Game of Thrones has come a long way since its first season. Half of House Stark has died at least once, characters who were at one time terrorized by Joffrey are now terrorized by Ramsay. And the show’s infamous prime-time cable nudity? Well, that’s different too. Sort of. In the time it’s taken for Daenerys to become queen of the Dothrakis on her own terms, the stars of Game of Thrones have come to rule the cultural landscape as Terminators and gods of Egypt and heroes of Pompeii. Now, armed with the power of international fame, they’ve made their own terms, and the show’s creators have found new ways to satisfy the expectations of a prime-time network and its nudity-starved audience.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, star Emilia Clarke gushed about her experience shooting last night’s episode closer. “I’d like to remind people the last time I took my clothes off was Season 3,” she says. “That was awhile ago. It’s now Season 6. But this is all me, all proud, all strong. I’m just feeling genuinely happy I said ‘Yes.’ That ain’t no body double!”
That the occurrence of an ethical nude scene can be satisfying for the woman at its center is a testament both to the power of the Game of Thrones cast and to the rock bottom expectations that historically have accompanied starring in nude scenes as a woman. The fantasy world of Game of Thrones is still a terrible rape and murder factory, but the set is seemingly making steps forward. And those changes behind the camera have affected what happens in front of the camera.
When actors talk about what makes a nude scene objectionable, gratuity’s the word, as seen by Clarke’s take on the matter last year: “If it’s gratuitous for gratuitous sake, then I will discuss with a director on how to make it more subtle.”
So, mostly gone are the clothing-averse brothels, the stripped bare rapes, and the nude barters for power, and last night’s episode displayed all the practices of the new Westeros order. Osha propositioned Ramsay fully clothed and remained so throughout the scene, a major change from her seasons earlier (much more successful) manipulation of Theon. The whores that Tyrion offered to the backers of the Sons of the Harpy were decidedly more clothed than the ones he sent to Podrick in Season 2. Like the nudity that accompanied Jon Snow’s rise from the dead, Daenerys's disrobing was a practical marker of a major change in her character’s circumstances. Nudity might still be part of the Game of Thrones experience, but it’s a matter of business, not pleasure.
The appearance of at least on-set sexual ethics is an encouraging development for Game of Thrones, but what makes the changes in the show’s nudity policy a bit silly in action is that not everything is different, including the aesthetics. Game of Thrones is still among the most under-lit shows on TV — except for when the characters take their clothes off, when DP magically finds some floodlights to illuminate the spectacle. It’s all story-motivated, of course, but watching Jon Snow’s beautiful gym-crafted body rise from his death slab basically in slow motion, the first discernibly lit object at The Wall all season ... well, the line between what’s serving the story and what’s serving the audience blurs quickly. There’s still nothing casual about the way characters disrobe, nor is there much actual eroticism, and now that the brothels are gone and most of the characters are virtually loveless, the characters who are naked are there to be seen, not touched. In other words, Game of Thrones has made moves to be a whole lot less despicable — and not at all less adolescent.