The creators of ‘Game of Thrones’ (an adaptation of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin) have given the world not only one the most popular shows in television history but also eight years of pure sex, violence and strong male AND female characters to remember. Even thought the show went under fire for its portrayal of women, critics admit it’s been quietly revolutionary in its depictions of an important group – the sex workers. ‘Game of Thrones’ introduced millions of fans to a world where sex work is an accepted and somehow a ‘normal’ part of the culture. With brothels among of the primary settings in the fictional realm of Westeros and prostitutes featured prominently as supporting characters, the series seems to have unknowingly boosted an industry that plays a pivotal role in the tale of the Seven Kingdoms.
In our modern civilization, sex work is often stigmatized and not discussed or acknowledged in a positive sense. ‘Game of Thrones‘ shows audiences an alternative world, where paid sex is available to anyone, with virtually no judgment or condemnation directed at the sellers or the customers of sex services.
Prostitution is tacitly legal in Westeros, as there is no official law preventing brothels from openly operating in the royal cities and towns of the kingdoms. Organized religion does discourage prostitution, and it is socially frowned upon, but it is nonetheless present and seen as a clear business exchange (sex-for-money) plus an outlet for ‘uncontrollable male sexual desires’. Secular lords and kings have not (in general) intended to shut down brothels, as taxing prostitution is a never-ending source of revenue.
Only one leading character strongly objects to prostitution and that’s the religious and over-zelous Stannis Baratheon. He tries once to persuade his brother, the king, to outlaw brothels, but Robert (whose main hobby is whoring day and night) asks him mockingly if perhaps he’d like to ban eating, shitting, and breathing as well.
Let’s have a closer look at the inner-workings of the best brothel in Westeros, frequented by king Robert himself – the refined establishment owned by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish.
In the series, Littlefinger’s brothel is an upscale brothel, expensively furnished with fine tapestries, curtains, and artwork. Harpers serenade the common rooms with background music, and fine food and wine is served. It is staffed with high quality prostitutes (all genders), whose target clientele are members of the upper nobility and wealthy merchants. Littlefinger has his brothel cater to every taste, providing every possible pleasure to men or women, if the customer is so inclined.
Littlefinger actually owns several brothels that he had bought at some point during his career in the city as Master of Coin, probably as an investment for his retirement. What a clever way to prepare for one’s old days! Littlefinger considers prostitution a very profitable business. He says to Eddard Stark: “Brothels are a much sounder investment than ships, I’ve found. Whores seldom sink, and when they are boarded by pirates, why, they pay good coin like everyone else”.
However, financial gain is not the only motivation to establish a network of pleasure houses. Baelish uses his brothels and the prostitutes to spy on the secrets of powerful and influential customers in their intimate moments. This is yet another aspect of the real-life legal brothels that the show gets right. Prostitutes always know much more than you might think, as clients tend to open up to them post-intercourse. Buyers of sex not only reveal their true desires, anxieties, and erotic proclivities to the courtesans but also business and political secrets they are not supposed to share with anyone at all.
The ladies usually do not break the trust they form with their clients, whose secrets are safe with the whores. What happens in a brothel, stays there. Unless a smart manipulator such as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish steps in and uses the courtesans for his own political game.
The main brothel is located on Street of Silk, King’s Landing, Westeros and can be recognized by Littlefinger’s mockingbird sigil displayed next to the door – or at least it could, before it got sacked by the Faith militant and destroyed by Drogon (one of the three dragons) on the orders of the Queen Daenerys Targaryen. The owner, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, lamented the loss of his upscale brothel by calling it “An establishment like no other. The sheer range of appetites catered to. Desires that didn’t even exist until we invented them.”
According to Varys, Littlefinger has been known to discreetly accommodate many unusual “inclinations” as a private favor to powerful clients who could pay a very high price. Those ‘special preferences’ were ranging from providing amputees, to providing little boys or little girls. For example, Littlefinger gave the prostitute Ros to the sadistic King Joffrey Baratheon, so Joffrey could thrill-kill her using his crossbow. He avoided any scandal by sending her to Joffrey’s private castle quarters instead of letting him kill her in the actual brothel.
Ros was a prostitute, one of many in the show’s ensemble but also a fascinating character, created just for the TV series. She stood in for or acted as a condensation of several different prostitutes in the books.
Originally the role was just a one-time guest spot as a “red-haired whore” in the pilot episode, but the producers were so impressed with Esmé Bianco’s performance that they offered her a recurring role. Eventually they used Ros as a stand-in for other prostitute characters, therefore giving the audience someone familiar instead of frequently introducing new characters.
Ros came from a dirty brothel just outside of Winterfell castle but moved to King’s Landing at the beginning of the War of the Five Kings. Thanks to her intelligence, she quickly became Littlefinger’s aide and the majordomo overseeing his brothel. Littlefinger delegated the day-to-day running of the business to Ros. However, as he ultimately discovered that she had been spying for his rival Varys, and revealed Baelish’s plans for Sansa Stark, Littlefinger sold Ros to King Joffrey Baratheon as punishment. The sadistic king then shot her full of crossbow bolts simply for the cheap thrill of killing her.
Interesting and fun fact: Ros (or the actress Esmé Bianco) had a lesban sex scene with another prostitute named Armeca, played by Saeeda Vorajee, who is a sex worker in real life. Yes! The actress who starred as a prostitute in ‘Game of Thrones’ is known by her stage name ‘Sahara Knite’ and provides adult services to clients, starting from £40 and going up in price for the likes of massages and sex acts. Under her social media profile, she describes herself as: “British Indian Adult Performer in #GoT 1&2. The star of Indian descent was brought up following strict Islamic traditions. Due to her line of work Saeeda has received death threats and is no longer in contact with her family. As reported by Express.co.uk, Saeeda said in an interview that she was not ashamed of her career. “Does having sex in front of the camera for professional reasons mean I can’t be a nice human being and lead a normal personal life?” she asked. A valid question indeed.
Saeeda Vorajee was not the only adult performer to have featured in ‘Game of Thrones’, which is said to have hired porn stars to act out some of the show’s notoriously racier scenes. Also Josephine Gillan, who played prostitute Marei in the series, and the British porn artist Maisie Dee, who had a role in the episode ‘The North Remembers’ are both real-life sex workers.
Characters like Ros, Armeca, Marei, Shea and other prostitutes in Westeros, were important pieces of the puzzle of ‘Game of Thrones’, but, more importantly, they were professionals, making an honest living just as representatives of any other trade and profession would – the merchands, the soldiers, the blacksmiths, the King’s Hand, or the spies of the land. ‘Game of Thrones’ has shown that brothels can be powerful and respectful places. Their positive portrayal as well as hiring of actual adult entertainers helped make sex workers feel included in popular culture.
If you would like to learn more about prostitution in the ‘Game of Thrones’ and in medieval Europe, make sure to read the sequel to this article – “The brothels of ‘Game of Thrones’ boosted sex industry – part two”. Coming up!