by Brooke Deines
Halloween is around the corner, and what Jon Snow costume would be complete without Longclaw, his Valyrian steel sword? How can you pull off a realistic Brienne of Tarth without Oathkeeper, or Ned Stark without Ice?
Thanks to artisan Chris Beasley and his company, Valyrian Steel, Game of Thrones fans no longer have to settle for plastic accessories sold at the local Halloween emporium, but can purchase replicas of the show’s famous swords for themselves. But they’re not cheap.
Beasley spoke to GQ’s Cam Wolf about how his company’s sales took off after Game of Thrones began airing on HBO. Before the show became a reality, Beasley was one of a handful of licensees George R.R. Martin authorized to sell memorabilia modeled after descriptions in the Song of Ice and Fire books. Beasley recalled a time when his warehouse was full of Longclaws that he had to discount in order to sell, but HBO changed all that. Now, swords that retail for $600 regularly sell out and go for as much as $3,000 on resale sites such as eBay.
An example: According to Beasley, one man bought four $600 swords with the intention to resell them. In order to hide the purchases from his wife, he had Beasley ship them to four different locations. “Several years later, he sent us an email, tells us he sold them, built a pool in his backyard and took his kids to Disney World,” Beasley said.
Beasley recognizes that Game of Thrones fans are nothing if not sticklers for detail, and strives for authenticity. As Jeff Peters, HBO’s vice president of licensing and retail, noted, “[t]his is a product category that requires a highly skilled licensee, and the resulting collection of replica weapons and armor gives fans a way to own beautiful and faithful copies of what they have seen on air.”
Basically, the show has given Beasley’s company “[l]ots of free advertising.” Sometimes that comes in unexpected forms. “It’s helpful that Kit Harington is not a tall man,” Beasley said. “He wears [the sword] on his hip but because he’s not a tall man, the pommel of the sword sits at about his sternum in every scene he’s in, more or less. So, it gets a ton of screen time.”
Poor Jon Snow — he may be a short man, but he’s got a sweet sword. To explore the swords (and shields, and helms, and armor, and arakhs, and more) that Beasley has on offer, visit the Valyrian Steel website.
The model weaponry business isn’t the only market to benefit from the massive interest in Game of Thrones. Companies like Shire Post Mint, which makes coins based on fantasy stories (including A Song of Ice and Fire), has also found success. And then there are the handful of companies, like Dark Horse, that make fantasy miniatures. Like Beasley, Dark Sword Miniatures founder Jim Ludwig secured a license to make figures based on characters from the Song of Ice and Fire books years before Game of Thrones came on the scene, and has been reaping the benefits ever since. Ludwig remembered when a very high-placed “admirer” first got in touch with him in 2005. “I got an email from this guy raving about the miniatures, and he signed it George R.R. Martin.”
However, unlike Beasley, Ludwig doesn’t have a similar deal with HBO to make figures based off Game of Thrones, although he had the opportunity — When Martin started to work with the network, he made sure that these companies got the right of first refusal. Why wouldn’t a company that makes products based on A Song of Ice and Fire jump at the opportunity to work with HBO? Some — like Badali Jewelry founder Janelle Badali — weren’t equipped for it. She had the opportunity to make accessories based on the show, but her business is small and family-owned, and the “understandably large upfront guarantee to secure the license” was more than she could handle.
But even without an official license from HBO, a license to make products based on the books can still go a long way when the show is so popular. Game of Thrones isn’t just good business for HBO; it’s good business for everyone.