Hi! I’m Violetta Vane, writer of urban fantasy slash m/m romance. You might know me (and my cowriter, Heidi Belleau) from such novels as Hawaiian Gothic, but if not, don’t worry, because I’m not going to talk about writing. For my first post on this neat new blog, I thought I’d write something fan-oriented instead. So let’s hop aboard the spiky pedicab for a journey into Westeros!
I’ve read the first four books of ASOIAF and watched both seasons of Game of Thrones. I’m a fan. That doesn’t mean I’m not also a critic. My enjoyment is tempered with frequent bouts of groaning, hissing, head-shaking, and extending the middle finger at the screen.
Gay representation in Game of Thrones is a fascinating subject, because it’s actually quite groundbreaking to have an explicitly gay relationship in a mainstream, big-budget fantasy. I’m speaking of Renly and Loras. For those who don’t know the plot, Game of Thrones is structured around the quest for power after the death of King Robert Baratheon. He has a son and heir—Joffrey—but people are concerned that Joffrey is the product of an incestuous affair between Queen Cersei and her brother, and therefore illegitimate. Joffrey can’t help that, but just as importantly, he’s a smarmy little dickbag that every viewer loves to hate. The actor is young, but he does evil so well. Robert also had two brothers, Stannis and Renly. Stannis is off on an island for most of the first season, and all we know is that he’s not as bad as Joffrey, but he’s still kind of a dick. And then there’s Renly, Robert’s younger brother. Everyone thinks he’s a nice guy, and he has a nice smile (although I’m not a fan of the beard). His gay lover is Loras, the son of the powerful and wealthy Tyrell family. Loras is known for his skill in battle and looking pretty. He’s called “The Knight of the Flowers”.
Once the claimants start gathering their forces—there are many many other claimants I haven’t mentioned—viewers are given a scene where Renly and Loras plot during sexytimes. We don’t get that in the book, because neither are POV characters, but everything that’s said between them politically makes sense in terms of the book. They have only that one scene; in contrast, the show contains double digits of heterosexual scenes of what I call exposition-by-whore, in which sensitive political details are discussed during, well, sex with whores. That’s one of my complaints, actually: since prostitution assumes more importance in the show than in the movie, then I wanted an actual prostitution arc that shows these women with agency, not just as exposition tools and victims. But I digress. Back to the gay… the gay which mightily disturbed many fanboys, who flooded the boards the day after that episode aired in order to complain about the Renly/Loras scene. Their biggest complaint was that the scene cuts right after Loras goes down on Renly—you could hear the “slurping” noise, and this nightmarish sound greatly traumatized their shell-like ears. Let’s spare a moment of silence for their suffering, okay?
Now let’s wipe away our tears and move on to the manscaping:
This scene was a little weird because Loras shaves Renly’s body but he doesn’t shave his beard, which I would imagine should be the first thing to go. But other than that, I didn’t have a problem with it. It made sense. It advanced the plot and gave us some understanding of the characters. The relationship was shown as important not just because of sex, but like all the other relationships in the story, because of power. Loras pledges his family’s support of Renly’s bid for the throne. They’re both shown as ambitious and scheming, but compared to other characters, relatively sympathetic. Renly honestly thinks he’d be the best person for the kingdom.
There’s nothing in this scene about being gay as an identity. We can, however, intuit that this relationship is against the rules sexually, but not socially. In a world where women are very much second-class citizens with limited access to power, segregated from men, relationships and allegiances between men are tight and long-lasting, sexual or not. And they’re often made by choice, whereas relationships with women are arranged.
There were some other same-sex scenes involving women in both seasons, but they were all crap, and really insulting. The two women were always performing for a man. It seemed like pure fanservice for straight fanboys. That’s especially enraging because it’s possible to cater to this audience while still including genuine attraction and relationships between women. An example is Spartacus, which is loaded full of plot-relevant lesbian sex and UST.
The dynamic of the Loras/Renly scenes in the second season—now that, I had a lot of problems with. Renly has declared himself a contender, gathered an army, and married Loras’ sister, Margaery. This is all according to Loras’s plan. The marriage cements the powerful alliance that should all but guarantee Renly the southern throne. He’s doing pretty well for himself. Yes, it sucks that he’s gay and has to marry a woman and have a baby with her ASAP, but compared to all the horrible things that happen to other characters who pursue power (torture, rape, mutilation, death, not necessarily in that order) he’s got it good. Loras, who’s in bed with him, reminds him of that, and lays down the law: no more sexytimes unless Renly starts seriously trying to impregnate Margaery. Here’s a link to the resulting scene.
Margery gets down to business right away. She comes off as a sympathetic, pragmatic character in this scene. She speaks to Renly in a respectful and friendly manner, reminds him they need to get an heir, and says she’ll do whatever it takes to make this as easy as possible. She gets naked and mentions soothingly that he can think of her brother while he does it. In fact, they can even bring Loras in, if that would help… Cut to Renly, looking scared. Then cut scene. That’s it. We never know if he successfully does it or not, but he very likely doesn’t.
My problem is that with this scene, Renly stopped being a character who happens to be gay. Instead, he became “the gay character”. And gayness is defined as not being able to have sex with a woman. This is unrealistic, first of all. It shouldn’t be so hard. He could have it over in two minutes. No one is asking him to compromise his emotional integrity, and the value of maintaining some kind of sexual integrity is dubious in the context of a show where sympathetic characters are constantly being forced into transactional relationships and have to make the most of these bad situations. This scene does a good job of characterizing Loras and Margaery, but by defining Renly’s gayness as lack and weakness, it does an awful disservice to his characterization. We’re told he’d make a strong king who could make difficult decisions, but this scene directly contradicts that.
It might not be a problem if there were other gay people and relationships on the show, but there aren’t. This is it.
I won’t go further into this storyline in terms of spoilers. But there might be spoilers in the comments, if we get a lot of comments going. I’d like to ask readers: what did you think of Loras/Renly in Game of Thrones, including the casting? Do you agree with my criticism or disagree? Do you think it could have been portrayed better while still staying true to the books? Or do you think the showmakers did a decent job? What did you like most about the relationship portrayal, and least?