During this “Game of Thrones”-free weekend, I found myself thinking about the most recent episode of HBO’s fantasy epic.
Halfway through “Mockingbird,” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) solves a problem that has been nagging at her since the beginning of the season. Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman), the hunky mercenary who joined her entourage last season and has been pursuing her since, shows up yet again to profess his love. Amused, and maybe a little irritated, Dany tells Daario: “Do what you do best. Take off your clothes.” He obliges, dropping trou and doing a tiny bit to counterbalance “Game of Thrones” roster of naked ladies. End scene.
I suppose I should have been relieved that the show had demonstrated a little bit of restraint, given that “Game of Thrones” has never met a brothel scene or a disemboweling that the showrunners decide is better left off-screen. But the uncharacteristically chaste decision to skip over the love scene right to Daario’s departure from Dany’s chambers the next morning was actually a mistake. Maybe “Game of Thrones,” a program that features so much coitus during monologues that the critic Myles McNutt coined the term “sexposition” to describe it, needs more sex scenes.
Of course, by sex scenes, I mean something very specific. I am not referring to people having intercourse who happen to be in the frame while something else actually related to the core plot happens in the foreground. I am not calling for more scenes where significant male characters lounge around in brothels, checking out the naked merchandise, or hang out in hot tubs with prostitutes who are there to jiggle appealingly and flatter their clients’ egos.
I definitely do not want to watch more rape scenes on a show that has made its point about the sexual climates of both Westeros and Essos. And I badly hope that the folks in charge of “Game of Thrones” have learned to communicate more clearly with their directors than they did with Alex Graves, who earlier this season thought he had directed a sex scene with complicated power dynamics when many of his viewers saw an unambiguous sexual assault.
Instead I wonder if “Game of Thrones” needs more sequences in which grown-up couples enthusiastically consent to mutually pleasurable sex.
As tragically as it ended, the affair between Night’s Watch brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and wildling warrior Ygritte (Rose Leslie) was often sweet and sexy, and it was a blessed relief from the relentless misery on “Game of Thrones.” Depicting sexual assault repeatedly is one way to demonstrate that a society is deformed by its monstrous sexual culture and gender norms. But “Game of Thrones” could also get to that same point by examining the ways in which healthier relationships fail to thrive or are killed off by institutions or social pressure.
Similarly, Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) death felt like a genuine and enormous loss not just because it subverted genre conventions, nor because he was a straightforward hero, but because he had a family he actually loved. Ned had a wife (Michelle Fairley) whose bed and counsel he seemed to share gladly, and children who adored him. His death was tragic not simply because it was the end of a life, but because in a season, we saw what that life consisted of and what it was worth.
“Game of Thrones” and the George R.R. Martin novels the show is based on are deeply committed to upsetting the conventions of fairy tales. Happy endings — at least, predictable ones — could upset that core project. But better, more emotionally rooted sex for the characters, and more kind gestures like the wolf Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey) baked for Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) to give to his long-lost friend Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) can still be consistent with the story “Game of Thrones” is telling.
Sometimes, simple friendship, generosity and deep affection can be more miraculous than any vanquished witch or rescued kingdom. And when even those small virtues fail, their loss reminds us of the human stakes that often get obscured by fantastical stories. Dany’s dragons are a miracle. But so is her continued hope for pleasure, and maybe even love.