Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S1E9: Baelor)

Well, we've made it to Series One, Episode 9: The one where the main character gets his head cut off.  This is the episode that really defined the whole series and established the "anyone can die" principal.  Let's get stuck in, shall we?

This episode opens almost identically to the previous one.  Varys appears, first as a hazy, flickering light in the gloom.  Ned is looking haggard and we can see that he's still in his armor.  This makes sense from a story perspective (they probably threw him straight in the dungeon after the kerfuffle in the throne room) but it's more visible in this episode than it was last time, and I think that reflects the dialog between the two men.  Varys' explains that his worldview is based on his time with an acting troupe: all men have their roles to play, and they are performances, not reality.  Ned, however, states that he grew up with soldiers and "learned how to die a long time ago".  Even in this dungeon, he is an armored soldier.

We get more of the "Ned with his back against a wall" shots too.  Yay, visual metaphors.  I put in the shot of the flame reflected just so in Ned's eye, because I like how it shows how precisely these scenes are put together.  You can't just point a camera at someone and have that reflection come out.  Everything had to be meticulously arranged.

This conversation has some massively important points for Varys, too.  Costume-wise, he's barely visible, but he gets to do a lot of expressive facework which is great.  Anyway, we've been establishing Littlefinger and Varys as sort of opposites on the chaos-order spectrum recently, and I just wanted to highlight Varys' explicit discussion of his goals.  Both men have been asked the same question in the past few episodes.  Compare:

Ros: And what do you want?
Littlefinger: Everything, my dear.


Ned: What do you want?  Tell me! No riddles, no stories, tell me, what do you want?
Varys: Peace.

What a beautiful, painterly shot!  I know it's not the main focus of these posts, but this one really caught my attention.  I'm a sucker for windows used as frames (like in Chinese gardens).  Kind of a bummer that they blew this beautiful introduction on The Twins...

Yikes, look at that display of Northern solidarity!  This is a unified group with a single purpose.  What's especially notable is the extent to which Cat fits in with the Northern group, even though--as a Riverlander--she grew up geographically closer to the Freys.  We can see here that she's definitely supporting her son and the North here though.

Theon is continuing to adopt the Stark drag along with the rest of the Northerners--as I said in the previous episode's post, his fur has gotten considerably fluffier and more luxurious-looking than the one he had in previous episodes.  He's also continuing to push for aggressive military action whenever he can, even in cases like this one where it would be imprudent.  Theon is drawn to the poetics of war, as later in the episode he says one of the dorkiest, LARP-er lines in the history of the show, "The bards will sing songs of their sacrifice!"  Oh, Theon.


As lovely as that opening view of the castle was, once we go inside, it's just...depressing.  Dark and grey.  We've seen so many scenes filled with candles and fires flickering lately that the first thing that jumped out at me was the unlit, dusty chandeliers hanging around the room.

The funny thing about the Freys is, they have such a uniform.  The Northerners tend to dress alike, bit the Freys are nearly identical in shades of black and green, and all with odd little skull-caps.  It occurred to me that--strangely for a show set in a Mediaeval/Renaissance Europe analog--we see almost no headwear in the costuming.  If you look at actual art from anywhere from the 1400s to the late 1500s, women are nearly always depicted wearing hats (or wigs).  This is, I'm sure, partly for audience convenience: obscuring hats can make it harder to recognize the characters, and in fact, I think that's one reason why the Freys were given them.  There are so many Freys; they're all more or less indistinguishable; there's no obvious difference between Walder Frey's wife and his daughters/granddaughters off to the side of the room.

That raises a bit of a question though: we've been hearing about how the Freys have always "exacted their toll" for as long as they've held The Twins, and we know that it's a major crossing.  So where is all this money going?  Certainly not to upkeep of the castle; certainly not to any of the assembled Freys.

But then look at this smug asshole.  I guess he's not bound by the same hat-rule that the rest of his family is, huh?  But look at his clothes: you don't notice at first, because they're dark, the room is dim, and Walder himself is so horrible, but that's some reasonably nice detailing on the trim.  He's wearing a couple different layers too: there's decoration on the buttons.  Papa Frey's been treating himself, while it looks like the rest of his family are wearing what's quite possibly an endless cycle of hand-me-downs.

I notice that Walder's positioned his throne such that he is backlit for anyone approaching him.  We've seen Cersei do this with both Ned and Sansa.  I think this has two possible purposes: one, it indicates a character game-playing, and seeking to gain the upper-hand; two (and I like this interpretation more), it indicates one character being unable to "see" the other for what they really are.  Ned expected Cersei to flee with her children, rather than have Robert killed; Sansa is talked into writing to Rob and conflates being "a queen like you" with being a good wife.  A similar effect happens with Ned in the dungeon and Varys, who appears as an indistinct figure at first.  Ned is clearly confused by Varys, as we saw at the start of the episode.  So, it may be an indication that Cat is somehow misjudging Walder.  She proclaimed earlier that, since she's known Lord Walder since she was young, "he would never harm me".  The backlighting seems ominous.

Cat's stuck dealing with this awful creeper, looking much like she always does.  Both the Freys and Cat frequently wear that dark green color, which may be a nod to the fact that they're from the same region, but Cat plainly outclasses Walder--that huge fur!--and looks fully Northern.  She doesn't even take her cloak off inside the castle; there's no flash of the Tully pin we usually see.

It's funny/creepy that the Frey fireplace is decorated with carvings of pregnant women.  Just in case you wondered what Walder's primary preoccupation was.

Up in Castle Black, we see a much more casual version of Jeor than we usually see: rather than being in armor, he's got his clothes open to a sort of black underlayer.  It seems fitting that he should look more open and less formidable in a scene in which he discusses some (no doubt painful) family history.  We learn that, in fact, he is Jorah's father.  Jeor explains that the sword was meant for Jorah, but had the pommel changed from a bear into a wolf for Jon.  The more I thought about that, though, the more it seemed a little odd: the wolf is clearly the Stark symbol, and Jon was not officially a Stark (though Jeor seems like the sort of person unlikely to worry about that) and, more importantly, is supposed to have renounced his previous family.  Even if he had been a Stark in name, that shouldn't strictly be relevant anymore.  Jeor is still a Mormont, but he doesn't wear or carry any obvious bear symbols around with him, after all; we never saw that sword while it was in its original form.

But see?  Jon's up to his usual thing with the white-grey "Stark" fur.  Compare him to that other Night's Watch guy and even to Sam, who's all in black.  We're really getting beaten over the head with the fact that Jon still feels deeply connected to his original family, and this makes the news that Sam has especially painful. 

Ha!  How do we think Jon might be feeling at this particular moment?  Trapped?  Caged, if you will, like the ravens?  Such subtlety!


We haven't talked much about Maester Aemon up until now, but he's great in this scene.  In terms of the costume, he represents a complete renunciation of his former life as a Targaryen.  Not only is he in a maester's robe and chain, he has a unique black version to show that he's bound to the Night's Watch as well.  It never even occurred to Jon that Aemon might be a Targaryen (and, in fairness, Aemon is so old that it's sort of remarkable he's still kicking), so little does he show any outward sign of where he came from.  Now, contrast that with Jon who has not really changed at all since joining.  That leather kind-of doublet he's wearing is--I believe--the same one he wears when he's out practicing his swordfighting during the banquet in Winterfell (I'm not 100% sure--that scene is so, so dark, but they're exceptionally similar if not the same garment).  He's just been given a sigil-marked sword.  Jon is not a man of the Night's Watch.

It's also sort of interesting that Aemon has such a Roman hairstyle.  Now, you could say, he's pretty bald, there's not a lot you can do there, but that partless, short, brushed-out-around-the-head look it pretty essentially Roman.  It's actually the same hairstyle that Caligula Joffrey has.  The Lannisters tend towards somewhat Roman-inspired details too.  Just an interesting little thing I noticed.

Things are going poorly over in Essos.  Dany's still got her dragon-shirt on, and her Targaryen fierceness is managing to pull her through, despite the rising doubts of the other bloodriders.  She's still ultimately relying on Drogo's position though: "Fetch [Mirri Maz Duur] at once, or Khal Drogo will know the reason you defied me".

That's a pretty ratty looking blanket Drogo's got there, and an even nastier looking bandage.  I wonder who's being doing his makeup since he became delirious: that smoky eye is awesome.

It's like we can't have a single scene in the Lannister camp without being reminded of how large and well-appointed their army is.  That's quite a spread visible on the commanders' table there: I like that the Lannisters apparently coordinate their fruit to match their house colors.

You can kind of see it in the third shot of the previous group too, but Twyin's unusually stylin' and profilin' here...though still not deigning to put on armor like the rest at the table.  That black doublet is the same as before, but that white-and-gold sash thing is new.  It's a rich fabric, and calls to mind a toga (one of those Romaneque Lannister details).  It's still just clothes though, which distinguishes him from the others at the table and even his brother Kevan, who are armored up:

But then Tyrion shows up for breakfast and he's just in his regular clothes too.  He's been in the camp for a while--and he's ditched the tribesman cloak--so they really could have changed his costume here if they wanted to...but they didn't.  This is the scene in which Tyrion gets blindsided with the fact that he'll be leading the hill tribes in the vanguard against what the Lannisters believe to be the majority of Robb Stark's forces.  Tyrion plainly was not expecting to be put in a fighter's position, though.

It's also funny to me how much more richly attired that random Lannister cupbearer is than Lancel, cupbearer to the King.

New character!  Here's Shae for the first time.

Shae's most notable and consistent costume feature in these early seasons is, in fact, her make-up.  We'll see more of this later on, but she's the first female character we've met that has really smokey, dark eye shadow--oddly, the closest parallel is Drogo (Shae is a Dothraki, confirmed! :P).  Even Cersei, who we know is kind of a showboat, goes with a much softer, more natural make-up look.  My first thought was that this is because Shae is a prostituted woman and the vampy eyes may be a nod to that class distinction, but then I had to compare her to Ros...  And Ros goes natural on the eye shadow too.  That leads me to think that there are two possible interpretations (and I don't think they're mutually exclusive, either):

  1. The dark eyeshadow is there to emphasize Shae's "foreign-ness", something she herself plays up by refusing to answer what sort of accent she has.  As mentioned above, the one place we've seen this smokey dark look is on Dothraki men.  Within the context of the show, it has an exotic (non-Westerosi) and possibly dangerous connotation.  It's funny, though, that Shae doesn't dress in a particularly eastern fashion.
  2. There is some contrast going on between Ros--who is something of a "Hooker with a heart of gold"--and Shae.  Not that Shae is a bad person in this interpretation, but that we've seen that Ros deals with her customers (like Theon) rather directly; by contrast, there's some sense here that Shae is putting on the act her work requires of her.
When you look at the actual costumes, though, there are some similarities between Ros and Shae, as we've seen them so far: both have pretty simple dresses in dull colors, with one incongruously expensive accessory.  In Ros' case, it's the massive Lannister pendant she got from Tyrion and in Shae's it's that rich fur wrap she's got.  Presents from past customers.

The situation is still bleak in Essos, at least for Dany.  People are still sticking to the costumes they had before.  Dany's got her dragon scales in a scene in which she becomes uncomfortably Viserys-like:

Qotho: Only while the blood of my blood lives.  When he dies, she is nothing.
Dany: I have never been nothing.  I am the blood of the dragon.

Viserys went to his death with the line "You cannot touch me! I am the dragon!  I want my crown!"  Dany is in many ways a better person than Viserys was, but there's no denying that this stubborn sense of entitlement and refusal to understand the way their world works are similar traits.  Viserys railed against all Dothraki customs, while Dany is only struggling with one specific aspect--that her son does not guarantee her power beyond Drogo's death.  Anyway, Viserys wore a similar dragon-scale texture on the collar of his costume...  People usually don't want to see the similarities, but they're definitely there.

Jorah is continuing to move away from the solidly Westerosi costumes he wore for most of the season.

Mirri Maz Duur is brought in.  Her costume is the same as before--there's nothing really new about it, I just think it's really great, so I got some screencaps of it.  It's right in between looking completely ragged and crazy in a cat-lady way and regal and crazy in a witch-priestess way.  It's so beaten up, but it's got that metallic detailing around the arms, and we know she's wearing that giant eye necklace from before...  Good design.

In the regular scenes, Jorah is looking less and less like a Northerner, but for this battle scene he could not possibly be more Westerosi in his full plate.  This scene is another one that looks at the idea of speed vs. defense--a rather common topic in the show.  It's a question that remains unresolved in the case of Syrio vs. Meryn Trant, but we get a pretty decisive answer here: for all of Qotho's speedy swordplay and leaping around, he just can't get through the heavy armor.  In fact, his arakh gets stuck in it, which is what allows Jorah to make the one strike necessary to kill an unarmored man.

This is an important question within the world of Game of Thrones for obvious, literal reasons.  Metaphorically it's interesting for us in the audience: in the long run, it seems as though those who move slowly and defensively end up winning and those who go for rapid action end up dead.  The defensive players may even look like they're losing for a little bit--Jorah ends up on the ground in this particular fight--but they endure and ultimately they get their shot.

Hurray for scenes where the costumes are being used reeeeally heavy-handedly to tell the story.  Look at Shae here, in her smokey eyeshadow, wearing Tyrion's clothes.  She's also got much more "done" hair than the last time we saw her: it's a little tough to make out because her hair is so dark, but it's actually not a million miles away from Cersei's usual style, with the front sections braided backwards and forming a sort-of crown.

By contrast, Tyrion is "undressed" in this scene, in terms of his casual costuming and psychologically, discussing the awful story of what happened to Tysha.  Shae wearing Tyrion's clothes has some interesting interpretations: it shows the extent to which she is able to "get under his skin", as in this scene she flat-out refuses to play "the game" that Tyrion suggests and gets him to tell the story more or less by ordering him to do it.  It also shows, I think, the emotional investments in the relationship on both sides.  Tyrion is open; Shae is armored: she refuses to answer any questions about her past and Tyrion ends the game knowing no more about her than at the start.

Tyrion does apparently have a suit of armor, though, and good, Lannister-decorated armor at that.  It's got a lion head on the front just below the collar and the a lion head on the shoulder guard like most of the high-ranking Lannisters do.  This seems to echo Tywin's line from his discussion with Jaime, that Tyrion "may be the lowest of the Lannisters, but he's one of us".  Tyrion definitely looks the part.

The whole opening of this scene is a bit cheeky, really.  They use the "smooth floating over the ground" effect, almost a parody of the same effect used in Gladiator, before the movement becomes more shaky and wagon-like and Tyrion realizes that he is not, in fact, dead.  There's even a Wilhelm scream in the background.  It's all kind of goofy, really, which I suppose fits the situation: Robb Stark managed to majorly pull one over on the Lannisters.  We also get to see some of the details on Tyrion's armor--that lion carving--before...

Tywin shows up.  Jeebus.  People don't usually think of Tywin as being one of Westeros' "best-dressed", but he definitely is.  He keeps things so subdued and simple in his downtime (as when he was introduced), understated by rich and elegant-looking in official meetings (like the breakfast earlier this episode), and all-out imposing in Lannister-style for the battles.  The toga-sash seems to be Tywin's "thing" this episode; it definitely makes him stand out.  Tywin, in short, dresses to match the event, filling the roles required.  A game-player.

The mix of Roman/Japanese detailing is really clear in Tywin's armor: the helmet with the toga.  It's an interesting combo.


Cat is looking Stark-y.

And Robb is looking heroic and Stark-y.  I don't think we've seen this much armor before, but you can see that he's got his typical leather armor on as the base.  It's just the shoulders and neck that are plated.  You can see that as indicating Robb's comfort with his role--his costume isn't drastically different from what he usually wears, he's "familiar" with it--but in light of the Jorah fight from before, I find the light armor somewhat ominous.  Tywin is definitely the heavy-armored one in this match up...

 Jaime's having a rough time of it, but like we saw with Jorah, being on the ground doesn't necessarily mean you've lost...

Arya's urchin-ification continues apace. 

The real action's going on at the Sept of Baelor, though.  Ned is brought out, wearing his usual Northern armor--the same kind that Robb wears.  Yoren's there too, showing up for the first time in a while.  His black Night's Watch armor was really important for me when I was first watching the show.  Without it, he'd be another grizzled, bearded dude, but the costume reminded me who he's supposed to be.

Here's Sansa with her dragonfly dress from the past episode, when she begged for Ned's life in front of the court.  We discussed the possible symbolism behind the dragonfly motif, and I think that holds here too.  She believes that she's saved her father's life, that it's going to be okay.  She's also wearing the Lannister necklace, another "gift" from Joffrey.  It'll be interesting to see what happens to it going forwards.

When she's standing next to Cersei, you can really see just how similar the silhouettes are.  That dress is all southern, and like I said before, I think that shows just how deep under Lannister control she is.

All the major players are here for this scene.  I can't help but notice the arrangement of Littlefinger and Varys at opposite ends of the stage...  Schemer McSmirkface, interestingly enough, has ditched his stripy over-layer of deception, and is dressed in simple brown with his mockingbird sigil.  He's done his work and is now just watching it unfold.

Varys is also wearing something that is, I believe, completely new.  He's worn red before, but never with those big, diamond-patterned sleeves.  I'm not sure what to make of it, exactly.  The lack of botanical print makes me think that Varys had no hand in the events that unfold...which is what you'd expect.  We know he wants peace, and Ned's death basically guarantees war.

The High Septon's robe looks rather like Illyrio Mopatis' from the first episode.  It's a nice little nod to the fact that the church of the seven is not really from Westeros.

Cersei's dress is beautiful and, as usual, is all about Lannister power.  Big lions on the sleeves, red and gold color combo.  Her asymmetric hair is interesting, though, and gives her a somewhat off-kilter look.

Of course, she also matches Joffrey almost perfectly.  Same sleeves, same colors, same token Baratheon symbols.  And you can see in that last shot...she doesn't approve of Joffrey's plan, but she's going along with it all the same.

And Ned dies as he lived: wearing that armor all the damn time.

Click here to read the costume analysis for S1E10: Fire and Blood.