Take the Black event wrap-up

Monday night hundreds of Game of Thrones fans lined up in the cold in New York City for a chance to be one of the very first to own the Game of Thrones Season Two box set. WinterIsComing.net sent reader and commenter Jacarb to cover the event for us. Check out his full report below!

Pease Porridge and Sidewalk Strings

By Jefferson Carberry

Greg Oppenheim and Greg Carroll showed up at the Union Square Best Buy seven hours early. The draw, the Game of Thrones season two Blu-ray midnight release party, wasn’t scheduled to start until eight. By five-thirty, the Gregs were joined by another twenty or so people.

This was not like a midnight movie premiere. The fans in line were not wildly impatient to see something new; some had already watched through the season multiple times. And it’s not as if buying days’ worth of content at midnight on a Monday would be notably faster than, say, picking it up Tuesday after work.

So, why?

“It’s about coming out for something,” said Oppenheim, “About being a part of the premiere.” The event, running under the banner Take the Black, focused on bringing fans closer to the show.

HBO hired New York-based marketing agency Campfire to come up with a Game of Thrones event for the third year in a row. The food trucks sold out almost every day the first year. The second year, people were lined up at two in the morning to get free house sigil tattoos. Campfire, if nothing else, knew they were dealing with a fan base that would eat up anything and proudly wear the proof for life. And so the idea for this year formed around the oath of supreme dedication taken by the Night’s Watch.

The actual, set-used Longclaw greeted visitors, encased, at the top of Best Buy’s escalator. Jon Snow’s costume stood next to it, surprising many with how short Kit Harrington is. One Best Buy customer—the store remained open during the event—off-handedly asked if it was some sort of display from The Hobbit.

Fans freezing in line could briefly come in to be filmed, replete with black cloak and green screen, reciting the first few lines of the Night’s Watch oath. Behind the scenes, the footage was edited and put on YouTube within minutes.

Those still outside munched on various wall-themed foods, fittingly heavy and savory for the cold. The pease porridge, pies stuffed with honeyed chicken, oatcakes, and mulled cider were presented by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, the cooks behind food blog Inn at the Crossroads. Their blog-branded aprons featured the sigils of houses Beesbury and Tyrell, respectively.

In 2011, Chelsea and Sariann were roommates who wanted to make some lemoncakes. The internet didn’t satisfy them and they set out to research and create the recipe themselves. When they found a hobby in recreating fantasy food, they founded their blog around the same time that season one premiered. They garnered almost immediate attention. Writing to George R.R. Martin—to thank him for creating the story that created the opportunity—resulted in the man himself calling a surprised Chelsea. He loved the idea, though he did have one request; “Just don’t make the seagull.”

Four months after starting the blog, Chelsea and Sariann began working on the official Game of Thrones cookbook. Today, it has sold upwards of 20,000 copies. At the Take the Black event, fans were asking the duo to sign their cookbooks.

“There’s so much to [the story],” said Greg Oppenheim, “It lets people expand what they like into it.” Chelsea and Sariann were just fans who liked to cook. And now they are officially part of it all.

Jason Yang, famous to the tune of 4.4 million YouTube hits on his violin cover of the Game of Thrones theme song, is another fan to find something new through the show. A professional musician, Yang has worked on Glee as well as toured with Madonna. However, he is still best known for his YouTube work. Which is not to detract from it; Campfire chose Yang to perform for fans at the Take the Black event because of his skills with social media as much as his talent with a bow.

A small ensemble was gathered to perform with Yang: some strings, some drums, and a baritone who could have been convincingly cast as a builder on the wall, or perhaps a giant. The cold made tuning instruments and bending fingers creaky endeavors, but the band played on. Twice. They covered Ramin Djawadi’s official soundtracks, and with each set of opening notes the crowd whispered to try and be the first to identify the track. Afterwards, Yang, too, found himself autographing books, slips of paper, and even a phone case. All the while, he still thinks of himself as a fan, saying, “I’ve been waiting as long as everyone else for season three.”

The line to wait for season two filled quickly. Wristbands were passed out to mark the first three-hundred fans, and were gone by 8:30. While eating and listening to music, the line also watched Shintaro Okamoto and his staff carve a direwolf out of a block of ice. The artists peeled layers of ice away from the wolf with chisels sharp enough for a Bolton. Even the pose of the direwolf was meticulously matched with the show; when Okamoto proposed a fierce, menacing beast, he was given the direction to give the wolf a more “speculative” look. Something sternly looking forward, perhaps to something coming.

At eleven, the crowd was let into the store. Gift bags with sigil scarves and cookies were passed out to those with wristbands, along with scrolls containing a note from Jeor Mormont. Four of the notes announced the bearer had won a prize: a set of direwolf bookends, a replica of the Iron Throne, a dragon egg pendant, or the grand prize, a custom, luxury watch. The Night’s Watch. Har. Har.

Brendan Murphy, whom you may know as that guy with the incredible Jon Snow cosplay, was there and fully outfitted. Being made of heavy leathers and furs, the garb was legitimate winter wear. Murphy had even casually donned it to shovel snow the week before, to give the cloak that authentic frozen-dung-digging look and because it was simply well-suited to the job. While the only one fully costumed and standing on Fourth Avenue, Murphy was the most prepared and warm.

As the evening approached midnight, a Best Buy manager informed event staff that they had to take care of “that knife” before the store closed, referring to Longclaw. As it was taken out of the case, Murphy was the only fan allowed to touch—and draw, no less—the sword. Everyone with a camera glommed on immediately, the PR folks from Campfire and HBO audibly grinning in the background.

This was it. A hardcore fan dressed as a Black Brother, interacting with a prop in front of a display of Game of Thrones Blu-rays. This was the photo PR wanted tweeted, along with the YouTube oaths, to stoke sales and bloat the fandom. Let us not forget that, from a cynical point of view, the event was all about selling things. But that view only goes so far. Building and promoting a fanbase by asking fans to do what they love is hardly a raw deal. Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, Sariann Lehrer, and Jason Yang found success in interacting with, and eventually becoming part of, a world that has expanded beyond its own story.

The Longclaw on display is not Valyrian steel. It started out as just a prop. It became the “real” one when it was carried by the actor. It’s the real one because it was actually there, because it touched the “real” Jon Snow. In a moment of opportune proximity, this writer poked it lightly on the nose of the pommel, just enough that he can say he touched Longclaw. Because being able to say it counts for something.

Seven hours and five minutes after arriving, Greg Oppenheim paid for a Lannister-clad Blu-ray box and can now say he was the first person in the world to buy Game of Thrones season two at a retail store.