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The Remarkable and Continuing Adventures of Men without Penises. “Stormborn” reviewed.

July 25, 2017

varysGrey Wormtheon
It seems a little lazy to name an episode of Game of Thrones after one of  Daenerys’ middle names.  Well – “Stormborn not a middle name exactly – not in any baptismal sense – it’s one of those interminable epithets that’s designed to slow you down and intimidate you in the throne room of Meereen.   We’ve already had an episode called “Breaker of Chains”.  We might yet have an episode called “Unburnt” (who else thinks  Daenerys would excel on Bake Off?  – she wouldn’t even need oven gloves) but it would get confused with “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”.  A more arresting title for this or some other episode would be “The  Remarkable and Continuing Adventures of Men without Penises”.

There’s a lot that can be said about men without penises in Game of Thrones.  A watertight phallogocentric imagination regards castration as an unspeakable trauma worse than death itself.  Yet Game of Throne tells the story of men without penises who continue to live interesting and productive lives, who retain hopes and fears long after the supposed transcendental signifier of Hope and Fear has been taken from them.

“Stormborn” involves other stories of course.  There is the story of Samwell Tarly, who has hitherto found his work as an assistant librarian more traumatic than his life with the Night Watch.  He’s now adding unbelievably traumatic and messy surgery to his ever swelling C.V.  There is the story of Arya, changing direction deciding to go back to Winterfell.  There is the story of Cersei, learning from Dr Frankenstein Qyburn that certain technologies are available to deal with dragons.

However, men without penises dominate the beginning, middle, and end of this episode. Daenerys begins by confronting Varys in a rather sudden and general and disturbing way.  Every so often, Varys is given a wonderful speech in Game of Thrones, and last night he was speaking for his life.  His was a speech on behalf of the conditionality of allegiance – a remarkable political statement which suggests that the seeds of Lockean contractualism have already been sewn on Westeros.  Varys still feels the trauma of his childhood castration but is determined to define his identity elsewhere – to treat a privation as a refocusing.

Then there’s the extraordinary sex scene between Grey Worm and Missandrei.  Daenerys and Missandrei have previously speculated as to the precise degree of genital mutilation suffered by the Second Sons, and Missandrei is now determined to see for herself.  The camera, however, is less generous to the viewer and (let’s be honest), we’ve all peered and craned our heads and freeze-framed to no avail.  All we know, is that Grey Worm is capable of having a version of sex.  The comportment of Grey Worm and Missandrei’s bodies suggest a bizarrely conventional missionary position for sex.  The programme makers may be missing a trick (or lots of tricks) here.  To discover that Grey Worm is more or less as other men would be far less interesting than learning that alternative sexualities and polymorphic pleasures are available if the penis is deprivileged.  In the eighteenth-century, Italian castrati were regarded as sexual threats by paranoid husbands for precisely this reason.

And then there’s Theon.   If Grey Worm was castrated in infancy and Varys in childhood, Theon’s castration as an adult is depicted as a far greater trauma.  If someone has seen Theon smile even once ever since Ramsay took his penis, I’d be delighted to know.  Yet Theon survives.  And that’s the final scene of the episode – Theon surviving and refusing to sacrifice himself (proving that he has a self without a penis).

All of which illustrates that there’s a lot you can do without a penis, and that a penis is not worth dying for.

But no… call the episode “Stromborn”.  Wouldn’t want Game of Thrones to start upsetting people eh?


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