Who Are Those Guys Again? How To Tell Friend From Foe in Game of Thrones. (Usually.)

Posted: January 21, 2014 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, TV
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So, the combatants are lined up, heavily armored and helmeted. To the sound of roars and shouts, stamping feet, horns and whistles and all kinds of noise they crash together. And I have no idea who’s who, or what side I want to win.


Broncos vs. the Seahawks?

But that’s because I don’t follow football all that closely. And my team didn’t make the playoffs.

But on Game of Thrones… I know who’s who.

This post discusses FASHION of all things, in the first three seasons of HBO’s television series Game of Thrones. So I guess there might be plot spoilers below for those seasons if you’re not up on the show. Go away and watch it. All three seasons if necessary. I’ll wait.

Like I said, I’m pretty adept on identifying the average armored dude on Game of Thrones.

Not everyone seems to be able to. I occasionally hear these types of comments:

  • “Who was that guy who slashed Tyrion?
  • “Who were those guys that showed up on horseback?
  • What? How did Stannis escape at the end of Blackwater? Wasn’t he being grabbed by Lannister troops?

I’m here to give people a guide on how to identify a Stark soldier from a Lannister lackey. A pirate from Pyke or a Bolton bastard.

As long as they are wearing helmets.


That’s Quite a Helmet, Loras.

The Game of Thrones art department is pretty awesome at coming up with unifying costumes and looks for each of the households. I could talk about fabrics and materials and designs that might help distinguish a fighting man from one household or another, but in general, a helmet is all that’s required. Because the major (and in some cases, minor) houses all have a pretty distinct helmet look, which often aligns with an aspect of their culture. And that’s a help.

Starks – Practical and No Frills


The northern forces controlled by the Starks wear protective headgear that’s pretty straight-forward. It’s just a plain, rounded open-faced helm. Practical. Not fancy. In the field, you could probably fill the helm with snow and melt that snow over a campfire and have fresh water.

Probably easy for the blacksmiths in the North to shape. (I guess. Hey blacksmiths, call me out on this.)


My Rugged Good Looks are Better Than a Helm!

Robb Stark, like nearly every major character, eschews a helmet.

Baratheons – Kind of Classy and Good for Stormy Weather


The soldiers who serve the lords of Storm’s End have a slightly upgraded helmet. Still open faced but more fancy. I particularly like the brim that comes out over the eyes, since it’d be good to keep the rain out of a soldier’s face. And since the Baratheons come from the Storm Lands, you know there’s rain.


I Need No Helmet, My Hair is as Stone-Hard as My Glare.

Stannis Baratheon also dislikes wearing a helmet apparently.


Stannis, You Forgot to Wear a Crown! I Totally Win at Being King!!!

Little brother Renly’s troops have the classic Baratheon brimmed look. Brienne even has some cool antlers on hers. Because she’s badass. Don’t argue. She is.

Freys – Dunce Caps


Seriously, they look like bellhops. And I’m fine with that. Frey is a four letter word. Freying Freys. They can go frey themselves.

Anyway, the leathern caps of the Freys kind of underscores things about them. Walder is too cheap to properly outfit them. They look vaguely ridiculous. I wouldn’t trust that helmet to protect me, and I don’t trust Freys.

Ironborn – Helmets or Buckets? Both!


The Iron Men of the Iron Isles are renowned and feared sailors. Their attire looks weathered but useful for sailing in storm-tossed seas. Particularly their big helmets that probably have a secondary use in bailing. Unflattering helms that go with unflattering men.


What? Wear a Helmet? And Hide Me Pretty Face?

Theon also thinks he’s too good for a helmet.

Boltons – Not Content With the Starks (or Stark Helmets)

I’ve not noticed if the Karstarks or the Umbers have their own signature helmets, but the Boltons certainly do. Treacherous, snakelike, villainous Boltons.


Their helmets are not fancy but certainly distinctive from the mostly rounded Stark helm. They have that Spanish conquistador look. And we all know that conquistadors were really pleasant fellows.


Pop Quiz! Who Does That Guy in the Lower Right Work For?

Roose Bolton keeps forgetting his helmet. Maybe he left it at home with his bastard.

Lannisters – They’re Rich, Right?


Lannister troops have absolutely the best helmets. Not only do they look functional, and exotic, and badass…


…they also open up. Tywin Lannister is smart enough to wear his helmet into battle.


Tyrion’s smart enough to wear his too. There’s a reason that Tywin and Tyrion are so smart. They haven’t been brained in the head in battle. Well actually, Tyrion did get clonked on the head in Season One. But he learned his lesson. (At least until he decided to take his helmet off right before Ser Mandon Moore attacked him.)

Anyone Else?

There are two more groups that people seem to get confused about: the Goldcloaks and the Kingsguard. I often hear podcasters refer to members of the Kingsguard as Goldcloaks, and I understand why. They do have goldenish armor.


Egad! It’s White Armor With Gold Inlays, You Knave!

But the Kingsguard have WHITE cloaks. The Goldcloaks have, well, not white cloaks.


Oi! Police Brutality!

Yeah, I’m not sure I’d call that gold. But if you mean the guys who guard the king, you mean the Kingsguard.

If you mean the guys who also guard the king, you mean the Goldcloaks. But the Kingsguard are the Secret Service agents, and the Goldcloaks are the DC Metropolitan Police officers.

Got it? Yeah, I know. I’m being confusing. All this cloak nonsense is out of place in an article about helmets.

Okay, the regular grunt, beat cop Goldcloaks have pretty distinctive helmets.


Just the Facts. Ma’am.

They have these unique chain-mail coifs hanging from the helms. Sometimes they attach them to the brim to pull the mail over their lower face. I assume that’s when they’re in SWAT-team mode. Or if they don’t want to be identified when killing the dead king’s bastard children.

The Kingsguard never wear helmets.


Ser Barristan Hates It When He Forgets His Helmet

Okay, sometimes they do. The Kingsguard helmet is also pretty distinctive, having kind of a Greek hoplite helmet look.


But still showing enough of the face so we can recognize the actor. Hey, it’s Ser Meryn Trant. The douchebag!

Does This Even Matter?

Well, maybe, maybe not. Being able to identify who the guys in armor are isn’t super important, since eventually you can figure it out. But occasionally it’s good to know immediately that:

  • The guy who attacked Tyrion was a Kingsguard.
  • The guys who showed up on horseback were being lead by a guy wearing a Renly-designed antlered Baratheon helmet.
  • That Stannis’ men were dragging him away, not Lannisters.

So you’ll know the score.

Also, if you can identify troops from their helmets, you can figure out what’s happening in the sneak preview trailers and be able to solidly predict things from the upcoming season.

Hmmm. Maybe a little knowledge is a dangerous thing if you want to totally avoid spoiling yourself.

Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones, obviously.

I make no claim to the artwork, but some claims to the text here, so there.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2014 Some Rights Reserved

  1. dog-eared & foxing says:

    I know it’s not a helmet, but Renly’s crown is the greatest piece of headwear to ever grace television.


  2. Xavier Yes says:

    Thanks for the handy guide. I love when shows and movies put this much effort into something that most people might not even notice. Another example is the Lord of the Rings movies, where even within a given group – say, the hordes of Mordor Orcs – individual families have distinguishable marks and styles of war gear.

    Pretty cool stuff, really.


    • I totally agree, especially in regards to Lord of the Rings and the unbelievable details that only the actors really got to see and appreciate. Thanks for your comment, my friend.


      • Sue Archer says:

        Great stuff, Pat! This is super helpful. I also love how The Lord of the Rings went into such detail on their gear. I watched a special feature which described how people from Weta spent two years threading rubber rings by hand to make chain mail. Two years! Now that’s dedication.


        • Thank you so much Sue! I know exactly what you are talking about, in regards to the LoTR artisans and the details in the costuming… details that could never be picked up on camera and only the actors could appreciate. Very cool stuff.

          Thank you again for finding my post helpful, much appreciated.


  3. JackG88 says:

    I absolutely love this post! Really interesting, and it got me even more excited for Season 4.


  4. ADEWUYI OKE says:

    Nice post. I’m quite looking forward to season 4. Although I’v read the book series


    • Thank you! I’m also eager to see the next season.

      I’m pretty happy overall with HBO’s adaptation, and I get excited when they tweak things just-a-bit, which keeps it interesting for book-readers.


  5. itsmycupcake says:

    Great post! I’ve never watched a series with as many characters as GoT, and I’ve definitely had issues identifying who people are.


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