The ladies of Westeros are dressed to kill — especially those who go into battle, wield weapons, and wear armor. (Brienne of Tarth, we’re looking at you.) So when photos leaked of some new Game of Thrones characters — Prince Oberyn’s bastard daughters in Dorne, known as the Sand Snakes — more than a few people scratched their heads. Did the Red Viper’s avenging angels have nipples on their breastplates? And wouldn’t author George R.R. Martin be totally against this, considering he likes to use the phrase “as useless as nipples on a breastplate” throughout the books?
To sort out nipplegate — and other sartorial issues for the coming season — we caught up with costume designer Michele Clapton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she was giving a Spark Talk along with the curator of the Arms and Armor department. “You’ve picked a bone of contention!” Clapton laughed. She told the Cut that “it certainly wasn’t my intention” to have nippled armor. “I’m not terribly keen on it,” she added. “I don’t see the necessity for it. You don’t do it on men.” Well, except the famously ridiculed Batman suit. “Yeah, okay, that. But I wouldn’t do it on men, and I don’t really like the concept of it on women. Of course you have to have the woman’s shape. That’s fine. But [nipples on armor] is almost from a man’s point of view, and there’s something slightly cheesy about it.”
She went on to explain that the nipple feature was kind of a mistake — it was a result of the structured molds they used to make the armor. “They sand it off to an extent, but they didn’t do it as much as I wanted them to,” Clapton said. And because of the rush in production, she didn’t notice the sanding wasn’t completed until it was too late and shooting had to start. Even then, she said, it wasn’t that noticeable on set, but a trick of the lighting made the nippled effect more visible in the photographs taken that day. “I had the same thought as you. I was surprised when I saw the picture. But I didn’t notice them when I was there. And sometimes you can’t go back and change things.” Her armory team, most of whom have an Italian background, also didn’t see the problem. “They’re like, ‘No, it’s fine! Don’t change it!’” she told us. “But it was a bad move!”
In addition to the are-they-or-aren’t-they nipples, the Sand Snakes will share elements of Oberyn’s beaten-leather look in their clothes and jewelry, “so they have a sense of family,” Clapton said, but each will also have an individual look and their own weapon of choice. Clapton compared them to a “little pack of animals” or a gang, and while snakeskin will be incorporated into their outfits, it won’t be too literal.
As for some other groups of characters, Clapton revealed during the Met talk that the actors playing the Unsullied “start behaving as a pack” when they put on their armor, and it can be “terrifying” when they start fighting with each other. “So finally we said, ‘You can’t put your helmet on until you get to set.’” And while the White Walkers have an armor of sorts, Clapton told us that it’s all found materials, “part of sculptures and architectures that they reused as armor,” nothing they made themselves. “The idea was that they maybe discovered an ancient society that was actually very sophisticated, but the leather bits were all kind of eaten away. That wouldn’t have survived.”
Sansa’s makeover at the end of season four was also about using found materials — in her case, feathers from message-bearing ravens, to deliver her own message about a change in personality. “We’ve always known that Sansa makes her own clothes, so it was a very deliberate decision of hers, to change and say, ‘I’m not going to be pushed around. I’m going to take charge.’” Clapton drew our attention to Sansa’s necklace, which has a long spike at the end. Because Arya has her Needle, this is Sansa’s Needle. “It’s her chance to take control,” Clapton said. “When she comes down the stairs, she’s playing with it like, ‘This is me, taking control of this situation.’”
Arya will get her own makeover when she arrives in Braavos in season five, which delighted actress Maisie Williams, Clapton said. “She finally got a few frocks! She was like, ‘Yeah! Yeah! I can’t believe it!’ in the dressing room.” Arya’s road-worn attire, which lasted her through the past three seasons with nary a chance to change, is presumably retired. “She’ll never go back to it,” Clapton laughed. “She was like, ‘I want to set fire to it! I want to throw it in the water!’”