It might have been the most risqué scene in The CW’s history had it aired uncut.
The pilot for 16th century-based castle drama Reign featured a steamy masturbation scene in the version that was sent to advertisers and media after the show made the network’s schedule last May. But the final cut of the episode that was recently sent to critics and will air on the network this week has been toned down.
In the sequence, the Queen of Scottland (Adelaide Kane) has joined her teenage ladies-in-waiting in France and attend a wedding. After the ceremony, they secretly spy on the newlyweds’ “bedding ceremony” — where the couple has sex before a group of elders who are present to ensure the marriage is consummated (more on this practice below).
The bedding is actually not the raunchy part. The moment that raised eyebrows among reporters at press tour this summer is what happens next: The aroused handmaidens scatter around the castle to find relief among various paramours. One of them, Kenna (Caitlin Stasey), assures she’s alone in a secluded stairwell, hikes up her gown, reaches under and starts … yep. Her self-pleasure is unexpectedly interrupted by none other than the King of France (Alan van Sprang), who smugly offers his assistance (“May I?”) and takes over.
All of this still happens in the premiere.
But now viewers see the barest suggestion of Kenna’s actions in a few quick shots, then king’s hand snatches hers from her lap. The moment went from a clear “I can’t believe they’re actually showing this” to “Was she doing what I think she was doing?” It still might inspire an outraged Parents Television Council press release (what doesn’t?), but probably won’t result in parents watching the show with their kids actually having to have any awkward conversations.
Interestingly, the new version also adds a couple scenes, and one is a quick shot of a man’s beheading complete with his neck stump spurting blood. So Reign may take on European history, but it’s content censors are definitely American.
Now about those bedding ceremonies.
They have twice been a plot element on HBO’s Game of Thrones (but has not been shown), and one was depicted on Showtime’s The Tudors. In case you’re wondering if they really happened in medieval Europe, there’s some conflicting reports online, but it seems they did — though not necessarily how pop culture depicts. Wedding night observation apparently stemmed from a perception that sexual consummation is what officially sealed marriage and without it the union could be annulled. So a marriage that unites two families, and all the property ramifications that such an agreement triggered, might be considered invalid if the deed wasn’t done. Gradually, increasing emphasis was placed on the public nuptials ceremony instead (as dull as that is to watch by comparison).
One art history professor contacted by EW who declined be quoted said, yes, there were traditions that would place the copulating couple under the gaze (or at least within earshot) of family elders, who would want to ensure that the marriage was legally consummated. While another history professor disagreed, and said the “bedding ceremony blessed and celebrated the couple, but it wasn’t about proving that the couple consummated the marriage,” and cited Henry VIII claiming his elder brother had never consummated his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, so that he could then marry Catherine himself.
Other conflicts about bedding ceremonies stem from the size and actions of the typical audience. In George R.R. Martin’s Thrones novels — which are loosely inspired by medieval European history — the bedding is described as a bawdy crowded voyeristic spectator sport, which doesn’t seem to have been the case in our reality. In Reign and Tudors, it’s a far more subdued crowd of elders, though still rather humiliating for the couple. Some citations online suggest that sometimes the observer was only a single trusted physician, or that the witnesses were merely in the room and not openly staring at the play-by-play action.
Interestingly, as much as times have changed, in some ways they haven’t. The lack of consummation is still generally considered a valid reason to annul a marriage. And with the legalization of gay marriage, the definition of martial consummation is now getting new scrutiny. Check out EW’s Reign review here. The network previously ordered three additional scripts for the show, which is an unusual step before a series has debuted.