As you’ve no doubt guessed from the headline, this article is packed to the brim with juicy Game of Thrones spoilers for the seventh season. Read on at your own peril…
The seventh season finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones dished up one of the most anticipated sex scenes in television history: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) met under cover of darkness and succumbed to their undeniable chemistry. Unbeknownst to the pair of them, though, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) had just uncovered a huge secret about Jon’s true parentage.
Jon is the true-born son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Which means that, yes, Danerys is his aunt – and the pair of ‘em just unwittingly engaged in an act of incest.
Well, it is Game of Thrones, after all.
However there is far more to this sex scene than first meets the eye. And no, we’re not talking about the fact that fire and ice have finally come together, or the “perfection” of Jon’s bottom (even if that is what e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e else on the internet is doing right now).
Game of Thrones has sparked controversy in the past over its portrayal of female characters; some felt that women have been objectified in nude scenes, that rape scenes have been “gratuitous”, and that most of Westeros’ women come to power through physical and emotional humiliation.
This one, however, was very different – and this is made clear from the very beginning of the scene, long before any clothes are removed. Because it is Jon, not Daenerys, who is forced to steal through darkened corridors like a thief in the night. It is he who is summoned from the comfort of his own bed to that of his lover. And it is he who knocks hopefully at her bedroom door, awaiting acceptance and consent.
It’s a far cry from Daenerys’ relationship with Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), which has – despite its origins – long been hailed as one of the show’s greatest love stories.
Deposited into the marriage to secure an alliance, Danerys was raped nightly by the Khal long before they ever learned the same language or developed any kind of friendship. She broke down into tears on their wedding night as he forced her to her knees, and their so-called “union” was most definitely not consensual.
At the time, Game of Thrones writers glossed over the upsetting ramifications of this scene – and seemingly attempted to soften it by having Daenerys go on to fall in love with her rapist.
Season seven, though, marked a change in the narrative: the Khaleesi stood before Jon and and told him that she had been forced to face a number of hardships during her lifetime. In particular, she addressed the trauma of marital rape.
“I spent my life in foreign lands,” she says in the scene. “So many men have tried to kill me, I don't remember all their names.
“I have been sold like a brood mare, I've been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled, do you know what kept me standing though all those years in exile? Faith... in myself.”
The sex scenes between Jon and Daenerys could not have been more different: consent was sought, and granted. Neither character’s needs were placed above the other. Both were “on top” for a while – a very in-your-face metaphor for the mutual respect and equality that makes up their relationship, granted, but important all the same.
Perhaps most significantly though, Game of Thrones bosses remembered that there is far more to sex than the physical act itself.
Speaking to IndieWire about the scene, Jeremy Podeswa (who directed the episode) explained that he wanted to focus more on the emotions involved in consensual sex.
“It was shot very, very simply,” he said. “It’s basically just one steady push-in shot to Jon and Dany and then that very important look between them at mid-level. And then a one-shot looking at Jon, then looking down at Dany.”
Podeswa added: “It wasn’t about shooting a big lovemaking scene. Once they’re making love, that’s the story. There’s no reason to kind of linger on that.”
Of course, this isn't the first time in the show that we've seen characters enjoy a tender and consensual sexual experience.
Earlier this season, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) consummated their delicate romance, despite the fact that the Unsullied soldier was castrated as a very young boy.
The scene focused on Grey Worm kissing Missandei all over her body – and the camera remained on Missandei’s face as the warrior began to go down on her.
Female oral sex scenes are rare in film and television, so the moment felt incredibly progressive, as well as reminding viewers that there is far more to sex than penetration.
Pointing out that Missandei and Grey Worm’s relationship is deeply rooted in their emotional connection, psychosexual therapist Mike Lousada reminded us that this is more than enough to form the basis of a satisfying sex life.
Speaking to Newsweek, he said: “Lesbians manage to have full and delicious sex lives, and there’s no penis penetration. There’s this very heteronormative attitude that we have – that sex is a penis going into a vagina, and it’s such a limited understanding of what sex is.”
Just like Missandei and Grey Worm, Daenerys and Jon’s relationship was founded first on friendship and respect for one another. They, too, have a deep emotional connection. And Jon (after being carefully schooled by Ygritte) is one of the show’s few male characters who readily acknowledges the fact that women are his equals. That they are not put on this earth to pleasure and submit to the wills of the men around them. That they can rule kingdoms, lead armies, wield swords, manage households, and issue commands in the bedroom.
He realises that they are sexual beings, with wants, needs and desires.
With sex so often being used as a form of power play, an assertion of authority and violence, it's refreshing to see Game of Thrones finally celebrate the care, trust and love of intimacy in sex.
Fingers crossed that the show continues to defy stereotypes and subvert run-of-the-mill male-stream media when it returns with the final season.