HBO’s fantasy epic Game of Thrones may be of the most beloved shows in television history, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t rightfully been on the receiving end of criticism from its fanbase. Aside from outcry regarding its disastrous final season (it’s been seven months since the finale, and I’m still furious), Game of Thrones often came under fire for its treatment of the female characters. Now that her days as the Mother of Dragons are officially behind her, Emilia Clarke is finally opening up about some of her uncomfortable moments on the set of the critically-acclaimed series.
Rated TV-MA for its depictions of graphic violence and sexuality, Game of Thrones never promised to be a show for the weak of heart. Nonetheless, the amount of random nudity in the earliest seasons was a bit much, even for HBO. Topless women in the local brothel, random sex in the palace — people (usually women) on the show were often just naked to be naked, their nudity never really serving a purpose besides reminding viewers that they were watching HBO.
On the show, Clarke played exiled royal Daenerys Targaryen, the future queen of Westeros. When we first met Daenerys, she was a young girl being dominated by the men in her life — first by her arrogant brother Viserys and then by her husband, Khal Drogo. Early on in her storyline, Dany was naked a lot, underscoring her origin story as a pawn in the bigger quest for the Iron Throne. Although many fans objected to the graphic nudity on the series, Clarke was quick to defend the artistic choice; Daenerys may have been victimized in the beginning, but her story ultimately ended with her becoming the victor.
Months later, the Last Christmas actress isn't afraid to admit that there she initially faced some pressure behind the scenes to appear naked. "I’d come fresh from drama school, and I approached [it] as a job," Clarke told Dax Shepherd on an episode of the Armchair Expert podcast. "If it’s in the script then it’s clearly needed, this is what this is and I’m gonna make sense of it…everything’s gonna be cool.”
"I’ve had fights on set before where I’m like, ‘No, the sheet stays up,’ and they’re like, ‘You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans'," Clarke continued.
Clarke's anecdotes echo stories from other women in Hollywood; recently, Hustlers star Jennifer Lopez shared that she'd once been pressured by a director to be topless while she wasn't even filming.
Over time, Clarke, like Lopez, started to push back. It took the then-rookie actress some time, but eventually, her character's "fuck ton of nudity" was less gratuitous and more clearly linked to her storyline. Notably, Daenerys's season 1 naked emergence from Khal Drogo's funeral pyre marked the beginning of a new chapter of her trajectory.
"I’m a lot more savvy [now] with what I’m comfortable with, and what I am okay with doing,” said Clarke. That renewed comfort with enacting her agency on set was supported by her TV husband Jason Momoa. While filming, she revealed, Momoa quietly encouraged her to create boundaries, checking in with Clarke to make sure that she was doing okay.