Sunday, February 23, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S1E1: Winter is Coming)

So, I happen to like the Mad Men, rather a lot.  Lots of people do: it’s easily one of the most acclaimed shows on air in the last few years, and there are scores of blogs offering critiques, recaps, and analysis.  Some of the most enjoyable takes on Mad Men crit are the “Mad Style” posts from Tom and Lorenzo, a series which has more or less catalogued and critiqued every costume worn by a female character—and many of those worn by the guys, but since it’s set in the real-world, they’re limited to a more restricted range of suits and are consequently less tappable for analysis.  Anyway, they’re fascinating posts, and beautiful to look at. 

Game of Thrones is no less known for its gorgeous costume work, and I recall Tom and Lorenzo remarking at one point—sorry, I can’t find the exact post—that it is one of the few shows that comes close to Mad Men’s level of sophistication regarding costumes, but that they were simply not going to give it the Mad Style treatment.  Well, why not try to produce the content I would like to see?  I may not be up to TLo caliber, but surely it’s better than nothing? The costuming of Game of Thrones has some key differences too: Mad Men is somewhat constrained by the actual fashions of the 1960s; Game of Thrones has more creative leeway.  Part of the job of the fashion on Mad Men is to evoke the era; on Game of Thrones, it’s world-building from the ground up.

          We'll see how this goes; I'm not making any promises.... Let's begin at the beginning with Season 1 Episode 1: Winter is Coming, shall we?

First off, I’d just like to point out that EVERYone uses this shot composition and that Kurosawa was awesome.

Riders on a hill: Game of Thrones

Riders on a hill: Seven Samurai

Okay, on to some costumes.

This is our first introduction to Bran, Robb, and Jon Snow.  Now, when I saw this episode for the first time, I remember having the hardest time telling Jon, Robb, and Theon (who we meet in a few minutes) apart, and looking at this screenshot I feel a little less stupid about it, because they are dressed almost identically.  Obviously they’re related somehow.  Bran is dressed a little differently (he is here, as he is later, wearing some sort of leather sleeve, which I assume is an arm-guard for archery)—it’s interesting that he keeps wearing things that highlight his arms, given that he loses the use of his legs at the end of the episode.

Everyone is in the same colors.  Everyone matches.

They all match everyone and everything else in their home.  This reminds me of something that often happens in Mad Men: domestic harmony is represented by having the characters blend through color and pattern into their surroundings.  Everyone is just supposed to be here.

This is our first look at Eddard, the ostensible protagonist of Season 1, and Cat.  The matchy-matchy game with the rest of the set continues.  You could even make a case that the straps of Eddard’s cloak mimic the supports of the roof; he is almost architecturally a part of his house.  We also can notice that while Cat’s cloak is in a typically dour Northern shade, her dress is a bit lighter.

Now we go to an interior location to meet the Stark Daughters.  Here we see the elder one, Sansa.  This shot contains, I think, some really important information.  Sansa is a…controversial character: it’s fair to say that she makes some extremely poor decisions down the line, and some people find her “stupid”.  Look at her life in Winterfell, though.  The castle is dark, dull, and grey.  The colors are washed out and desaturated, a classic way of representing coldness on screen.  She’s sitting down, but her dress looks heavy and shapeless with some minimal snowflake or star-type embroidery as decoration.  Her hair is also pretty basic, with rope braids along the top.  Let’s keep in mind where Sansa is coming from as the season progresses.

Then there’s Arya, who looks uncomfortable and unhappy herself, sitting hunched over wtith a resentful expression.  Her colors are the same as Sansa’s but without the ornamentation.  If anything, in this particular shot her dress looks too big for her: it seems likely that it’s a hand-me-down.  Arya is not being recognized as an individual but as another daughter, and she is not comfortable in or fitted for that role.

I’m not sure what we can learn from this shot, except that The North has some crazy male facial hair.  Also, Theon shows up, looking not at all out of place.  There’s no reason to assume he’s anything other than a Northerner.

Except the fact that he’s got a way more stylin’ and profilin’ jerkin than the other Stark boys at the start of the episode: he’s got some geometric details as opposed to their undecorated, plain leather.

Sorry about the volume icon! I didn't even notice it till just now.

Well, we’re certainly not in The North anymore!  No one is wearing cream-colored, shiny leather with an open collar up in Winterfell.  The hair is different too: shorter and styled.  Before we learn anything about this character, we can tell he’s rich and image-conscious.

And then the camera angle changes to show us Cersei.  We see really very little of her in this episode, but in her introduction here, she’s in a light, feminine pink with a diaphanous shawl, the brightness and “prettiness” (for lack of a better word) reinforcing the differences between The North and King’s Landing.

We return to Winterfell very quickly, though, for a short scene between Cat and Eddard, setting up the imminent arrival of the King’s Landing Set.  Cat, unusually, has her outer dress layer unfastened.  In this scene, she talks to Eddard about feeling like an outsider in the Godswood, an idea that is perhaps being echoed by the costume: her outer layer is dark with fur sleeves—very Northern—but she has brighter, Southern colors underneath.

I like this shot of the Starks (minus Arya) all lined up, because we get to see what Winterfell Finery is (and how it compares to King’s Landing in a second). This is the absolute best that they have: Cat’s cloak is patterned and the material looks rich; Sansa stands out in blue-grey.  Jon and Theon are tucked away together in the back.

The Royal Procession arrives, with the Hound in the lead.  That helmet is one of those things that sounds okay written down, but looks kind of doofy in real life.  It’s worth noting, though, his armor is dented—it’s seen action—and he’s ominously in black.

Ugh, Joffrey.  His clothes are rich and designed to show-off (all that wine-red velvet just draped over the back of the horse), but he also looks a bit ridiculous: the cloak is too big for him and his little (admittedly pretty cute) pony.

Then Robert---the King---shows up looking like everybody in Winterfell!  There is NO visual connection between him and Joffrey above, except perhaps for the use of black fur at the collar.  This shot establishes the fact that Robert is far more suited to Winterfell and its culture than whatever is going on down south.

Southern ladies looking ridiculous: they have bare arms while everyone else is wrapped in cloaks and furs.  They’ve got the big, elaborate hairstyles that we’ll be seeing much more of in the season.

While Cersei’s clothes may be the most ridiculous of all, she is giving good bitch-face to make up for it.  It’s a busy, shapeless, ugly garment though.

Scene change!  They helpfully tell us that it’s Pentos, across the sea, an entirely new continent.  We get quite a different look here too.  It’s so naked: the climate is obviously much warmer than anywhere we’ve been yet in the story.  The dress seems to be held up by ropes around the shoulders: Dany is bound, trapped, a slave.

Viserys shows up to be creepy and off-putting.  He has a prominent dragon pin, and his clothes look Westerosi: Jaime had that kind of kimono neckline, though his was open.  One thing I love about the styling of the Targaryens in the show is how much they made them look like…elves.  Like Lord of the Rings elves.  They’re pretty and kind of magic, but their scenes together in this episode are uncomfortable.  They elvish-look seems kind of ironic and funny to me.

I really shouldn’t have blown the word “diaphanous” on Cersei’s momentarily-seen shawl up in picture #10, should I?  If Dany’s…wrapping got any more sheer, it would probably just absorb into her skin.  It’s to the point where one almost starts wondering what the point of such a garment even is: they are effectively showing her nude, why don’t they just…do it?  It seems like some sort of La maja desnuda effect: the somewhat-covered is hotter than the totally exposed.  Notice the spoilery dragons on Dany’s shoulders (in the first episode!).

Viserys’ costume continues to be hilarious.  It’s so unflattering!  The belt cuts him at a really awkward place and the whole thing is constructed to give him a spare-tire around his middle.  He’s got a sword on his hip, but it’s plain he’s not athletic and probably doesn’t know how to handle it at all.

Master Illyrio, who is objectively a bigger man than Viserys, looks more dignified and comfortable.  He has no sword, but does have a prominent coin purse: he’s the money behind these two crazy kids.

Khal Drogo show up in his leather wrestling championship belt, giving us our first look at the Dothraki.  There’s not much to say about them: they’re designed to look like big, scary barbarians, which is how Dany sees them at this point in the story.  Note the contrast with the Pentosi men in the background in their orange gown-tunics.  Even he ornamentation that the Dothraki do have—notably their horse blankets—are geometric and hard.

This is another scene that really underscores how dour life is—or seems—for Sansa in Winterfell.  Her room is so dark and the desaturated colors are back to let us know it’s cold.  Her dress is ugly—we find out in the next seen that she made it herself—and her mom’s doing her hair.  I don’t think she can be faulted for wanting more than her provincial life, and that makes her eagerness to marry Joffrey in this scene at least semi-understandable.  She wants out.

I love this shot of Cat and Cersei, the two queenly figures, next to each other.

They both have v-necklines and scarf-like details, but Cat is wrapped up to the next by her underlayers, whereas Cersei has shoulder cut-outs!  The hair is different, of course: simple and pulled back for Cat; elaborately braided for Cersei. 

Cersei is in her Lannister colors, red and gold; Cat is in dark blue with what I believe is the fish-pin we see Bran playing with in a later episode; in other words, Cat is a Tully here, rather than a Stark.  They are both Southerners.  Blue and gold are also, arguably, complementary.  This scene is interesting because it makes it clear that Cat has some sympathy for Cersei: she looks embarrassed on her behalf when Robert gets publicly handsy with some nobody.  Costuming here seems to be making a point that despite external differences in their lifestyles, there are some fundamental similarities between the two.

Sansa comes along and we get a better look at her shabby dress from earlier: it’s got a crazy, messy neckline and patchy-looking sleeves.  In contrast to how she will look later in the series, her hair is a chunky mess of loose rope-braids and flyaways.

We don’t see much of Arya, but we DO see a prominent House Stark wolf on her sleeve.  In a scene that’s clearly marked her mother as a Tully and her sister as Southward-bound, this is emphasis on Arya’s northern-ness.

Tyrion’s chat with Jon is interesting from a costuming perspective too.  This is another scene that draws parallels between apparently different characters.  Tyrion has gold embroidery and more expensive looking leather, and Jon is as before in his Winterfell dark colors, Tyrion is here advising Jon to wear his bastard-status “like armor” and when Jon whines that Tyrion can’t understand, Tyrion responds “all dwarves are bastards in their fathers’ eyes”.  As he turns away, it becomes clear that he and Jon are mirroring each other: the high color, the pointed cap-sleeves, the same basic silhouette.  If you want to get fanciful, Jon positioned behind Tyrion like that makes him look like Tyrion’s shadow against the wall.  Costuming and framing is all working to support the dialog.

This shot like a Where's Waldo...

Finally, let’s look at Dany’s wedding scene.  We start with some establishing shots: there’s not much remarkable going on here, though we need to see how almost everyone is dressed to understand how out of place two characters are going to look in a second.   Blue seems to be a Dothraki color (in the flags at the top of the frame and their arm-paint); orange is for Pentosi.

And then there’s Viserys, all overdressed and in black.  He’s obviously not interested in either of the two cultures around him.  The dragon-scale collar is kind of cool, though, and as usual he’s got his prominent pin

Jorah Mormont shows up for the first time too, all Westerosi-style, which must be absolutely sweltering.  He’s got a much better fit than Viserys though: his Westeros-wear isn’t meant to make him look ridiculous, it’s meant to make him look like a comforting beacon of familiarity for Dany.  It’s worth noting that the Dothraki in this scene are shown as far more war-painted and barbaric than they are later (and there are no individuals; it really is a horde), representing Dany’s overall state of mind.  While everyone else is bringing her snakes in a basket, Jorah shows up with books.  Interestingly, Jorah’s crossed cape seems to be a northern style, which makes sense, since the Mormonts are a northern family.

And finally there’s poor Dany, looking ghostly and washed out.  This pale lavender color is “her” color in this episode.  Compared to Viserys, though, her clothing looks much more comfortable: the arm bracelets look Dothraki, and the whole dress seems floaty and cool (though she also keeps her dragon pin).  It’s clear that Dany is ultimately going to adjust better to the Dothraki culture (while still maintaining her Targaryen identity) than her brother will.

Read the costume analysis for "S1E2: The Kingsroad" here.