My friend, New York Magazine television critic Matt Zoller Seitz has a novel solution to the complaint that Game of Thrones makes gratuitous use of female nudity: get the guys naked more often. He argues:
Since its 2011 debut, Thrones has been attacked for “gratuitous” nudity and labeled sexist for stripping its women more often than its men. These are two different complaints, though; intertwining them muddies each. The first concerns the appropriateness of graphic sex and/or nudity; the second is about the show’s “gaze,” which is undeniably heterosexual and male. But it’s possible to enjoy sex and nudity without guilt or bluenosed justifications while simultaneously pointing out that the scales of spectatorship are out of whack. I’d like Game of Thrones to enlarge the scope of its fantasy — to show more same-sex couplings and male nudity — as Starz’s Spartacus series has done with such panache. For all its tough, complicated women characters, Thrones is rightly perceived as too much of a sausagefest. The producers could change that perception by adding more sausage.
I think he’s on the right track, but has arrived at the wrong destination. What Game of Thrones needs isn’t more anatomy of any variety—and, as I’ll discuss at greater length in my full review of the season, which will be up on Friday, I think the show has actually absorbed that criticism in a productive way and is stronger for it. Instead, it needs more consensual sex, preferably in situations where one partner isn’t paying the other. At its best, Game of Thrones can be a terrific story about sexual violence in wartime. But for the full weight of that argument to be felt, and for sexual violence to register with the horror it’s meant to elicit—particularly given the troubling use of rape as a way to generate drama on prestige television without thought to larger context—we need to see the alternative, to see some of the happiness and normality that gets destroyed by war. It may be harder to depict good sex than the embarrassment of bad sex or the numbing fear of sexual violence. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying, in part to remind those of us watching at home what kind of good world our friends in Westeros and beyond are fighting for.