“Second Sons” – Season 3, Episode 8
“[Your beauty] meant more to me than it did to them.”
In the world of Westeros and Essos, beauty can function as both a key to freedom and a form of imprisonment. For Daenerys, her beauty has been the key to freedom – she broke free for the restraints of her dictatorial brother, Viserys, and began to find her own autocracy as the Khaleesi of the Dothraki. However, her naked beauty situates her in a state of vulnerability when Daario forces his way into her tent and holds a knife at Missandei’s throat.
The scene takes an odd turn and re-angles itself when he throws the heads of those who ordered him to murder her onto the floor. The threat diminishes and there is a shift to a feeling of intimacy. Daenerys uses her naked body as a symbol of power, asserting herself as she climbs out of the bathtub. Daario reveals that he fights not for money, but for beauty. He joins Daenerys’ army, but will such a traitor to his own side for superficial beauty really make a good alliance? Potentially Daenerys has compromised her own position if she must use her beauty as a means to control Daario.
Melisandre, meanwhile, is in a much less compromised situation. When her red cloak falls to the ground, her naked body signifies a moment of complete empowerment and autonomy. Harking back to episode 7’s psychosexual torture of Theon by two vanilla women in the dungeon, we have, in contrast, the darkness of Melisandre and her torture of Gendry. Though all three women are serving a higher power of sorts, Melisandre very much has her own plan and power, which Stannis is forced to agree with. Her beauty and body enable her to leech Gendry for the blood she needs and simultaneously keep a hold on Stannis.
On the other hand, Sansa is imprisoned by her beauty. Her marriage to Tyrion is completely out of her – and his, for that matter – control. Although she may have been forced into the marriage, she has not completely given up: at the alter she remains blank and only kneels for Tyrion when he awkwardly asks. It’s not a refusal, but a quiet defiance revealing that her hope has not died. When it came to the moment of consummation of their marriage, it was only Tyrion’s own morals (and, perhaps, love for Shae) that saves Sansa from an unwanted fate. Of course, she only found herself in such a position because of the innocent and virginal beauty that she possesses.
Second Sons explores a kaleidoscope of beauty and power, and how these can be juxtaposed between characters to function as both a means of empowerment/freedom and disempowerment/imprisonment.
Worth a Note
◊ Game of Thrones is certainly no stranger to nude scenes (of both men and women, though those tables are tilted towards the women), but one of the leading female characters has refused future nude scenes. There is an interesting dynamic here as to whether a show which has featured so many naked bodies needs to continue to do so to please its viewers.
◊ If GoT does feel nude scenes are necessary, then is the female form really a source of empowerment or one of objectification? On one hand, the unspecified actress asserted, “I want to be known for my acting, not for my breasts.” Whereas Oona Chaplin said, “I adore women’s bodies … [and if nude scenes are] done in a beautiful way, in a way that honors the female form, then I’m always happy to see it.”
Worth a Read
◊ Feminist Fiction’s blog post “Nudity and Power on Game of Thrones” addresses some of the more subtle and most powerful nude scenes from the show, which rather than adding frills, actually add strength to characters and plot.