Sunday, October 12, 2014

Game of Threads: Costume Analysis (S2E2: The Night Lands)

Red and blue face off in this episode, which is actually a pretty awesome one.  Somehow it never stuck in my mind as all that impressive, but I really enjoyed the rewatch.  There's cool stuff going on with the costumes in almost every single scene, even though we don't see much of our "usual" costume MVPs.  Let's get started!

We didn't see much of Arya last time--we just got a brief reminder right at the end of the episode that she was heading north with Gendry.  We open with her furtively peeing into a river, because that's what life is for her now.

We get a much closer look at her costume this time around too.  As you can see, she's still got the same undershirt that she's been wearing basically since the very first episode (though she briefly wore a black one after Micah was killed).  The only thing that's really new is that bulky jacket: strips of material loosely sewn together.  I'll talk about this more later.

Jaqen H'ghar shows up properly for the first time.   You don't really get to see much of his costume: basically the only takeaway is that he is different from the visibly violent and dangerous men in the cage with him.  He speaks politely to Arya; he's about as groomed as any man on the show ever is; something is weird about him.  His face is half-hidden in shadow.

The Gold Cloaks arrive with a warrant for Gendry (who I'll also talk about later in another scene).  They're a great example of the level of detail that goes into the show's costuming.  On first examination, they're a little dull-looking for an organization with a name like "Gold Cloaks"--their definitely more bronze than gold--but then you see they've got mad detailing.  Their cloaks look like some sort of textured, embroidered silk.  Their armor is chainmail, but with scaled sections worked in.  The scales are in an unusual "batwing" kind of shape, a motif that is repeated on their helmets (along with another shape that looks a bit like a flower, but it is not recognizable).  Scales are common on King's Landing armor--they're very prominent on the Kingsguard--and I think that's a reference to the Targaryen history of the city and the groups.  They were founded under the Targaryens, and Targaryen fingerprints are still to be found.

Yoren is quite charming in this scene, but like all members of the Night's Watch is a bit of a costuming black hole (or perhaps the nuances of their costumes are invisible to me, like UV light or something; if people notice things, do bring it up!).

It's kind of a feat that the costumes and art direction in the show have managed to make plants inherently threatening.  Tyrion opens up the door to his room, we first see the open window cluttered with light green plants, and then see Shae draped in the same color and talking to Varys.  The dress is the same pale pink that we saw last episode, but that green jacket (a genuinely odd garment, check out the shots of it from the back below) is new.

Pale green, especially with botanical prints, is sort of Varys' signature color: he often wears it, but few other characters do.  I don't think the green indicates that Shae is working for Varys, but rather to show that Varys is fully aware of who Shae is and that she isn't supposed to be there: he is dominating this scene, and even vaguely threatening Tyrion.  Shae is in Varys' hands.

Look: even the walls of Tyrion's chamber have taken on that same green-y color, in addition to the bird paintings, another allusion to Varys' influence.

Varys himself is carrying over his look from the last episode: outwardly, he is wrapped in Lannister colors, of gold and red.  It's particularly visible from the back, where you can see that he has bright red side panels.  As Varys says in this scene: he knows how to play the game, and at present, this is the role he feels is best to play.  The big side inserts are sort of interesting too, since they mimic a common feature of Cersei's dresses--her skirts often have red sides with Lion embroidery.

Shae's jacket is really strange, isn't it?  It doesn't "go with" the dress she's wearing at all: it doesn't cover up the exposed part of her back, but also obscures it with the long tails.  My first thought was that it's probably something of Tyrion's that she's wearing but that doesn't make sense: the tails are too long and when have we ever seen Tyrion wear green?  I think the key is in the shape it makes: it mirrors the shape of Varys' clothes from the back, with the broad shoulders and long tails.  She's wearing Varys' colors and wearing a jacket that recalls his.

Tyrion's got some new clothes too.  Typically for him, it's red and gold.  The outer layer is rather subtle about it: it's a deep brownish-red with gold thread shot through it, but he's also got that very bright red, apparently silk, neck detail.  Again, as much as Tyrion complains about his family, he's only too happy to use their money and decorate himself in their symbols.

Also interesting: Varys and Tyrion are sort of negative-images of each other.  Varys is wearing mainly gold with red details and Tyrion is wearing red with gold decorations.  They're confrontational in this scene, but they also match, indicating that they may not be inherent enemies.

Time for a small council meeting.  Cersei refuses Robb Stark's terms for peace, wearing a soft, pink, heavily embroidered gown.   The color, shape, and big metal belt are typical for her.  The softness matches her attitude in this meeting: unlike the last one, where she ordered everyone out of the room and exploded at Tyrion, she's quiet and rather wry, "How many kings is that now? Five? I've lost count."

Varys is wearing the same gold/red outfit from the previous scene, and we barely see Littlefinger at all.  He's mostly a dark blur in the background while others talk.  In this one shot, however, you can see that he has a detail that surprised me: his coat either has a bright blue lining, or he's wearing an underlayer in that color.  You can see it catching the light in the shot above: it's harder to see in stills, because you really notice it when it's suddenly illuminated by the light.

We've never seen Littlefinger wear a color like this before.  I have some thoughts.  First of all, I'm starting to see in this episode that red and blue are heavily used, often oppositionally (we'll see this in another scene coming up).  In the shot above, you can see Littlefinger (blue) contrasting with Varys (red).  We've talked many times about how the costuming works to set Littlefinger and Varys up as opposites, and it seems to be happening here.  I think, though, that we may be starting to see larger patterns emerging.  We should remember that Littlefinger, a man of no apparent loyalties, has this hidden, kicky blue streak.


I dunno, like I said, maybe I just have a massive blind spot where the Night's Watch are concerned.  It can't help that I find their segments dull at best.  I guess we can observe here the sameness of everyone's costume.  It's a uniform and they're all brothers.  That's the best I got; it's three guys in black, bulky costumes getting googly-eyed over two women in black, bulky costumes.

...I have promised myself that I will try to keep these costume posts apolitical, but there's so much in this episode that's critique-worthy that I'm going to allow myself one free pass.  If you think Andrea Dworkin is basically Hitler and you believe that she once wrote "all sex is rape", then please enjoy this image of a beautiful Mediaeval tapestry (courtesy of Wikipedia) and do not mouse over it.  If you'd like a relevant Dworkin quote then go ahead and roll over it.

Okay, it's all out of my system for now.

Let's go ahead an put a face to one of those anonymous human-shapes, shall we?

Sam "saves" Gilly from Ghost stealing one of her rabbits.  Just like Osha became the most "person-like" Wildling we'd yet scene, Gilly is the most "civilized" and individual of the shuffling women we've seen.  It makes sense: she's going to be a recurring character, so we need a face we can recognize.

Anyway, it feels ridiculous saying this because the scene is so dark and the detail so small, but the fact that I hate Night's Watch segments is perversely making me really search for something to say: Sam's cloak and Gilly's appear to be similar, and of similar materials.  Two characters connecting?  A really ridiculous reach of an analysis?  This is what Night's Watch scenes drive me to.

Let's go somewhere where something concrete and interesting is definitely happening.  Dany is rarely dull with her costumes.

The Jorah shot is included because I liked the detail of the scar on his neck.  That might actually be the scar from the wound he takes fighting Qotho back in season one (right around 0.29):

Jorah's been through a lot with Dany.

Check out Dany though: that sure looks like the outfit she was wearing last time...except it's suddenly turned blue.  Dany's clothes have had a sort of blue-shift before (in the Pyre scene in S1E10, her distinctly purple wedding dress appeared blue in certain lights) but this is really clear.  We haven't seen her wear blue before.  Let's see if it develops into a pattern for her.

Remember, too, how I said blue and red are heavily used in this episode, often to indicate confrontation/oppositeness?

There's your red.  It might also be interesting to note that Jorah mentions it was likely done by one of the other Khals because they "don't like the idea of a woman leading a Khalessar".  We should maybe keep an eye out on what sort of women have blue dominantly in their costumes going forward.

Now let's talk about this smacked ass.

First of all, though, I adore the image of Pyke.  It might be my favorite castle that we've seen so far.

Theon has massively upgraded his wardrobe.  The cape and armor are new, all black and gold and loaded with krakens.  The Starks never wear their sigil so gaudily: this is all Theon.  The leather jerkin that's visible underneath all this new finery, though, appears to be the same geometrically-patterned one he wore in nearly all his season 1 scenes: he can cover himself in as many krakens as he likes, he's not an Iron Islander "at heart".

Then we are treated to the "Littlefinger is an actual psychopathic monster" scene.  There's not much to say costume-wise--we barely see them, really; this scene is all close-ups of faces--but I just wanted to point out the continuing red/blue color palette being used (look at the glassware on the table).

This scene between Tyrion and Janos Slynt is of course important in terms of plot--Janos gets sent to the wall and Bronn becomes head of the Gold Cloaks--but for our purposes we just need to note that there is nothing but red and gold on screen.  It's almost suffocating.  Once again, Tyrion gets away with insulting ostensibly powerful men because he can bring his full Lannister power to bear against them.

If anything, this is straight out of Cersei's playbook: all dressed up in red and gold, soaking in the family authority, and using it to smack someone around.  Not that Janos doesn't deserve to get smacked around, but both acts were done with the same aim: to remove or silence a potential threat.

Now let's look at Gendry and Arya.

Gendry seems to be better dressed than he was when we last saw him.  That big, leather overlayer is new, and is appropriate since he's referenced as an armorer's apprentice in the scene.  He looks like he knows what he's talking about: "any idiot can buy armor".

Critically, though, Gendry reveals that he's known all along that Arya is a girl.  Arya's costume works to support this idea: it's crudely assembled, full of gaps where her Arya Stark of Winterfell undershirt is showing through.  It's enough to fool dumdums like Lommy and Hot Pie, but any of the smart characters seem likely to figure it out.  It's literally a flimsy disguise.

Back in the Iron Islands, Theon could hardly look more out-of-place.  This whole sequence is about showing how completely out of touch he is with Ironborn culture.  No one else is wearing new or ornamented clothes; no one else is wearing metal plate.  Theon looks like someone playing dress up next to the craggy old dude ("Don't like wine.  Woman's drink.") and Asha/Yara.  Yara's sea-specked grey outfit ties her to the grey in the scene behind her.

And off to the castle itself which is, surprisingly, not a giant shithole on the inside.  The floors look clean; the fires are lit.  It's in a lot better shape than Winterfell was last episode.

Apparently, lords of the Iron Islands go for a significantly different look from the northern lords.  While the Winterfell folk look simple and unadorned compared to the southern nobility, there were still minor class differences visible, especially in the use of thick, rich furs.  There is genuinely nothing separating Balon Greyjoy from the people we saw down in the harbor area.  Everything he's wearing looks crusty and worn.  You can see the studded parts of his clothes are very similar to the studded fabric that Yara is wearing: these are two characters that match and are in sync ("What is dead may never die").  The studded parts also catch the light in a rather fish-scale way--unfortunately this effect doesn't show up in stills--making it appropriate for people who make their living on the ocean.

This scene does a really nice job of using costumes to tell us who these characters are, including two that we don't know at all.  Davos we recognize, as a straightforward and pragmatic sort of person ("honest", as Salador Saan puts it); his clothes are similarly subdued and practical.  His dour son Matthos is all in black; he looks serious and boring, and it's no surprise when he sets in on his R'hllor proselytizing.  Salador has one of the brightest costumes in the show, though it looks much duller through the filters being used: he's wearing all three primary colors: yellow in his main outfit, a really surprisingly bright blue sash, and you can see a stripe of red on the back when he turns around (red and blue in the same scene again).  The stripe of bright blue reminds me somewhat of the blue we saw in Littlefinger's costume earlier: perhaps it's linking the two characters who seem most concerned with acquiring wealth for themselves.  He finds the idea of being in songs appealing ("Salador Saan is a good time for songs), and he dresses the part of a swashbuckling pirate.'

 When this scene begins, we see Tyrion (above) but hear Cersei laying into him, furious that he's sent Janos Slynt to the wall.  I admit, when the scene started up I was thinking: she's got to be wearing that blue bird dress.  Well....

BAM!  This made me ridiculously happy.  We have another one of those red/blue oppositional pairings that I've been banging on about this whole post.  It also fits with a trend in Cersei's costumes: cool colors (and this blue bird dress in particular) appear in scenes of emotional vulnerability for her.  I think we might be able to refine that even more: emotional vulnerability related to her family (as distinct from being in a weak political position).  That most often happens when Jaime is brought up in conversation (as he is here by Tyrion) but Cersei adds a new layer here: she talks about the mother she lost when Tyrion was born.  The conversation is very raw, and it's quite separate from political issues.  It's family talk.

Tyrion's outfit is noteworthy in that it appears to have a swirling botanical pattern textured onto the cloth itself.  Botanicals, as noted many times, are a King's Landing staple and seem to represent some degree of duplicity or, at the very least, "game playing".  

Time to close out with the crew on Dragonstone.  Davos is unchanged since we last saw him (look how he fits into the scene next to Stannis, though) so let's get the old Lobster out of the way before we end on a high note (Melisandre).

Stannis' costume is so flat and grey.  It's undecorated, except for the Baratheon antlers embroidered on the chest--and to be honest, they're hardly visible.  They don't show up or catch the light from a distance, and I had to make an effort to get a screenshot with them in there.  He doesn't look like a king (in modern terms, he's not dressing for the job he wants).  He looks plain and kind of crabby, with only his Baratheon claim to back him up; he himself says he doesn't have the men to compete with the other claimant-kings.

It's likely that Stannis as a character would regard dressing the part as unnecessary: by rights he is the King, so why should it matter?  Everyone should just fall in line, at least in his mind.  Unfortunately, that shows that Stannis doesn't really understand what being a king or a leader is, or what he'll be doing once he's won his throne.  Contrast him with someone like Tywin, who is capable militarily and understands the value of proper stagecraft and costuming.  I get why people like Stannis--I like his character too--but if you're talking about him being king, I'd argue that he's got issues.

And then we have Melisandre who, as I said in the last posting, seems to wear what could be described as Cersei costumes that have been turned up to eleven.  She's in red from head to toe.  Her hair is massive, probably the biggest of any character in the show so far (something which I think ties her to Mirri Maz Duur).  The kimono neckline that we often see on Cersei appears on Melisandre as basically a Diane von Furstenberg wrap-dress designed for Renn Fair.

Wearing a print is new for her though: it's geometric, just elongated hexagons, sort of a honeycomb.  From a distance, it looks a bit like stylized scales.  It also matches the shapes in her necklace which we saw last episode is tied somehow to her powers.  It seems almost as if the shape has some religious significance, making it seems as though there's more going on here than just bog-standard baby-making (especially since the dialog indicates that it's not the first time Melisandre has tried to get Stannis to "give himself" to her god.

She's still a new character, so we haven't seen enough to say anything definitive.  We should definitely be keeping on eye on "red women" and "blue women" going forward, though.