What the Hell is Going On With 'House of the Dragon' And Sex?

·5 min read

Nearly three weeks ago, House of the Dragon co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik caused an uproar when he commented that the new fantasy series would “pull back” from the amount of sex scenes featured in Game of Thrones, while still committing to depictions of sexual assault. Battle-scarred Game of Thrones fans, who lost faith in the series following its frequent brutalization of female characters, were outraged by the notion of less consensual sex and more graphic sexual violence. You'd think HBO would install electric staples in everyone's tongues after a dust-up like that, but instead, House of the Dragon's actors, writers, and producers have been running their mouths ever since—with some of them even contradicting one another.

If you missed the cringey comments that started it all, allow us to clue you in: Sapochnik went on to say that House of the Dragon “won’t shy away from [sexual violence],” and that they plan to depict it “carefully and thoughtfully.” He continued: “If anything, we’re going to shine a light on that aspect. You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.” Coming hot on the heels of comments from author and serial procrastinator George R.R. Martin, who insisted that the misogyny in Westeros is historically accurate despite Westeros never existing in history, no doubt this wasn’t the Comic-Con slam dunk that HBO expected.

Next, House of the Dragon tried to do damage control, with Sapochnik shuffled off the stage and executive producer Sarah Hess speaking out to correct the record. “I’d like to clarify that we do not depict sexual violence in the show,” Hess told Vanity Fair in a statement. “We handle one instance off-screen, and instead show the aftermath and impact on the victim and the mother of the perpetrator.” So, unlike Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon viewers will not actually watch scenes of sexual violence.

Hess continued:

I think what our show does, and what I’m proud of, is that we choose to focus on the violence against women that is inherent in a patriarchal system. There are many ‘historical’ or history-based shows that romanticize powerful men in sexual/marriage relationships with women who were actually not of an age to consent, even if they were ‘willing.’ We put that onscreen, and we don’t shy away from the fact that our female leads in the first half of the show are coerced and manipulated into doing the will of adult men. This is done not necessarily by those we would define as rapists or abusers, but often by generally well-meaning men who are unable to see that what they are doing is traumatic and oppressive, because the system that they all live in normalizes it. It’s less obvious than rape but just as insidious, though in a different way.

It sounds like House of the Dragon is seeking to atone for the sins of Game of Thrones, where rapists, abusers, and well-meaning “nice guys” abounded. “In general, depicting sexual violence is tricky,” Hess continued, “and I think the ways we think about it as writers and creators are unique to our particular stories.”

But the good people in Game of Thrones-land just couldn't let sleeping dogs lie. Not long after, star Matt Smith popped off about the volume of sex in the series, saying that it's "slightly too much." He told Rolling Stone, "You do find yourself asking, ‘Do we need another sex scene?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, we do.’ I guess you have to ask yourself: ‘What are you doing? Are you representing the books, or are you diluting the books to represent the time [we’re living in]?’ I actually think it’s your job to represent the books truthfully and honestly, as they were written.” The HBO boogeyman must have gotten to him, because days later, he walked back his criticisms, telling ScreenRant, "No one likes doing sex scenes. They feel quite exposing, do you know what I mean? But luckily, Sonoya [Mizuno], who plays Mysaria, was just really wonderful. We had an intimacy coordinator, and that all felt quite good and safe and stuff. Do I love that scene? I don't know; I have a question mark against it. But that's the world that we're representing. That's the world that George has written. That's the world of House of the Dragon. And we're trying to represent the books as truthfully as possible."

Then, even though nobody asked him to, Sean Bean got involved. Remember Sean Bean, who decoupled from Game of Thrones way back in Season One when Ned Stark lost his head? In an interview with The U.K. Times, Bean condemned the work of intimacy coordinators, saying he fears that they "spoil the spontaneity" of sex scenes. “It would inhibit me more because it’s drawing attention to things,” the actor continued. “Somebody saying, ‘Do this, put your hands there, while you touch his thing… I think the natural way lovers behave would be ruined by someone bringing it right down to a technical exercise." Numerous actresses decried Bean's comments, including Jameela Jamil, Rachel Zegler, and Bean's own Snowpiercer co-star Lena Hall. "Spontaneity in intimate scenes can be unsafe. Wake up," Zegler tweeted. Even though Bean is no longer affiliated with Game of Thrones, he's still a prominent alum, and his comments couldn't have come at a worse possible time.

Now that all of these big talkers have thrown the House of the Dragon press tour into a tailspin, will viewers still get on board? We’ll find out on August 21, when House of the Dragon wings its way onto televisions everywhere.

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