Con of Thrones 2017

Posted: July 16, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Diary, Game of Thrones, Music
Tags: , , , , ,

For three days, running from June 30th to July 2nd,  Nashville Tennessee hosted the first-ever Con of Thrones.

CoT wasn’t the first-ever convention dedicated to the book series A Song of Ice and Fire or HBO’s show Game of Thrones, but the convention’s inaugural effort solidly established itself with an impressive venue, the amount and variety of stars from the show, the massive engagement of fan experts in the programming, and the support of a dedicated app that provided scheduling, maps, and a social media component that was surprisingly effective. (I have some things to say about this app.)

I was pleased to attend the convention, and lucky enough to be a panelist talking about the Night’s Watch. What follows will be some of my experiences at the convention, along with some observations. (I know a handful of my friends, as well as my Game of Thrones-watching dad, wanted some kind of after-action report. But mostly pictures.)

Before we get started: if you want some incisive and all-encompassing descriptions of the convention from professionals, I strongly urge that you read these two articles:

  1. Con of Thrones Recap: Three Days in the Water Gardens of Tennessee by Lindsey Romain
  2. The Biggest Game of Thrones Fans in the World are Not What I Thought They’d Be by Kaitlyn Tiffany

Their articles nailed it.

I’ll now follow up with my unprofessional observations.

You’re still reading? Awesome.

Con of Thrones took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a beautiful facility.

I don’t think I’ve been to a convention with such scenic views. (The Atlanta hotels that host DragonCon have amazing atria, but the Gaylord was next-level awesome. Just saying.) Being in such a beautiful place made any downtime during the day engaging and relaxing.

Not that there would much of a chance for downtime if a convention-goer wanted to remain busy. The convention programming schedule was packed with interesting content.

There was over a half-dozen guests to hear talk or to get an autograph from/picture with, but if that wasn’t your thing, every hour had multiple tracks of panels, covering topics from the show, books, or both non-exclusively.

During the weekend, I saw these presentations:

  • The Mad Queens: discussing Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen (Cersei had a notable lack of support)
  • No Fires Burning: a breakdown of all the depleted Houses in Westeros, with armies chewed up during the War of the Five Kings and the recent Northern conflict.
  • Twitteros: a discussion about the ugly side of Twitter accounts dedicated to characters from the story. You had to be there. I don’t think I could do the panel justice with a summary. Much sympathy for @BeautyBrienne
  • Great Debates: The Most Upsetting Deaths – this panel, presented by the Storm of Spoilers podcast, was one of many “Great Debates” that they hosted. This one encouraged nominations from the audience for the most upsetting death (obviously) and the audience and panel would argue the merits. The fix was in though, when actors Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon) and Sam Coleman (young Hodor) crashed the panel. Shireen Baratheon was declared the most upsetting death. (I argued that Joffrey Baratheon was the most upsetting death – Come At Me.)
  • Dracarys! – a panel on dragons. Not just Game of Thrones dragons, but dragons in general. Like, why dragons? Why not manticores? I learned that you can be really into Tolkien’s books, but not necessarily know the names of all those damn Silmarillion dragons. (And that’s okay, y’all.)
  • Where the Wildlings Are: a panel that was in theory about the Wildlings. I recall that an overly-large portion was focused on Brienne and Tormund: will they or won’t they.
  • The Parallels Between Religion and Real World Faiths: the title pretty much says it all, but it was a great panel. Particularly the discussion of the seven archetypes of the Faith of the New Gods implicitly reinforcing social controls. I LIVE FOR STUFF LIKE THAT.
  • Best. Viewing. Party. Ever! – a panel on having a kick-ass on-brand Game of Thrones themed party, to get prepared for viewing the next episode.

And the above entries were just the panels I had time for.

I didn’t even list the Great Hall presentations I saw: the Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton) interview, the Miltos Yerolemou (SYRIO FOREL) interview, the interview with all of the actors in attendance who were dead in the show (the excellent Ghosts of Westeros presentation, hosted by Dave Chen and Joanna Robinson of the A Cast of Kings podcast.)

I don’t want to forget to list the costume contest and the podcasting meet-and-greets. There was so much content that I couldn’t physically see. The schedule of events was 32-pages in length! (Seriously, check out the pdf and see what you missed.)

I really needed three of me to see all of the things I wanted to see. And, you know, I also occasionally needed to get food (this human frailty is so annoying) so sacrifices in consuming programming had to be made.

Just walking around the convention spaces was quite enjoyable. Not just from the beauty of the venue, but because of the cosplay.

Just chilling out on the Throne.

A man must pose.

This might have been my favorite version of Lyanna Stark.

Dany and Mini-Dany

Solid book-version of Stannis, with an excellent version of Davos Seaworth from existing A Song of Ice and Fire artwork.

Nice spin on pregnant Melisandre (with a costume making a clever reference to Netflix’s The Handmaid’s Tale!) – Davos, appropriately, does not approve.

Book-faithful costuming for Roose and Ramsay Bolton. Yes, for you people who only watch the show: flesh-pink capes looks for the Flayed Men are in the books.

Costume contest entrants.

The first-round elimination survivors in the costume contest.

I was particularly pleased with the number of Sand Snakes represented by convention cosplayers.

Dorne was not an element that was executed all the well on the show (this didn’t stop me from defending it, though) but it pleased me that fans can embrace the show version of Dorne with their own interpretation. Even the parts of Game of Thrones that get heat from the fans can still be inspirational.

Convention Management

Con of Thrones offered an app to assist the convention-goer. This was a brilliant move.

I’d seen this done before at a recent DragonCon, which was a logistical boon. The ability to browse the day’s programming, create a favorites list, read up on the speakers – all of that was solid.

But the app also had an activity stream feature which acted more or less like a Twitter feed. People used this to great advantage. Friendships blossomed between strangers who were coordinating their activities and discovered common interests. Online friends posted pictures of themselves, to facilitate meeting up with their virtual comrades for the first time. But perhaps the best use was just in the basic sharing of information.

The Gaylord convention center’s parking lot fee was $29 per day. But parking at the mall next door was free, and within easy walking distance. How did my wife and I find this out? It was helpfully posted on the app, with photos to help positively identify where to park, and where to enter the convention grounds. Boom. The app was free, but I would have gladly paid for it. (Well, a nominal fee.)

The only downside of the app’s existence was my inability to use its full range of abilities while at the convention. The Gaylord Opryland Convention Center and Resort did not have freely available wifi. Boo. (To be fair, I could walk away from the convention spaces, through the spacious hotel to the hotel lobby, where hoi polloi like myself could connect to the Mother Internet in a narrow zone of connectivity.)

Even without wifi, I could still access the schedule on my iPad, but I couldn’t get access to the activity stream or any of the other features. So don’t be a luddite like me who relies on available wifi for his iPod. (Maybe one day I’ll get a smart phone. But my phone bills are so reasonable!)

My Panel

(I understand if people skip this section – it’ll just be me talking about me. I know, right? What an ego!)

Sunday morning was The Brothers Black panel, which included yours truly as a panelist. Months before the convention, Con of Thrones announced that they were soliciting for presentation and panel ideas, as well as for people will to be presenters and panelists. I submitted nine of my blog posts hoping to demonstrate that I had some good ideas about Game of Thrones.

My post on the decline of the Night’s Watch was apparently enough of a bona fide to score me a spot on the panel.

Oz, Jim, A. Ron, Cthulhu, some random dude, and Sue.

The lineup included Sue Miller and Oz from Watchers on the Wall, the Bald Move podcast duo Jim Jones and A. Ron Hubbard, and me. Sue and Bald Move had done some early coordinating on the general topics for the panel (the Wall and the Night’s Watch) so we all had some general idea of what to talk about while preserving the opportunity for spontaneous conversation.

It was a good time. I won’t go into painful detail, but we covered maybe 30% of what we expected to talk about (the audience was pretty energized with questions) – but we talked about our surviving Night’s Watch guys, Jon’s oathbreaking versus life-challenged Benjen Stark’s oathkeeping, the Wall’s odds of surviving through season seven, Bran, magical wards, etc.

I cracked one or two jokes which seemed to go over well.

I was mostly happy for the chance to refer to the Wall as an artificial, supernatural glacier.

Everyone carried their weight: the Bald Move guys had previously accepted the panel moderation task (A. Ron was good at keeping things moving, and ultimately from the panel going over time), Oz represented the view of the casual viewer, and Sue is an experienced veteran in this type of forum (she’d already handled 5 panels that weekend, and had more to come.)

But the audience was also great. The room was packed, people had engaging questions, I saw some people apparently trying to transcribe what we were talking about. That was kind of intimidating, but was also extremely cool.

My experience as a participant was in tune with my experience as an observer elsewhere during the weekend. All of the panels were a treat.

Special Events

Friday night was the Rock the Throne concert with multiple bands, but I’m really only going to talk about the Manimals, who took the stage after the Smoothrays and before Daenerys and the Targaryens.

The Manimals were on-site from Brooklyn, NY to perform their A Song of Ice and Fire concept album SEVEN, which featured seven songs detailing the viewpoint of seven point-of-view characters from the books. (Dany, Arya, Jon, Tyrion, Cersei, Brienne, and Bran.)

I’ve talked about SEVEN before on the blog, but this was the first time I got to hear the album performed live, as well as seeing lead singer Haley Bowery’s theatrical set, which included dramatic costume changes.

I’ll spare you from having to go into much description of the band and their performance, since the Verge website has already written about Haley and the Manimals, including a feature on their music video for “Teeth”, a song about Arya, which includes footage from the stage show.

Haley and I have been friends for several years: after finding and commenting on a blog post she’d written about Game of Thrones, we’d struck up a friendship and have talked about the show (one day we’ll have new books to talk about) ever since.

I’d followed the process of her writing SEVEN, nearly from the beginning. (Haley is very detailed in recording her life as an artist and creative person – really, you could do worse things than following her on her blog F*cked Up and Pretty.) Seeing the album performed live was one of those things I’d always wanted to experience.

(At some point, I’ll write up an account of the “Wild Horse Saloon” Saturday night mini-concert/hotel room party that the Manimals hosted, but that’s more or less out of the scope of this article.)

Not everything about the convention was perfect, but we live in an imperfect world.

I’d say that some of the panels I saw could have been improved by more structured moderation, and it certainly seemed like some of the panelists were over-committed in regards to the number of panels. Those are things that could easily shake out before the next convention.

The merchandise area was a bit smaller than I expected. The convention was large enough that the number of vendors seemed not in proportion. The stuff that was there was pretty cool though.

I wasn’t someone who’d paid for a “Valyrian” pass, which came with advertised perks, but it seemed like the premium price for the ticket did not really deliver on actual benefits. (I suppose they’ll figure out something more worthwhile next year, or eliminate the class system of regular versus premium altogether.)

But I can’t complain about the amount of programming, or the engagement of the panelists and audience. It’s safe to say that there was a high level of subject matter experts in attendance, both in enabling the programming and consuming it. Everyone I encountered was upbeat and delighted to be at the convention, from the opening ceremonies to the closing ones.

So, Con of Thrones. Good times. A surprisingly friendly and positive convention about a show well known for treachery, violence, and controversy. I hope that next year’s con is just as great.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images were taken by my wife, Lisa Sponaugle. (If the picture looks poorer in quality, I’m sure it was taken by me using a Kodak easyshare Sport camera.) If anyone wants to share any photos from this post, I’d appreciate my wife get proper attribution.

Image of Haley Bowery is a screencap taken from their video Teeth , which was shot by Courtney Collins. (The video was shot, I mean.) 

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. Haylee says:

    It’s all looks soooo awesome! The hotel is indeed beautiful – what a great place to hold the event.
    Loving the names of some of the panels, especially ‘Where the Wildlings Are! 😁I listened to the Cast of Kings ‘Ghosts’ panel podcast – young Hodor was so funny, and so was Shireen for that matter (I’m terrible at remembering actual actor names). All sounded such fun.
    Perhaps, if it keeps going, we’ll attend one year (and see you in action!). So pleased it all went well and you and Lisa had a good time.
    Have a blast watching tonight (what an end to family birthday celebrations!) – so jealous we have to wait another 24 hours!!
    Oh… and enjoy the blogging rest 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 Thanks, lass!

      The Ghosts of Westeros panel was pretty great, it was nice seeing Joanna and Dave on stage together. (It’s funny that they’d never met in person before, ever, until that weekend.)

      Sam Hodor (whatever his last name was) and Kelly “Shireen” Ingram were the best. They came in on the Most Upsetting Deaths panel, to scold anyone who had any opinions other than Shireen or Hodor’s death. (Kerry’s mom voted that Hodor’s death was more upsetting than Shireen’s!)

      Hope that time period between the US seeing Game of Thrones and the UK flies by.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. KG says:

    Woohoo!!! Congratulations, Patrick! Looks like you had an awesome time there and was so happy to hear that you were on the panel 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. joanna says:

    Thank you so much for all the photos Pat, and the excellent rundown. And no, I didn’t skip your section 🙂 It seems you had an great experience and loads of fun. Albeit a little nerve wracking as a panel speaker. It also sounds like you need at least a week to ‘make the rounds’. So many people getting together about GoT. Rather amazing, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

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