daenerys Targaryen gains a powerful ally in the form of the mercenary Daario Naharis. She also happens to be bathing. She steps out to receive Daario’s fealty (he did just present her with the heads of two men that wanted to kill her, after all) and the camera pans slowly upward over actress Emilia Clarke’s exposed flesh.
It’s a familiar kind of scene. In “Game of Thrones,” when a woman is nude, the camera lingers. While there’s some instances of male nudity in the show, it tends to pass with a quick flash (the cinematic equivalent of "no homo"). We won’t ever see a scene where Peter Dinklage’s or Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s genitals are half-hidden by bathwater – outside of fanfiction, of course.
This is all very basic material from Cinematography of the Male Gaze 101. But it bears repeating. It’s not so much that I find the constant fantasy boob parade morally offensive, it’s just… wearying. The Game of Breasts is starting to feel less like titillation and more like a ploy.
The gratuitous nudity isn’t the only problematic thing that crops up in the show. Daenerys’s arc in the first season, after all, is about falling in love with a man that she was sold to. But in my personal experience, offering a feminist critique of certain elements of “Game of Thrones” will typically generate the hand-waving response that, well, “that’s what it was like back then.”
But “Game of Thrones” isn’t a historical research paper – there’s actually a lot of stuff that’s dramatized, aside from the obvious things like ice zombies and dragons. Real sword-fighting wasn’t as prettily acrobatic as it looks on TV, and people in the Middle Ages were generally shorter, smellier, and hairier than we’re used to.
Cartoonist Kate Beaton put it well in a tweet earlier this month:
“I guess the ‘misogyny in medieval times was real so get used to it’ Game of Thrones train stops somewhere between tits and [Brazilian] waxes.”
I do suspect the average “Game of Thrones” viewer is more likely to accept bending their concept of “historical accuracy” for things that tend to serve a certain patriarchal standard (bikini waxes) but not so much for more subversive changes. Imagine the nerdy outcry, for example, if the showrunners had cast a black man or woman in a leading role (akin to the freakouts over Idris Elba’s turn as the Norse god Heimdall in the “Thor” movie.) Imagination in fantasy, it seems, can only stretch so far.