With most HBO shows, it's not a question of whether it will feature sexual content, but when. On paper, it's a brilliant tool to turn heads and get people chatting at the water cooler — back when office discourse was easier, of course — but lately, the network (and some of its most popular shows) has attracted a bit of flack for its over-the-top explicit content.
You could argue that the scrutiny really started to gain headway during the tail end of HBO's most popular series, "Game of Thrones." As depictions of sexual violence began to rack up on the series — and came to a shocking head in season 6 — it started to feel less like an expositional tool and more a tool for shock. Though the battle for the Iron Throne has long since concluded, HBO is set to return to Westeros with the spin-off prequel series "House of the Dragon." Naturally, fans and critics alike are already speculating on the sexual content in the "Thrones" prequel.
"House of the Dragon" co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik, as well as writer and executive producer Sara Hess, have each weighed in on the sexual content in the show. Each take, however, seems to contradict the last: Sapochnik told The Hollywood Reporter that the series "won't shy away" from depictions of sexual assault, despite "pulling back" on the amount of sex in general. That was confusing, and more than a little concerning, which prompted Hess to clarify Sapochnik's comments in light of the backlash. Now, series star Matt Smith is offering his own perspective on sexual content in the show, and it's not exactly matching up with Sapochnik's initial statement either.
How Much Is Too Much?
In the series, Smith plays Daemon Targaryen, a prince whose brooding, rakish reputation already precedes. He's drawn comparisons to "Thrones" characters Jaime Lannister and Oberyn Martell, which gives "Dragon" newcomers a good idea of what to expect: Violence and swordfights for sure, but also plenty of sex scenes. Maybe too many sex scenes, according to Smith. "You do find yourself asking, 'Do we need another sex scene?'" Smith told Rolling Stone. "And they're like, 'Yeah, we do.'" Smith added:
"I guess you have to ask yourself: 'What are you doing? Are you representing the books, or are you diluting the books to represent the time [we're living in]?' And I actually think it's your job to represent the books truthfully and honestly, as they were written."
That sounds an awful lot like a familiar criticism of "Thrones." The series frequently strayed from the source material to depict sexual content (consensual or otherwise); it's how the term "sexposition" first came to be. That's not to say that George R. R. Martin's novels were entirely chaste — if at all — but Smith still believes there's "slightly too much" sex in "House of the Dragon," at least where his character is concerned. Of course, it could all just be his preference, and time will ultimately tell. But if our "Dragon" showrunners took at least one lesson from the "Game of Thrones" backlash, let's hope they learned to focus on story, not shock value.
"House of the Dragon" premieres August 21, 2022 on HBO.
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