The most real feeling in the world is being forced to imagine, and that’s why Game of Thrones is so popular.
There are lucid moments that occur when watching HBO’s acclaimed fantasy series in which the realization of this miraculous immersion really gets to sink in. A cutaway in the court scene to show an anxious Jaime Lannister in full Kingsguard regalia, or a particularly babysitter-ish eye-roll from Jorah Mormont after Daenerys commits yet another cultural faux pas, can offer enough character empathy to elicit an “I’ve been there” moment.
Only you haven’t. No one has ever experienced anything remotely similar to Game of Thrones (unless you count those who were involved in the historical War of the Roses). It’s an illusion born of an attention to detail, one that is so meticulous and consistent that our imaginations start to fill in the blanks.
It’s why the usually inaccessible genre of fantasy is so easy for mainstream audiences to grasp here. Suddenly, your average Jane who couldn’t tell you the difference between an orc and a goblin knows the names of at least three dragons, the sigils of seven fantasy kingdoms, and can draw a passable map of a geographic location that only exists in peoples’ minds. That’s the key to making something feel real: providing just enough detail that an audience will just assume that the world continues to exist off frame.
Game of Thrones: The Exhibition at the TIFF Lightbox in downtown Toronto is a celebration of this detailed imaginary realm. Running from May 14-18, the special event validates the inevitable obsession that comes with the average viewer’s interest in the series by revealing exactly how much detail is on screen in any given moment.
This is the third year that the touring Exhibition is being held in Toronto. It is mostly the same idea: a curated presentation of the props, costumes, and concept work that make Westeros feel so real.
As if the immersion of being able to behold the finely detailed production objects – many of which are still caked with mud from when they were last used – isn’t enough to bring Westeros to the fan, this year’s Exhibition has found a way to bring attendees to the Wall.
Along the back of the presentation room, right next to the Dragonstone display, are a line of wooden booths equipped with Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and noise cancelling headphones. Attendees will have the chance to step into the booth, don the goggles and go on a very short (but extremely immersive) tour of The Wall complete with a teaser of what might be in store for the Crows at Castle Black.
The virtual exile to the Wall is certainly going to be a big highlight for some, but the most exciting thing about this Exhibition is still the intersection of fantasy with reality.
Many of the items on display are surprisingly recent: the glass bird that Petyr Baelish gives to Robin Arryn for like, two seconds before it’s thrown through the moon door of the Eyrie; Brienne of Tarth’s new sword, Oathkeeper; an impressive array of Purple Wedding paraphernalia that includes Margaery Tyrell’s wedding dress, the only once worn crowns (merging Baratheon antlers with Tyrell roses) and the infamous poison necklace. All of these will feel very familiar to everyone caught up with the show and will do a good job of spoiling people who aren’t.
Michele Clapton’s costumes are appropriately detailed, as is every prop, so much so that it extends beyond what you can see. The best illustration of this perfect attention lies in number of dismembered body parts that are being presented this year. Jaime’s severed hand is the obvious inclusion, and Ser Davos’ missing fingers that he wears in a sack around his neck are there too.
The third body part in the room is hidden from view. In a glass case next to the virtual reality booths there is a wooden box, closed, that contains Theon Greyjoy’s flayed penis as it was when sent to his father at the end of season three.
There is no way for me to confirm the existence of Theon’s ill-fated manhood, but I am assured by my assigned tour guide that it’s in there.
Staring at the case, marvelling at all of its little details, and surrounded by the staggering minutiae of Westeros, there is no doubt in my mind it’s there in the box in front of me: a mutilated member proving that the most real feeling in the world is being forced to imagine.