The use of sex in novels vs television (Game of Thrones)


I apologise for not posting over the weekend.  It hasn’t been a good one and ended with me suffering a migraine.  As a result of lack of sleep and being unable to look at my laptop screen, I have just finished reading the first book in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin.  Having watched the television programme first, I wasn’t sure of the book.  Of course, the books are always better than the programme/film, that’s a fact, but I knew what was going to happen and in such a long book I wondered if that would take away the magic.
Of course it didn’t!
Game of Thrones is beautifully written, the characters are very well developed and the world is utterly immersible.   What did strike me immediately when reading the book is that the story made sense!  While there are so many characters that I sometimes wonder who is who and didn’t they go to Kings Landing and I’m sure they died a few pages back, the story itself is much easier to follow.  I didn’t have to stop and think, what?  Why are they doing that?  What’s going on?  Which I often have to do during the television programme.
My favourite characters have not changed, in fact I think I love Tyrion, Daenerys and Arya all the more.  Other characters, including secondary ones, also have a little more life breathed into them than the television programme would have you believe, but then that is the magic of the novel.
Two things really struck me when reading this book and it is these that I would like to look at; the role of women in this fantasy world and the use of sex.
I have already touched on the use of sex in thetelevision series in this post, so I’ll start with this.
Most of the examples that truly shocked me when reading Game of Thrones are in the first half.  It is a book of two halves; sex and death.  While the deaths are devastatingly painful, the sexual content is utterly shocking.  Death is death but Game of Thrones contains various types of sex; loving sex, incestual sex, prostitution and rape and even mixtures of these.
As I followed Bran climbing walls and scampering along rooftops while his dire wolf sat, waiting for him, I prepared myself for the young Stark discovering Jaime and Cersei Lannister in the throes of sibling love.  In the series, Bran discovers them naked and in the middle of intercourse, Jaime taking Cersei from behind (positions are also important in fiction such as this).  In the novel, Bran actually discovers brother and sister to be fully dressed and discussing things that show the reader/viewer exactly the same message as the sex scene of the programme.
 
‘There were soft, wet sounds.  Bran realised they were kissing.  He watched, wide-eyed and frightened, his breath tight in his throat.  The man had a hand down between her legs, and he must have been hurting her there, because the woman started to moan, low in her throat.  “Stop it,” she said…’
 
In the defence of the programme makers, a sex scene of brother and sister gives the message of incest and the hint of Joffrey’s true lineage in the shortest possible time.  It also gives a sense of their relationship, as Jaime takes Cersei from behind suggesting a lack of respect (it is often the position used when having sex with slaves). 
In the novel, Jaime seemingly begins to force himself on his sister, although she does not push him away.  So the two scenes give the same message but it does still not justify creating a crude sex scene in the place of good dialogue.  While the sex scene was short and shocking, it can also be viewed as offensive.  In fiction, crude erotica should only be included where absolutely necessary.  The novel has proven that this crude, unloving sex scene was not necessary.
The scene I was truly dreading was Daenerys’ wedding night with Khal Drogo.  I don’t completely remember this scene in the programme but I do know that it is forced sex.  Words will always make rape scenes worse than the visual of the television programme and I read through Dany’s wedding with trepidation.  I needn’t have worried.  Khal Drogo is gentle and slow, repeating the word ‘no’ to her until it ends in a question.  ‘No?’ 
‘Yes,’ replies Dany, allowing him inside her.  While I feared for this young girl in the arms of such a big, strong man who doesn’t even speak to same language, their love is apparent right from the beginning.  That was the feeling I was left with after this sex scene which is a very different feeling to that of the programme.  The end of that episode left me worried sick about Dany and with that dirty feeling of the idea of rape.
‘She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her.  He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one.’
So why have the television programme makers of Game of Thrones decided to go with the horrid, sordid side of sex instead of the detailed scenes of the novel?
Probably because it’s easier, the sex scenes are shorter and it would take too long to show the viewer that Dany was actually ok and places Drogo’s hands on her or show that King Robert is not Joffrey’s father through conversation.
I’d like to think that was the only reason but I have a feeling that it’s not.  The programme makers could not include these scenes if there wasn’t an audience for it.  Are these types of sex scenes really what the public want?  I certainly don’t. 
These sex scenes are the easy way out.  The scenes in the novel aid in developing the characters.  The reader feels the emotion and knows exactly what’s going on the character’s mind.  It can be difficult to get these across in a television programme but this is certainly not an excuse to just make it into a rape scene, or create nakedness when originally there was none.  Just because a novel’s characters are complex should not mean that the complexity cannot be visually translated.
 
The use of sex as a tool in this fantasy world, the positions used and the use of prostitution and marriage also tells a lot about the view and role of women in the world.  In my next post, I will take a brief look at the role of women in Game of Thrones.
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