Game of Thrones’ latest notable sex scene thrives on the realization that it’s not just about sex.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.]
Game of Thrones has portrayed sex in situations that the show has been called out for: women depicted as prostitutes, placed in dangerous situations or, worst of all, sexually assaulted. This isn’t to say the series doesn’t have any conventionally acceptable sex scenes over its seven seasons. Jon Snow and Ygritte alongside Shae and Tyrion had some well-written, powerful moments exploring their sexuality that didn’t make either party feel uncomfortable. Other women have embraced their sexuality on the show and, to the showrunners’ credit, have even been shown enjoying the act.
But even in situations where Game of Thrones managed to write a positive sex scene, there was always one important aspect of any sexual encounter that the show seemed to miss.
In the most recent episode, Grey Worm and Missandei finally gave anxious shippers the moment they’ve been waiting for. Staring at one another before Grey Worm journeys away from Dragonstone for an unknown period of time, the two finally confess their feelings for each other in the most physical and intimate of ways.
This wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill Game of Thrones sex scene, though. There wasn’t an aggressive passion driven by animalistic lust behind the intimate moment. The scene builds itself on the vulnerability and fear the two share about what this moment means for their relationship.
It’s in the inadequacy that Grey Worm feels as he lays Missandei down, knowing that, as a eunuch, he can’t complete the act. It’s in the understanding Missandei has about the situation and the effort she still puts in to make it comfortable.
Unlike scenes with Tyrion and Shae or Jon and Ygritte, which each came close to being vulnerable but never quite got there, the moment shared between Missandei and Grey Worm is about working through that fear and vulnerability together. Everything about it, from the way it’s set up all the way through to the end, is about the two of them, not just one getting what they need from the other in that moment. Missandei wants Grey Worm to feel safe enough to experiment with the physical aspects that come with sex, while Grey Worm wants to ensure that she is able to receive the pleasure that she desires.
This is another important facet of the scene. Although Game of Thrones has focused on a woman’s pleasure in the past, sex has mostly been used as a form of entertainment for men. With Grey Worm and Missandei, however, the only person receiving any form of physical pleasure is Missandei. It’s not just about Grey Worm’s inability to physically perform, but how he approaches the encounter.
Grey Worm isn’t trying to exert his dominance over Missandei, and Missandei isn’t just a complacent body to be used. It is Missandei who initiates the scene, removing her clothes and leading Grey Worm into the bedroom. It is Missandei who proposes the idea of being more than just acquaintances standing loyally by Daenerys’ side.
In many ways, this felt like Game of Thrones’ first fully embraced, female-empowered sex scene. It wasn’t written for his pleasure, but for hers.
Between the slow build that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss gave Missandei and Grey Worm’s relationship, and the thoughtfulness that went into how this very important first encounter should play out, it feels like this is the sex scene we’ve been waiting for. It’s not meant to surprise anyone; it isn’t included because it feels like the obvious thing couples do. It’s a genuine outpouring of love between two people who have defied convention to finally come together and shower each other with affectionate love.
Sex is an integral component of Game of Thrones. It’s a sweeping story of people, politics and the relationships between various figures. Sex isn’t just something that comes along with that territory; it’s the basis of the fight for the Iron Throne. Who slept with whom — and in turn, who had an illegitimate child — defines much of the series’ narrative.
Game of Thrones has proven that it has strong women. Cersei, Sansa, Arya, Daenerys and so many other women are inspirational characters for different reasons. Missandei’s sexual empowerment and dominance in the scene, paired with her empathetic understanding and adoring attention toward Grey Worm, still feels refreshingly new.
I’m excited to see how their relationship plays out. For the first time in a very long while, I’m also excited to see how the showrunners and writing staff handle sexual intimacy. Game of Thrones just proved that it can do more than just include a few periodic sex scenes; it can also emphasize sex scenes that matter.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.