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Following Loras Tyrell’s character arc, Scarlett Hawkins examines sexuality in Game of Thrones, specifically the feminisation of once-central, now-caricatured, LGBTQI characters.
Warning: Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire spoilers, especially S05E04.
With the unanticipated arrest of Ser Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones, it’s no surprise that fans of both the show and the corresponding book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, are reeling.
Whilst the plotline of the television show has, throughout this season, derailed heavily from the books, the arrest of Ser Loras at the hands of the Faith Militant for his so-called “deviant sexuality” has inspired a fervent reaction from the show’s fanbase, and one that is largely critical.
In a show where rape, pillage, torture and murder are the plot’s bread and butter, it’s rare for its target audience to be offended by what goes on in the world of Westeros…unless, of course, the show dares deviate from the books too severely, in which case, may the old gods and new save the showrunners, DB Weiss and David Benioff.
With the arrest of Ser Loras came a frenzied reaction from online fandoms. Threads erupted overnight in which viewers deconstructed the subtle pivot of homosexuality in Westeros – from initial depiction as an inoffensive character marker that inspired little more than the occasional pithy comment at court, to a new context in which such sexuality is not only demonised, but the expectation is placed upon the viewer to assume that such bigotry is the natural order of things in a canon in which there is no such precedent.
Within the showrunners’ decision for Ser Loras to be arrested in this context, collective assumptions about sex and sexuality have been placed on the shoulders of the viewer in a way that many find uncomfortable. It is problematic to juxtapose religious fervour in the Seven Kingdoms against LGBTQI identities. To wit, neither the books nor television show had, until this point, depicted homosexuality as an “illegal” characteristic. Uncommon by contrast to the myriad heterosexual sex scenes, admittedly, but never something to be feared or loathed. Moreover, to depict homosexuality and religious devotion as two diametrically-opposed opposites further entrenches, or even passively justifies, religious-based resentment of non-heteronormative identities in the real world.
The outrage of viewers at the subjection of Ser Loras to homophobic persecution becomes more comprehensible in the acknowledgement of his character’s increasing Flanderisation since the show’s debut season. When a program depicts only a handful of LGBTQI characters, there is an expectation that it will give fidelity to their characters as something more than just “gay”, and from this do many of the viewers’ frustrations derive.
Ser Loras was initially depicted as a multifaceted, cocky, ambitious swordsman who, as an aside, was indiscreetly engaged in a deeply emotional relationship with Renly Baratheon. However, given that the show is obligated to chomp through the comprehensive backstory of the books at the rate of a termite on cocaine, the last few seasons have transmogrified a charming character into little more than a lazy cliché of homosexuality. The nuanced, emotionally-devoted grieving knight that Ser Loras once was has given way to a somewhat camp prop who exists only to sprinkle some fairy dust on any scene in which he is placed. His cleverness has been replaced by a superficial fascination with fabric that is both entirely new, and utterly discordant with his title of “knight”. His arrogance has been replaced with an uncomfortable hangdoggedness as he subjects himself to Cersei Lannister’s scorn. His talent on the battlefield and in competition are just…no longer depicted. No surprise that viewers – and particularly LGBTQI viewers – feel as if they are being patronised by Ser Loras’ representation.
Such is the reality of how masculine and feminine characteristics are portrayed through the sexual dynamics of Game of Thrones. The feminization of Ser Loras’ sexuality is a petri dish for a larger discomfort in the viewers’ and showrunners’ observation of empowered, unconventional sexuality. This is not limited only to depictions of homosexuality (though online forums are certainly bombarded consistently with angst about infrequent subjection to the image of a male derriere or male-on-male love), it is an issue with feminised sexuality. These days, Ser Loras’ orientation is exclusively depicted in one of two ways: as a peripheral punchline, or through an invasively “edgy” scene where the audience is commanded to endure the “squickiness” of some men cuddling for the benefit of plot exposition.
Disregarding the fact that Loras is a champion fighter, the youngest knight in the Seven Kingdoms, a teen heartthrob and a somewhat-shrewd political player, his most recent scenes have universally carried the echo of pantomime, for he is, evidently, not only gay, but femme-gay.
Consider the way the general viewers perceive Loras, who is an essentially “pretty” gay man, to how they perceive Oberyn Martell, sweetheart of even the filthy casual show watchers, and notorious for cavalierly tumbling through a sea of bedsheets with men and women alike. Martell’s overt masculinity served to make his character engaging; though he never gave apology for his sexual orientation, it is implied through various orgy scenes that despite all that he loved about his own gender, he himself was never feminised in a way over which the viewer could curl their lip. Oberyn’s sexual fluidity empowered him to be the subject in any sex scene, and never the object. His character engaged with others to take pleasure, but never to yield it in a way that could be interpreted as “weak” or submissive.
On a larger scale, this sexual dynamic of decency versus indecency is oft to play out within heterosexual scenes also. There is a brutishness in the manner with which sensitively-depicted moments of diversity from the books are translated to television. Whilst women are raped by male characters with a casual frequency that has distressed a great many viewers, the few occasions of sexual empowerment in women are noteworthy in how they echo masculine strength or an ugly, feminine wiliness: Melisandre, using her wicked witch ways to impregnate herself with a shadow demon; Ygritte, to corrupt the pure principles of the ever-noble Jon Snow; Margaery Tyrell, who uses “I’m screwing your son” to goad her enemy and mother-in-law; and of course Cersei, whose emotionally abusive relationships are never interpreted as a means of explaining, or even justifying, her reliance upon sexual manipulation. When a woman in Game of Thrones falls into the category of “sexually-enthusiastic”, you can readily bet that only then does she become a genuine character of note, and thusly, a contender in the Game of Thrones…because she’s playing like a man, but with the advantage of having a woman’s body with which to barter her way to the top.
And so, in this context, it is easy to see why fans are irked by the arrest of Ser Loras Tyrell for his so-called sexual deviance. There are many reasons to be frustrated with this development, and only a handful of which have been explored here. But my predominant grievance is not with the show’s disloyalty to books, or the willful misrepresentation of the Faith Militant’s purpose, or even the fact that there should never be only one living gay character tokenistically studded amidst so many heterosexual characters. The major issue with this otherwise interesting plot development is that Ser Loras is considered fair game because he is the wrong type of gay.
And even more worrisome is the expectation that this is a supposition with which viewers can intuitively relate.