Warning: Some Game of Thrones spoilers ahead!
In Game of Thrones, there is a lot of nudity. Nearly every episode has some form of nudity, and that has become one of the defining features of the show. There is a fair amount of consistency in how they use nudity, but the reasons why are open to interpretation.
A common way Game of Thrones uses nudity has been explored before: sexposition. This is exposition that is used during a sex scene with plenty of nudity. This seems to be the function of the character Ros in particular. While she does have an interesting arc during her time on the show, she tends to be used in situations where she can be sexy and have things explained to her.
Arguably, this makes sense for Ros due to her profession, but the most interesting thing about Ros is that she is very smart and resourceful. Ros understands the game better than some of the characters playing it because people underestimate her. It isn’t until the end of the second season that Varys recognizes her value and enlists her to be one of his informants. Eventually, this ends up being Ros’s downfall.
What I liked about her death, however, was that it wasn’t sexualized at all. It managed to highlight Joffrey’s cruelty without cutting down Ros. She had managed to survive in King’s Landing and endure the Lannister’s and Little Finger’s abuse and even rise through the ranks at the brothel despite being a stranger to the city. From the show, we can see that this can break even the most seasoned characters, yet Ros persevered until the end.
On the other side, however, she died and was displayed like a trophy or a piece of meat. While it may not have been necessarily sexual, she is still being objectified in death. This is the same objectification that Robb Stark received, but it is different for Ros. In life, she was able to use her sexuality as a weapon, but, ultimately, she could not use it against Little Finger. In order to survive, she had to use her objectification to her advantage, but, in the end, the inherent objectification against her was what killed her. Little Finger nor Joffrey saw her a person.
As with Ros, the nudity of the main characters is usually related in some way to power. In the first few episodes, Dany is forcefully stripped by both her brother and Khal Drogo. This shows her having no control over the situation she has been put in by her brother as well as the usurpers. However, Dany’s nakedness also gives her power. For instance, the first time we get an indication that Dany is a dragon, she is naked and going into a bathtub. Her handmaiden warns her that it’s too hot, but she enters anyway, unaffected by the heat. This is the first time the audience sees that Dany is special somehow even though she is being sold off to the Dothraki.
Additionally, in both instances where we see Dany as the unburnt, she appears naked. What is particularly interesting about this is that though the Dothraki are inherently patriarchal and misogynist, each time they bow to Dany. Her womanhood is undeniable here, yet they are forced to recognize her extreme power and bow to her. She come out with her head held high and with loyal subjects. In a reverse walk of atonement, Dany becomes a stronger queen/khaleesi through her nakedness. When everything else is stripped away, she is clearly the most powerful. It should be noted, however, that this is on her own terms. Dany wasn’t khalessi because of a crown, but simply because she was Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen. She was meant to be a conqueror because she is insanely powerful.
She flips this on its head, however, after she gains sexual equality with Khal Drogo. After being taught by one of her handmaidens how to take sexual control, Dany uses her new skills on Drogo. Drogo is the one naked in this scene, although there is no explicitness, and Daenerys never takes off her dress. She is the one on top, symbolizing the control she is taking, and she remains clothed on her own terms. She then tells him to look in her eyes. In this moment, Drogo and Dany become as equal as they can be. Although their relationship is certainly unhealthy, the show presents this without commentary. They just let Dany continue to have mixed feelings. Clearly she loved Drogo, but she also resented being sold to him and having to endure the abuse he put her through.
This is similar to Jamie and Cersei. The other great and highly problematic love story of the show, Cersei and Jamie are never shown naked while they are together. In the first episode, Bran sees Jamie and Cersei having sex in the tower. Cersei’s dress is pulled up and Jamie’s pants are down, but the audience never actually sees anything. However, Bran has seen enough to know what has happened.
Still, Bran is pretty irrelevant in the larger scheme of things while looking at the show through this perspective. What’s important is that Jamie and Cersei are clothed. Cersei and Jamie both depend a lot on their outfits to represent who they are. You often see the Lannister red and lions in Cersei’s dresses while Jamie feels a strong kinship with his armor and position on the Kingsguard. These things represent who they are, which is something they desperately cling to throughout the show, but also represents why they can’t be together. They’re twins and Jamie is Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. They fight the whole show to have it both ways, however. Cersei wants to be Queen and a Lannister by love and birth instead of marrying into the Baratheon or Tyrell, but she can really only choose one of those things. Trying to have all the things she wants (including having living children) and getting revenge on those who keep her from the things she wants is what causes all of Cersei’s conflicts in the show.
Additionally, they must keep their clothes on because of the risk involved. Any intimacy must be done quickly and as discreetly as possible. This is also symbolic of them having to perform to their identities even while being intimate. They cannot escape their roles because what prevents them from having a romantic relationship is their familial relationship.
Eventually, the audience does see Cersei naked, and this is doing her walk of atonement. Her signature long blonde hair is cut off and she is paraded naked through King’s Landing. This is reminiscent of many real life examples of sexuality being shamed or punished with violence. Because Cersei did not perform her sexuality in a way that the Sparrows found acceptable, she was meant to be humiliated and to suffer for her sins. However, what this really turns into is a strong, undying resentment for the Sparrows. Even after the walk has occurred, Cersei still has to deal with the aftermath of her assault. Though she had previously been raped by Jamie while mourning Joffrey (and their relationship has changed since that moment), she has constant reminders of the walk of atonement: namely her hair and the fact that her humiliation is known through all of King’s Landing.
From the male side of things, Jon is showed naked several times during the show. This always symbolizes rebirth for Jon. Jon depends heavily on his clothes to symbolize who he is. While he was with the Starks, he wore their fineries, but he also always showed discomfort with this. While he had a close connection with Robb and Arya, he never felt like he truly belonged, likely because of his last name but also because of Catlynn.
When he joins the Night’s Watch, he takes up the black and gets the outfit to match. His black crows cloak symbolizes the family that he chose, even if some members rejected him. Shortly thereafter, he dresses like a wildling, showing that he is trying to survive however he can, but also that he has fully committed himself to Ygritte.
The cave for Jon represents a rebirth. The fact that he breaks his vows for Ygritte is significant. Additionally, in the cave, when Jon is with Ygritte, he doesn’t need to symbolize his allegiance or family through his clothing. As Yrgritte says, he is hers and she is his, and that is what matters. This happens again after the Night’s Watch betrays Jon and he dies. When he wakes up, he wakes up alone. He no longer has his allegiance, and this is represented by his lack of Night’s Watch uniform. He is coming back into the world, and this gives him the opportunity to choose his own allegiances. His watch has ended, and he is freed from his oath.
Ultimately, the nudity and sex on Game of Thrones is complicated and can be interpreted in many ways. However, there are many powerful images in the show that include nudity and/or sex. These show the audience not only what is happening, but how the character is changing.