Monday, July 7, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S1E8: The Pointy End)

Welcome to Episode 8: The Pointy End, brought to you by...

Darkness, and

Shadows, and

Candles flickering in darkness, and

People holding conversations in shadows.

Not that I'm complaining, per se, since this frequently-repeated image of small points of light surrounded by shadow is almost certainly thematically-relevant, but all this doom and gloom isn't exactly helpful when I'm already straining on my little laptop screen to look for embroidery details.  There's some pretty good stuff towards the end of the episode, though, so let's take a look....

This episode starts off with a pan down across a plant-covered canopy to Arya and Syrio practicing.  Plants, we should know by now, are bad news, at least when we see them in King's Landing.  And after a few seconds with this pair and their wooden swords, we cut away to...

Lannister soldiers murdering the shit out of the entire Stark household, down to the rando servants loading up the wagons.  What's important here is that these are visibly and overtly Lannister soldiers; there's no pretense here.  We've seen so much Lannister red in the past few episodes that we can't not recognize their armor; this is Lannister-on-Stark Mafia-style interfamily violence.

Then we stop in with Sansa and her Septa, with the former complaining about Arya's constant "dance" practices.

This is Sansa's tourney dress from previous episodes.  At the time, I talked about how it was a transitional dress: the detailing around the neckline is similar to the more ragged type characteristic of her dresses from the North, but it has here been cultivated (or tamed) into soft roses.  This is also rather transitional hair: somewhere between the rough, flyaway styles she had in Winterfell and the highly smoothed, coiffed Southern styles (the flyaways are still there, but the braids are much more delicate and kind of Cersei-lite than they were in the North; Cersei often wears her hair out long with simple braids made from the top sections of hair at her we shall soon see!) The new addition since then is the Lannister pendant we've come to know and love.  This dress continues to show, I think, Sansa's transition away from the North.

Septa Mordane's last stand.  We never even got to see her hair!  Again, I think it's worth noting the obvious allegiance of the soldiers who do her in.  Septahood is, we know, some kind of religious vocation in Westeros; for Lannisters to be killing even Stark-associated religious people is a big deal.  To me, it indicates that they're entirely confident in themselves.

Back with Arya, a group of Lannister soldiers (but fronted by Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard) show up to take her into custody.  Here, their easily-identifiable uniforms work against them.  They alert Syrio to the fact that something is not right, and he buys Arya some time to escape.  There's a great little swordfight scene, but nothing costume-wise of interest, except for the fact that Arya seems to have added padded leg-guards to her get-up.

The way they film Arya running away, though...makes me think that the "Syrio's not dead!" people may have a point.  The shouting and fighting that Arya hears come from up the stairs...the opposite direction that she came from.  This show loves to display every grisly death; for there to be total silence from Syrio's side is...unusual.

The Hound appears out of the shadows to collect Sansa.  Sansa attempts to scare him off by threatening to tell "the Queen" but the Hound makes it clear that he's acting on her orders.  The Hound isn't one for Lannister livery, but he's theirs.

Arya goes looking for Needle and ends up accidentally killing her first person: this creepy stablehand (?) who says the Queen will reward him for bringing Arya in.  This kid is no Lannister soldier, but the family's influence is strong: check the red vest he's wearing.

And then down into the darkness to check in on Ned.  This is the second time in that Ned's been blinded or unable to focus on someone as they approached.  In the last episode, it was Cersei standing in front of the sun; here, it's Vary's torch in the gloom.  This repetition seems relevant: in the conversation with Cersei, Ned tells her to get her children away from King's Landing; in this conversation with Varys, the Spider tells him that the mercy he showed then was madness.  Ned is, simply, a rather poor judge of character, and unable to really "see" people.  It is in this scene that Ned asks Varys who he truly serves, and Varys replies simply: "The Realm.  Someone must".  This is almost certainly not what Ned was expecting to hear.  It also ties into something I brought up in the previous episode, about Littlefinger and Varys seeming to represent opposites: chaos and order.

I like the framing with Ned; he's literally got his back up against the wall; it's in this scene that he learns that Cat lost Tyrion and with him the one good bargaining chip the Starks had.  The use of darkness in this whole scene is really great.  Take a look:

A good third of the frame is totally black.  It's just really painterly and well-done.

....The Wall.  Notice that Jon, with his bright grey fur, still doesn't fit in with the rest of his comerades.  Sam looks much more like a sworn brother.  Sam gets some faint praise in this scene too: he may be a coward, but he's no idiot!  Aww.

The news of Ned's arrest has reached the wall (rather quickly) and Jeor and Jon discuss it.  Nothing of note in terms of costumes, but the episode's love of shadows and points of flickering light continues in this scene.  Jeor comments that he's sure that Arya and Sansa will be "treated gently" by their captors, and we cut away too...

Sansa, who has been brought before Cersei and the Small Council.  Once again, we have Varys and Littlefinger flanking a central figure, this time the Queen.  You can see that Varys has changed out of his jailkeeper disguise and into his customary botanical print.  It's hard to make out what's up with Littlefinger, but I think you can see here:

It's his floral.  This is what he was wearing when we last saw him, suddenly but inevitably betraying Ned.  We've talked a lot about the significance of this piece (and it in combination with his usual striped coat-thing) before, and I think that all stands in this scene.

Cersei is wearing the same (rather outlandish) dress she was in her big scene in the throne room last episode, but it looks considerably more toned down-here, since she's removed the enormous braid from the top of her head and has gone to one of her usual hairstyles (with the top-front sections of her hair twisted away from her face in a circlet-position) and the kooky jewelry isn't so visible from her position behind the desk.

Look again at Sansa's hair, which I called Cersei-lite a few paragraphs back:

See: it's the same section of hair being used, though Sansa's is the wrong color, the wrong texture, and she doesn't have the pin-straight center part.  She really looks like a kid trying to copy.  The same idea comes through in her dialog, when she has a line that wins the Season One Irony Award, "I'll be a good wife to him, you'll see!  I'll be a queen, just like you!  I won't hatch anything!"

Similarly to Ned, I think the fact that everyone is backlit shows Sansa's inability to see people for what they really are.  It allows her to being manipulated into writing a letter to Robb in Winterfell...

Who we are immediately off to visit.  It takes a month to get to Winterfell by the King's Road, but apparently a raven arrives more or less immediately.  Robb is dressed more or less identically to Ned in this scene, with a few Cat-ish touches.  Here's Ned from the last episode

See?  The high collar and that shade of green are Cat (she's coming up in the next scene; you'll see in a second) but the rest is Ned.  This is scene is about Robb summoning the bannermen to go rescue his father, "being" the Lord of Winterfell.  It makes sense that he'd look like his dad here.  (By the way, how crazy-different are the filters between North and South?)

Luwin seems apprehensive, but follows the order to send the ravens.  The Maester's costumes are interesting in their heaviness; Pycell has an enormous chain and Luwin is absolutely draped in fabric here.  I like the detail that Luwin's robe has been patched in a couple places too.  He's grizzled but not bearded (which takes maintenance and time).  You know he lives very differently from Pycelle.

Any Theon, with the clearest look we've ever gotten at that embroidery on his sleeves.  Definitely floral.  Definitely weirdly clashy with the stripes on his outer layer.  Not good signs.

Couldn't pass up a full view of Winterfell itself, with the ravens flying out.  It's funny to see how dark and squat of a castle it is from the outside.  I know this is something I've touched on before, but I've always been a pretty complete Sansa-apologist, and I think this is another important detail when you think about her character and her actions.  We as watchers tend to think of Winterfell as the paradise lost, but it kinda sucks.

These ravens must break the sound barrier or something, because here's Cat, pissed that she wasn't told when the message from Winterfell arrived.  Note the high collar and the green color of her dress, and compare it with Robb; definitely similar touches.  Cat looks pretty much the way she always does here.  TONS of candles in the background (a running visual in this episode) as well as the world's most unflappable septa.  She must have seen some serious shit working for Lysa.

As a detail, I really like the piles of fruit just behind the septa.  It has the same Dutch still-life look that the fruit in Littlefinger's brothel did last episode.  Hmm...

And then there's Lysa, and once again I feel there are notable similarities between her and Cersei.  That angled, kimono-style closure of her robe is totally a Cersei thing.  It's not so apparent because there's a layer underneath it that's the same color (and that's rather Cat-like), but you can see it in stills. 

Of course, Lysa mentions the Lannisters themselves in this scene: "They killed my husband; you say they shoved your boy through a window."  So, she's dressed Cersei-ish in a scene in which she brings up the Jon Arryn murder.  Let's just keep it in mind for the future.

Of course, I mainly think this parallel is mostly about connecting the "crazy-ass mothers" as I said last episode.

Tyrion and Bronn on a merry stroll through the Vale of Arryn.

Tyrion changes even less than Ned does, I think.  Of course, from a practical perspective, it wouldn't make sense for Tyrion to have a totally new wardrobe, but it makes sense from a character perspective too.  That gold embroidery stands for Lannister gold.  He trades on the Lannister name not once but twice in this scene.  Here, he promises Bronn that he'll pay Bronn double whatever anyone else might offer him to switch sides, a promise that is only possible because of his family.  His name is his armor.


It's always fun when new cultures show up, and here we're meeting the hill-tribes of the Vale for the first time, who have a similar "hair and fur all matted up together" aesthetic to the wildlings, plus some goat-horn helmets.  They seem like a kind of goat-obsessed group, really, or it could be that goats are to the hill-tribes what horses are to the Dothraki: the only thing they have in abundance.  Anyway, these are some prototypical, European-fantasy barbarians.

And here's Tyrion buying his way out of a jam for the second time in about 5 minutes of scene.  Here, he's using an even more obvious Lannister symbol: his enormous lion ring that the show made sure we saw back when he was in the sky cells in the Eyrie.  For all Tyrion's cleverness, he really only has one strategy for getting out of real trouble.  The irony of Tyrion is, for as much as he dislikes his father, it's only because Tywin Lannister is his father that he's even able to survive so far.

...Now, there's a huge long sequence set in Castle Black at this point in the show.  There's some important plot stuff (namely, wights!) but, as is usual with Castle Black segments, next to nothing going on costume wise.  I do notice that in the above group-shot, Jon looks much more a part of the group than he did last time, when his huge, grey fur made him stand out. It could just be that he's indoors, though...

It's a neat detail that the candles behind Ser Alliser are so coated in candlewax.  Castle Black seems to be falling into disrepair.

We also get another shot of darkness and little points of light, which this episode is absolutely packed with.  It's definitely no accident.

Let's move on to something infinitely more juicy:

The Dothraki have attacked a rural, farming culture.  Things are burning; the statue of their god is being pulled down.  I included it because I'm impressed how far the set designers went with this.  You can see the shepherd's crook that the deity is holding (we learn later in the episode that it's name is The Great Shepherd).  They've reverse-engineered an art-history for this culture to create a statue unique in its world.  So awesome.

It's interesting to me that they filmed it with the statue looking straight into the camera.  We don't seem many depictions of gods.  It struck me as noteworthy.

Big changes for Dany in this scene!  This costume is new.  The top has a very obvious dragon-scale texture, with exaggerated, wing-like shoulders.  It's very distinct from the costumes worn by the other Dothraki women we've seen:

Dany started off ill-equipped for Dothraki life, had a long period where she seemed to be blending into it, and now her own character (and Targaryen-ness) is asserting itself more and more.  In this scene, she goes against Dothraki customs to prevent the rapes of captured Lhazareen women.

But Jorah has also changed.  He's been so resolutely Westerosi since we met him, and here (after he decided to, basically, reject his pardon and thwart the assassination attempt on Dany) that's kind of starting to fall away a bit.  His look is still broadly Westerosi, of course, but the usual heavy top layer is gone; he's showing an unusual amount of chest, and the belt slung across his body is definitely a Dothraki touch.  It took him a lot longer than it did Dany, but he seems to be renouncing his former life too.

Anyway, Dany's new look reinforces Dany's new assertiveness when some of the Dothraki complain about her saving the women:

Drogo says this new "fierceness" is because his son is "filling her with his fire" but her costuming tells us this is more about her innate character than anything else.  She is the dragon.

This is also the episode in which we meet Mirri Maz Duur for the first time.  I love her whole costume.  It manages to look both kind of regal and poor and crazy all together.  The metal-circle shawl she carries is definitely cool, and the giant eye necklace is kind of alarming.  As for her dress...I zoomed in as far as I could to see what that embroidery on the front is (you can see it poking up from behind the shawl in the first picture); it looks like it could be a botanical, and I got really excited.  It's just not clear enough to make out though. It's a kind of swirling hook pattern (which reminds me of the shepherd's crook the statue was holding); it could be a plant design or just something abstract.  There's definitely a mess of embroidery on her dress, though; we've established that clashing pattern mixing (here, circles with tangled lines) is kind of worrisome.  The sheep-horn design on the back of her dress is cool.

It's kind of amusing that the same episode brought us the goat-obsessed hill-tribes and the sheep-worshipping Lhazareen.

Oh hey, Bolton banner just chilling in the upper-left.

Dropping in up North, the banners have all gathered in Winterfell.  This is some kind of feast, but you can see most of the Lords, including Greatjon Umber, are wearing leather armor at the table.  That's just what northerners wear, apparently.

Robb stands out in his massive fur ruff; we saw it before when he was talking to Tyrion in episode four.  He wears it when he's acting as the Lord of Winterfell.  You could see it as a status symbol or as a security blanket.  In any case, it's how he's visually set apart from the other lords.

Fireplaces.  Little points of light in a largely dark scene.  It just keeps happening all through the episode.

Robb, looking very lordly, has come to say goodbye to Bran.  Bran, notably, is not wearing the arm-coverings he usually does.  "It's night and he was sleeping" you might say, and that's certainly true, but we've seen Bran in bed with those odd sleeves before.  He wants to go with Robb in this scene, saying that he can ride now, but Robb tells him to stay and be "the Stark in Winterfell".  This might be a reflection of Bran's helplessness in this scene; he can't go with Robb, he can't stop Robb from going.  The scene ends like this:

Bran is receding into shadow, with a single flickering candle.

Oh, and Rickon is there I guess.  Remember him?

As Osha becomes a familiar character, so to does her costume grow more distinct and "civilized".  We saw a similar process happen with the Dothraki.  In her previous scenes, she's been a hair-and-fur-ball that was always kind of creeping along the ground.  This is the first scene where's she's stood up.  This could reflect the fact that Bran sees her as more of a person now, rather than a scary Wildling, or the fact that she's in the Godswood here: she says they are her gods, so in a sense she's on her turf here.

Bran, left as the Stark in Winterfell, is wearing the typical fur ruff that Starks wear when they need to look lordly.

A brief little check-in at the Wall.  Not much is really changing, though Pyp's come a long way since we first met him.  That's some decent armor he's got there.  Jon's got his white-grey fur back on, standing out.

Not sure how I feel about that wheel of footprints around the fire.  It looks a bit like the arrangement of body parts we saw back in the first episode doesn't it? It's probably a coincidence, but it's a little eerie-looking all the same.

Cat and Ser Rodrik, looking terribly Northern as they ride into Robb's camp.  Rodrik's helmet and crossed cape-straps are Winterfell standard-issue, and Cat's acquired a fur ruff from somewhere too.

Robb's going for an increasingly lordly look, with armor under his Northern-style cape, but then there's Theon done up in Stark-drag to his left.  Look at that huge fur.  When Theon wore fur in previous episodes, it was a little thinner and rattier looking than the lush furs the Starks wore.  Not anymore.

While Cat's being welcomed by her son, Tyrion is nervously entering his father's camp with his hill-tribe horde in tow.  Note the cape that Tyrion has suddenly gotten hold of: he wasn't carrying this with him when he left the Eyrie.  Where did it come from?  Presumably from the tribes.  His clothes are also noticeably dirtier than usual; he has in rather short order adopted aspects of the hill-tribe look (the cape handily covers up the usual golden embroidery we see).

Tyrion seems to be a "sympathetic dresser"; while up at the Wall he had an all-black crow ensemble, and here he's blending in with the clans.

If you stuck a helmet on Bronn, you'd never even know he wasn't a barbarian himself, except perhaps for the fact that he's all in black.


My brain is kind of automatically primed to see Seven Samurai everywhere I go (and Kikuchiyo is, like, my ideal man), so I'm not for a minute suggesting that this is intentional on the part of the directors, just something that I noticed and am putting into my write-up even though it's not really connected to anything because, well, this is my personal blog so deal.  How much does the above shot resemble this one:

(Note: this isn't the full frame: I cropped out Kikuchiyo and Gorobei, who are standing off to the left in the original.)

Anyway, like I said, I don't think this was deliberate, but there's no denying that Seven Samurai had a massive influence on film making, particularly in action and fantasy genres, and it's not surprising to see similar compositions.  Kurosawa basically wrote the book on it.


Then down into the Lannister camp with its profusion of red and gold.

The last time we saw Tywin, I commented on the fact that he was not wearing any Lannister signifiers at all, and what that said about his understanding of "the game".  Well, here he's continuing that: over his black from last time, he's put a single piece of armor with a small lion on it.  That's it.  Compare that with Kevan next to him, who's got the huge lions on the joints of his armor.  Tywin just expects to be recognized, I think.  The show isn't necessary for him.

This is kind of an iconic Sansa look: how funny that we don't see it until the very end of the 8th episode in the first season!  I think it speaks to the importance and power of costuming when it comes to shaping and defining a character.

Anyway, this is all King's Landing; she is quite under their control.  Pretty much everything Northern has gone from her look...except, arguably, for the inclusion of the dragonfly embroidery on her dress.  Sansa wears a dragonfly necklace at several points in the story, first seen in "The Kingsroad", before they've even arrived in the capital.

Now, I do have a theory why this dragonfly motif has been chosen for Sansa.  Typically, dragonflies (and the related damselflies and mayflies) function as a symbol of summer, but also of ephemera: they live only a short time (at least in their adult form).  I think that this imagery is futher reinforced by the Japanese-ness of the dress design; dragonflies and particularly mayflies are a particularly common symbol of impermanence in Japanese art and literature (it helps that the word kagero can mean either literally a mayfly or something that does not last).  I think it will be interesting to see how long this motif sticks around with Sansa.  It first appeared in The Kingsroad at what we might regard as the start of her "summer" (note too that the handmaids behind Cersei call back to that episode).  She is wearing it here where she pleads for her father's life and believes she's won it for him.  We'll see if it ever goes away.

The hair is total Southern too, piled on top of her head, braided and thoroughly controlled.  It's a far cry from what we saw at the start of the episode, when it was curly, loose, and fly-away.

What's going on at the non-begging end of the room? Well, they say ruling is theater, and how handy that all these major players have arranged themselves just so.

In the center you have Joffrey, leaning obnoxiously in his chair, and all done up in red and gold.  He's still wearing that stag-antler crown, but he's definitely no Baratheon.

Varys and Littlefinger are taking the opportunity to pose hard up behind Joffrey.  Littlefinger's sticking with the mixed pattern combo we saw before, and Varys...  What is even up with Varys?  That's a different costume.  It's still green, but it's not the one with the plant design.  Are they showing us that Varys is the more trustworthy one?  We've got solid evidence that he's not actively an enemy of Ned's: he helped him out at the start of the episode, bringing him drinks when "men have been known to die of thirst" in the dungeon.  Anyway, it's interesting that they gave Varys a costume change but not Littlefinger.

Let's end with Cersei.  She's definitely enjoying herself here, huh?  The typical features of a Cersei outfit are all in the place: the Lannister pendant, the kimono-ish design, the mondo braids.  This is, I think, the first time she's had her hair arranged in this sort of halo braid all around the back of her head (before, it's been in a kind of droopy pile all on top.  She'll never be king, but it looks like her crown.  The tiny little Baratheon tiara is perched up there, but the embroidery visible on her sleeves is the top of a lion head, a fraction of a massive Lannister decoration (you can see it more clearly in this image of the dress).  Take a look at the long necklace, by the way; this is the second time Cersei's worn some pretty chunky jewelry, which hasn't been usual for her until recent events.    Sign of increasing confidence, maybe?

Cersei's always so much fun...  See you next episode!

Click here to read the costume analysis for S1E9: Baelor.