There is only one more week until the "Game of Thrones" season five finale airs, which will mark a total of 50 episodes — and countless naked breasts, bloody puddles and disastrous weddings that we've sat through (and that I have lovingly chronicled via fashion recaps).
Since the beginning, Emmy-winning costume designer Michele Clapton has been in charge of dressing the characters — a challenging task, to say the least — and season five is, sadly, her last. Clapton told me the news during a Skype call from France, where she is working on a new project. "I feel like we’ve covered all bases now. It was really important to me, knowing that I was going to leave, to actually design the costumes for each [geographic] area so it’s complete," Clapton says. "In my head anyway it’s a complete look that I left."
Let's take a closer examination of the look that Clapton developed in season five.
Daenerys the Untouchable
Every season Daenerys's appearance has changed to reflect her station in life. First it was the ethereal virgin, then the Dothraki queen, then a homage to the outfits the slaves wore in the various lands she freed. Now a new Dany has emerged. Until last season, she was still wearing a lot of blue, which Clapton says was in memory of her beloved Khal Drogo, because it's a Dothraki color. This season she wears a lot of white and dove grey. "Now she’s got this sense of power and also a sense of immortality," Clapton says. "I wanted to give this rather untouchable [quality] to her. The idea behind the white and pale grey is the sense of removal, a removal from reality."
There's a secret underneath all those gowns, too. "I still always put trousers underneath because in her psyche anything might go wrong and [she's always thinking], 'I might need to run away,'" Clapton says. "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.'"
Finally, a stylistic theme has emerged in the necklines of her gowns, which are often split into a v-shape, then fastened together at the top. Same with the long, slashed sleeves. "It’s almost like it’s revealing, but at the last minute it’s not. It’s held together. She wants to be attractive and appealing, but at the same time she wants to be in control," Clapton says.
Daenerys's Armor-Like Jewelry
Speaking of Daenerys's necklines, her statement jewelry has been next-level this season. As the season progressed, Clapton wanted to make her more aggressive, and give an almost armor-like quality to her adornments. The show's in-house armorer made the dragon piece, but Clapton commissioned London jewelers Yunus & Eliza to make the wraparound silver piece seen in Sunday night's episode nine. (Look for it to be featured in a well-known fashion magazine soon.)
Actress Maisie Williams, who plays Arya, has had to wear dirty boy-clothes for the last several seasons, but she finally got to change outfits after leaving the Hound for dead and making her way to the House of Black and White this season. Not surprisingly, Williams was thrilled. "Maisie was very, very keen to get rid of that last costume. She said, 'Please can I burn it?'" Clapton says. Though Arya is shown throwing the outfit into the river, the outfit still exists in the archives. In fact, there are several versions, created as Williams grew.
Arya's clothing choices aren't her own, though. "Unlike Sansa, who chooses to change and express herself, Arya just adopts costumes to the situation or place that she’s in," Clapton explains. "It’s not about Arya, it’s about the person she’s playing." As the a girl selling oysters, Arya wears an outfit inspired a bit by Russian costumes with fabric made to look like filigreed copper.
After Sansa escaped from King's Landing, she dyed her hair black and went goth for a bit. The black Maleficent-style dress she wore last season is reprised here, albeit with some heavy cloaks thrown over it. It's made clear in the show that Sansa can sew, and Clapton says Sansa consciously made this choice to be darker, as if to prove she wasn't going to be a victim anymore. There's some symbolism in that long circular necklace, too. "The necklace was based on the idea that Arya had Needle. At the end of the necklace there’s a point, a spike, which is like Sansa’s smaller version of Needle. It’s a jewelry idea of Needle. She’s finally taking them on," Clapton explains. Well, at least until she marries Ramsay, ugh.
Sansa's Second Wedding Dress
Despite the horrific circumstances surrounding Sansa's marriage to Ramsay, this is one of my favorite dresses in the entire series, and one of Clapton's favorites as well. It is loaded with symbolism, too. "It’s Sansa trying to respect everyone that’s been before her. She finally feels like she can make Winterfell a family home again. So I wanted to incorporate pieces that represented her family." To that end, the feather collar represents the fur pieces that her brothers and father used to wear when they went into battle or off hunting. The shape of the dress was inspired by her mother and the fish clasps on the front are signifiers of the Tullys, her mother's family house. The shape was also engineered to look a bit like the statues in the crypt at Winterfell.
The dress caused a bit of an issue on set, though. "The funniest thing was on the day of the rehearsal, they had set up this snowy path. [Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa,] walked up the path in the dress and it was like a snow plow. It cleared the whole path because it was so big and heavy. They had to reset the snow every take," Clapton laughs.
Finally, the wedding dress was specially engineered for that controversial wedding night rape scene. Clapton says it was sewn with cotton thread, which is quite easy to rip, then re-sewn after each take. Clapton wasn't present when that particular scene was shot, but estimates that it probably took three or four takes to shoot.
Margaery Becomes a Queen
Margaery married King Tommen without incident this season, finally earning the title of "Queen" without her husband dying immediately. Her clothing this season has definitely been heavier and less bare than in past seasons, and this is by design. "It’s funny, I wanted her to be a bit more like Cersei, with the metal armor look," Clapton says. "Margaery doesn’t need to play the, 'Oh, I’ve hardly got anything on and I’m so young!' game. She can actually say, 'I’m queen now.'" Welp, at least until she gets stripped and tossed into a dungeon.
The whorehouse scene featuring prostitute "Daenerys" was one of my favorite moments in the whole season. The dress started out as a joke. "I wanted to shock [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], because they always ask me to do outrageous things. I just thought, 'Fine, I’m going to do a costume with no ass! And they were like, 'What were you thinking, Clapton?'" the designer says. In the end, the dress made it into the show. "The whole essence of Dany is there... [there] are always circles cut in and bits missing in her dress so I thought it would be really funny. Some people said, 'Well, how would they know what she looked like?'" Clapton continues. "She’s this iconic woman so of course people talk and gossip and know what people look like! It was meant to be amusing." Mission definitely accomplished.
Myrcella in Dorne
Cersei's daughter is all grown up and wearing the sexy outfits of her sex-obsessed adopted home, Dorne. "The dresses were beautifully embroidered by my embroiderer Michele [Carragher] as usual, but I wanted it to look like one little pull of a strap and it would just drop to the ground," Clapton says. "There was nothing to them. Just clouds." Clapton also wanted to set the scene for Jaime to be slightly "horrified" when he encounters his daughter/niece in this state of almost-undress.
Trystane's outfit has a definite Indian inspiration. The fabrics actually came from India and the costume design team dyed them the vibrant colors seen here. The large leather belt and chain come from Clapton's personal collection.
Sexy Sand Snakes
Oberyn's various bastard daughters band together to take revenge on the folks in King's Landing, wearing a mix of hard and soft. Not all the critics have been kind about these outfits, according to Clapton. "They’re sexy, it’s hot weather, it’s a very liberal society. [People have said] it looks too B-movie, but it’s supposed to be this rather free place," she says. "It’s hot and it’s practical to wear light clothing. I just like the movement. Again, they wear suede trousers underneath and boots and I just liked that contrast of very light flowy dresses with really tough bits. When you need to fight you put the tough armor over." Oh, yeah, and about that armor...
This armor caused a bit of a ruckus when the first pictures were revealed prior to the season premiere, prompting what was immediately dubbed "Nipplegate," because the breastplate looked a bit, uh, aroused. When you're watching the show in real time, you can't really see the nipples, but Clapton is still annoyed by the whole thing, though she was laughing while relating this story. The armor really did have nipples at first. "When I first saw it I said, 'I hate the nipples. Get rid of those fucking nipples!' My armorer went, 'Yeah, yeah, I’ll get rid of it.' And he did," she says. "I have this absolute phobia about that armor. It’s the worst thing on earth. It’s sort of funny, because I was cross about it because it’s such a faux pas, but I don't think it registers on film as much as it does in those pictures." She still gives major props to her armorer, who shapes leather over molds and hand stamps the designs on it.
Dornish Armor (Sans Nipples)
I was really drawn to this other version of Dornish armor, too, even without any nipples. Clapton saw some padded velvet armor in Florence years ago that she loved, and it provided the inspiration for this look. "It’s built on leather and padding and velvet, and we decided each stud would be a sunburst on a leather piece, studded through," she explains. "It was a nightmare. I just decided it would be a lovely, sensual way of wearing armor. They were very solid actually. They were very protective." The team had to make more than 25 pieces.
And with that, kudos to Clapton on an amazing five seasons on this incredible show.