Game of Thrones is all about status. As borders shift, power is gained and backs are stabbed, the pieces on the board move into new places, each in relation to the number one spot: the Iron Throne of Westeros. In real life, this theme is echoed through the television show’s extensive selection of source material, merchandise and location specific special events. These are objects and knowledge that can be acquired to distinguish the real fans from the casual viewers.
In previous years, Toronto has been fortunate to host the Game of Thrones exhibition. This year, our city makes it on the game board in a different, but perhaps more significant way that shows our growing importance in relationship to HBO’s proverbial Iron Throne. From Monday, April 6, through Sunday April 19, the first ever HBO Store outside of the United States opens on Queen St. West, belying our importance as an audience and giving us all a chance to distinguish ourselves as citizens of our own personal Westeroses.
Though the HBO Store has a few True Detective and The Wire themed collectibles, it exists primarily to stoke the dragon fires of excitement in anticipation of this Sunday’s Game of Thrones season five premiere. As such, those other shows (along with Silicon Valley, Veep, True Blood, Entourage and others) are all squeezed into the back corner to make way for the actual reason anyone would want to go to an HBO Store this month: Game of Thrones memorabilia.
HBO’s Toronto pop-up shop is small and filled with goodies. Funko Pop! vinyl figures, an arsenal of collectible glassware, winter hats, t-shirts, action figures and journals – these are the items of renown that await those who will brave the lineups, each one a way for a fan to identify herself as a part of something bigger. There is a hockey jersey dedicated to House Stark, bookends, mini-replicas of the Iron Throne and sew-on badges that would look really badass on the sash of a girl or boy scout (please prove me right, young people of Toronto).
The best of the Game of Thrones merchandise is displayed front and centre as you enter the shop’s doors, which are guarded by two decorative Lannister gold lions. It’s an irresistible “4D” puzzle map of Westeros, composed of a geographic map, a puzzle layer that gives you an accurate impression of the fantasy world’s topography, atop of which rests many little fortresses and flags representing the places and important events that have taken place on this most beloved of imaginary lands. It’s a cool item that demands to be displayed prominently in your home and a mark of special fan knowledge wrapped up into one hobby craft; an instant fan level-up.
The Important Shirt
Trinh Tham, Bell Media’s senior director of marketing, tells me that this is all for Game of Thrones and it’s just for Torontonians, “It took a lot to put this on just for the fans, and we wanted to make this the best we could, so it’s just here.”
From April 6 to 19, we will be the only HBO Store location outside the US, and if this sounds like bragging, it isn’t. These are just the facts. Game of Thrones is about status, which can be arbitrary at times and is always about a dangerous privilege. With every distinction of importance comes the inevitable plotting by the other regions and fans that feel entitled to the same gifts.
Therefore it’s appropriate that – in order to tease those of you outside of King’s Landin- err, Toronto, who are looking up all of the above merch that can be purchased online, at your local comic shop or in your remaining local HMVs – the HBO pop-up shop will feature exclusive products.
“We have an exclusive tee shirt that we designed just for this season, reflecting the art from Game of Thrones season five,” Tham says. “You can only get it here. It was done just for this pop-up, which is the first time it’s ever been done outside of the US.”
This shirt is the Valyrian steel of GoT swag. At the advance opening of the shop, the epic equipment was not on display or available for advance purchase. If you want it you need to go to the HBO Store during regular operating hours and cross your little fingers that they won’t sell out. If you can’t make it down, surely your favourite show about treachery and vengeance has taught you a thing or two about getting what you want by any means necessary.
If you read the above paragraphs and were like, “Big whoop, who wants toys and shirts so bad anyway?” then allow me to explain: Rarity is important to Game of Thrones and its fans. The spectacle of the show – moments of splendor and horror built on dense mythology and characterization – is special because those moments are rare.
Similarly, Toronto’s HBO shop is not simply about buying things. The new shop also houses one of the incredibly rare Iron Throne replicas, upon which fans may sit and feel a further surge of nerd grandeur immortalized forever on celluloid or Instagram. The opportunity to have your picture taken on one of these chairs of note, if you live in Toronto, is uncommon and fleeting. Prior to this shop opening, the experience has only been available at the aforementioned Game of Thrones exhibitions held at TIFF and the Design Exchange.
The Iron Throne photo-op is a right of passage. It says that your city is one the map (or super cool 4D topographic puzzle), that you’re well positioned, that you care. That picture says to the world that important places change, that life isn’t fair, but if you missed out you shouldn’t worry: importance is fleeting and it’s all in the game.