Even if you've never watched HBO's hit Game of Thrones, you probably know that the show is chock-full of graphic, often unpleasant sex scenes. A lot of them. Indeed, the show's ubiquitous nudity has been a topic of debate amongst fans and critics since the very first episode. From arguments over whether or not the show objectifies women to musings over the function of sex in the narrative, everyone has an opinion.
Personally, I tend towards not being particularly bothered by the sex on the show, even if it sometimes is gratuitous. Do I wish the writers would use sex as a cover for exposition less? Yes, because it's gotten repetitive to the point of being a crutch. (Plus, I will go to my grave arguing that the Littlefinger I know and love from the books would never tell some random prostitutes his life story.) Do I agree that the way the sex is framed often objectifies women in a way it doesn't men? Absolutely. But the show's myriad cast of complex, narratively important female characters balances the scales enough that I still think it is one of the most female-positive shows on air.
But. But. I was not a fan of the scene in Season 2, Episode 4: "Garden of Bones" where sadistic King Joffrey has Ros torture another prostitute. Indeed, I think it was one of the biggest missteps the show has made. (Heck, it might just be the biggest misstep since Littlefingers' silly prostitute monologue.)
It was a hard scene to take. So hard that XOJane’s Emily McCombs said that her PTSD was actively triggered by it. Now, that alone isn't a reason not to include a scene like this (though it is a reason to have stronger warnings before the episode airs), but it's a clear indicator of exactly how extreme the scene was. Joffrey is a child. A child who forced one woman to abuse another for his amusement. That's the kind of situation that dominates everything around it.
And that is why I didn't like the scene. Because, at least for me, this scene took over the (otherwise pretty damned spectacular) episode. I still enjoyed the rest of it, but the horror that came before and after Joffrey's little sex game was dulled for me in the light of my brain going "WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF WHY." That would be fine if it was a really important scene that deserved to stand out, but I don't think this particular scene was.
This Joffrey-prostitute torture wasn't from the books, and, unlike so much of the really wonderful added material on the show, I don't think it enhanced the story much. Joffrey's a sadist. Didn't we already know that? And if the writers thought the point still wasn't clear enough, why not extend the scene where he has the Kingsguard attack Sansa? If we're going to linger on Joffrey's twisted mind, I'd rather see more focus on the pain Sansa faces as his fiancee — and with it, appreciation for how strong she is for keep herself together.
On flip side, the other horrific scenes in this episode were all, in my opinion, far more important for the story, either thematically or in terms of plot. Robb witnessing the horror of war. The deep sadism of Arya's captors. The dark, majestic, twisted power that runs through Melisandre. These moments matter. Those are the scenes I wanted to haunt my dreams after this episode. Instead, I spent the night wincing over the things Joffrey made Ros do.
Of course, I am a fan of the book series that Game of Thrones is based on. Maybe, having spent hundreds of pages with him, I had a better sense of Joffrey's evilness than TV-only viewers did before this episode. Maybe this scene really was necessary to establish how broken and irredeemable he is, and I just can't see past my own blinders. What did you think?
Catch the next episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday, April 29 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
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