A Visit to the Game of Thrones Exhibition: Nerds Take Manhattan

Review by Jane Koska

(Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for those not caught up through Season 2 and/or Book 2.)

Almost two years ago, my fellow nerds and I got to talking about this TV show I’d only heard of: “Game of Thrones.”  All I knew was that it was based on some fantasy book, and that the series was on HBO. And it starred Sean Bean! Despite an instant (and as it turned out, enormous) spoiler by said nerd friends (you know who you are, and fine, I should have seen it coming given SB’s track record), I decided to read the book while I waited for the DVDs.  Well. That was a game-changer. I devoured all five books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series in a few weeks. Then I realized I’d read too fast and missed a lot, so I read them again.  I watched Season 1 with my friends. Okay, so SB looked old and tired, but still, I loved it. I got a big new TV and DVR, and signed up for HBO before Season 2 started. I’d been meaning to upgrade, after all. The timing was pure coincidence.

Skip to April 2013. I did one of those uber-nerdy things I said I never would. With the enablers – I mean dear friends – I hopped on a bus to New York City to see the traveling GoT exhibition in its only stop in the United States. It was NYC, of course, so I’d go see other things, too. R-i-i-i-i-ght . . . Except for time for pizza and bagels, some walking around Manhattan, and playing “spot the GoT promo poster” during our subway rides, this is what we did: Day 1 – stand in line for 1½  hours (and help the less-nerdy win prizes for answering trivia questions), spend an hour in the exhibition, walk to the HBO shop, buy GoT stuff; Day 2 – stand in line freezing for 1½ hours (winter wasn’t just coming – it had arrived in the night), spend 1½ hours in the exhibition, “shoot” (wretchedly) arrows in the Battle of Blackwater, sit on the Iron Throne for a photo op. And I enjoyed every minute. Sounds like a lot of waiting? Nope. A line of nerds is a fun line. Plus, we were lucky. We heard that the weekend wait time had been more than 6 hours. On one of the days we were there, more than 1,000 people had gone in by the time it was our turn, halfway through the hours the exhibit was open. Think it couldn’t possibly have been worth it? You know nothing, my friends.

Photo by Jane Koska

The room was full of incredible props: weapons, costumes, jewelry, armor – everything from a rubber fish used in a dinner scene at King’s Landing to the Iron Throne itself. We saw Jon Snow’s weathered blacks of the Night’s Watch, the functional layers of furs worn by wildlings Ygritte and Mance Rayder, the understated garb of the Starks, and the ornate clothing of Cersei and Joffrey Lannister. It was a nice touch that the mannequins with the Starks’ costumes were cleverly arranged to evoke the scene of the King’s arrival at Winterfell in Season 1.

Gendry’s bull’s head helmet was there, as were the Lord of Bones’ staff and mask. The Hand’s pin. King Robert’s drinking horn. Catelyn Stark’s House Tully brooch. King Renly’s crown. Theon Greyjoy’s letter to the King in the North. Jaime Lannister’s gorgeous armor. Dragon eggs and a flying dragon. The High Septon’s dismembered arm. (Okay, could have done without that one.) Davos Seaworth’s finger bones. (A bit less icky.) A certain character’s head on a spike, but we won’t say any more about that. (Did. Not. Like.) And much, much more.

Photo by Jane Koska

What impressed me most was the skill of the show’s artisans.  Watching the show, we don’t even get to see most of their work – it’s in the details. Sure, Jaqen H’ghar could just have handed Arya Stark a quarter. Heck, it could have been a washer from the tool kit. Nope. They created an old, worn coin for just a fraction of a single scene. Valar morghulis! Did they give us a close-up when Lord Commander Mormont presented Jon Snow with Longclaw? Nope. But the sword’s scabbard was one of the most gorgeous pieces in the exhibition, with detailed metalwork that evoked Celtic knotwork and Art Nouveau.

There were tiny bits of embroidery on the Stark girls’ dresses. House banners were weathered and worn. Every detail of Westeros geography was drawn on King Robb’s map.  The grip of Ice showed the wear of generations of hands. (And yes, Ice is as massive as it looks on-screen.) The Iron Throne – well, it looked like iron. And fine, all the Lannister armor was stunning and the Targaryen dragons were impressive. Whatever. Obviously, my loyalties lie elsewhere.

All in all, the exhibit was amazing, and utterly worth a 10-hour round trip on a bus where the promised wi-fi didn’t work. So maybe it seems a bit mad to travel all that way. After all, it’s just a TV show. But what a show it is. Of course it’s not perfect, what with HBO’s penchant for shocking and titillating viewers. But GoT is fun. We love some characters and despise others. We choose sides and cheer them or mourn them. We see heroism and cowardice, friendship and hatred. There’s gritty realism and supernatural forces. Season 3 is off to a good start, and we already know we have Season 4 to look forward to. After that? I can only quote Paul and Storm: You’d better “write like the wind,” GRRM.

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