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May 07, 2019

An Artist in Arms

In a world of “men, men, men,” armorist Natalia Lee stands out.

Ann Farmer
  • Courtesy Natalia Lee

Natalia Lee knows how Game of Thrones ends.

But nobody is going to pry that tightly guarded secret from her. "I've erased it from memory," jokes Lee, who served as an armorer for all eight seasons of the acclaimed HBO fantasy drama.

What she will divulge, however, is that Heartsbane — House Tarly's Valyrian steel sword, forged in dragon-flame and magic — was in play to the bloody end.

"Heartsbane was still floating around," says Lee, who designed it and other weapons for the battle-drenched series. Her work ranges from bejeweled daggers to giant, ship-mounted crossbows to fantastical White Walker spears "that look like ice but don't shatter like ice."

When she wasn't making weapons, Lee was schlepping the heavy props up ancient stone staircases at the show's featured fortress locations. "You have to get all that stuff up there," she points out. Or she was training actors to wield their axes and whips safely. Even the stuntpeople turned to her for instructions on using medieval weapons like the trebuchet, a type of catapult.

Lee also appeared in front of the camera in season one as Chella, a grungy, black-toothed warrior who slices off her foes' ears and festoons them around her neck. The hardest part, she says, was "keeping a straight face," since actor Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) liked to mug at her from the sidelines.

Growing up in Australia, Lee became a crack markswoman. After studying martial arts and serving as a weapons expert for the New South Wales police, she began applying her specialty skills to film sets.

Lee recently worked on Amazon's political thriller series Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. She has yet to encounter another woman armorist. "It's all men, men, men," she says, recalling the time she showed up to a production and was mistaken for the drapery person. "Look, I've never done drapery in my life," she told the flustered production manager.

"I'm also called the 'gun chick,'" Lee adds. "You've got to laugh at it. Because you are quite the novelty."


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2019



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