Game of Thrones – “The Night Lands” and Sexposition

“The Night Lands” and Sexposition

April 8th, 2012

People who coin new terms are very rarely trying to coin new terms. When I used the term “sexposition” to describe a particular kind of scene in Game of Thrones, I wasn’t staking a claim to a corner of the cultural lexicon so much as I was trying to be clever. In fact, for a while – and still, really – I refused to believe it was possible to “invent” such a simple portmanteau – all I did was add an “s” at the end of the day. However, the word has caught on, leading to a bizarre couple of weeks in which Esquire magazine and The Guardian were contacting me on the subject, I was listening to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and writer Bryan Cogman talking about it on the DVD commentaries, and now it even has a Wikipedia page not to be confused with “sex position.”

What I realized in chatting with these journalists, though, is that we (as a larger Game of Thrones-viewing community) had never come to a clear understanding of what sexposition even was. The first thing the Esquire journalist did was run a definition by me, and I realized that I didn’t really have any corrections because I had never actually thought much about it. While I had a number of scenes connected to the term in my mind, expanding it beyond Game of Thrones would require a more rigorous set of criteria, something that became clear when Michael Hann at the Guardian began talking about sexposition in the context of Showtime’s Homeland.

While Hann’s article captured the overall issue quite well, asking broader questions that speak to why the word is useful in considering the implications of this particular narrative device, I was confused by the evocation of Homeland, a show I would not associate with the term (which is a larger conversation that would require spoilers, so if you really want me to expand on that let me know). Also, in following fan discussion around Game of Thrones, I’ve seen sexposition become more of a catch-all term for the overuse of sex and nudity in general, something that obscures the specific implications of the neologism.

“The Night Lands” features what I’d consider the season’s first explicit use of sexposition as a narrative strategy, but it also features other sequences that feature similar amounts of nudity but which I would not associate with the term. Before delving a bit more into the rest of the episode, which features some of my favorite moments in the early parts of the second season, I want to tease out this distinction in an effort to consider what this sex is accomplishing, and what we make of the show effectively doubling down on the practice.

To be clear, sexposition is discursive – while I am now officially on the record as having popularized the use of the term, I’m well-aware that its meaning is out of my hands, and will in fact mean something different to every viewer. This is true of many words, of course, but it’s particularly true when we’re dealing with something related to sex, as there is certainly a degree of morality to contend with here.

I’d also argue that sexposition is measured on a spectrum – if we most basically define sexposition as “the use of nudity or sexual acts in conjunction with the communication of information related to character, plot, or mythology,” the degree of sexposition depends on the degree of nudity or sex on display as well as the volume of exposition. A Vulture slideshow from the end of the first season classifies the infamous “Littlefinger and the Lesbian Sex” sequence from “You Win or You Die” as sexposition, but it also cites a random scene held in Littlefinger’s brothel which featured topless women. The two scenes might both relate to sexposition, but I would contend they are two very different narrative strategies.

Personally, sexposition suggests a purposeful use of sex and nudity in conjunction with a specific piece (or pieces) of information. It’s a solution to a problem: the writers need both a reason for the scene to exist (with the intimacy of sex, taking place behind closed doors, offering an easy justification) and a reason for the audience to pay attention during what is otherwise a pretty basic info dump. The scene from “You Win or You Die” pretty clearly fits into this formula, but I’m not convinced that the decision to set an earlier conversation between Ned and Littlefinger – or the scene in tonight’s episode with Littlefinger and Ros – in the brothel necessarily qualifies. While we can connect it to the apparent importance of including nudity within premium cable programming, and it may not be exclusively necessary, its purpose seems disconnected from the information being imparted, a more casual deployment of nudity that Maureen Ryan refers to as “Hey! Boobs!” in her recent review of Starz’s Magic City.

I’d also exclude (or at least distinguish) sequences in which the point of the scene is related to sex itself. When Melisandre seduces Stannis towards the end of “The Night Lands,” it is technically a scene in which sex is used in conjunction with specific information, but that information is about the sexual energy of Melisandre as a character. The character, both as written on the page and as captured on the screen, is all about sexual magnetism, and so to see her actually using sex is solidifying that character trait. The end result may share a relationship with sexposition, but I wouldn’t associate it with the term directly. I’d place the scene between Renly and Loras in the first season in the same category: while the intimacy of sex is being used to impart information, it’s information about the fact they are intimate with one another. I’d agree with some who argue the sound department got a bit carried away at the end of the Renly and Loras sequence, but not showing the sex would have been a greater injustice to the characters than showing it in my view, and the same goes for Melisandre here.

Ultimately, then, the only sequence in “The Night Lands” I’d consider true sexposition is Theon’s rendezvous with the captain’s daughter aboard the ship transporting him to Pyke. It’s the one scene where you could extrapolate key takeaways Benioff and Weiss had in mind regarding the culture of the iron-born, and where the actual sex act was largely unrelated to those concerns (unless we really think that explaining saltwives couldn’t have been handled without the simultaneous thrusting). The scene also lingers on the sex longer than it has to, suggesting that the purpose of the sequence has shifted at some point from imparting information to reveling in the unbridled and unimportant passion of it all.

[Edit: As noted in the comments (and as I forgot to mention here), this sequence is pulled directly from the books, so it’s not something that one would lay solely at the feet of Benioff and Weiss. It raises a different question, though: is it worse to replicate sexposition within the environment of overuse created in the first season, or would it be even more controversial to change the nature of Theon’s introduction from how it was handled in the books? Curious to know what people think.]

Again, I expect others might feel differently on the subject, but I’m resistant to wholesale dismissals of the show’s use of nudity as a result of its occasional misuse. While the persistent use of sexposition has turned into a problematic trend that places additional uses of nudity in a bad light, sex remains important to exploring the politics of this world. Sexposition has perhaps shifted the discussion away from the politics of Westeros to the politics of premium cable, but I think the former discussion is equally important, and something I hope we can still achieve amidst the broader discussions of this trend.

Similarly, I don’t want my focus on sexposition here to take away from the rest of “The Night Lands,” which I quite enjoyed. It’s not a particularly eventful episode, with a large number of characters (Robb, Catelyn, Joffrey, Sansa, Jaime) sitting out and everyone else moving just a few steps closer to the next plot development, but it has scenes that stuck with me after watching through the first four episodes.

Specifically, the scene between Arya and Gendry as they work out their respective true identities is one of my favorites in the series. The show isn’t going to have the same amount of time to map out the dynamic between these characters as the books did, but this single long scene sells a lot of what I found so charming about that dynamic. There’s the tinges of tragedy in Arya realizing Gendry’s connection to her father, or Gendry being forced to revisit his childhood, but there’s also something hilarious about the way Arya says “fill yer pants,” and her final attack on Gendry is one of those brief moments of levity that made Samwell such a strong presence at The Wall last season. Maisie Williams is as great as ever, but Joe Dempsie is equally strong in Gendry’s expanded role, and while their path may be headed in the opposite direction of levity this was a beautiful introduction to that side of their relationship.

Also, it speaks to another complicated male/female relationship in the episode. Say what we might about Theon’s penchant for monologuing about his identity while making whoopee, but Alfie Allen has quite nicely stepped into a more prominent role as Theon finds himself trapped between his two families. As much as the switch from Asha to Yara is still messing with my head, I thought the show did a fine job of using both Yara’s deception and Balon’s chastising to threaten Theon’s identity, the visual of Balon relieving Theon of his gold-price cloak a particularly evocative image. I’m not sure that we get a particularly complex image of Balon, but it’s a strong introduction even if it’s more purposeful as a building block for Theon’s character than for the larger conflict at hand.

That’s in part because the show isn’t really in a position to show much of the conflict. To be fair, that reflects Martin’s novels, but it does mean that things are very much in transition here: Catelyn hasn’t reached Renly’s camp, Stannis remains tied to Dragonstone, and the Night’s Watch continues to linger at Craster’s keep. Holding patterns allow for us to linger with particular characters, though, and so we get to learn a bit more about Davos Seaworth through his meeting with Salladohr Saan, and Samwell gets to save Gilly from Ghost and hear her pleas for assistance. While these storylines have plot implications, they’re also a chance to let characters be characters, something that the show needs to maintain even as the plot becomes more gargantuan – there’s still only ten episodes, and it means we get less of those small moments than might be ideal.

It helps, of course, that the line between small and large can blur so nicely, as it seems to be doing in King’s Landing with Tyrion. While acknowledging there’s a terrible pun in that statement, Dinklage is a tremendous asset to the writers in the capitol, able to pull out the nuance within sequences that otherwise feel like exposition. Whether he’s being confronted by Varys or banishing Janos Slynt, Tyrion walks that fine line between scheming manipulator and shrewd tactician – he takes pleasure in it, don’t get me wrong, but his distrust in others and his willing to betray the trust of those who would betray his is about as close to honorable as can survive in King’s Landing. He’s something of an audience surrogate: we find out it was Joffrey who ordered Robert’s bastards dead when he does, and his has become the dominant perspective in King’s Landing to the point where our knowledge is directly tied to his own (which will solidify in a sequence next week). As I noted last week, Dinklage is bringing out the best in his co-stars, and the scene with Cersei was particularly great for Lena Headey (who was strong in the first season, to my mind, but is better served with this material).

I would agree with Elio and Linda at Westeros, though, in that “The Night Lands” is probably the least cohesive of the first four episodes. It’s stuck balancing progression and introduction without the connective tissue offered in the premiere, a task that makes the episode seem more baldly functional without the same on-screen justifications. When the episode ends on the cliffhanger of Jon Snow officially asserting himself in Craster’s personal business, albeit his personal business of offering baby boys as an offering to the White Walkers, it doesn’t feel like we’ve progressed to that moment so much as it got dropped in to build suspense for next week’s episode.

That episode is very strong, and “The Night Lands” is fairly solid itself, but this definitely wasn’t the most elegant hour at the end of the day, although that’s less important now than it will be as the season goes on.

Cultural Observations

  • As Alan Sepinwall pointed out to me this week, the placement of the voyeuristic lead-in to the Littlefinger/Ros sequence directly after Theon’s sexposition seems very purposeful – curious to know if that was scripted, or if it was an editing bay creation.
  • I’m wondering how non-readers are responding to the lack of movement in Dany’s storyline. She gets only a single scene here, as Rakharo’s horse arrives back with Rakharo’s head in a sack, and that isn’t going to change dramatically next week – it gets across the point of this being a struggle to survive, but spending so little time there means we don’t get to see those effects play out over time within a single episode.
  • While the kids have technically been aged up, the age gap between Arya and Gendry seems to remain fairly large, even more than I had perceived when reading the books. That’s a logical choice, I suppose, but there was at least some romantic undercurrent in the books, which seems to be entirely absent here (where Gendry is positioned more as a surrogate brother, similar to Arya’s relationship with Jon in the early episodes).
  • Speaking of that scene, which I’m apparently obsessed with, I’m enjoying how Arya’s unladylike behavior once discouraged proves so helpful in passing as Arry. It’s in the books too, but Maisie Williams sells it beautifully – in many ways, she gets to be more herself when she’s Arry than when she was doing her stitching with the late Septa Mordane, which contributes to the aforementioned levity.


Filed under Game of Thrones

40 responses to “Game of Thrones – “The Night Lands” and Sexposition

  1. Pingback: Game of Thrones – “You Win or You Die” | Cultural Learnings

  2. Hard to avoid SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2! here, but I would argue the Stannis/Mel sex scene is definitely not sexposition, because the sex is crucial to the plot for reasons it took the book readers some time to actually pinpoint.. who knows how specific the show will be though? We shall see.

    In any case, that sex wasn’t there to spice up the exposition delivery. It had a purpose outside of that.

    As for the scene with Theon, that is one instance where that sex was actually in the book (shock! awe!) and so cannot be laid square at the feet of Benioff and Weiss.

    • Yes, that’s something important I forgot to note – while the vast majority of sexposition was newly introduced in the first season, this stands as an exception given it was in the source text.

    • Surprise

      Yes, it was in the book. But, was it required in the show? And if it was required, did Benioff and Weiss need to portray full-frontal nudity of a girl…yet again? If they needed to show that Theon was an SOB, why not show her in the shadows, naked, but not revealed, weeping, while Theon pointed out that she meant nothing to him?

      Benioff’s and Weiss’s need to show how “brutal” and “real” sex is in Westeros by focusing every ten minutes or so on the partial or full-frontal nudity of young women is really growing tiresome.

  3. Andrew

    Don’t forget that the Theon scene is actually in the books! It was originally a George R. R. Martin use of sexposition, not invented by Benioff and Weiss.

    • Surprise

      As the filmmakers seem quite content to add sex scenes that weren’t in the book (Tyrion with multiple prostitutes, Roz with Theon, Roz engaging in girl-on-girl sex under Littlefinger’s tutelage, Stannis with Melisandre, etc), I don’t see that keeping a sex scene from the book is required. Or, at least, depicting a sex scene with full-frontal female nudity.

      I know several reasons that Benioff’s and Weiss’s repeated use of sexposition bothers me: it’s lazy; it cheapens the story; and it drags the viewer into the position of being a complicit peeping tom. Besides, is portraying soft porn erotica really the best way to get complicated plot information across?

      I remember trying to watch Showtimes’s “The Borgias” and “The Tudors.” They were so-called historical costume dramas, but, in reality, were actually soft-porn soap operas with a few A-list actors and fancy dress (when the clothes were on). When you compare that type of storytelling with the storytelling of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” there is no comparison. Plot information in “Tinker” is revealed through visual imagery and subtle content, not someone getting into someone else’s knickers.

      If you want to make cheesy soft-porn, make cheesy soft-porn. Just don’t dress it up as thought-provoking historical dramas or medieval fantasies.

      I don’t mind nudity and sex in dramas when they are inherent to revealing character or tone or story, but, when they become the regular focus again and again, and when they seem to predominately feature partial or full-frontal nudity of pretty young girls, the filmmakers are moving into soft-porn soap opera territory. Game of Thrones is on the edge.

  4. The brothel bit (with mouth wiping) is a bit over the top though. Still a great episode (my full review here).

  5. j

    I think you could’ve left out the Theon-Ships Daughter scene….but it basically serves a double function in addition to sexposition to establish Theon’s womanizing character (Shown throughout S1 but missing from last episode) right before the seen with Asha/Yara. The contrast is greater in the books, where the Asha/Theon Incestual Interaction is ALSO ON A SHIP, making it seem like a continuation of the first Theon sex scene until it is enormously subverted.

    • It’s not on a ship, it’s pretty much exactly as shown. They ride double across the island to reach the castle, flirting all the way. In the book Asha was much more aggressive about it too…

  6. James

    How would rank the 4 episode you screened for season 2 from best to worst? I have really enjoyed the first 2 episodes but they seem to be getting mixed reactions especially from nonreaders because they haven’t been very eventful, I’m hoping that changes with episodes 3 and 4. You say episode 2 is the least cohesive of the 4 and that next weeks is better and I have also heard that episode 4 is suppose to be really great. Would you say both episodes 3 and 4 are better and more exciting than the first 2?

  7. LV

    “Edit: As noted in the comments (and as I forgot to mention here), this sequence is pulled directly from the books, so it’s not something that one would lay solely at the feet of Benioff and Weiss. It raises a different question, though: is it worse to replicate sexposition within the environment of overuse created in the first season, or would it be even more controversial to change the nature of Theon’s introduction from how it was handled in the books? Curious to know what people think.”

    Your whole premise is false.
    The important difference between Theon’s encounter with the captain’s daughter in “A Clash of Kings” and in the television series is, that the producers obviously wanted to have a more harmless, sexy scene in order to put in peripheral information.
    In the novel, Theon outright abuses the girl at the end, much as Al Swearengen abuses the prostitute in that oral sex scene of “Deadwood” fame. In the novel, Martin showcases Theon’s chauvinism, arrogance and brutality (or, at least, disregard for women and those of lower social status than him) AND let’s him talk about his people. The scene on screen, in contrast, shows him to be a ‘lady’s man’, arrogant, yes, but not much else – we learn little about his character. Instead, it’s used solely to convey information about his people’s culture (ie exposition). In short: The scene on screen is ‘sexposition’, the scene in the novel is not.

  8. Pingback: Recap Round-up: The Night Lands -

  9. I think the brothel scene with Ros and Littlefinger had a very specific purpose. I’m pretty sure Ros will replace a certain prostitute from the book, and to do that properly we need to like and sympathise with her. If we don’t her storyline won’t have the impact it needs.

    • Dasein

      I agree. The actress playing Ros appeared pregnant in ep 1. She was deliberately hidden in ep 2. The only reason I can see for not eliminating her character is because she becomes an important cog going forward.

    • Surprise

      That is true. Ros may be taking the place of Alaya, who was portrayed as a dark-skinned prostitute from the Summer Isles. Alaya’s fate was grim.

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  11. bigbuffguy95

    Good analysis of the episode in general (I also loved Arya and Gendry’s friendship–though I never interpreted anything romanctic about their relationship in the books–as well as everything Tyrion did and Sallador “I will f— this blonde queen, and I’ll f— her well” Saan) and the sexposition in general.

    I didn’t realize that people were getting the definition wrong. I agree with your categorizations of the scenes. The scene with Theon is a textbook example of sexposition (and just because it was in the book, that doesn’t mean that Weiss and Befioff were justified in keeping it over some of the good scenes that have been cut). The scene with Melisandre and Stannis doesn’t qualify because the sex was central to the plot, so it was a necessary scene. Also, Melisandre didn’t start talking about her home land during sex the way Theon did. And the scene in Littlefinger’s brothel doesn’t qualify because there was no exposition. That doesn’t mean that it was a good idea, though. It was just disgusting, and it should not have been included.

    I also wrote about sexposition in my review over on, mostly because I felt like the writers left me no choice. I’ll reproduce some of that discussion here (I’ve cut a little out).

    For those unfamiliar with the term, “sexposition” is the tendency for a show to use sex or nudity in a scene with a lot of exposition (background information, especially pre-existing history relevant to current events). The idea is that the exposition could bore the viewer, so the sex is used as a way to make the exposition more palatable.

    I’ve been thinking about why this bothers me more than the nudity in other shows like The Sopranos, and I think I’ve figured it out. The Sopranos had plenty of nudity, as Tony got around, and it seemed like there were scenes set in Silvio’s strip club just about every episode. The difference is that Tony wasn’t planning hits or divulging his motivations while he was having sex. And strippers dancing in the background isn’t nearly as distracting as prostitutes loudly simulating sex in the background.

    On Game of Thrones, characters are all too frequently doing this kind of thing, but the sex and nudity really distract from whatever the characters are trying to explain. I briefly mentioned this last week, but it bears repeating. One of the most important scenes of the first season was also one of the most ridiculous. And it didn’t have to be.

    In the scene in question, Littlefinger (allegedly Ned Stark’s ally at that point) divulged some of his motivations and philosophy. This was a very important scene, as it both foreshadowed Littlefinger’s betrayal of Ned and helped us understand why he did it. Unfortunately, there were two prostitutes grinding and moaning in the background, as Littlefinger simultaneously coached them. Needless to say, this was VERY distracting from the important dialogue. Ironically, the sex was included to get the audience to pay attention to the exposition, but it actually had the opposite effect. If the dialogue is well-written, it shouldn’t need sex to liven it up.

    I mentioned last week that the premiere’s only use of nudity seemed to be a shot across the bow that the showrunners fired at everyone who complained about their use of sexposition in the first season. That scene featured Ros (one of the aforementioned prostitutes who Littlefinger was coaching) directly quoting Littlefinger’s “tips” to two other prostitutes. Needless to say, that was not an accident, and I interpreted it as the showrunners doubling down on the sexposition. Unfortunately, it looks like I was right.

    The scene with Theon was a perfect example of what I’m talking about. While he’s having sex with some nameless captain’s daughter who we’ll never see again, he explains all about the Iron Islands and the concept of salt wives and what have you. Theon really seems to like lecturing about the Iron Islands during sex, as this is now the second season in a row that we’ve been subjected to a scene like this. He had a similar scene with Ros during the first season, though at least we weren’t subjected to full-frontal Theon this time.

    Honestly, even five books in, salt wives are not that important, and there’s absolutely no reason that we need to know about them. And there certainly isn’t a need for us to learn about them during a sex scene. Given that there are quality scenes and characters from the books that have been cut (and given that characters like Robb, Jaime and Sansa weren’t in this episode), this was a big waste of time that could have been used better somewhere else.

    I really hope that the widespread criticism of this narrative device will cause Benioff and Weiss to rethink things. I understand that it’s HBO. Nobody is saying they need to eliminate all the sex and nudity. But as The Sopranos and other shows have demonstrated, it can be included without distracting from important dialogue.

    • Surprise

      *Major Spoilers Ahead*
      I couldn’t agree with you more. Benioff and Weiss should not be exploring the intracacies of the Iron Islands, especially through the introduction of a captain’s daughter who we will never see again (even if it was yet one more opportunity to use sexposition). Yes, Asha/Yara is a great character, and the culture and religion of Iron Islands are interesting, but, THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS. Theon should have gone off with Rob’s proposal to his father, and when he eventually returns to conquer Winterfell, we should simply learn that his father refused the offer.

      Actually, this may be blasphemy, but as Westoros never really engages with House Targaryen across the sea throughout Martin’s five books, Dany’s story should have been left out. I know. The story of Danearys is great. The dragons are great. The Dothraki are great. But, their journey only complicates the narrative, and it’s not clear that House Targaryen is ever going to make it across the water. I repeat: THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS.

      We have to be able to focus on five or six characters we care about at a time, and that matter to an overall plot with a definitive ending. That plot cannot be the one developing and becoming more and more complicated and diffuse in “Dances with Dragons,” Martin’s latest book. In “Dances with Dragons” (and earlier books) we see major characters die or venture off onto individualized personal journeys that may never have anything to do with the war between the Houses again. Catelyn, Rob, and, possibly, Jon die. Arya and Tyrion leave Westoros altogether, and Sansa and Littlefinger hole up at the Eyrie. More and more, characters we care about have nothing to do with one another, or, seemingly, with the fate of the kingdoms.

      If the filmmakers are unable to radically simplify the plot, reduce the focus to primarily the stories of five or six characters, and refrain from using sexposition to “explain it all,” all is lost.

    • MaryS-NJ

      Keeping in mind that Theon’s character tends to share his thoughts and feelings only during or as a prelude to sex (unless he’s in share mode with Robb), we get a lot of Theon sexposition. I took Theon’s sex scenes in this episode to be fairly revelatory. In the first sexposition scene, Theon was revealing his expectations about what sort of place he has in the Iron Isles as his father’s last son and heir, as well as exposition on certain quirky aspects of Ironborn culture. In the second (foreplay) scene, he shows just how far removed he is from his own family when he doesn’t even recognize that the girl he’s fondling his own sister.

      Both of those scenes provide an insight into Theon’s mindset, or in this case, his cluelessness and show how estranged he is from the reality of life as an Ironborn man. And the rude awakening he gets when the reality doesn’t live up to his expectations serves to both move the plot and sets up his further character development. That being the case, it didn’t bother me.

      The brothal scene on the other hand, seemed largely gratutious as it did not reveal anything we didn’t already know about Littlefinger and Ros and did we really need the mouth wiping scene? Ew.

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  13. Adam Barken

    Lovely write-up.

    One thing: I did find a nice, if subtle connective tissue to the episode, on a thematic level — call it a question — “What holds more sway – power, obligation, or morals?”

    Jon, a moral character, struggles with Sam’s desire to save the young wife/daughter from the hideous Caster.

    Davos, formerly a smuggler and pirate it seems, willing to use another brigand to achieve what he sees as his obligation to support his king.

    Stannis, a (self-regarding) honest and moral man (more of a moralist, really) willing to break his marital bonds to gain a son.

    The Night’s Watch, refusing to turn Gendry in – and Gendry in turn promising to do the same for Arya.

    And Cersei and Tyrion – each obviously struggling with Joffrey’s horrific murder of the bastards — esp Tyrion, who asks the question most explicitly: “If you were told to murder a babe in his mother’s arms, would you do it without question?” IE – what order, finally, do you follow?

    Having not read the books, this does feel like a regular recurring thematic question to the series. But in this ep – perhaps because it was so contemplative – the question felt particularly pronounced.

  14. Puri

    I think some people are distracted by the sexual content and are therefore overlooking the possible purposes of the “sexposition” scenes. In the scene with Littlefinger coaching the “ladies” in the first season, I did not see the point at first. Upon reflection, I realized that this scene was intended to show us how meticulous and controlling Littlefinger is in his business dealings. He is so controlling that he wants to be sure the customers are given a consistently pleasant experience which will ensure they return with more coin in pocket. By having the “ladies” perform in front of him, he is not only supervising (quality control) but also affirming his domination over his workers through a little semi-public humiliation. Littlefinger still feels controlled by the crown, so he turns around and controls the girls. Sort of like the “kick the dog” theory when you have a bad boss at work. This continued in the 2nd season where we see Littlefinger peeping through door holes to see what’s going on in those rooms. He not only wants to keep an eye on the girls, but also the clients since he might be able to blackmail them later with his knowledge. When Ros dissatisfies a client, Littlefinger jumps in to ensure his future business (though yeah, the dribble was grosser than necessary) and to maintain control over his workforce with the little tale he tells her to get her back in line. Knowledge is his only power at this point, and we see the beginnings of Littlefinger’s own dissatisfaction with the new regime on the Iron Throne by his reaction to his encounter with Cersei in the 1st episode. To me, this is a foreshadowing of Littlefinger’s future. The producers need to show what a devious, controlling, and ruthless individual Littlefinger is in order to set up future events where he will take advantage of the political climate to take more control over his own destiny and get the positions and power he so desperately wants since he was ejected from the surrogate family he loved as a child. See past the sex my friends, and you will see that sex is a metaphor for power in many cases (unless it’s setting up a future plot point as readers will know with Melisandre). I think using sex so often with Theon is to show us that he has little control over his own urges, which is a weakness in his character that will be frowned upon by his father and sister. He’s impulsive, greedy for all pleasures, and does not think strategically. Sex for Theon is the most obvious metaphor for his hedonistic nature, which is antithetical to the Iron Islands way of life.

  15. Greeney28

    Here’s my chief concern–I don’t mind explicit sex if there’s a point–and I mean a larger point about women and their place in this world. I suppose I also mean women as part of the audience, though. What do people less interested in soft-core look at during sexposition scenes? Am I meant to fast forward or should I instead by offended because the program is making no accounting for me?

    Why does Melisandre’s power have to derive from her boobs? Does that mean Stannis would fall prey to anyone who displays boobs (something that seems highly unlikely based on my reading of the books). I find Melisandre’s appeal to be more specific than mere sex, which is what HBO reduced her to, and it suggests Stannis a dumb man, fallen victim to his penis, which also seems reductive. He wants power–and that is what Melisandre offers. A sex metaphor may be expedient, but it is disappointing.

    The victimization of women, though, is something that the program can examine in more detail (and something I don’t think the author has much interest in–of course, his limits do not need to be the show’s limits), and sex is crucial to that. But then the casual and uncritical imposition of sex within the narrative lessens the program’s appeal and achievement. Unless they want me to read a consistent line of female exploitation, from this magical world straight to ours, identified in HBOs own exploitation of female actors, in which case they care spot on.

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  17. Michelle

    I’m a little confused with regards to whether “sexposition” is contributing to the story or not. In my view this sort of “artificial sweetener” is very common in the modern media landscape, so audiences no longer perceive the artificiality of it and it becomes an integrated part of the story. Recently, I read a good article on Fair Observer ( where they also argue that “sexposition” does not actually add value. Well, … I’m confused.

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