When HBO’s Game of Thrones premiered two weeks ago, fans had been eagerly awaiting the final installment in the series for almost two years. Needless to say, everyone was eager to watch the saga’s epic conclusion.
As with most content produced by HBO, Game of Thrones has very few limitations on what they can and can’t do. Nudity, inappropriate language and violence are a constant and are expected parts of the show. That being said, this past Sunday’s episode sparked some controversy in the Twitterverse this week due to a specific scene when one of the main character’s, Arya Stark, had sex for the first time.
The theme of the episode was ‘their last,’ as all the characters chose to live out their last hours before the impending attack from the army of the dead. Arya, for her part, didn’t want to die a virgin, so she went to Gendry to fulfill her needs. Many viewers found the scene unsettling because they had watched Arya grow up, from the age of 12, over the course of the show. The larger debate I found myself having with fellow fans was surrounding the hypocrisy of their discomfort with that scene.
Considering the larger storylines and general graphic sexual content of the show, the scene with Arya and Gendry was tame. In fact, in the premiere episode there was a scene with three fully nude prostitutes.
In Game of Thrones, sex is often tied to power, usually as tool to get, keep or wield it. In the first season alone, the character Daenerys Targaryen was sold into marriage in which she was constantly raped by her new husband. Season six was the first of the series not to feature rape or attempted rape. In fact one of the consistent and common criticisms of the show is the sensationalism of rape and violence it depicts. In contrast with the sexual violence of earlier episodes, the scene from this past Sunday featured a consenting relationship between two adults who clearly have had an emotional bond since season one.
Equally important to the fact that it was a consenting relationship was that it was one of the few times a female character has been shown knowing what she wants and being able to ask for it. She even checked to see how many previous sexual partners he had had. So rarely is a confident, powerful, capable woman shown on television — much less on a show that features such graphic sexual content.
Maisie Williams, the actress who plays Arya, is 22 years old, while the character she plays is 18. Her character is a year older than both Robb Stark and Jon Snow were in season one. I presume to guess if we were discussing a male character like Bran Stark, for instance, it wouldn’t be an issue up for debate, nor would it be trending on Twitter. Williams herself cracked a joke about the scene on Twitter, noting that if anyone should be uncomfortable it would be herself — considering her family had watched the episode. The joke was reminiscent of an interview Sophie Turner, the actress who plays Sansa Stark, gave after season one, where she joked about watching the scene where Sansa is almost assaulted with her parents. It’s important to remember that this isn’t the first time Game of Thrones has had controversial content.
The HBO UK Twitter account anticipated people’s reaction to the scene and tweeted a Public Service Announcement reminding everyone of Arya’s age and accomplishments, which include: have a kill list, gender swap to avoid being captured by the enemy and tick names off said kill list. The fact that viewers were uncomfortable with her sex scene but didn’t bat an eye when she killed people and wore their faces is a hilarious contradiction.
Anyone who is uncomfortable with the scene should take stock of why they feel that way. Discomfort with a young woman becoming sexually active can largely stem from the patriarchal ideas that women should not be sexually adventurous. The archaic belief that a woman’s elective sexuality is not something to be encouraged or put on display. Considering that female bodies have been sexualized by men for centuries, any anger over this scene is extremely hypocritical. If you find yourself among the group of people who felt awkward or unhappy with the scene, I urge you to take a step back. This is an opportunity for men and women to confront their biases and question the patriarchal foundations of their sexual ideologies.
Let me say it a little louder for the people in the back: women are complex creatures; like men we can be young and vulnerable, but we can also grow up and have sex on television.