Seasons on and our obsession with HBO's Game of Thrones continues to burn brighter than ever. Since the show's premiere in 2011, we have seen our fair share of bloodshed and brutality, political intrigue and social upheaval as we've observed titular character storylines deepen and develop before our very eyes.
And after devouring six seasons of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy, we have unequivocally come to the conclusion that the tables have turned. Patriarchal control has considerably weakened in the Seven Kingdoms and now, all attention is on the show's female story arcs.
Indeed, Sansa, Daenerys, Cersei and Arya are set to rule the roost in Season 7 of Game of Thrones, coming an incredibly long way from their humble beginnings as mere political pawns. And while we've been swept up in all of the action, a dream team consisting of costume designer Michele Clapton and embroiderer Michele Carragher have been slaving away to visually and symbolically transform our leading ladies into these emblems of control and power.
In a story now noticeably dominated by queens, here's a detailed analysis of just how far the Game of Thrones women have come in their style transformations:
1. Sansa Stark
Out of all of the characters, Sansa Stark has arguably grown up the most. Starting out as a young girl with a naïve view of the world, after finding strength to endure unfathomable suffering throughout the seasons, she has become one of the most hardened and admirable characters of the show. Here's how her dramatic style evolution has echoed each chapter of her journey:
From Naïve Daughter To Westerosi Lady Of Priviledge
When we're first introduced to little Sansa in Season 1, she's an innocent girl with big dreams of becoming a "proper lady" and being swept away by a knight in shining armor. Yet, dressed in dull blues and greys symbolic of the cold North, her mother keeps her grounded with practical gowns and fur capes, woven with rustic and tough materials to protect from the elements. Despite being a high-born lady, her dress is never ostentatious and her fashions are synonymous with an Old World where the main threat is the oncoming winter.
Traveling to King's Landing with her father Ned Stark, and away from her mother for the first time, Sansa begins to make her own style choices reflective of her burning desire to fit in. Shedding the simple forms and rough fabrics of typical Northern dress, Sansa's sleeves grow wider, her dresses are adorned with luxurious silks, and her hairstyles mirror the elaborate fashions of King's Landing. Visually, she gradually morphs into the perfect Southern lady.
All the while, in her attempts to impress Joffrey, her sky blue hues remain a stark contrast to her future King's oxblood color palette. Just as their personalities clash, so do their garments:
It's at this time that Sansa's obsession with winged creatures also begins — from moth rings to gowns embellished with dragonflies, her clothing echoes a delicate fragility that could be crushed at any moment (which is essentially what happens). However, there's also another side to this blatant symbolism. Just as moths and butterflies are metamorphic creatures, gradually evolving from something inconspicuous themselves, Sansa is also shifting and changing as the series progresses.
From King's Plaything To Powerless Hostage
Subjected to threats and horrifying brutality in King's Landing, Sansa gradually abandons her polished Westerosi appearance. Ultimately, with everything she's been through, she has lost all the will to care. The young Stark re-wears her royal gowns over and over and lets her hair fall down her shoulders. Similarly, she doesn't bother hiding her bruises and tear-stained face.
Interestingly though, Sansa's new indifference to Westerosi fashion manifests itself in a move back to Northern styles. Reverting back to simple forms and the blue, dull hues of Winterfell, she yearns a return to her old life. And moulding into the background at court, her choice of plain robes comes into contrast with Margaery Tyrell's opulent and daring gowns. Joffrey's new queen wears eye-catching azure blue shades while Sansa chooses grown-up, monochrome purples that echo funeral attire. Though, while the young Stark is now a queen cast aside, slight details like the dragonfly clasps on her costumes signal that there is still some life fluttering within her.
From Fleeing Survivor To Revengeful Stark
Come Season 3, things start moving quickly for Sansa, and her drastic style transformations similarly pick up speed. After being forcibly dipped in Lannister reds and golds for her wedding to Tyrion, she escapes King's Landing and tries to shed her former identity — she dyes her hair dark brown and dons dark, dramatic capes. Fast forward a few episodes at the Eyrie and, like a regal moth shedding her cocoon, she emerges in a full gothic black gown. This is a grown woman who refuses to continue to play the victim.
Bearing a noticeable resemblance to the late Catelyn Stark, her fashion choices suggest Sansa finally biting back, and with Season 3 in full swing, she is never seen without her "needle" necklace.
With a long spike at the end, the handmade accessory resembles a weapon, all the while paying homage to her sister Arya's most treasured object. Yet, just when we thought Sansa's sombre style was stabilizing, her traumatic collision with Ramsey Bolton spirals her to adopt perhaps one of her most symbolic costumes to date:
During the wedding ceremony, her ink grey white gown casts her as an unusual bride. Her dress appears muddied and the stiff contours of her thick winter dress make her look like she is wearing armor — despite being married off against her will, she is no longer the innocent "little dove" (to use Cersei's words) she used to be.
In fact, in becoming a Bolton, it brings out the Stark even more in her. Looking to the details, the wedding dress's feather collar is a nod toward her brothers in the North, the full dress shape reminds us of her mother's and the fish clasps down the front are a reminder of Catelyn's Tully house roots. Ultimately, the dress is an homage to the fiery Stark still within her — a loyalty that she refuses to give up.
From Abused Lady Bolton To Queen Of The North
Escaping the Boltons' grip under a dramatic hood, and with the goal of restoring rule in the North, Sansa throws herself full-throttle into her Stark roots in Season 6. Reunited with Jon Snow, she washes away the dark dye from her fiery red tresses, and puts on a handmade direwolf dress with rugged furs, just like her brother's.
Prepared for the winter storm ahead, her gaze is now as cold as ice. Ultimately, Sansa isn't a little girl anymore, but a young woman dictating her family's legacy.
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2. Daenerys Targaryen
"Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons." Indeed, six seasons on and Daenerys Targaryen continues to be many things. Yet, it was not always so and as Season 6 saw her finally set sail to reclaim what is rightfully hers, here's a look at how she's aesthetically changed to get to where she is now:
From Political Pawn To Dothraki
When we're first introduced to Daenerys, she's merely an ethereal virgin under her sociopathic brother Viserys's control. Appearing either stark naked or in floaty, feminine dress, her purpose is clear — she is a political pawn destined to stand idly by her future husband Khal Drogo of the Dothraki.
Once married though, as she blends in her role of wife, her style drastically changes to adapt to her new world. What Viserys once described as "rags," the new khaleesi fully embraces, donning the brown, earthy tones of her husband's nomadic society. As she sheds her old world Grecian gowns and fine silks, she adopts courser fabrics and rugged leathers, consolidating her status alongside her husband and quite literally, growing a thicker skin.
From Mother Of Dragons To Blue Madonna
Following Drogo's death, no longer a dainty virgin or devoted Dothraki wife, her style choices adapt accordingly. To accompany her newfound strength and bolder attitude toward reclaiming what she considers to be rightfully hers, she wears blue. A color synonymous with purity and motherhood, she slips into her new role as protector of dragons and slaves. All the while, the smatterings of gold in her structured outfit remind us of armor worthy of a military commander.
Fast forward to Season 3 and her obsession with Madonna blue hues is in full swing. And perhaps most importantly, signaling her commitment to her "children," the darker garments are adorned with a dragonscale pattern. This use of textured embroidery becomes heavier and heavier as the season progresses as she gradually transforms into a behemoth Targaryen force to be reckoned with.
From Supreme Untouchable To Ruthless Conqueror
By Season 5 though, she's a picture of supreme royalty with clean-cut white gowns and silver dragon necklaces as she rules from the top of her Meereen pyramid. Momentarily though, once Daenerys finds herself amongst the Dothraki once again, she returns to her down-to-earth roots and all that brown leather once more. An intelligent queen, she knows to adapt to her surroundings.
In the final scenes of the most recent season though, Daenerys is as regal as ever, wearing a caped dress as she begins her sail to reclaim the Iron Throne. If this isn't a vision of a queen coming home, I don't know what is.
Amidst all of the changes though, it is interesting to note that Deanerys always wears a pair of trousers underneath her gowns. According to the show's Emmy-winning costume designer Michele Clapton:
"Even with the longest, most beautiful gowns, she always wears a pair of boots and trousers. I like that sense of, 'I can play this [queen] but underneath, I can run.'"
3. Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister has always been a malevolent character, a dangerous player at the heart of the Seven Kingdoms. She's been a key orchestrator of character deaths, an overbearing mother and manipulator of political climates, and along the way, her personal style has changed accordingly to reflect her moods:
From Devoted Wife To Ruthless Lannister
Unlike the ladies already mentioned in this article, interestingly Cersei has barely changed her appearance over the first five years of Game of Thrones, consistently wearing opulent red and gold robes with her graceful blonde locks. This lack of variation in itself is fascinating and mirrors her stubborn refusal to budge in her efforts to protect her children and to maintain Lannister superiority.
However, as a wife and mother, she knows she cannot do this sitting atop the Iron Throne. Instead, she hides behind a feminine veil while quietly orchestrating the political situation around her. While she plots Ned Stark's demise and Robert Baratheon's murder for example, she is the perfect picture of womanhood — her silks are perfectly polished, her locks are impeccably curled and her color schemes ladylike. Essentially, she is a Lannister lion in sheep's clothing.
From Pushy Protector To Power-Hungry Player
As the series progresses, Cersei's obsession with maintaining power is reflected in her increasingly deep red gowns, embroidered with bright gold threads. Further, she cranks it up a notch when Joffrey ascends the throne by wearing militaristic accessories, statement necklaces and incredibly intricate hairstyles.
Even after his death, despite delving into dark shades in her time of mourning, Lannister gold remains a key detail in her dresses.
From Vulnerable Victim To Mad Queen
However, following her humiliating Walk of Shame at the end of Season 5, Cersei spirals in a new direction. Adopting a masculine look with her cropped hair, her coronation attire is perhaps her most symbolic costume to date — a black gown comprised of leather and silver textured brocade, signaling her final domination over the Iron Throne.
Whether she lives up to her nickname of "Mad Queen Cersei" or not, it's obvious that the dramatic look harks back to her father Tywin, and we all know how things ended for him. Michele Clapton had exactly this trajectory in mind in creating the coronation gown, revealing to Vanity Fair:
“I knew it had to be leather and I knew it had to be linked to [Cersei’s father] Tywin. I wanted a distinct, strong silhouette, so I squared her shoulders. I also wanted the dress to skim her ankles, so that you could see her feet—again, strength. The silver shoulders are decorated in a similar manner to Jaime’s gold hand—the one person that she still has something with."
As for the obvious symbolism behind the color, Clapton says::
"Black was the obvious choice. Yes, it is for mourning her children, her father . . . but it’s more than that. To me, it represents a deadness inside her—the overwhelming desire for power at any cost."
Ultimately, Cersei's final look implies a colossal strength of power, underlined by a tragic sense of vulnerability that — with nothing left, just as the Maggy the Frog prophesy once predicted — her tyranny is fast approaching its end.
4. Arya Stark
Like her sister, Sansa, Arya has had it pretty tough since leaving Winterfell at the start of Season 1. Over the series though, she's emerged as one of the most lethal characters in Game of Thrones — here's how her costumes have reflected her path to "No One:"
From Reluctant Daughter To Warrior-In-Training
Struggling with the ladylike expectations imposed on her in Season 1, Arya reluctantly wears embroidered dresses and gives her older sister the evil eye for upholding perfect manners she abhors. Where her sister embraces them, such societal expectations come head to head with Arya's tomboyish and adventurous spirit.
The Tully blue gowns with traditional knotted details don't last for very long though, and she soon manages to source a loose-fitting tunic and pants to train with "dancing master" Syrio Forel at King's Landing. Away from her mother, like Sansa, she is finally able to dress as she wishes, though her color scheme remains very Stark in essence, comprised of dull brown and blue hues.
From Desperate Runaway To Potential Recruit
Following her father's brutal execution, in order to blend in as a young boy on the streets of King's Landing, Arya's hair is chopped short and she resembles a street urchin — the first of her many alter-egos.
In Season 2, after meeting Jaqen H'ghar, she dresses in a woven tunic that looks like armor, adding to her increasingly androgynous combat-style. Arya wears this over her Northern shirt to make her look like a potential recruit of the Night's Watch, washing away any potential air of "lady" around her. Because of her poverty-stricken existence over the course of the next three seasons, we rarely see her wash her dirtied face, greasy hair, or step out of her ripped clothing.
Yet, despite the fact that she's a world away from her old life, she continues to mirror her solid Stark roots by wearing a dark grey scarf identical to her mother's around her neck. As already mentioned before, Stark continuity is key for the Game of Thrones costume designers.
From Determined Apprentice To Braavosi Assassin
Season 5 is perhaps the most significant in terms of Arya's character development and this is echoed in her costumes. Arriving in Bravoos, she's first taken into The House of Black and White, where she sheds her grubby runaway clothes and all of her personal possessions (she hides Needle though). In doing so, she symbolically sheds her former identity on a journey to become truly "faceless."
With a new look that oozes neutrality, minimalism and practicality, it's as if the new apprentice wears a uniform, ready to mould to any situation at first command. And such moments are aplenty. For example, she utilizes the power of costume by wearing Westerosi braids, the traditional Braavosi styles of embroidered waistbands and embellished jackets to get close to her targets. Like any good actor, she takes on a myriad of identities.
From Blind Beggar To 'No One'
After killing a man that's not hers to kill, Season 6 sees Arya appear to take a step back as a beggar girl wandering the streets of Braavos. With nothing but the rags on her back and no sight to make sense of her surroundings, she blends into the dirty alleyways of Braavos. Though, in being ignored by indifferent passers-by, in some ways she's already become "No One."
As she regains her sight though, she turns her attention to her appearance once again, actively choosing to adopt neutral styles as she begins to freely swap faces. Unlike before though, Arya is no longer controlled by the Waif, moulding as she pleases into a variety of characters. Interestingly, the Game of Thrones costume designer has spoken at length about the fluidity of the young Stark's transformation and how Season 6 lets her choose her own identity. Clapton says:
"Unlike Sansa, who chooses to change and express herself, Arya just adopts costumes to the situation or place that she’s in."
Who knows what lies in store in the dangerous Game of Thrones, but one thing's clear — it's the women that are going to be calling the shots and they're going to be looking badass while they're doing it.
Here's Movie Pilot's video of Arya's ultimate revenge:
Which style transformation impressed you the most in Game of Thrones?