‘Game of Thrones’ introduces a powerful bisexual sex symbol.
by David Goldberg
Let’s be honest: there are three types of LGBT story lines on television. We’ve got the coming-out drama, which involves shame, self-acceptance, a little violence, and an inevitable true love. These rough sagas make the boy-on-boy romances on series like Shameless feel satisfyingly hard-won. Recently, we’ve been exposed to the “they’re just like us” genre, in which we eroticize beautiful men as they file their taxes. Looking should have been called Sitting, or Eating, or maybe Napping. But the rarest media gem is the gay superhero, an elusive sex symbol with a major story line and plenty of same-sex love to go around. Spartacus allowed a couple of its blood-soaked warriors to make out when the battle was over. Alex, the lesbian drug lord on Orange Is the New Black, took no prisoners, literally. Each of these approaches is valuable, but, at least for a while, we need more fantasy and less of the mundane.
Game of Thrones is a pan-demographic phenomenon that sates the bloodlust of straight viewers while delivering outstanding, outlandish female-driven performances for the rest of us. Along with bringing George R.R. Martin’s cast to life, the creators of the HBO series have given more on-screen freedom to the novels’ few LGBT characters, whose homosexuality had previously only been implied. But Westeros is a cruel place if you are born a different way—just like the world we viewers live in. While characters like the Knight of Flowers (how subtle) have enjoyed delicious sex scenes and even same-sex romance, they still endure ridicule, secrecy, the threat of dethroning, or worse.
Because of the fire and passion that Thrones women deliver, I learned to enjoy it without expecting much LGBT content. Who needs gays when you have dragons?
But then, one Sunday night in April, everything changed.
The fourth and perhaps bloodiest season of the series has been enlivened by the arrival of Oberyn Martell, also known as the Red Viper. Played radiantly by Pedro Pascal, the Prince of Dorne sparks with passion, fury, and red-hot entropy, and he’s sure to dazzle as he makes his revenge play this spring. In his opening appearance, he kisses one woman, disrobes three more, caresses a male prostitute, and then daggers an annoying enemy through the wrist. Are you in love yet?
At a rather extravagant wedding banquet in the season’s second episode, the Knight of Flowers stops by a buffet spread to pick at appetizers. For just a moment, he and the Prince of Dorne lock into a visual flirtation. As his lady paramour feeds him grapes with a slow and curious finger, the Red Viper grins seductively and enthralls Loras without the slightest effort. The moment is silent, sensual, and goes without punishment.
I had never seen anything like this, at least not since Queer as Folk. Here was a bisexual, polyamorous prince, taking what he wanted without shame or reprisals. Hours later, after my eyeballs had finally deflated, I was still levitating. How often do we get to see one of our own in a position of power having a great time and relishing the bloody action like the rest of the cast? As a perennial fanboy, I was blown away by this male fantasy of a bad-boy antihero who gets to kiss the girl and the boy at the end. Is this how straight men feel when they watch movies?
I won’t pretend that Game of Thrones has a sterling reputation when it comes to gender politics. At this point, the female nudity is numbing. There have been too many conversations in brothels. And while the threat of rape lends authentic terror to the grisly horror of the series, one has to worry that it is not being handled responsibly.
But maybe that’s why the grand entrance of a bi sex symbol is all the sweeter on a show like Thrones,an action show ostensibly made for hetero men. The creators of Thrones have created an antidote to their own machismo overload. I don’t have to beg my straight peers to tolerate the Prince of Dorne because they are in love with him, too.
Make no mistake: power fantasies are dangerous. But what if LGBT fanboys and fangirls were allowed to fantasize about swashbuckling sex symbols and superheroes who were just like us? Maybe we would want to become someone—or something—more. And if that someone looks like the Prince of Dorne, you can count me in.
Game of Thrones is airing on HBO on Sundays at 8 p.m. CST.
David Goldberg also writes about travel in this issue of OutSmart magazine.