In Season Seven, Game of Thrones Handled Sex With Tenderness

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Warning: season-seven spoilers ahead.

In last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, it finally happened: Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow did it. Their lovemaking deed was done in an erotic scene that was lengthy and explicit and concluded when Jon climaxed while shouting, “Oh, mother of Dragons!”

Come on: I’m just kidding. Not about the first part: Dany and Jon definitely had sex, or “broke the wheel,” which is what I believe the kids are calling it these days. But the coupling that thrilled Jon-Dany shippers around the world actually was depicted in a love scene that was relatively brief, romantic, and pretty tasteful, as long as you could overlook the incestuous nature of it. (In their defense: Jon and Dany don’t know that they’re related yet.)

That’s very much in keeping with how sex has been handled throughout the seventh season of Game of Thrones, which turned away from the gratuitous depictions of rape and exploitative coitus that used to be one of the show’s trademarks. This season, when episodes took a break from discussions of alliance-building and battle strategy to delve into matters of the libido, they did so in restrained scenes that tended to emphasize tenderness and passion over titillation.

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Think back to episode two, “Stormborn,” in which Missandei and Grey Worm finally consummate their feelings for each other. There is nudity in the scene, as both of them remove their clothes in front of each other for the first time, as well as a hazily photographed hint of oral sex. But what’s more important is the depiction of the vulnerability that Grey Worm, a eunuch, feels about showing his exposed body to Missandei, and the acceptance they find in each other’s arms. It’s a genuinely lovely moment.

In episode three, “The Queen’s Justice,” an intense make-out session between Jaime and Cersei escalates to another implied round of oral sex, but quickly cuts away before anything too revealing is shown. If you can ignore the fact that they are brother and sister — which is both hard to ignore, and also such a long-standing fact of Game of Thrones that we barely think about it anymore — it’s the kind of scene that would be perfectly appropriate for regular broadcast television, as opposed to racier premium cable.

While Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen gettin’ it on in the season finale was more revealing — there was a much clearer depiction of the act of intercourse that wouldn’t have made it past standards and practices over on ABC or CBS — than the Missandei–Grey Worm scene, the moment was also loving, emotional, and sensitively handled, so much so that some fans may have been disappointed that it didn’t get dirtier and nastier. We finally get to watch these two beautiful people go to bed together, and it flies by so quickly, with absolutely zero foreplay, that we don’t have enough time to appreciate it. Seriously: Doesn’t Jon Snow have any slow jams he can play to drag this thing out a little? Missandei and Grey Worm even got to go at it for more time than these two did.

That criticism aside, it’s interesting and notable to see Game of Thrones going down this more delicate road, which builds on the foundation put in place last season, when the show dialed back significantly on its objectification of women. At the time, I suggested that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were attempting to course-correct in the wake of criticism over the depiction of Ramsay Bolton’s rape of Sansa Stark in season five and the much-debated Cersei rape scene in season four. This season further reinforces the sense that the writers and filmmakers are proceeding much more carefully and respectfully when it comes to sex.

Admittedly, it may sound a little ridiculous to cheer Game of Thrones for its progress on this front. “Congratulations, show, it’s been two seasons since your last horrifying rape!” “Hey, way to depict incest with such grace and poignancy. Gold star for you.” The truth is that, with one more six-episode season left and a lot of threads to tie up with regard to the battling White Walkers, there will likely be less and less opportunity for the narrative to spend time on long sex scenes.

Still, especially with regard to Missandei and Grey Worm, and Dany and Jon, it’s nice to be reminded that these characters are humans with actively beating hearts, for whom physical intimacy and deep emotion are not mutually exclusive. For many seasons, sex — whether it was a Tyrion threesome or a Jaime-Cersei hook-up that led to a small boy getting shoved out of a window — tended to emphasize lust, and by extension, the stirring lustful feelings in the audience. As season seven comes to an end, it seems like maybe, possibly, when it comes to this subject, Game of Thrones has finally gotten a little more mature.

In Season Seven, Game of Thrones Handled Sex With Tenderness