Warning: This post contains Game of Thrones spoilers.
The last time Game of Thrones fans saw Cersei Lannister, she had—finally—crowned herself Queen and came face-to-face with her rival for the Iron Throne, Daenerys Targaryen, who asked her to join forces in an upcoming war against an undead army of White Walkers.
The meeting of Westeros’ two self-anointed queens was a pivotal moment in the series, and Cersei’s costume spoke volumes about the interaction’s implications for season eight. “As she meets Dany, the costume becomes more warlike with chainmail and the silhouette changes with strong moulded shoulders, like a exoskeleton,” Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton tells Glamour. “There is also a slashed and twisted detail on the back of her coat. It feels lizard-like, cold blooded. It creates an illusion that you can see into her soul, and it’s dark.”
True to those details, audiences know that Cersei’s words belie her intentions heading into the final season. She’s pregnant with a fourth child, and she’s more inclined to ensure her future heir’s line to the throne than to honestly band together with the Starks and Targaryens in a war for the living. According to Clapton, her outfits are the first place you can look to know exactly how she’s feeling and thinking in moments like this.
“All of Cersei’s costumes tell of her story,” Clapton says. “We might hate her, but she is a product of her treatment.” If you’ve watched Thrones from the very beginning, you know that Cersei hasn’t always been decked out for battle—and that she went through a lot to reach her current situation. (To refresh your memory: She endured and escaped a forced marriage, had an ongoing affair with her twin brother, and witnessed the violent deaths of her three children, to name just a few.) Like her machinations, her wardrobe has dramatically evolved over time.
“When we first met her eight years ago, her fabrics and colors were softer. She was subdued, hunted. The imagery she embroidered onto her costumes were birds in swirls of stitches,” Clapton says. The meaning? “It was supposed to speak of her feelings of being trapped—[like a] bird in a cage—within a marriage that she was forced into, forced to be weak and manipulated only because she was a woman by a drunken boar of a man who her father chose for her. The style was a wrapped Kimono in paper silk, implying availability.”
Of course, she didn’t stay a bystander in her own story for long. As her agency increased in the following seasons—often achieved through deception and murder—her outfits become more obvious symbols of her power grabs (and less typically feminine). “As her position changes with the murder of this husband [Robert Baratheon, who is poisoned in season one], we start to see the colors become stronger and often to be shades of red. The cloth becomes stronger and the Lannister Lion becomes prominent in the embroidery.” In other words, she’s asserting her authority, and her dedication to preserving Lannister power, through her clothing.
Side-by-side with other women at court, Cersei’s wardrobe is thrown into sharper relief. Take the arrival of Margery Tyrell to King’s Landing, who has competing ambition to take the throne for House Tyrell, for example. Margery leans in to her femininity with colorful, low-cut gowns; meanwhile, Cersei’s costumes tend toward an opposite aesthetic. “[It’s] ultimate power dressing,” Clapton explains, “with armor and heavy symbolic jewelry to insist visually of her belief in her rightful place within the family.” That view ultimately appears to win, when Margery is killed in season six’s dramatic King’s Landing explosion, clearing Cersei’s path to the throne.