The camera often doesn’t do justice to the detailing in Game of Thrones’ costumes. These exquisite works of art reveal character and mood — and even reflect the character arc. Game of Thrones Costume Designer Michele Clapton and her team’s Emmy for costume design for “The Lion and the Rose” (the Purple Wedding) is well deserved.
As the (head) Costume Designer for Game of Thrones, Michele Clapton overseas the creation of over 120 costumes per season from her office in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has noted several times that she and her team draw inspiration from various historical periods and look to the climate and activities of their characters.
Game of Thrones does not base its costumes exclusively on the A Song of Fire and Ice novels or attempt to replicate any one historical period. The King’s Landing Lannisters have less of a Late Middle Ages Burgundian or early Tudor look and more of a fused Mediterranean-medieval opulence about their garb. (The TV Lannisters wear more silks and not as much of the quintessentially Burgundian velvets and cloth-of-gold, and the lighter fabric seems appropriate to the warmer King’s Landing climate, which is filmed in sunny Dubrovnic (Croatia).)
Clapton and company created a unique otherworldly yet familiar look for each group of characters whether they are the horse-riding Dothraki to the snowbound Night’s Watch to those pacing the gardens in sultry King’s Landing. If you haven’t seen it, this video (previously posted on this site) about how Michele and her team get ideas for the costumes is certainly worth watching. Michele discusses the Season 4 costumes in this video:
Michele Clapton and Game of Thrones embroiderer Michele Carragher like to use embroidery to show house allegiance — no huge clunky gold livery collars for them — and provide information about characters symbolically. Clapton has stated that she read the first two ASOIAF novels when she began working on the show.
Perhaps, Clapton took her queue from some of George RR Martin’s clothing descriptions, which often include embroidery to show sigils on men. Littlefinger wears plum-colored doublets with a mockingbird in black thread and silvery capes with a mockingbird pattern. Renly wears a dark green velvet doublet with a dozen golden stags embroidered on it. Theon’s black velvet doublet has a golden kraken embroidered on its breast. Edmure Tully’s tunnic has silver fish embroidered in it.
For the “The Lion and the Rose” episode, Michele and her team put considerable thought into how the costumes reflected the character’s mood and point in their character arc.
As the young lion, stepped into adulthood, his clothes showed he was ready to roar (and likely tear more flesh). As Clapton explained in the HBO Viewer’s Guide: “This is Joffrey’s wedding; it’s meant to be this huge celebration of Joffrey. Remember, when he took over from his father, he re-designed the whole hall. So this wedding had to be more opulent, over the top.”
In the Season 4 costumes video, Jack Gleeson tells us that the “majestic” and “shimmering” wedding is “… what Joffrey likes, something ostentatious and grand.” Still, as we soon find out, Joffrey isn’t the one pulling the strings on his big day.
The crown Joffrey wears at the wedding symbolizes the Tyrell roses slowly wrapping around him and controlling him as the Tyrells hoped to do, according to Clapton:
In Margaery’s crown the Baratheon stag horns almost seem to disappear. The roses are dominant. When you see these props, you have to wonder, who is marrying into whose family? Or, as MTV put it, “Joffrey is getting more than he bargained for with Margaery.” Indeed.
After Clapton decided to incorporate roses into a rather traditional wedding dress, she just ran with the rose motif to create a gown that is dangerous: the roses have thorns. And, as MTV shrewdly observed, it might not be that easy for Joffrey to unlace his bride’s thorny bodice on their wedding night — perhaps a subtle defense for the cagey Margaery.
In contrast with Joffrey, the wedding makes Cersei feel marginalized – that is, Margaery is replacing her as queen. The designers deliberately made Cersei’s clothes reflect her more vulnerable mood. “Cersei is pulling back a little bit. She’s not the powerhouse that she was and I wanted her to be slightly quieter. She’s still very beautiful, but just not rocking the red so much. I think she can see her power is abating.”
In the case of Cersei, Carragher uses the embroidery to reveal her insecurity. As Clapton told the Hollywood Reporter, “In the beginning, [Cersei] was secure, so her gowns were lightly embroidered or printed. But the more precarious her position and the more paranoid she gets, the more Lannister emblems she wears to show her power.” (In fact, Ecouttere notes that, as the seasons progress and Cersei begins to feel more insecure, she wears more of the Lannister colors, red and gold. They also start to take on an increasingly “armored” or structured look.) At Joffrey’s wedding, Cersei wears her heart on her sleeve quite literally— she openly displays her emotions of insecure defensiveness on the day that would have marked one of the biggest transitions in her life (from queen regent to queen dowager).
Another example of exquisite of award-winning episode’s embroidery is in Olenna Tyrell’s hat:
Ellaria Sand’s dramatic clothes certainly captured many people’s imagination. In fact, some people are even creating Halloween costumes based on them. Her gold dress for the Purple Wedding is exotic and may be inspired by Indian textiles.
Dazzling Duds in Other Episodes
While the costumers won specifically for the Purple Wedding episode, their work on other episodes presumably contributed to the overall perception of excellence.
The designs Michele Carragher stitched for all of these costumes is incredibly labor intensive. It took Carragher 42 hours to embroider the sigils on the gown Cersei wore to Sansa’s wedding:
Here is a time-elapsed video that demonstrates how Carragher created the sigils.
It’s truly remarkable that HBO invests in these details for their costumes.
This image shows Catelyn Stark’s fish emblem collar, which represents her ties to House Tully and its fish sigil:
Daenerys’ costumes incorporate dragon scales that “grow thicker as her power increases.”
Japanese kimonos and medieval clothing combined to spark Clapton’s imagination when she created Sansa’s dresses. Like a medieval tapestery, Sansa’s wedding dress embroidery weaves a tale of its own.
As Michele Clapton tells Hollywood Reporter, Sansa’s “narrative journey begins in the lower back, where the direwolf and her mother’s sigil, the fish, intertwine. Moving to the front, the direwolf is shown succumbing in battle to the Lannisters’ lion.” Sansa’s clothes reinforce just how much she has completely lost her identity to the Lannisters.
And if you think that it is only the women that get the fancy costumes, think again. Daenerys’ Season 2 suitor Xaro Xhoaran Daxos, like many in Qarth, adorned himself with insects.
Jaime Lannister gets a superbly ornate gold hand, courtesy of a loving sister who could not bear to see his stump. The detailing in the hand is superb and once again gets lost on camera.
All Game of Thrones images are copyright HBO.