“That title’s worth as much as a blond hair from your brother’s ball sack,” says Ser Bronn, the sellsword turned knight sent to shoot Tyrion and Jaime Lannister at their sister Cersei’s request in this week’s Game of Thrones episode. The ball sack in question is Jaime’s. Forget about the feasibility of Bronn being able to sneak into Winterfell and waltz into the Hand of the Queen’s quarters with a giant crossbow without anyone questioning him. Instead, we viewers are supposed to suddenly believe that Jaime’s carpet matches his drapes when our eyes have been telling us clearly for the past several seasons that the drapes are brown?
One of the reasons Game of Thrones resonates so much with viewers is that its creators have been diligent about world-building and attention to detail. From small costume tweaks like Sansa Stark wearing armor for the first time to weaving elaborate family trees, it all contributes to how fans understand the relationships between the huge numbers of characters.
It all starts with the source material. George R.R. Martin established specific physical characteristics within certain family dynasties in his series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based. While not all the aesthetic attributes were translated to the show, hair color is something that lends itself well to a screen, especially for identifying important characters. When that color is off, fans have noticed and questioned it. In GoT’s first season, both Tyrion and Jaime Lannister looked like bleached-tip ’90s boy-band members. They’re now both decidedly darker.
Hair designer Kevin Alexander, who’s been nominated for six Emmys for his work on the show, was unavailable to speak to me for this story. So instead, to determine what’s going on with those Lannister manes, let’s resort to fandom’s most tried-and-true methodology: wild speculation, supported by some educated guessing, expert sourcing, and internet sleuthing.
Hair color is an important identifier among the noble houses of Westeros
Martin has used the basics of hair color genetics to differentiate families, and it acts as a tangible bond between them. For example, Targaryens, who mostly have married close family members, tend to have violet eyes and platinum hair. The Lannisters are golden blond (and in the books, Tyrion had one green eye and one brown). Starks largely have dark hair, although Sansa is auburn like her mother, who was born a Tully.
When Littlefinger brings Sansa to the Eyrie and tries to pass her off as his illegitimate daughter, she dyes her hair dark brown. In A Feast for Crows, Martin even spends some time giving readers insight into how the hair dye industry works in that world, writing: “The wash her aunt had given her changed her own rich auburn into Alayne’s [Sansa’s pseudonym] burnt brown, but it was seldom long before her red began creeping back at the roots. And what must I do when the dye runs out? The wash had come from Tyrosh, across the narrow sea.”
Hair color is often crucial to the plot, and in the case of the Lannisters, it’s a big deal. Ned Stark figured out that Cersei’s kids were likely Jaime’s and not her husband Robert Baratheon’s because of their blond hair — all Baratheons had previously had black hair. The fact that it never occurred to Robert Baratheon that this might be the case (all his illegitimate children, including Gendry, had dark hair) shows that possibly not everyone understood genetics. Those same golden-haired children were the subject of a witch’s prophecy to Cersei when she was younger: “The king will have 20 children, and you will have three. Gold will be their crowns. Gold, their shrouds.” As we know, all three of them have since died.
The Lannisters are all supposed to have golden blond hair; Jaime’s nickname is even “the Golden Lion,” since the lion is on the official Lannister house sigil. In the first season, Jaime has lanky, floppy blond hair, which actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said in a recent interview with Wired made him look like Prince Charming from Shrek. As the seasons progressed, though, it got darker and shorter.
I’m sorry but when did the hair and makeup team just up and decide that the golden haired Lannisters are all gonna be on the L’Oréal Féria box dye auburn spectrum— Alana Massey (@AlanaMassey) May 6, 2019
The change was even more noticeable on Tyrion, whose season one hair was much blonder (evidence from the pilot here) than Jaime’s. In the books, it’s described as almost white, and there’s even a fan theory that Tyrion may be part Targaryen, which explains both his super-blond hair and the fact that Dany’s dragons let him touch them. The hair team tried their best to stay true to the books in this regard in the first season. Alexander told Deadline in 2011 that he mixed different hues of blond and brown, so they all had “the same color but in different concentrations.” He even attempted to make Jaime blonder than the others. But it didn’t last long. Fans have demanded to know why.
The Lannisters’ darkened hair could be about character
Let’s talk symbolism first. Jaime and Tyrion have both recently turned away from their Lannister heritage. Jaime, in his boldest act of disloyalty to his sister/lover Cersei ever, left her at King’s Landing to go help fight the Night King. Tyrion did him one better and killed their father, the patriarch Tywin Lannister. Fans in forums across the internet have speculated that their hair gets darker the farther away they get from House Lannister, both geographically and philosophically.
One Redditor wrote: “Maybe it’s a commentary on their respective relationships to house Lannister, where the blonder you are the more you’re committed to the house?” Another commenter speculated: “But as time goes on they start to resort to more drastic decisions that in the long term will sully the Lannister name, and in effect tarnish the golden prestige of the family.” So essentially, they’re no longer golden children, and that is shown symbolically by their hair.
Jaime lannister's hair gets darker every time he becomes more and more an Anti-hero— Turtle (@InNoutSanity) May 4, 2019
We can also apply what we know about how blond hair changes in the real world. A decade has passed since the pilot was filmed (though it’s not clear that that correlates with show time), and blonds get darker as they age.
“People with golden blond hair genetically have less eumelanin [dark pigments] in their hair. The darkening pigments in naturally blond hair will get stronger as the person ages and even more so if the person is in a colder climate with no sun exposure,” say Matt Rez, an LA-based celebrity colorist and Redken color ambassador whose clients have included Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, and Camila Mendes.
There’s a notable lack of sunlight in Winterfell. This theory is plausible but doesn’t totally hold, because Ser Brienne of Tarth is still very blonde there. Let’s keep trying.
Then there’s the fact that Jaime’s hair has gotten shorter through the seasons, which affects how color looks. “All hair is darker at the roots than the ends,” says Rez. “When cut shorter, those ends will go away and we will see the character with darker hair color.”
But more likely, the dirty blond is a practical issue
Perhaps it’s the show’s notorious lighting issues. We know the lighting has been purposely dark the past several seasons, which can make hair seem darker than it is in the natural sunlight of King’s Landing. Lighting can make the actors’ hair appear to be different shades, too, even within one episode. Take this screenshot of Peter Dinklage pulled from an episode four “Behind the Scenes” interview. While not blond, his hair definitely looks lighter than how it looked onscreen in the final show. I would guess he’s at least had highlights added to his naturally brown hair:
Or perhaps it’s a different sort of technical issue. One Quora commenter put forth a pretty compelling theory, complete with photo receipts. Later seasons were filmed in Belfast, where the weather was brighter and nicer than what it was supposed to be in Winterfell, with winter coming and all. So he suggested that perhaps a filter was used on the entire scene in post-production to make things appear gloomier, which also makes everything look darker, including the actors’ hair.
But I buried the lead here. There’s a more pragmatic reason they aren’t as blond: It’s hard to maintain and didn’t look as good in the show. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss admitted as much in a 2017 interview with Time:
BENIOFF: Remember how blonde Tyrion was?
WEISS: He had, like, streaked hair.
BENIOFF: It’s funny because there are a few shots in the first episode of the series that are from the original pilot, which was shot a year before — the first time you see Tyrion, he’s in the brothel with Ros and that was shot a year before anything else. Eminem blond.
WEISS: Obviously we loved the books so much, loved them enough to possibly devote ten years of our lives to them. And so I just look back at it now when I see those scenes and realize how we were sticking [to the books]: He’s blond, so he’s got to be. It’s not what’s going to look better, it’s light blond in the books so he’s got to be light blond in the show.
To maintain a light blond color on people who are naturally dark-haired is incredibly difficult and damaging to hair. Making someone look blond requires several steps. First, you have to bleach the hair to “lift” the color. This often leaves an unnatural brassiness or orange tone, so then you have to color-correct either with toner or by adding different color pigment to the hair. This lifting process sometimes has to be done multiple times to make brunettes look convincingly blond.
Rez says that for onscreen continuity, hair would need to be retouched every three to six weeks. Sophie Turner used to dye her naturally blonde hair every 10 days to maintain her Sansa Stark red, but has turned to wigs due to hair damage. Emilia Clarke’s platinum Targaryen hair is supplied by multiple wigs.
Realistically, touch-ups would need to happen more frequently on a TV show where continuity is important — you can’t have visible roots showing. Tyrion and Jaime also grow beards later in the series, a move that makes sense for men who are traveling and wouldn’t be shaving every day. But dyeing facial hair to match is a whole other headache, and one that Rez says requires keeping some element of the base color intact so it looks natural.
Cersei, played by the dark-haired Lena Headey, wears wigs exclusively, which explains why her Lannister color has been so consistent. (It doesn’t explain her enduring pixie cut, however.) Shorter wigs, like those that would be required for the men, don’t look totally natural sometimes.
jaime's hair has changed like thirty times since s5 but cersei's hair hasnt grown an inch i— pic.twitter.com/hZvG65XiPx— richard madden's fluffy pillow lips (@wildlingjon) April 27, 2019
So it’s not surprising that the show scrapped Tyrion’s extreme blond and Jaime’s golden waves. In subsequent seasons, the brothers both appear to have gently highlighted hair, which glints and gleams in certain lights to appear lighter. It might be a problem for purists, but from an aesthetic point of view, their hair looks more human and less costumey the way it is now. After all, we are all well aware they are Lannisters.
The most shocking GoT hair drama to me still, though? Conleth Hill, who plays the bald, scheming eunuch Varys, actually looks like this:
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