Michele Clapton worked on her own fashion line and was a stylist for musicians before embarking on a successful career in costume design for television. Now she’s the Emmy-award winning designer responsible for the lavish gowns and hard-edged armor on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Clapton's team works in a vast studio space that houses the making and cutting of costumes, the armor department, and breakdown – the process of aging, patterning or making materials look worn. Clapton enjoys the collaborative nature of the space, as "someone dying leather and fabric," while the armor department is "very loud and bashing things away." She calls creating armor her favorite thing to do because it "gives craftspeople a chance to experiment."
When creating the armor for the Unsullied, Clapton had specific parameters: a silhouette that communicated strength and a helmet with a point, as specified in George RR Martin's novels. Creating one look for a vast army of extras proved challenging, especially given the physiques specific to different shooting locations: "We filmed in Morocco where extras were narrow-shouldered, and then filmed in Croatia where men were huge," Clapton said with a laugh. The piece that brought the look together was the helmet that obscures the face. "Bending the points on the helmet creates a more elegant look." Clapton explained. On set, the helmets immediately unified the group as a "true army." Clapton recalled there were "all sort of issues when we were filming because they started behaving as a pack." The crew ended up creating a new rule: "You can't put your helmet on until you get to set."
The filming schedule can prove uniquely challenging. "Sometimes we shoot the after-battle scenes before the battle scenes," Clapton explains. In these instances, the armor goes to breakdown, and gets cleaned up as filming progresses. Of course, some material gets more attention than others: "Joffrey's armor doesn't get aged at all because he doesn't use it," revealed Clapton.
Other times, the department will create multiple sets of armor. With longer scenes, Clapton's team crafts two sets in metal and one plastic set – the metal can be heavy. "Some actors enjoy the weight," Clapton shared, "but you see it on screen briefly and they're wearing it for a day and a half shooting in it." Stunts can also necessitate altercations; such was the case for Brienne's fight with the Hound. Actor Gwendoline Christie's armor could not be shared with her stuntperson because "Brienne's stuntman is a man," Clapton reveals.