Game of Thrones: When “gratuitous sex” scenes aren’t

Somewhat resistant to fantasy, but intrigued by the viewer loyalty it generated, I finally began watching Game of Thrones. The first two episodes of the first season have convinced me to continue watching. But I’m not writing a review; instead, I’m reacting to my initial impulse to take the producers of Game of Thrones to task for including gratuitous sex scenes. Gratuitous in its second definition, that is: without cause; unjustified.

When the sex scenes in a novel, film, or TV series are described as gratuitous, it usually means that you can tell they’re included to increase readership or viewership both because they’re too numerous and they fail to advance the plot. You could argue that they provide a break from the tension of the plot, but more often they defuse it. Also, while comparing the actors’ techniques — where is it written that male actors need to fake thrusting with a force bordering on violence? — to your own, you find yourself further removed from the story.

But, of course, a sex scene can reveal much about a character’s, well, character. To cite another TV show, the early, cringe-inducing sex scenes with Nicholas Brody in Homeland reveal how damaged he is. Likewise, the sex scenes in Game of Thrones, thus far in my viewing experience, are not just central, but critical to, the plot. For example, they reveal the incestuous relationship between Ser Jaime Lannister and Queen Cersei Lannister  and they show how Daenerys Targaryen is learning to handle her barbarian warlord husband Khal Drogo.

Question: When porn develops slowly, as in “women’s porn,” does the lack of nonstop sex common to most porn become “gratuitous plot”?

6 replies »

  1. Many romance books are entirely too long. Could be chopped in half, and nobody would mind.

    a -good- romance isn’t all about the mushy stuff

  2. With regards to GoT, I don’t think ALL of the sex scenes are gratuitous. For example (spoilers), the scene in season 1 between Cersei and Jaime was necessary to drive the plot, as were the scenes between Daenerys and Drogo. That said, some of the scenes in Littlefinger’s whorehouse just seemed to be there to fill a boob quota (I have this problem with parts of Boardwalk Empire as well), which sort of bothered me.

  3. Alex: “Boob quota.” Like the Badda Bing in the Sopranos?

    Russ: Love “does the lack of nonstop sex common to most porn become ‘gratuitous plot’?”

  4. I would agree. Some of the scenes are certainly necessary to the plot, but there are a few that would fall into the ‘gratuitous’ category. I disagree with Alex on the boob quota, though. The number of half-naked men in that show far surpasses the number of women.

  5. Alex wrote “I don’t think ALL of the sex scenes are gratuitous” Yes, my point.

    Aside from gratuitous sex, nothing worse than favorite novelists who don’t know how to write about sex (usually men). For instance, literary crime writer James Lee Burke goes all flowery and entirely out of character. Embarrassing.

  6. Remember Jim’s first book got rejected 174 times because it was 2X too long. If you let him, he will go long. But he’s one of the really nice guys I’ve been introduced to in writing.

    Good post, and great line–gratuitous plot.