Game of Thrones season 8 episode 2: Let's accept that Arya Stark's first sexual experience makes her human
The torch Arya’s carried for the kind-hearted blacksmith Gendry for years has been the most normal teenager-type-thing about her.
Arya Stark had sex, and everyone’s talking about it.
Over the past eight years, we’ve been invested in Arya’s journey from pipsqueak to water dancer to girl-in-disguise to Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer to the Girl With No Name and, eventually, transforming into a killing machine.
She’s no ordinary eighteen-year-old.
Last season, she slit Walder Frey’s throat, baked a few of his sons into a pie and poisoned every man in House Frey in one fell swoop. The torch Arya’s carried for the kind-hearted blacksmith Gendry for years has been the most normal teenager-type-thing about her. It’s this one thing that’s out of step with who she’s become, but it’s also the one thing that keeps her human to most of her fans.
The build-up to Arya’s first sexual experience had the same pragmatic, matter-of-fact approach that Arya has to most things.
This was no “girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” This was Arya Stark telling a childhood crush, “We're probably going to die soon. I want to know what it's like before that happens.” Legions of fans have shipped Arya and Gendry since their journey north in season two, so it was no surprise that the Internet erupted in joy.
But there was just as much backlash. Some reviewers called the scene unnecessary, while some fans are up in arms about having to watch their favourite ‘child’ character being sexualised. The most common criticism has been the use of sex to show the coming of age of one of the show’s most loved characters.
— Game of Thrones Facts (@thronesfacts) April 24, 2019
Most, though, seem to have missed a much larger shift in how the show has historically depicted sex for its female characters.
It is perfectly normal for an eighteen-year-old to want to have sex the night before she inevitably dies at the hand of some Whitewalker. The decision was hers and hers alone. It’s one of the rare occasions on the show when the sex has been consensual and non-icky, which is more than what most of the series’ main female characters have experienced through the seasons. Daenerys lost her virginity to what can only be termed as marital rape, and the show pegged her age at sixteen when it happened (the books had her at thirteen). Arya’s elder sister, Sansa, was just seventeen when she was raped by Ramsay Bolton on their wedding night.
Game of Thrones is replete with countless brothel scenes and wartime rapes. There’s sex for political gain — Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy. There’s incest — Cersei and Jamie, Daenerys and Jon. There’s sex involving people who have taken vows of celibacy — Samwell and Gilly, Jon and Ygritte. But the Arya-Gendry scene was just sex between two consenting adults who like each other. It’s almost as if people are okay with incest, breaking vows of celibacy, rape and murder but have a problem with eighteen-year-old Arya having sex.
What also made Arya’s sexual encounter different from what we’ve otherwise seen on the show is that it doesn’t objectify the woman, but focuses on the man.
There’s a reason why detractors have dismissed Game of Thrones as ‘t*ts and dragon’ in the past. 22-year-old Maisie Williams who plays Arya, has since spoken about being given a choice by the showrunners to show how naked she wanted to get on camera. The scene ends up showing very little of Arya’s body, while the camera focuses on Gendry. You see her face watching him do what he does, and there’s real intimacy, something that’s surprisingly been scant on a show that has had so much sex. The scene is a huge departure for a show that’s used naked ladies to titillate—remember the Season 8 opener where three naked ladies were climbing all over Bronn while inexplicably talking about dragons?
There’s always a lot to talk about with every episode of Game of Thrones but in it’s last season, the microscope seems to have gone in a wee bit closer. For once, though, the show did right by a major female character. With every layer of clothing Arya took off, she deliberately became more vulnerable than she’s probably ever been since Ned’s death. This was a landmark moment in her arc. One just hopes that she lives through her first-ever battle so that her first time isn’t also her last.
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