Game of Thrones; Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief and Morals in the 18th century – TV review

Sex and sexual violence is alive and kicking in season four of Game of Thrones

Everything is going swimmingly for House Lannister. Demented Joffrey is secure as boy king of Westeros, having routed his foes. Or rather his Machiavellian powerbroker of a granddad, Tywin Lannister, has had them routed on his jerk-off grandson's behalf. Plus, Joffrey's mum and dad, Cersei and Jaime, have been reunited at court and can now resume their glum-faced, incestuous how's your father. Admittedly, Jaime lost his sword hand after he spoke out of turn in season three, but Cersei's hair extensions and disdainful eyebrows remain in place. So that's all good.

And now Joffrey's poised to marry Margaery of House Tyrell, a woman whose fascinating wardrobe features inappropriate outfits for every occasion. Apart from settling the vexed question of which backless, low-cut number she'll choose as her wedding dress, there's really nothing for us to see. The game of thrones is over. Might as well cancel season four.

Hold on, though. One of the wedding guests is hissing on the castle terrace. He's still angry that the Lannisters butchered his niece and nephew during an earlier war. As any feeling uncle would be. "And, my sister, do you know what they did to her?" hissed Oberyn Martell, AKA the Red Viper. "I've heard," said Tyrion Lannister, looking shame-faced, adding after pitch-perfect pause, "rumours." So lovely to have Peter Dinklage back as Tyrion, everybody's favourite fate-hobbled dwarf hero.

"The one I heard the most," said Oberyn, "is that Gregor Clegane, the Mountain, raped Elia and split her in half with his great sword. If the Mountain killed my sister, your father gave the order. Tell your father," he added, spraying sibilants towards Tyrion's face, "the Lannisters are not the only ones who pay their debts." Excellent: I always love a crazily vague threat to get a series under way.

Minutes into the season premiere of Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic), though, I had a disturbing answer to a question that has troubled me ever since House Stark was slaughtered en masse last year. Why don't I let my eight-year-old watch this faux-historical soap, this fact-free Horrible Histories for grown-ups? It's not because of hand-severing swordplay or gladiatorial bouts with CGI bears. Rather, it's because so much airtime is devoted to sexual violence and commodifying women's bodies.

We haven't (yet) seen any reprises of the drawn-out torture and castration of Theon Greyjoy, but the scene with gymnastic sex workers procured for the Red Viper and his no-less randy bastard lady, was a hilariously over-libidinous series opener. "I'm not on offer," said the prince, affronted. Hadn't he procured enough girls for their entertainment? "Everyone paid for by Littlefinger is on offer. Take off your clothes," countered Prince Oberyn with a sexually omnivorous leer. You wonder how Oberyn is going to have any strength left to take revenge on the Lannisters.

Protesting against Game of Thrones' sex and sexual violence may seem as profitless as worrying over why 99% of hobbits are sexless dudes who have never heard a Marvin Gaye record, still less got it on with a lady hobbit. But that hardly justifies adapters David Benioff and DB Weiss unremittingly pimping up the novels' rudery.

Still, I can't wait until the wedding following this week's whore d'oeuvre (so sorry). "The war is over. The king is safe," said Charles Dance's Tywin Lannister complacently. "The king is never safe," retorted sensible son Jaime. "How many people in this city alone would love to see his head on a pike?" My estimate? Pretty much all of them. Could put kibosh on next week's nuptials? Fingers crossed.

In Rule Britannia! Music, Mischief and Morals in the 18th Century (BBC4), when Suzy Klein held up a pair of castration scissors with faux glee, I wondered if we had returned to Game of Thrones' darkest dungeons. Rather, she was demonstrating how they were used to produce high-voiced men after the Catholic church banned women singing in church choirs.

But Klein wasn't indicting Catholicism. Instead, the Radio 3 DJ's argument was that music – more than newspapers, books or painting – defined 18th-century British identity, certainly after patriotic Brits rose up against invasion by mucky Italian operas and their alien religion. Hence Handel's success (though he was German), hence John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, hence Arne's Rule, Britannia! and his version of God Save the King.

It was lovely to hear neglected music – not just Klein's bravura singing of the ballad The Fair Maid of Islington to ungrateful passers-by in Seven Dials, but Charles Dibdin's elegy to a drowned sailor, Tom Bowling. But I didn't buy her argument, perhaps because I don't have the requisite perspective: as Westeros teeters, as Britain risks disintegration, the idea that music could unite a kingdom seems a fantasy wilder than George RR Martin could imagine.


Stuart Jeffries

The GuardianTramp

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