“Games of Thrones” star Lena Headey is the latest actress to be engulfed in controversy over nude scenes in the popular HBO series, but the uproar over her nude “Walk of Atonement” scene in Season 5 is raising a far larger question. Are actresses pressured to strip for the camera?
The series is known for its realistic portrayal of barbarity in an ancient mythical kingdom.
But blood and gore aside, nudity has also made the series a must watch among fans.
As Season 6 is about to unfold, the question has to be asked, how much of it is integral to the plot and how much of it is merely gratuitous?
In Headey’s penultimate nude scene last season, producers acknowledge that actress Rebecca Van Cleave stepped in as a body double for the walk. Headley’s head was added to her body through digital editing.
(Editor’s Note: Most media outlets are incorrectly calling it the “Walk of Shame.” It was actually billed as the “Walk of Atonement” by the show.) At eight minutes in length, it’s the longest-running nude scene in the series.
In the scene, her character, Queen Cersei is forced by religious fanatics to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing. The move is ordered by High Sparrow to atone for the crimes of falsehood and fornication.
As she walks, Septa Unella accompanies her, ringing a bell and crying out “Shame!” That led to an embarrassing incident in real life when she had her baby, Headey says. (See video below)
“Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin has said the scene is not without precedent in medieval history. Jane Shore, mistress of King Edward IV of England (1461-1483) was forced to make a walk of atonement for being the king’s whore.
But significantly, Shore was not naked. She wore a long nightgown, according to historical references.
In a new interview, Headey said she was “shocked” when fans threw a fit over social media because she used a body double.
“Some people thought I was less of an actress because I didn’t get my tits out,” she told Entertainment Weekly.
“It was really a bit shocking. I’ve done nudity. I’m not averse to it,” said Headey, as if she had to defend herself.
But she’s not the only actress who has felt pressure over nude scenes.
Emilia Clarke who plays Daenerys Targaryen on the hit HBO show was also embroiled in an uproar over nudity last September.
“I’m British, so I cringe at that sort of thing anyway — I can’t stand it,” she told London’s Daily Mail.
“I don’t want to have sex thrown in my face and I’ve always thought the suggestion is so much more titillating than the act itself,” she reportedly added.
“Most sex scenes you see in films or on TV are gratuitous and they’re usually just to attract an audience.”
She later clarified her remarks in an Instagram post and said she was okay with nude scenes as long as they were integral to the plot.
Two years before that, Clarke reportedly told the show’s director she was done with nude scenes, according to her co-star Oona Chaplin. who plays Talisa Stark. She said she “wanted to be known for my acting, not my breasts.”
In a separate interview, Clarke said producers let her know when she auditioned that her part would include some nudity. “It’s not what I was looking forward to doing, and it’s not something I was excited about filming,” she said at the time.
“But it’s integral for the character. It’s integral for her growth and I think it’s an important thing to show. I don’t think you could have done Dany justice without showing that,” she added.
Her character has appeared topless and on a few occasions full frontal naked in numerous episodes. It’s unknown whether she’ll be naked in Seasons 6.
Natalie Dormer, who plays Margaery Tyrell, had to appear naked in her first scene for the show.
“I was having a good laugh with the creators of the show, David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], that it was a nice initiation to ‘Game of Thrones.’ It was a bit cruel that they had to schedule it that way, but they denied all knowledge of the scheduling,” she said of the incident.
At least one actress, Michelle Fairley, 52, who plays Catelyn Stark, won’t be doffing her kit in Season 6. “I got a no-nudity clause so I always get to keep my clothes on,” she said. “The producers put it in, not me,” she added.
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