Sachiko DiGusto dabs white foundation along her husband’s chin and down his neck. With a cotton swab, she draws an angular red scar over his left eye.
“That’s what I hate the most, all the makeup around the eyes,” Joe DiGusto says. “I have a whole new appreciation for what women do every day.”
Sitting in the basement of his East Kansas City home, DiGusto starts to sweat. He’s wearing one of his favorite costumes, but also one of his warmest. Two layers of black leather cinched at the waist, winter gloves and a black fur-trimmed cloak might be perfect for patrolling the Wall, but they’re hardly the perfect Kansas City summer attire.
After all, it takes some dedication to transform into Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell and one of the most popular characters on “Game of Thrones.”
HBO’s hit returns Sunday for its penultimate season. With just 13 episodes left, the show’s greatest conflicts are on a path to a destructive climax.
On the eve of the season premiere, The Star talked to some of Kansas City’s biggest “Game of Thrones” super fans, including a 71-year-old cancer survivor inspired by Arya, a man who shows his Westeros love in permanent ink and the DiGusto family, dressing as their favorite characters.
Joe’s youngest daughter, Kiley, runs under his cloak and pulls the fabric around her face.
“Take a picture of me,” she says with a gummy smile flashing her missing baby teeth.
“That’s her favorite part — she loves taking pictures at all the different cons,” he says.
Joe has always been a movie buff but didn’t really know about the Kansas City cosplaying scene — fans dressing as their favorite characters — until he went to Planet Comicon in 2014 with his son, Dodge.
He always thought it was “a bunch of stereotypical nerds” dressing up, but he has since found an activity that brings the whole family — parents and three children — together. They call themselves Dig Us Cosplay. One time, Joe, a plumber, went to work with blue makeup clinging around his eyes and ears. He had spent the weekend as Beast from the X-Men comics.
Sachiko makes the family’s outfits, and they have a shelf filled with first-place trophies and ribbons from costume contests. Their basement is filled with dozens of hand-stitched costumes, custom masks and boxes of makeup. The entire family dresses together for cons and last year went to one as “Game of Thrones” characters.
Joe dressed as Jon Snow, Sachiko as the red priestess Melisandre, Dodge as Rickon Stark, Kylie as Shireen Baratheon and oldest daughter Sydney as Lady Mormont. The kids have never seen the show, which is packed with violence and sex, but their parents explained what they needed to know.
Joe has read all of the books and says he looks forward to “almost nothing” this season. Sachiko agrees, saying most of her favorite characters are in a good place now, so you know something bad is going to happen.
“I want to watch it, but we aren’t allowed,” Dodge says. “Well, sometimes Dad lets me watch some of the battle scenes.”
‘She’s a survivor’
Margene Bahm, 71, loves the sharp-tongued and resilient Arya Stark.
“I identify with Arya because she’s a survivor,” Bahm says. “Nothing gets me down. Cancer couldn’t get me; I stood up to it and poked it in the eye.”
Bahm, a breast cancer survivor who lives in Waldo, has been reading science fiction and fantasy since she was in second grade. She’s a regular on the convention circuit and has volunteered with the Kansas City science fiction convention ConQuesT 49 for years.
It’s where she first met author George R.R. Martin about 25 years ago, before his books turned into one of HBO’s biggest hits. They have stayed in touch, and she says she has information about the upcoming season/book, but would “have to shoot” anyone she told. She also admits Martin may have changed things since they last spoke.“He tends to do that.”
When a new book is released, she re-reads the entire series before delving into the newest installment. She loves how Martin builds a world people care about.
Because fantasy and science fiction can be great escapes, she founded the nonprofit Mid-American Science Fiction and Fantasy Coalition to promote literacy among young people. The organization collects books and gives them away at conventions and schools.
“The teachers don’t understand that fantasy transports these kids from their everyday,” Bahm said. “They want them to read Mellville or Hawthorne, and they don’t connect with it — and so they don’t become readers.”
For the season premiere, a small group of friends — some she’s met through conventions — will come to her house to watch.
A faceless, tattooed man
A brilliant golden kraken slithers up the entire length of Greg Bosko’s left arm. A green viper, red sun and spear with the words “Unbowed,” “Unbent” and “Unbroken” are emblazoned on his right forearm. And his shoulder has a simple pair of stag antlers, with the words “Ours Is the Fury.”
Every tattoo represents a different “Game of Thrones” sigil (symbol) and house motto for each family (the Greyjoys, Martells and Baratheons).
“All of those families have a fierceness and independence about them that I really identify with,” Bosko says.
Bosko, 35, of Overland Park, started reading the books in the early 2000s but really became a super fan when he saw the characters come to life on screen. He’d been cosplaying with a local “Star Wars” group since 2012 and started costuming as his favorite “Game of Thrones” characters the next year. He loves showing his fandom, taking pictures with people at conventions and talking to other fans.
His favorite character to costume as is Jaqen H’ghar, a mysterious assassin who serves the Many-Faced god. Bosko has always worn his hair long and decided to dye it with streaks of silver and red to match the character.
“That’s how I wear my hair every day,” Bosko says. “I dig that mysterious nature, and it works for me.”
He spent approximately 75 hours building the assassin’s armor out of foam, plastic and commissioned leatherworking. He says people always ask about the creation, but not about the maintenance.
After the first day of the annual Con of Thrones in Nashville, Tenn., Bosko spent hours retouching the costume’s paint.
As for Sunday: “I will be enjoying the ‘Game of Thrones’ premiere with a proper feast and mead drunken from a Viking horn of some kind,” Bosko says. “I am probably more excited for it than I should be.”
Jacob Gedetsis: 816-234-4416, @jacobgedetsis
The seventh season of “Game of Thrones” premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 16, on HBO.
Raised loyal, raised Royal
The Kansas City Royals will host a “Game of Thrones” night on Wednesday, July 19, when they take on the Detroit Tigers. Anyone can attend, but the themed tickets, which include a “Game of Thrones” T-shirt (“Raised loyal, raised Royal”) are sold out. The evening includes various “Game of Thrones” games and big-screen antics.