Thursday, March 31, 2011

Armour (nit)picks

A critical post again. Feel free to call me an ass in the comments. I hear blogs are mostly written by arrogant self-obsessed arseholes anyway. ;P

Watching the newest video released as Behind the Scenes of the new HBO series - Game of Thrones, I  was again faced with a couple of issues I have with fantasy armour design.

I'll try to explain them here.

Watch the video if you haven't already.
What is it I don't like?

1) Mixing of stuff.

There's nothing wrong with it. If it works as a design, if it's visually appealing, if it does what you want it to, ok. The costume designer is proud of how much the mixed and that it's not immediately obvious that some culture is this "Earth" culture and some other culture is another. That's nice, I like that. However, I think if you're doing a realistic tv show based on a book set in a very medieval-Europe-like world, you probably shouldn't go too crazy.

Yes, you want variety and especially with soldiers in armour, you need to be able to tell immediately who's who. It's a pity they chose to make these factions so incredibly different. Yes, it's unbelievable, it doesn't seem likely to happen at a small continent where all these big families fight each other for centuries, to have armour designs this strangely different.

No, nobody's going to notice, only a few armour enthusiasts. But just as boring slow stage fighting, it's going to make them dislike the show.

TL;DR:  If you're mixing stuff, make sure if makes sense for the world's history.

2) A specific example - Lannisters and King's Guard

Most armours are quite the medievalesque/dark ages standard. These two however are a complete fantasy and in my eyes - a close (but disappointing) fail.

Photo from Winter-Is-Coming, click for full view. In the foreground you can see the King's Guard, behind them the Lannister soldiers.

King's Guard:

Like: - the slightly archaic combination of cuirass and scale sleeves is a change from the book, but I quite enjoy it.
Dislike: - the shoulders have a weird shape that would more likely catch a blow rather than let it slide away.
- the ornaments are poorly done, someone has downloaded a set of "tribal" Photoshop brushes and used them all in a horrible mess. Very disappointing.
- the helmets. Oh boy. A case of what I call "the fantasy bucket". Why is it that the barbutta-type helmet is SO popular with fantasy designers? I know it's a simple design, but it takes more to make an attractive helmet, surely! Buckets with cutouts for mouth and eyes, I simply despise them. Anyway, this one is a bit bolder, with the almost dragon-like ridges at the top - I like those. But then it's all ruined by the bottom - why is it soooo very wide? I realize they probably made them without the actors' measurements, but they don't seem to fit them. (notice how the guy to the left can't see through the eyeholes)
The width of the bottom rim doesn't work both for practical and aesthetic reasons - it would wobble terribly on anyone's head, it allows plenty of space for a thrust to the neck or lower face and it would obstruct movement of the head quite a bit. Also it makes the head look way too big thus making the whole figure comical.


Like: - I quite like the armour itself. I'm not sure why they thought a Japanese influence made sense, but whatevs. It works - it's slick and close fitting. There are gaps in it which I can't quite explain, but it does look ok in general.
- I really like that the visor of the helmet looks a bit like lion's face. (not sure if that's intentional, but it works for Lannisters)

Dislike: - The helmets don't work. The combination of a Japanese bowl shape (wide near the bottom again), yet of dark age construction with the connecting ridge in the middle. A weird horizontal crest (Roman influence?Why?) and a rather anglosaxon/viking visor?
It could pass for a strange sallet, but those usually had a neck guard like this:

- this helmet leaves the neck completely exposed. Again, this is both a practical and visual mistake - both the neck and cheeks/face are endangered and it makes the helm look unbalanced, dangling on a thin neck.

3) The myths about armour and its properties

- the lady argues that the Northerners don't use metal armour, because it's unfit for the cold climate. Why? That it would rust? You just oil the thing. Your tongue would stick to it if you licked it? I don't think the cold climate stopped the Scandinavians from wearing metal armour if they could.
- the actor playing Jaime says that "to imagine people fought in's not that comfortable". I wonder if it's just the spoiled softness of the modern human, or the fact the armour wasn't made to fit. Real armour is actually surprisingly comfortable.
"...*grins* but it looks fantastic!"  yeah, not that great if you ask me.
- metal shields. *sigh* For some reason the Stark guards have full metal round shields. I wonder if they're aluminium. If they were iron, I'd like to see them try and fight with them.

Not to be a complete nitpicky nerd, here's a couple of things I really like about the costumes and designs:

1) The architecture. I like how King's Landing is very southern and different to Winterfell. Well done. Or maybe I don't know as much about architecture as about armour. :)
2) The Dothraki. Nice nomadic look. I only wish they made them ride without stirrups, that'd be so cool!
3) The swords aren't bad. Have a few impractical bits and they're not quite LOTR swords, but still very nice for a TV show.
4) The normal clothes - Jaime's leather coat looks a bit eastern, but great. Rest of the dresses, tunics and all that look nicely worn and simple.

That's all. Feel free to leave hate posts in the comments. ;) I'm ready for you, GoT fans!


  1. Wait, so **you're** allowed to fly in the face of history by depriving the eastern nomads of their stirrups, but everyone else is a big poophaid for doing so? YOU ASS!!!!


  2. Well, If the Dothraki looked at all like Avars or the Chinese, I wouldn't have thought of robbing them of stirrups.

    But they kinda remind me of Scythians a bit. Obviously more "Scythians meet Conan", but still.

    The idea that they'd be such great horse riders even without stirrups, that's why I thought it'd be cool.

  3. :D LOL, Khal Drogo actually IS played by Jason Momoa, who also plays Conan in the remake. Makes sense. :D

  4. hey Jan,
    fine entry - bwy I took a look at the picture of knights - I really find it sad and sorry when I see knights ridding like some sort of modern English rider, holding reins in both hands...

  5. Hah, that's probably something you'd likely notice and I wouldn't, isn't it?

    Who knows how good riders these stunt guys were. :(

  6. Hi Jan, interesting read. You focused mostly on armors, but I am also interested in your opinion about swords. I have no knowledge about historical view on them, but I would like to read any of your opinions on that subject. Also, we saw few fight scenes in the show, could you comment on them as well? If you feel like it of course :). I am just interested what trained eye sees.

  7. I think I might make another blog post out of it. Thanks for the idea! :)

  8. Pretty same opinion. Although I realy love the Lannister helmet visors, despite they must be terribly fragile. But they´re just too cool :-). How about the Golden Cloaks and Baratheon soldiers? I wonder if you find something wrong with them, too.

  9. That could very well be another blog post in the near future. ;)

  10. I actually think that, aesthetically, the the Lannister helmet looks pretty nice, with all the different influences. Aside from the silly wide brim, that is. Personal taste I suppose. But as you said, I don't think it fits in the very medieval-european setting of ASoIaF.

    There need to be more surcoats though! There are so many surcoats in the books, but /nobody/ seems to wear them in the show. I like me some surcoats. :(

  11. Oops, there's an extra 'the' in there. I'll take the oppourtunity to say that I also think there should be less difference between Winterfell and King's Landing.
    King's Landing in the books strikes me as a sort of France to Winterfell's Scotland/Northern England.
    King's Landing in the show brings to mind Italy, or even Spanish/Moorish style.
    Makes me think more of Dorne. Which makes me wonder how they'll handle Dorne itself...

  12. I've just noticed; the Kingsguard helms seem to have been redone in the second season. The flare at the base was removed in favour of more Corinthian style cheekguards. Looks much better.

    1. Yep, I noticed this in the first trailer for Season 2, it's a significant improvement. ;)

  13. Just 2 notes. Firstly, as to the sallet helm, towards the latter half of the medieval period, many footsoldiers chose to forego the gorget with the sallet for better ventilation and to reduce weight. As for the comment on wearing armor in the cold, I can attest from personal experience that mail acts as a heat sink, and your body freezes in a futile attemot to warm the metal. As for the rest, a lot of the armor does look a tad silly, especially the Kingsguard, gotta agree with you there