When the final season of Game of Thrones debuts this Sunday, winter will have officially arrived in the Seven Kingdoms. From the trailers, it’s obvious that the series will have a nail-biting conclusion. But watch again and you may catch on to a subtle but symbolic change in the way the women of Westeros are represented onscreen.
In all images we’ve seen of season eight, the female leads and fan favorites to rule Westeros, including Daenerys Targaryen, Sansa Stark, and Cersei Lannister, are bundled up in structured, multilayered costumes. According to Game of Thrones costume designer Michele Clapton, these looks are only “partly” a result of the White Walkers’ preferably chilly forecast. As for the other part? Season eight’s costumes also nod to the female characters’ shared quests for autonomy and power in the series.
Now that Westeros is gearing up for an epic, all-encompassing battle—literally and figuratively—the women have striking costumes to match. “The silhouette of the women is strong and their bodies are covered,” Clapton says. Visually, it’s the culmination of the individual arcs they’ve had over the course of the show. “They have all had a journey—some harder than others. They’ve all been abused or disrespected by men, usually simply because they are women. They all want power, some at any cost.”
Rewind to Game of Thrones‘ early seasons and you’ll notice that many of the women wore low-cut, colorful dresses. These often reflected an imbalance of power between them and the men around them; they had big ambitions, but they had to be concealed behind a traditionally feminine facade. (Clapton cites Margery Tyrell as a prime example of this look.) In the final season, the women are largely on equal footing with the men around them. Also, “they are not using their sexuality to achieve or claim power,” Clapton says. “We’ve moved beyond that.”
While all of the women’s power looks include traditionally masculine elements (think strong shoulders, chains, and lots of armor) in the final season, they’re tailored to each character’s distinct aesthetic. The two biggest competitors for the crown—Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister—wear the most overtly battle-ready outfits. On Daenerys, it’s a mix of sharp-shouldered coats and dresses with crossed bodices. Cersei, meanwhile, wears head-to-toe black leather, embellished with chains and plated armor. Both women share high-necked silhouettes.
For the Starks and their sworn protector, Brienne of Tarth, the nods to their pursuits for power are more subtle. Instead of armor, they’re dressed in layers of draped furs similar to the men of the Night’s Watch and the Northern armies. In Arya’s and Sansa’s cases, there’s also subtle wolf imagery embroidered on their dress fronts, nodding to their shared House Stark lineage.
Symbols of power and ambition were incorporated into some wardrobes before the final season. Cersei was the first to adopt power dressing in the early seasons, when Clapton wove armor and heavy jewelry into her outfits “to insist visually on her belief of her rightful place.” At the time, her accessories were meant to ward off competitors like a young Sansa Stark and Margery Tyrell.
In the final season every major player in Westeros has a similar objective—to defeat the White Walkers and claim the Iron Throne—and they’re wearing similar outfits for the mission. When you see Dany suiting up in her white fur coat or Cersei pulling on a leather jacket with chains, it’s a visual power cue. No matter who you think the winner of the Game of Thrones will be, the women of Westeros are all dressed as though victory is theirs.
Halie LeSavage is the fashion associate at Glamour. Follow her @halielesavage.