World of Westeros

City superfan attends Con of Thrones

It was 9 a.m. on June 30, and I exchanged hello’s with two Cersei Lannisters as I got off the elevator. I got in line for coffee in the hotel lobby behind a Jon Snow and a group of three White Walkers, who were still deciding their orders and graciously let me step in front of them. Heading back to the elevator, I bumped into a wildling dressed in furs and giggled at a khal and khaleesi whose three young children were dressed as dragons.

It was the first day of Con of Thrones, the first large-scale convention dedicated to “Game Of Thrones,” HBO’s smash hit fantasy series, and the book series on which it’s based, A Song of Ice and Fire — and as a superfan of all things “Thrones,” I was in my element.

I was one of nearly 4,000 people flocking to the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville for three days packed with activities, panel discussions, celebrity meet-and-greets and lots of people in costumes (including my own carefully crafted Melisandre).

I had always had a love of epic stories and imagined worlds, but A Song of Ice and Fire, written by George R.R. Martin, hooked me like nothing else had. A seamless blend of fantasy elements and engrossing political drama — something that the TV show has been remarkably successful in adapting — the world of Westeros is sprawling and intricately detailed, with a half a dozen standalone books that explore famous stories referenced by major characters and delve into the history of famous Houses, characters and more.

As a result, the depth and richness of Martin’s storytelling have created a fandom on par with the likes of “Star Trek” and Harry Potter. People run websites, podcasts and YouTube channels dedicated to the series; its Wikipedia site, A Wiki of Ice and Fire, is meticulously maintained and added to; gorgeously crafted fan art is available across the Internet. It has become HBO’s most popular show in the network’s history, soaring to new heights of worldwide viewership — the season seven premiere on July 16 shattered the previous record for most-watched premiere, when more than 16 million people tuned in.

Having never been to a con, I wasn’t sure what to expect — but if I’d had any worries that it wouldn’t be a success, they were put to rest before I had even returned to my hotel room with my morning coffee. The hotel was bustling with attendees by 9 a.m., an hour before check-in and programming began, with many stopping to compliment each other on costumes and take photos. Everywhere I looked, people were wide-eyed, and everyone was smiling — it was as if we had all realized at the same moment that there were others who shared our passion for “Thrones,” and how many of us there were.

Con of Thrones wasn’t the first convention for “Game of Thrones” and A Song of Ice and Fire, but it was the largest yet and the most high-profile, featuring actors like Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Kate Dickie (Lysa Arryn), Kerry Ingram (Shireen Baratheon), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Mace Tyrell) and Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Florel), who hosted photo and autograph sessions throughout the weekend and took part in several panel discussions.

The cornerstone of the three-day con was more than 100 hours of programming, with the majority of panels led by the very same fans who have created websites like Watchers on the Wall, podcasts like A Storm of Spoilers and a Cast of Kings and YouTube channels like Alt Shift X. I was astonished by the variety of topics — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, fans could choose from discussions on things like the most popular or outlandish fan theories; specific storylines and characters; sex, religion and death in the series; parallels between Medieval history and the books; how well or how poorly the show adapted the book series; representations of minorities or queer sexuality; the treatment of women and the presence of sexual violence; and dozens more.

There were other activities as well, like trivia games, debates between audience members on a given topic, a costume contest, a tabletop gaming area with “Game of Thrones” version of Risk and Monopoly, and a Saturday night dance party called The Ball on the Wall where bands with names like Daenerys and the Targaryens performed. A marketplace included vendors of clothing, collectables, replica weapons from the show, costumes and more.

The variety of programming aside, the con was a testament to the series’ appeal to an incredibly diverse audience. I saw grandparents with grandchildren and adults carrying babies; a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities; and women and men in equal measure.

The most heartening aspect of the entire weekend, however, was the camaraderie between con attendees – compliments on costumes, in-depth discussions and instant bonds flew fast and thick. No one that I asked for a photo with turned down my request, and when people complimented my own costume and asked for a picture with me, I couldn’t help but grin. Panel discussions were respectful and argument-free, and all over the hotel, I saw people helping each other in a variety of ways: lending phone chargers, fixing makeup, repairing costumes, offering to share water and snacks.

Although the con wasn’t without its issues, never had I been to an event in which the positive atmosphere was so constant. It was a true coming together of people with a shared passion, which made it hard to leave – but the experience will go far in holding us over until Con of Thrones returns in 2018.