Obviously “Game of Thrones” Should Have Had an Intimacy Coordinator

Actress Gemma Whelan recently called the show's sex scenes "a frenzied mess"

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark and Joe Dempsie as Gendry kiss in a scene from "Game of Thrones"
Gemma Whelan recently called the sex scenes on "Game of Thrones" a "frenzied mess."

Game of Thrones has faced criticism over its gratuitous sex and rape scenes ever since the show premiered on HBO back in 2011, so this shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise, but in a recent interview, actress Gemma Whelan (who played Yara Greyjoy in the series) revealed that the network did not hire an intimacy coordinator to help guide them through the awkward intimate moments.

“They used to just say, ‘When we shout action, go for it!’, and it could be a sort of frenzied mess,” Whelan told The Guardian.

On-set intimacy coordinators are more commonplace today than they were a decade ago, of course, but it’s easy to see just how badly the show needed one. Whelan also recalled how Game of Thrones actors were left to fend for themselves when it came to choreographing sex scenes in a way that made all involved parties feel comfortable.

“There was a scene in a brothel with a woman and she was so exposed that we talked together about where the camera would be and what she was happy with,” she said. “A director might say, ‘Bit of boob biting, then slap her bum and go!’, but I’d always talk it through with the other actor.”

Whelan’s not the only Game of Thrones cast member to speak out about how uncomfortable the show’s sex scenes were, either. As the A.V. Club noted, in the book Fire Cannot Kill A Dragon: Game of Thrones And The Official Untold Story of the Epic Series, Jason Momoa recalled feeling pressured to remove his intimacy pouch (the fabric actors wear to cover their genitals during sex scenes) by showrunner David Benioff. He eventually handed it to Benioff.

“[Benioff ending up holding the intimacy pouch] because David had been like, ‘Momoa, just take it off!’ You know, giving me shit,” Momoa said. “‘Sacrifice! Do it for your art!’ I’m just like ‘Fuck you, bro. My wife would be pissed. That’s for one lady only, man.’ So afterward I ripped the thing off and kept it in my hand and gave him a big hug and a handshake and was like, ‘Hey, now you have a little bit of me in you, buddy.’”

In that same book, Emilia Clarke — whose character Daenerys Targaryen had to endure a pretty horrific rape scene — also spoke about her experience filming sex scenes on the show, saying, “I was so desperate to be the most professional actor I could be that I’d be like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ for anything they threw at me. I’ll just cry about it in the bathroom later, whatever, you won’t know.”

That is, of course, completely awful and absolutely infuriating. Under no circumstances should actors be crying in the bathroom because they were made to feel uncomfortable or violated while simply trying to do their jobs. One reason intimacy coordinators are so important is that they’re able to act as liaisons between the performers and the directors or producers and advocate for the actors’ boundaries and comfort levels to be respected. But beyond that, they’re experts in their field, and as director Anja Marquardt told InsideHook earlier this year, they’re an enormous asset when it comes to the actual logistics of shooting a sex scene.

“It certainly brings in another component of flexibility to have an intimacy coordinator, because on the one hand, they can act as a go-between and sort of an element of added safety for the actors,” she said. “But then also they can come up with movement choreography and open their bag of tricks and pull out all sorts of props that will enable certain body postures or movement, or help simulate certain things for camera that I could never come up with. And unless you’ve done this kind of stuff and choreographed it, how would you know? So that was really my big epiphany working with an intimacy coordinator: ‘Oh my God, there’s so many different ways to do this. Great. Let’s find the best version of this.’ I think an intimacy coordinator can just take a lot of uncertainty out of the process, both on the after side as well as the practicality of, ‘How are we actually going to shoot this?’”

In other words, Momoa never would have been pressured to remove his intimacy pouch had there been an intimacy coordinator on set to help guide the scene. But, sadly, the actors on Game of Thrones weren’t the only ones harmed by its problematic sex scenes. Fans who watched the fantasy series — particularly those who were young, sexually inexperienced and impressionable at the time — may have developed their own incorrect or outdated views on what’s considered normal or acceptable when it comes to sex and consent based on what they saw onscreen.

“Very often, how someone learns about intimacy is through what they see,” intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien told InsideHook. “That is the medium through which we’re entertaining ourselves, but also reflecting our humanity back to itself. That’s what people feel that they need to aspire to. When it’s so unrealistic, it forms a real schism in how people think they should be and what they think is normal.”

We obviously can’t go back in time and undo the damage wrought by Game of Thrones‘s lack of an intimacy coordinator, but moving forward, we can work towards making the role an industry standard to ensure that actors like Whelan are never made to feel as though their personal boundaries regarding sex and nudity have been violated at work.

Ten years after the premiere of Thrones, HBO is now using intimacy coordinators on all its productions that have intimate scenes (the move was announced in 2018 after Thrones had finished filming its final season); here’s hoping that in another decade, it’ll be an absolute requirement on all film sets.

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