HBO’s adaptation of Games of Thrones, George R. R. Martin’s epic series may be a fantasy, but its fully realized, darkly medieval world looks and feels utterly authentic.
And that’s a credit to the 2011 Emmy nominated costume designer Michele Clapton, who has painstakingly designed authentic-feeling costumes for every corner of Thrones’ Seven Kingdoms, from frozen Winterfell to the balmy port of Kings’ Landing in season one.
For season two, Clapton again studied Martin’s books and the environment, climate, lifestyle and food sources of those areas, to get a handle on the Greyjoys and the Wildlings, groups who were introduced this season.
“There’s a big hole that fantasy often falls in,“ she says. “The costumes don’t resonate with the environment.” She says she paid special attention to the nomadic horse riding tribe of desert raiders, the Dothraki and the equally nomadic Wildings, who survive like Eskimos by hunting in the frozen north beyond the Wall. “We try to give the costumes a reality based on the land, climate and the food sources. I want you to be able to smell the costumes.”
The way she escapes the clichéd Renaissance Fair fantasy feeling, so common in many fantasy films, is by not skimping on the aging and breaking down processes, which she says is the most time-consuming part of creating Thrones costumes.
“When you are shooting in HD, breaking down a costume can’t be done too quickly or it will show,” Clapton explains. “You spend two weeks breaking down, patching, dying, repatching. Then you trash it, age it, then trash it again and repair. You can’t just stick a couple of patches on it and spray it with dirt because that is exactly what It will look like on HD televisions.”
And yes, even the women’s court gowns are aged.
Clapton, who has worked on Masterpiece Theatre TV productions, The Diary of Anne Frank, Sense and Sensibility and Separate Lives, was Emmy-nominated last year for her work on the first season of Thrones.
A costume designer can only submit one episode for Emmy consideration. This year she almost chose a different episode from the one she ended up submitting, initially beguiled by scenes with grand court costumes and beautiful gowns.
“Then I thought, ‘Don’t take that route, be braver',” Clapton told THR, adding, "That's not what Thrones is about." After conferring with the show’s creators, she picked episode 208, “The Prince of Winterfell,” which focuses on Theon Greyjoy, a royal son of the pitiless Iron Islands.
She hopes this episode will show voters how realistically the costumes are designed, how Greyjoys’ clothing protects them from the wind and crashing water on their barren rock isles. She also wanted to show how the wildlings’ garb mimics those of nomadic Inuit-inspired cultures, with decorated animal skins, lashed-together leather, animal bones and skulls worn as battle armor.
So where'd she dig up all those bones?
“We bought a lot of bones online from eBay,” she recalls. “Then we took molds of the bones and made armor, all strapped together with what looks like guts but is actually string and latex.”