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The Game of Thrones series finale has been met with a reaction that can most generously be described as mixed — but one aspect that didn't disappoint is the costume design by Michele Clapton and her team. In "The Iron Throne," Clapton added new garments to the already brimming closet, emphasizing just how vital her work has been.
No matter how bloody the battle or what kind of extreme weather will be endured, the Game of Thrones costume design is always on point, but despite the many very stylish outfits worn over eight seasons, little has been revealed about the origins of Westeros couture. Where are the hot boutiques in King's Landing?
The only character demonstrating a Project Runway-level of sartorial creativity is Sansa. She’s not so hot on the sword-fighting skills, but there is a different kind of needle she is an expert at handling. Toward the end of Season 6, Sansa made a direwolf-embroidered frock worthy of the Westeros equivalent of Etsy. Even Jon commented that he "liked the wolf bit." She’s also a fine hand at outerwear with a huge dollop of symbolism gifting Jon his very own Ned Stark cloak prior to the Battle of the Bastards. Who needs a Stark hypeman when Sansa is shouting it loudly via her attire?The image of the wolf takes center stage in the final montage of “The Iron Throne” as Sansa, Arya, and Jon all leave King's Landing, going either to places they have called home or to adventures off-the-map. During this sequence, the camera focuses on certain beloved items, as well as revealing a new look for one Stark and the return to an old life for another. Composer Ramin Djawadi’s emotionally evocative “The Last of the Starks” accompanies this sequence, which not only feels like a love letter to these three characters but also to Clapton and her costume design team.
Jon Snow rocks up to the gates of Castle Black in the fur he was given long ago by his sister. He enters, the gates shut behind him and the screen fades to black. But as with another very famous fantasy series, be prepared for more than one moment of closure. Jon's watch hasn’t quite ended.Intercutting between the three Starks — he might not be Ned’s actual son but he was raised as such — Jon and Arya prepare for the adventure ahead by picking up their now iconic weapons. Needle was a gift from Jon, which was also the tether to Arya's identity even when she was trying to lose all aspects of herself. The ship she is sailing on has direwolf imagery wherever she looks, but it is her sword that will keep her grounded.
Meanwhile, Jon has managed to keep hold of Longclaw even though it was once a Mormont heirloom. A gift he received while in this Night Watch role, it has been with him through many battles since. The white direwolf pommel is part of his identity and thankfully he has been reunited with Ghost (the CGI budget stretched this far, at least). The parallel "suiting up" focuses on the intricate design and the garments worn by Arya and Jon. Often this kind of detail is only noticeable in cast promo photos or behind-the-scenes shots.Instead of a weapon, Sansa’s new gown is shown in close-up. She is not a fighter in the physical sense; nevertheless, she did everything in her power to ensure the North would stay free. The metal bodice resembles the weirwood tree branches of Winterfell, softer than the woven strapping from when they were at war but still fierce. A coronation gown deserves this amount of screentime, particularly when the detail is this exquisite. It does resemble a lot of Sansa's all-black Season 8 wardrobe — the girl who wore pastels is long gone. While she isn’t the fairy tale fantasy queen of her Season 1 dreams, she has both power and respect in the place she couldn’t wait to be rid of when we first met her. In this celebratory moment, focusing on the hands helping tie this garment reads like a tip of the hat to all those who helped bring these stunning pieces to life. Clapton revealed on Instagram that those hands are hers, which is an appropriate way to honor her legacy that stretches from the first episode to the last.
Both Cersei and Daenerys also wore black in their moment of triumph, but Sansa's look is far less severe. This isn’t a funeral look and it isn’t devoid of all color. As Jon and Arya sheath their weapons, the stunning red leaf detail of Sansa’s inner sleeve material is revealed — there is thought put into every single inch of material. On Instagram, Clapton notes that this is dress is made from the same fabric as the Season 4 Dark Sansa dress (which was made from the same fabric as Margaery's wedding dress).
The Starks aren’t conditioned to only wear wolf-emblazoned outfits as these leaves also represent the weirwood trees found in the Winterfell Godswood, a location of great significance as it is where the Stark kids had a lot of their important sibling meetings. It is also where Arya defeated the Night King and she still carries the blade that did the world-saving deed.The material of Sansa's gown resembles fish scales, which reads as a nod to House Tully, honoring her mother's legacy — but the intention here is to honor the image of the original Stark sigil. Sansa’s style has often mirrored one of the many powerful women in her life, but now she pays homage through texture and imagery rather than silhouette and hairstyle. She is very much her own woman and she has fought hard to get here.
Sansa is no longer wearing the chain, needle, and circular piece of hardware that was her symbolic form of protection. This was her sword. Now she has a wolf crown sitting on her head, and doesn't need them anymore.
One thing tying Sansa to her sister is the feathered direwolf around her shoulders, as Arya still has her fur-trimmed cape. Even though her costume is still similar to Ned's, her hair is no longer mimicking her father's. She’s on a boat and apparently, a tight bun is more seaworthy. Like her wolf Nymeria, the Stark life is not for her, but neither is her original dream of being a knight.Meanwhile, Jon has been sentenced to life in the Night’s Watch, which means he is back in all-black. Gone is the cloak Sansa made for him way back when, but the wolf on his sword forever connects him to his family.
The final season of Game of Thrones has drawn plenty of deserved criticism, ranging from pacing issues to the way certain characters were sacrificed in order to provide an accelerated desire for firey vengeance — but even in episodes that have suffered from the narrative structure, costumes elements continue to soar as high as a dragon.