Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Game of Thrones sex scenes are 'sexplanations' to distract from boring exposition, says Sharpe author Bernard Cornwell

Author whose Saxon novel has been adapted by the BBC says 'my programmes won't need sexplanations'

Adam Sherwin
Media Correspondent
Tuesday 13 October 2015 00:12 BST
Diversionary tactic? A scene from ‘Game of Thrones’, which makers HBO deny uses sex gratuitously
Diversionary tactic? A scene from ‘Game of Thrones’, which makers HBO deny uses sex gratuitously (HBO)

The explicit scenes in Game of Thrones are “sexplanations” designed included to distract viewers from boring plot expositions, the author whose novels are being turned into a rival blood-and-guts medieval drama has claimed.

Bernard Cornwell, whose Saxon Stories novels have been adapted for the BBC’s new £10m Viking drama series The Last Kingdom, said his fact-based stories were superior to the fantasy HBO drama, notorious for its graphic sex scenes.

Cornwell told Radio Times that he was not a fan of Game of Thrones. “So many characters. So many strands. You have to have large sections where the plot is explained; just have to sit there and be told what’s going on.

“This is very, very dull. So they put a lot of naked women behind it all,” the author said. He added: “They’re called ‘sexplanations’ in the trade. My programmes won’t need sexplanations.”

The BBC commissioned The Last Kingdom, which depicts Alfred The Great’s battle to the unify England as a fighting force to combat the Viking threat, after missing out on the chance to co-produce Game of Thrones.

Cornwell, 71, who previously created the Sharpe Napoleonic War historical novels, recently admitted: “If I was a commissioning editor at the BBC I’d say, 'We want Game of Thrones – boys, let’s have dragons and tits’”.

The BBC2 series, which launches next week, combines historical figures with fictional events and doesn’t skimp on the visceral, sword-wielding violence. However the sex scenes are less explicit and nudity employed more sparingly than in Game of Thrones.

HBO has denied claims that sex is used gratuitously in Game of Thrones. Michael Lombardo, president of programming at HBO, said: “As long as I feel that it isn’t a show trying to attract viewers with sex and violence, I am not going to play police. I don’t think (graphic scenes) have ever been without any purpose.”

Lombardo acknowledged viewer complaints over a rape sequence which departed from George RR Martin's source novels. But he said HBO would not be “a censor that inhibits the authentic organic creative process by policing how many breasts should be on a show.”

Bernard Cornwell is a veteran of historical fiction, having written 24 Napoleonic-era ‘Sharpe’ novels (AFP/Getty)

Cornwell, a former BBC executive who discovered a talent for writing historical novels after emigrating to the United States, said he writes to a strict formula, honed from his Sharpe novels. “Kick off with a battle – gets the book off to a nice, fast start. Lots of dead Frenchies. Introduce the plot, right? Plot begins to sag? Wheel on 40,000 Frenchies and start slaughtering them. Keep it moving. More plot. Finish with a set-piece battle that ties up all the plot ends and kills off the four villains. Works every time.”

The Last Kingdom, set in 872, tells the story of Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), a Saxon nobleman, who is orphaned by the Vikings and then kidnapped and raised as one of their own. A warrior, Uhtred is forced to choose between the country of his birth and the Vikings responsible for his upbringing. The epic drama is produced by Carnival Films, the company behind Downton Abbey.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in