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Museum pieces: the props and costumes of 'Game of Thrones'

Traveling exhibit shows just what it takes to bring Westeros to life

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I’ve always thought that television screens have a peculiar quality to them. They imbue anything that passes through them with some artificiality. No matter the production value of a show, I can’t help but be skeptical of it because it’s being broadcast on TV. Even with Game of Thrones, undoubtedly one of the greatest shows on television, I can’t shake that nagging feeling that it’s all a facade; a fanciful world made of little more than cardboard cutouts.

It seems HBO wants to prove that’s not the case. The company is parading the spectacular props and costumes from Game of Thrones around the world in a traveling exhibition that will run through the fall. I stopped by the show during its time here in New York, and it’s an eerie confluence of worlds. The exhibit is — very intentionally — laid out just like a museum. Props are displayed in sealed glass cases as if they were centuries-old fragments unearthed from tombs by a team of archaeologists. The lights are dim as if to protect these precious goods from UV damage.

There’s no doubt that it’s all a show, but trust me: it works. The craftsmanship on display in these props and costumes deserves this display. While marvelling at everything from spoiled little Joffrey Baratheon’s gleaming suit of armor and Jon Snow’s travel-worn cloak to Jaime Lannister’s severed hand, I couldn’t find a fault. There was no zipper or seam that revealed it all to be a sham.

The exhibit is very intentionally laid out just like a museum

Costume designer Michele Clapton has said that 99 percent of the armor and costumes are made at the show’s studios in Belfast, Northern Ireland by a team of armorers, embroiderers, weavers, dyers, leather workers, and more. They mostly use authentic materials like chain mail, hand-weaved fabrics, custom-made leather, and metals like brass and steel when making the show’s wonderful clothing and armor, and it shows. But all of that effort would be for naught if the costumes and props looked brand new. There’s a separate team with the sole task of wearing down the clothing made for the show. As Clapton told The Hollywood Reporter last year, "You spend two weeks breaking down, patching, dying, repatching. Then you trash it, age it, then trash it again and repair."

Beyond the truly intricate embroidery, the natural wear is perhaps what impressed me the most. Dyes were faded, armor looked as if it had gone through the toils of war, and even the wildlings’ tools looked as if they had spent an eternity in the snow-swept plains beyond the Wall. Fittingly, however, Joffrey’s armor looks hardly used at all.

Considering the effort put into all of these details, I couldn’t help but think of the nameless artists who carved the backs of their sculptures even though they were destined to sit atop the Parthenon, out of sight. With these costumes and props, which are so easily overlooked, there’s a similar sense of pride in doing the job right. Even if we can’t see every link of chain mail and each incredible embroidery on screen, that attention to detail is what makes Game of Thrones what it is.

Game of Thrones: The Exhibition will stop in Mexico City, Austin, Rio De Janeiro, Oslo, Toronto, Belfast, and Vancouver. The exhibit left New York last week, but following stops on the tour will be much larger. For more information, visit HBO’s website.

'Game of Thrones: The Exhibition' in pictures


The exhibit was laid out just like a museum, with sections for each of the main branches of the storyline. It's the second year for the traveling exhibit — most of the gear shown here is from seasons three and four.