Last night’s Game of Thrones ended with an awe-inspiring sight: Daenerys Targaryen, standing at the door of a burning building, having just immolated the male leadership of Vaes Dothrak. She was naked, poised and regal. The Dothraki people bowed. Daario witnessed the sort of power that turns a leader into a god, and Jorah had his faith in the queen refreshed.
And no, that wasn’t a body double.
“I’d like to remind people the last time I took my clothes off was season three,” Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke told Entertainment Weekly. “That was awhile ago. It’s now season six. But this is all me, all proud, all strong. I’m just feeling genuinely happy I said ‘Yes.’ That ain’t no body double!”
Clarke was once involved in a bit of a kerfuffle about the show’s use of nudity, as her quotes were, she said, taken a bit out of context. She made her position on the subject a bit more clear in an Instagram post.
I was followed into a party by a journalist who asked me a question about female empowerment and then quoted me entirely out of context for an outlet I didn’t agree to speak with. So I feel now, with the beauty of Instagram I should clarify my statements, if for nothing else than for posterity. In drama, if a nude scene forwards a story or is shot in a way that adds insight into characters, I’m perfectly fine with it. Sometimes explicit scenes are required and make sense for the characters/story, as they do in Westeros. If it’s gratuitous for gratuitous sake, then I will discuss with a director on how to make it more subtle. In either case, like a good Mother of Dragons, I’m always in control. #dracarys #bodiesmaybetemplesbutmindsarewhatmatter #MODforreal
“In drama, if a nude scene forwards a story or is shot in a way that adds insight into characters, I’m perfectly fine with it,” she wrote. “Sometimes explicit scenes are required and make sense for the characters/story, as they do in Westeros. If it’s gratuitous for gratuitous sake, then I will discuss with a director on how to make it more subtle. In either case, like a good Mother of Dragons, I’m always in control.”
Which is why last night’s nudity made the scene so much more powerful than titillating. It showed control; it was a reminder of the character’s power. The fire burned her clothing and the Dothraki men, but left Daenerys herself untouched, seemingly cleansed by the flames. It was primal, and those before her were awed by the display of a seemingly magical power.
The moment may have been erotic, but the eroticism wasn’t the entire point of the scene, and the mixture of empowered nudity and religious reverence helped to show why people would follow her rule.
You can also see the more thoughtful approach to nudity in Cersei’s walk of shame from the last season. You can argue that it was yet another moment in the show’s history where the sexual degradation of one of the show’s women was used as character development, and that’s a fair criticism, but it was also shot to make it very clear how terrifying and traumatizing that act was for its victim.
While the High Sparrow may seem caring and devout when he’s speaking to someone in power, he’s also someone who knows how to torture those he hopes to break down, both physically and psychologically.
The gratuitous nature of the punishment, not the nudity, is what the viewer responds to. “It’s not hard when people are screaming at you and you look like shit and you’re being f–king humiliated to figure out how that would feel,” Game of Thrones actor Lena Headey told Entertainment Weekly. “There’s a part of you that’s f–king terrified. I can’t even imagine people wanting your blood. Cersei has done wrong, but she doesn’t really deserve this.”
That scene was hard to watch, and the toll it took on Cersei informs many of her actions in this season and the actions of those around her. Tommen is ashamed he couldn’t stop it from happening, and that’s an emotion Cersei is more than willing to use to her benefit. It’s hard to tell, though, how much of her anger about his lack of power in that situation is real, and how much is meant as a means to control him. It’s very possibly both, and any awareness of that tension from the character herself would only feed into the self-loathing that’s so close to the surface during this season.
Game of Thrones has long been criticized for using nudity as set dressing, and it seems like the creative team behind the show is finally listening. As the season progresses, we’ll see how long this new approach — where nudity is used sparingly and only when it serves the story — lasts. But it’s certainly welcome.