Warning: Spoilers follow for the entirety of Game of Thrones!
Picking what to wear in the morning says a lot. Jeans, t-shirt, dress, skirt, jumpsuit, whatever – the colours and style you choose is a silent message about who you are. That's dialled up to 100 when it comes to Game of Thrones, with costume designer extraordinaire (seriously, someone give her a crown now) Michele Clapton having hidden tiny details in Game of Thrones' costumes for almost ten years, details that give clues about the inner turmoil of our favourite characters. Now that Game of Thrones season 8 is finally over, there was one outfit that stands above the rest: Sansa's coronation gown. In its threads was the culmination of a character arc ten years in the making, so sit back, get a glass of Dornish Red, and let me explain just how Clapton worked her magic with that dress.
Proud of the North
There's so many details to pick out that I feel a little bit like I'm drowning in a sea of fabrics and metaphors, but let's start off big in scope and then narrow it down, shall we? What better bit of Sansa's outfit to start with than the crown. Now that Sansa is Queen in the North (all praise her ability to lead and her cheekbones), she needs a crown. Unlike the gaudy gold that's usually placed atop of monarchs ruling from King's Landing, Clapton has gone for a polished silvery steel. With gold being one of the Lannister's colours, considering their horrific treatment of Sansa – murdering her father, blaming her for Joffrey's death, forcing her to marry Tyrion – it's no wonder that her crown is instead a cold steel, more reminiscent of the grey of the Stark sigil and the coldness of the North.
It's also simple, practical, and unassuming. Northerners aren't known for their love of glam and gaudiness, and with Sansa almost definitely being a hands-on ruler, I doubt she wants something heavy and needlessly fancy getting in the way when she's riding, entertaining, or inspecting her bannermen's armour to make sure it's lined with warm leather.
Finally, that supple grey material that makes up the train of her gown is imprinted with the image of leaves, possibly hinting to the North's faith in the Old Gods and their association with the forest, but more likely it's a small nod to the North's closer link to nature and self-sufficiency. While the South of Westeros is the more cosmopolitan region, Northerners have always been reluctant to trust outsiders and all the stronger because of it. It's why Sansa was so sure in her intuition when she was Lady of Winterfell, why most Northerners have a healthy skepticality of Southern authority (one which Eddard should have paid more attention to, to be honest), and why they're more predisposed to make do and mend.
Proud of her heritage
Yes, Sansa is a Northerner, yet it's also her Stark and Tully blood that's served her well through the traumatic years of The Song of Ice and Fire (as Samwell Tarly artfully and adorably named the saga of events following Robert's Rebellion). So it's no surprise that the symbolism in her outfit is heavy weighted towards raising both sides of her family up, not just the Starks but the aquatic imagery of the Tullys too, whose House sigil is a silver trout. Having said that, I'm totally biased in favour of the Starks, so I'm going to talk about them first. Don't @ me (please).
Look at those direwolves in Sansa's crown. There's not one, but two (duh). Eddard Stark's words should echo in your mind right now: the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. It's no coincidence that the direwolves on Sansa's crown look like they're supporting each other, with one lifting the other up, and the other resting on the one below.
Since childhood, Eddard taught his kids (and nephew) that family comes above all – it's that lesson that's kept Bran, Arya, Jon, and Sansa alive this long. You can bet every dragon in the six (not seven anymore!) kingdoms that with a crown like that no ruler in the North is going to forget that family comes first anytime soon.
Moving from the crown to her dress, the red leaves on the insides of her sleeves have a whack-you-round-the-head kind of subtlety (i.e. none at all). Yup, you guessed it, they're the red leaves of the Weirwood trees that represent the Old Gods to all Northerners – yet these leaves are also a small nod to Bran the Broken and his nature as the Three-Eyed Raven. Like the Weirwood tree, Bran's powers stretch very far indeed, and Sansa probably wants everyone who looks at her to remember just how all-powerful her brother, the ruler of the six kingdoms, is. It's also kind of a warning that her brother knows all. It is daring anyone who meets her to try and backstab her when she's got that kind of knowledge (and foresight) on her side.
Although her outfit might look like it's weighted more towards the Starks, it's not. The stole that curls around her shoulders and falls down to her feet is embroidered and designed to look like a black direwolf (it's not a cape, as some people have called it). But look at the side with the head, then to how it wraps around to Sansa's opposite shoulder. The beaded black fur of the direwolf merges seamlessly into grey scales, like the kind you'd find on the silver trout, the sigil of the Tullys. The message here is clear: Sansa isn't a Stark, or a Tully, but both. Recognising the sacrifices both her parents made, she's not going to just ignore the fact that the Tully's house words are Family, Duty, Honor, making them practically a shorter version of Eddard's emphasis on supporting your family. Those grey scales are then also embroidered on her arms, for all to see. Like the direwolves in her crown, Sansa is wearing her Tully family pride for all to see. Sorry, I've just got something in my eye…
Proud of herself
So I've talked about the North, the Starks and Tullys, and now it's time for the Queen in the North herself: Sansa motherf*cking Stark. She's been through one hell of a lot during Game of Thrones, and this coronation dress is the culmination of it all. She's now herself, unburdened by tyranny, her past trauma, or being manipulated by other people, and both her hair and her dress says it all.
Sansa, bless her and her impressionable young mind, has always worn her influences in her hair. When she first came to King's Landing her hair was done up like Cersei, emulating her style and the admiration Sansa had for the powerful woman who was – as she thought back then, as a young girl – going to be her mother-in-law some day. Then Cersei, you know, killed her father, and Sansa's hair was only done in the fashion of King's Landing during her forced marriage to Tyrion. At that point, it was a sign that she was being controlled by the Lannisters, rather than being in a position to make her own choices.
She dyed her hair black when she was under the protection of Littlefinger so no one could recognise her, with black becoming her colour of strength. It practically emanates a don't-touch-me vibe. Then her hair was tied in a messy plait after fleeing from Ramsay Bolton, bound out of the way where no one could touch it. No surprise after her rape at Bolton's hands, really. In the North and in control of Winterfell, her hair was styled in the traditional Northern way, with half of it pulled back in a bun and the rest left free, like Arya and Jon wear their hair. Finally, during the summit after Daenerys' murder at King's Landing, there were plaits in her hair with loose waves falling beneath, worryingly half-mimicking Daenerys herself. Let's not think about that too much.
Under her crown, now Sansa's hair is unadorned. No plaits, no buns, no waves: it's straight, parted in the middle, and above all free. Sansa is ready to style it how she wants, free of influence from anyone else, hinting that she's now in absolute control of herself and her future.
She's likewise shed her needle necklace (which symbolises her bond with Arya), but not because she doesn't love her sister: Sansa simply doesn't need it anymore. This is a new beginning for her, so instead she has a needle tied to the end of the string around her waist. Speaking of her waist, the metal cage around her front is largely absent at the back. Why? Because Sansa doesn't need to be surrounded in black leather like in previous episodes: she's not afraid of being stabbed in the back, and now, as Queen in the North and with her brother on the throne down south, she simply doesn't need to protect herself as much anymore. The lack of protection around her back implies that she intends to face threads head on, and isn't afraid of being betrayed by the North, the people who will stand behind her.
After being decked out head-to-toe in black for so long, now the light grey of Sansa's dress hints that Winter is over, and Summer is here. Sansa actually used to dress in lighter colours when she was young (look to the beginning of Game of Thrones season 1 for her light blue dresses), so this lighter grey is a small sign that Sansa's feeling more like herself. Sure, she's not naive anymore, but with her colour palette getting brighter comes the optimism that she had right at the beginning, that she doesn't need to be defined by the trauma she suffered under Cersei, Littlefinger, or Ramsay.
Embroidery is control
Last, but definitely not least, is the return of embroidery on her dress. Right in the first episode Sansa is praised by Winterfell's septa as having phenomenal needlepoint skills, and it's one of her favourite hobbies. So when her dresses started to go without embroidery – like when she was effectively hostage at King's Landing, or decked in black in the last couple of seasons – it was a sign that Sansa isn't entirely herself. She had no time to spare, certainly not time that could be spent on embroidery. Later, at the Battle of the Bastards, she defiantly sported an embroidered direwolf on her dress – an act that showed Ramsay and Littlefinger that she was a Stark, reclaiming herself with her favourite hobby after being raped by Ramsay.
Sansa embroiders when she feels in control. Just look at her coronation dress: the direwolf around her shoulders, with its black beads and the detail of the fur that merges into scales, is all done by her hand. So are the leaves of the Weirwood trees on the inside of her sleeves, and the leaves wound around her high collar. Sansa did all of that herself, owning her outfit in the most air-punch way, stoutly declaring "this is me" without a word spoken. After so long, she's finally in a place of safety, strength, and certainty to be able to embroider as she wishes.
Regardless of how you feel about the Game of Thrones ending, Sansa's coronation dress is one hell of a sight. This is how you do costume design right, and Michele Clapton deserves an award, or at the very least a dress made entirely of gold leaf, for the amount of character growth she's woven into that masterpiece.
If you're eager for more Game of Thrones goodness now the show is over, here's our review of Game of Thrones season 8, or look below to see a recap of the finale!