Saturday, September 13, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S2E1: The North Remembers)

There was no chance that I was just going to crap out on this after I finished the first season.  I actually haven't rewatched Season 2 since it originally aired.  Anyway, as is usual with episodes in which we go to new places and meet new people, this one's pretty packed, so let's get going.

On one hand, any episode that starts in King's Landing is promising.  On the other, we're starting in King's Landing...with a big shot of Joffrey, celebrating his nameday with some good, old-fashioned blood-sport.

Joffrey's Lannister colors have gotten bolder: the red is much brighter and more prominent than the wine-colored red he had last season.  In the wider-shot, we can see his banners: a combined Baratheon-Lannister sigil, which is highly irregular.  The Lannisters are without a doubt feeling very secure in their position.  Of course, this color-change also reflects his bloodthirsty enjoyment of the killings in front of him.

There is a lot of red in this episode, as we'll see.

Sansa hasn't changed much since we last saw her.  This is the same pink dress and dragonfly necklace that she wore at the end of Season 1, in which Joffrey took her out to look at her father's head on a spike and had Meryn Trant smack her around.  It's also when the Hound advised her to "save yourself some pain; give him [Joffrey] what he wants", a lesson that she has apparently taken well to heart.  She placidly agrees with Joffrey's opinions on the fights and robotically tells Tyrion that her family are all traitors and that she is loyal to her beloved Joffrey (though she does also intervene subtly to save Dontos' life).  It definitely makes sense that she's dressed the same as she was when she really first learned those lessons.

The only difference really is that her hair sausage is a little further back on her head than we've seen it before.  Shock and awe, right?

Tyrion strides into the festivities, flanked by his hilltribes and, rather hilariously, all armored up.  It's frankly kind of ridiculous and ballsy of Tyrion to be making a big show out of his military experience, given that we in the audience know that all he ever did was make a speech and then immediately get knocked out.  When he was living in his father's military camp, a setting in which this armor arguably would have been more appropriate, he never--ever--dressed this way, but stuck to the red-and-gold leather that he wore pretty much all the time.

There are two possible interpretations here.  One is that this was a decision on the part of the showmakers to heighten the contrast between Tyrion and Joffrey, and is divorced from real-world logic.  Tyrion has a lion on his armor, but no red at all; in fact, his skirt looks rather blue!  After all, if we had Tyrion dressed in his usual rather rich-looking red and gold lecturing Joffrey in *his* rich-looking red and gold, it would serve to visually link the two and perhaps make Tyrion seem a bit hypocritical.  I prefer to think that Tyrion's armor exists as a decision that was made "by Tyrion" as a character in the show.  Tyrion is, we know, one of the Game Players in the world, and we also know that his father is a master of dressing for the occasion too.  I like to think that Tyrion is deliberately crafting his image.  The "real" Lannister, the one with experience, the one who totally deserves to be Hand of the King.

Might as well get a look at Ser Dontos while we're here, right?

I remember that when the episode first aired, people wondered if his armor was deliberately supposed to look like an American flag (especially in light of the fact that a wax head of George Bush was one of the heads up on a pike in King's Landing).  For what it's worth, that *is* the House Hollard sigil as it's described in the books, though they do seem to have downplayed the pink stripes and made the crowns smaller and more easily mistake for stars...  It's fun to think it's a bit of a costuming joke.

Off topic, Game of Thrones, because it has seemingly employed every single character actor the UK has to offer, it's loaded with "Hey, it's that guy!" moments.  Ser Dontos was one of those.  For me, he's that omnipresent, disaffected food service industry worker in one of the episodes of Black Books.  So naturally, I went back and rewatched the episode in question.  And then, for Bernard Black is my spirit animal, most of the others, massively delaying this write-up.  Whoops.

Lots of red about, right?  Lannister pages, Lannister guards, and blood.

Cersei here, "caged".  I speculated in Season One that blue for Cersei is the color of vulnerability, whereas red is her power color.  That seems to be playing out again here in this scene, in which Cersei first has to confront the fact that summer is over and winter is coming, and next that her father has sent Tyrion to be hand, which leads to her flip out and order everyone else out of the building.

We've seen this dress before; we know that it has bird embroidery, a sort of interesting motif for her since I think it does in some ways tie her to Sansa, whom she calls "little bird".  The cuts of their dresses mimic each other too.

As usual, the big Lannister necklace is prominent.

Anyway, the main point is: this is a scene of extreme emotional vulnerability for Cersei.  She has to admit that Arya has escaped, and Tyrion mocks her for "doing nothing and as now being "the disappointing child" in the family.

Checking in on the other members of the small council...

Pycelle and Littlefinger haven't changed much since we last saw them.  Littlefinger wears that floral layer a lot and we've discussed it pretty thoroughly before.  Pycelle would have little reason to alter his uniform.

Varys, our consummate actor, knows it's Joffrey's name day and has presumably opted for red and gold. 

Winterfell looks pretty from the outside but...

Inside, it definitely seems to be in decay.  Honestly, go back and look at some of the pictures from inside the Twins, and you'll see that the two don't look so different.

No candles are lit, there is only a single fire burning, the wax from the candles has coated the tables and no one has bothered to clean it up.

From the conversation between Bran and the visiting lord of a holdfast, the rest of the North isn't doing so hot either.  All the young men are gone with Robb, and the land is still, dark, and mouldering.  We may be initially inclined to view Robb's war as a just one and Robb as a hero, but here we have to look at the effect it's having on the domain he is supposed to be ruling.  We know that winter is coming, and there are no able-bodied people left to prepare or defend it.

In the gloom, you can barely see anything of Bran except for his face, and--of course--a pretty massive fur ruff, as all Lords of Winterfell apparently wear.  Bran is quite lordly in this scene, reminding the visitor that it's "King Robb".

Outside, though, Bran is much less imposing.  He has, rather notably, not wearing those buckled-on sleeves that he tended to in Season 1, but has a more usual underlayer and leather jerkin.  It's almost Tyrion-like, save for the lack of gold embroidery.  It's too early in the series to say whether that sleeve detail means anything--though I wonder if it might indicate that Bran is less "helpless" than he was in Season 1--so let's just see if patterns continue in future episodes.

The red comet across the sky, to me, recalls the red smear of blood in the first scene.

Osha asserts, though, that it must mean dragons.  As before, Osha looks more "civilized" than she initially did.  Her hair is brushed, her clothes are definitely more fitted and, well, clothes-like.

Having brought up dragons, we of course have to go and check on Dany, who we learn is wandering the Red Wastes with what's left of her Khalasar.

She seems to have gone back to what she was wearing early in her time with the Dothraki but after she started assimilating, what may be regarded as her best time---with the addition of a piece of shoulder armor.  It makes sense: she's trying to keep her followers morale up, and has gone for a look that she wore when she was truly powerful.  It a lie, though, that symbolically is undercut by her horse--her first gift from Drogo--dying of thirst.

It's amusing that Doreah's hair seems to have fully formed dreadlocks in the time they've been wandering the desert.  Admittedly, we don't know exactly how much time has passed between S1E10 and S2E1 (enough for Tyrion to arrive in King's Landing from the Riverlands), but it's still a bit...extreme (especially since she's apparently had time to shape her eyebrows).  We're just supposed to take away that Dany and co. are in dire straights.

Jorah is continuing to rock his pirate-y look.  He definitely looks less Westerosi than he did for most of Season 1, but he still has never fully adopted Dothraki wear like Dany (and Doreah) have.  Still holding on to the past?

Time for things to get even more dire.

I did, I admit, kind of lose my shit when Jon Snow showed up with actually discussable costuming!  Write it down, people, it's historic.  The main feature of his Season 1 costumes were the fact that they were basically all the same.  He kept wearing the same "Lord Snow" fur, while everyone else, including Sam, had transitioned to completely black, Night's Watch-wear.

Look at that show of brotherly solidarity, though!  In fact, this composition is similar to how the key figures in the northern army were typically shown, at the start of their campaign.  Anyway, within Castle Black, Jon Snow remained distinct, but here beyond the wall he is a crow, just like the rest.

Craster (who is another one of those "It's that guy!" guys) is pretty gross, and indeed is costumed like a Wildling version of Walder Frey, if, oddly, a little more groomed facially.  Everything in the Twins was all gone to hell, except for the visible golden embroidery on Walder's clothing.  Here in Craster's Keep, it's arguably much, much worse...but Craster has that very prominent, golden bracelet.  The message is clear: these are selfish, awful men.

Awwwwww, yeah.  Dragonstone time.

It doesn't exactly inspire confidence that it's a good place full of chill people, since it looks a bit like a detail out of a Bosch painting:

Detail from "The Garden of Earthly Paradise: Right Panel"; Heironymous Bosch

I know she's not a popular character with the fandom at large, but I completely love Melisandre.  I don't even particularly care if most of her powers are faked or illusions---we saw Tyrion "faking" his military experience at the start of the episode, and all that means is that he's smart about managing his image, after all.  She's super-interesting--I'm dying for the books to give us more on her backstory--and Carice van Houten plays her perfectly.  Melisandre for life.

It helps that she gets such a great introduction, conducting an eerie burning of the Seven on the beach, and wandering in amongst the flames.

Her hair is massive and a bit Mirri Maz Duur-ish, with a bunch of it piled on top of her head like that.  It's somewhere in between regal and crazy.  Her neck...piece is interesting, with its oblong hexagons.  Keep that patterns and its associations in mind this season.  The big, emphasized, scalloped, kind of wing-like shoulders are interesting.  Almost dragon-ish.

That might be the lowest neckline we've ever seen on a character who wasn't specifically a prostitute.  Loads of red.  It's definitely the color of the episode.

We do meet Stannis and Davos out on the beach, but it's dark and we have to go inside to see what's really going on with them.

I think we can see why Ned might have liked Stannis.  He's quite plain and grim-looking, with only modest, antler-embroidery on his clothing.  It's somewhat similar to what we've seen Renly wear, in that it's a sort of leather/fabric combo, but it's plainer and he isn't wearing a Baratheon pin (Stannis would probably regard that as "jewelry" and thus beneath him).  Short-cut hair with no part.

Davos is dressed almost the same, very plainly, with close-cut hair.  The differences are the beard and the little bag around his neck, which we see but do not have explained at this time.

I do love the shot of the Westeros table, surrounded by dark, dour-looking lords...and Melisandre at Stannis' right hand, all in red.  It also puts Davos (a smuggler and a sailor, making his living from the ocean) and Melisandre (a fire priestess) on opposite sides, a composition that we should be on the lookout for.

The doddery-looking Maester attempts to poison her, but she stays serene while he dies in front of her.  We get a better look at her necklace, and are basically told that the ruby has some important role in her powers (or at least, in surviving the poison).

The northern camp at night looks disconcertingly Bosch-y too.

The northerners are nominally winning, but we haven't really seen their situation rarely looks particularly hopeful or heroic.  Last time there was fragmentation among the men, and ominous figures behind Robb.  It almost always seems to be night.

Jaime is really not in a good place.  He tries to sass Robb the way he did with Cat in the last episode, but is threatened with a wolf to the face and does really seem to be scared.  Robb is continuing with the look he had at the end of last season: basic northern-wear with simple armor over top of it.

Shae's had a wardrobe update since arriving in King's Landing.  We've seen this style of dress before, most visibly in yellow on Ros in S1E10, when she was trying to get information out of Pycelle.  It is, in that sense, a prostitute's dress (and is similar to Dany's first dress in shape and color, when she was told of her brother's plan to sell her to Drogo).  It's a little bit odd, if Tyrion is trying to keep Shae on the down low, that he would dress her (and let's be real, he's paying for her clothes) in a manner that doesn't really fit in with the court.  We've seen ladies in waiting and court women: they wear typical King's Landing fashions.  Why is Shae's prostitute status apparently immutable and necessarily visible, even though logically it would make more sense to disguise her better?  It may be that we are supposed to understand that her relationship with Tyrion is, at this point, still primarily a financial one for her, or perhaps that this is Tyrion's "view" of her at the moment, as "still a whore".  Both are valid.

The bird paintings on the wall are still present from Ned's time in the room, indicating, I think, Varys' eyes.  Shae seems unlikely to stay secret for long.

Tyrion's also updated too!  This is a rather more expensive looking costume than his old one, which had gold embroidery, but was still mostly leather.  The pattern on Tyrion's jerkin here appears to be a sort of lattice effect, rather than being simply put onto the leather.  Cutting out each individual shape so that the red lining shows through would be time consuming and very expensive.  Tyrion is continuing to try and look more like a proper Hand of the King.  It's rendered in red with gold clasps, the Lannister colors.

Lots of red again, with that spray of red flowers on the wall, and the boy scrubbing the floor at least recalling the boy we saw coming out to clean up the blood smear at the very start of the episode.

The last time we saw Cersei, she was being forced to eat crow and dressed all in blue, which seems to denote vulnerability for her.  Here, she's come storming back in her power colors--bright red and gold--to trade barbs with Littlefinger about their sordid pasts and demand that he find Arya.

This is iconic, quintessential Cersei: the kimono neckline, the metal belt, the colors, the long hair, the Lannister pendent, the lions on the side of the skirt.  She's definitely throwing her power around in this scene--to get a bit pop psych-y, she's taking her anger from the earlier meeting out on Littlefinger.

It's interesting that both Melisandre and Cersei are heavily associated with wearing red dresses.  I don't think we can draw any conclusions at present, but it is interesting to note that the fandom does hold some similar attitudes towards them: both tend to be regarded as dangerous, manipulative women, using their beauty as a weapon, though less intelligent/powerful than they claim to be.  Personally, I find these characterizations to be reductive and unfair, but there are some similarities in the general attitudes.  I'm not saying that there's definitely a costume link between the two, but it's possible and I want to call attention to it here so that we can watch for patterns going forward.

Littlefinger's finally had a costume change too!  He's kept his usual, recognizable silhouette but the costume is unmistakably different.  The striped overlayer that he often wears is gone (a layer which typically clashed with the pattern of his other clothes, as discussed previously).  The pattern is rather coin-like, reflecting what it is that serves as Littlefinger's "armor" in King's Landing: his ability to raise money for the crown.  Cersei's threat is clear: when he stops being useful, he'll likely be killed, another bloodstain on the floor.

This is going to sound ridiculously obsessive, but look at his collar: it's the same pattern, just with the colors reversed.  This is similar to his most-worn floral underlayer, which seemed to have the lights and darks reversed on either side.  This is arguably a reference to Littlefinger's duplicity, a sort of visual representation of "turncoat".

Cersei calls attention to his sigil pin, a mockingbird, and we learn that it's not actually his family sigil but rather one that he created for himself.  That makes him rather unique in Westeros: most other nobles are trying to live up to the sigils and words of their forebears--sometimes to a level that seems foolish--while Littlefinger makes his own sigil and crafts a place for himself at court that suits his individual skills.

There's a very brief scene in the Northern camp, with Cat trying to persuade Robb to trade Jaime for Arya and Sansa, and Robb refusing.  Cat's Tully pin--"Family, Duty, Honor"--is very visible in this scene where she argues for saving the family over the strategic importance of Jaime to the Robb's plans.  They also discuss the possibility of recruiting Balon Greyjoy to the cause.

After all my talk in the season one write-ups about the possible symbolic importance of plant and botanical motifs in King's Landing, it was really interesting to have Joffrey order the removal of these decorations from the Throne Room.  He speaks positively of Targaryen design ("Say what you will about the Targaryens; they were conquerors."), like the Westeros equivalent of every asshole I've ever heard say "Well, whatever else the Nazi's may have been, they did have sick uniforms".  Plant designs seem to signal subterfuge and subtlety (Varys and Littlefinger wear plant prints most frequently), and Joffry is not about that at all.  Hopefully we'll see Joff's refurbishment in the next episode.

He and Cersei discuss the incest "lie" and Robert Baratheon's bastards.  They're both in head-to-toe red and gold; Lannister power, rather than individual power, is all over this scene.  Tying them together like this makes the question of who ordered the atrocity that follows a little more ambiguous: they're both "Lannisters" and thus both capable of the cruelty.  Cersei's still apparently high off threatening Littlefinger and slaps Joffrey in the face.  She is Lannister and she is powerful, so this is "allowed" to slide, though Joffrey warns her not to do it again. Interestingly, you can see that her Lannister pendant seems to be on backwards after this happens.

In Littlefinger's brothel--more or less entirely bathed in red--we first drop in on Ros and the other prostitues.  Ros, who is also still wearing her massive Lannister pendant, seems to be moving up the brothel, more covered up and wrapped in a robe, criticizing the others' acting.  She looks more like management.  You can see that the style of dress Shae wore earlier is common for prostitutes.

There is a montage of guards (not Lannister guards, but rather Goldcloaks, which gives us a hint as to who gave the order) eliminating Robert's illegitimate children, and I'm a big baby and kind of can't stand to watch it, so there are no screenshots.  Sue me.

And the we drop in on Arya and the Bastard that Got Away, heading north with the Night's Watch.  Arya's a little more disguised than she was last time, with her hair in her face and a brown overlayer on top of the shirt she wore through most of the first season.  That Season 1 shirt is still part of her costume, though, and it's reasonable to assume that Arya is still fundamentally Arya.

Click here to read the costume analysis for "S2E2: The Night Lands"