Kings. Dragons. A surprising number of Weirwood trees and exactly one nine-foot-tall giant.
While I knew people who cosplayed in high school and college, I had not really seen cosplayers in action until attending the 2019 Con of Thrones. My first convention generally aligned with my expectations, but one thing that really stood out to me was just how important cosplayers are to such events.
Cosplayers at conventions are like the character actors at Disneyland or Disneyworld — themselves a major attraction, even though, in this case, they are attendees instead of employees. They pose for videos and pictures, with some of the more popular cosplayers gathering bona fide crowds of admirers and queues of people waiting to snap a pic.
[I also discovered, as the convention was held in Nashville, Tennessee — the official bachelorette party capital of the world — that watching drunk people react to cosplayers might be one of life’s great joys. I came to this conclusion after seeing an inebriated jock-type going by on a pedal tavern shout “WE ALL LOVED SHIREEN!” at a group of cosplayers in what might be the most unexpectedly wholesome drunken comment I have ever encountered in my life.]
Anyway, convention-going newbie that I am, I decided to get the scoop on the whole cosplaying situation directly from the source, and spoke with over a dozen cosplayers at the event about their costumes and cosplaying in general. From first-timers to professionals with 35 years of experience, cosplaying is a wide world of boundless creativity, incredible artistry, and a few pretty uncanny resemblances…
While the series finale confirmed that Samwell Tarly truly is the in-universe proxy of George R. R. Martin, as fans have long surmised, this cosplayer flipped the script: his name is actually Samwell and he dresses up as GRRM. The name coincidence is how he got into the series in the first place — his brother called while the first season was airing to tell him about his fictional name buddy. While it was Samwell’s first Con of Thrones, it was not his first convention by a mile, nor his first time putting on this particular costume; he wore it to Balticon several years ago and got a picture taken with Martin himself.
Although his clever cosplay tapped into widespread fan frustrations with Martin’s notorious turnaround times, when I asked, Samwell insisted he is certain Martin will finish the books…eventually. “He doesn’t want to just mail it in,” he said, indicating that he would rather a long delay if that meant getting books really worth waiting for. “I’m fine with him taking his time.”
Sansa Stark might be a divisive figure in the Game of Thrones fandom, but at Con of Thrones, there was no denying that she’s a popular cosplay choice. In addition to having one of the largest roles in the series, with her character’s love of sewing and embroidery she has had perhaps more costumes than any other character on the show — and it seemed like almost every one of them, from Season 2 King’s Landing wear to the Season 5 wedding dress, had at least one representative at the event.
One standout Sansa cosplayer was Karolina LeFay, whose cosplay Instagram @theredshirtgirl has over 41,000 followers. For her Season 8 Sansa look that she made herself, from auburn-dyed wig to hemline, she managed to track down screen-accurate fabric — that is, the actual fabric used to make the costume Sophie Turner wore — to create this rendition of the dress used prominently throughout the final season’s promotional campaign, ultimately placing third in the convention’s cosplay contest.
While Karolina cosplayed off and on starting in 2006, it was only in 2016 that she started seriously digging in. She tends to stick to fantasy, and cosplays for fantasy videogames like Fable and World of Warcraft—”I still do mainly World of Warcraft“—and is also the official cosplayer for the character Ashe from the Overwatch videogame.
When I suggested that it sounds like cosplaying has gotten a lot more serious as of late she laughed. “I know! It’s really funny, because it’s so popular now, cosplay, and back in my day we’d get nothing but teased. You know, people would be like, ‘It’s not Halloween.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, very funny.’ But now, everyone’s like, ‘You must be a cosplayer. There must be a convention going on.’ It’s completely different.” She credited Game of Thrones with playing a major role in instigating this change. “[It] modernized fantasy and made it cool.”
Now, two Petyr Baelishes in conversation is not exactly something you see every day, so of course, when I saw this I had to stop. When I asked Pierre and AJ why they chose Littlefinger, they both indicated that it was really the other way around. “It kind of decided me,” Pierre commented, and AJ agreed. They are both relatively new to cosplaying and have thus far only cosplayed for Game of Thrones. Also, while both have attended conventions before, it was both their first time attending Con of Thrones.
“I didn’t even think I’d even enjoy cosplay until Baelish,” AJ said. “I love it.”
Just because you are a person doing cosplay does not mean you need to limit yourself to people — or even living creatures, for that matter, is an important lesson I learned during my first convention experience. Lisa, who has been cosplaying for about 12 years, said she got the first spark of inspiration for her opening credits costume when she attended the first Con of Thrones two years ago. “I saw somebody do the Sept of Baelor exploding,” she recalled, “and so I got the idea to do a conceptual design.” Her dress is made from a shower curtain found online, and the headpiece, which features painstaking recreations of the etchings seen in the opening credits of the first seven seasons, is made from thermoplastics, a cosplaying staple usually referred to as Worbla, the name of the most popular brand. “I heated it up and carved all the scenes into it and then stamped the rest for texture.”
Lisa noted that in addition to the opening credits, she’s done 14 other Game of Thrones costumes, and has cosplayed in a range of other sci-fi and fantasy fandoms, including Doctor Who, Firefly, and Star Trek. “I do a lot of male and female and ‘thing’ characters. The whole gamut.”