Game of Thrones Tarot: A talk with author Liz Dean

Warning! There are a few mild GoT spoilers in this post!

I am GoT obsessed. I’ve read the books and seen every episode multiple times. Sunday night’s finale left me floored and I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself until the next season (let alone what I’ll do with me once it’s over for good). The good news is that the Game of Thrones Tarot debuts next spring! Author Liz Dean was kind enough to sit down with me and talk about the creation process of this dynamic new deck.

Tarot author Liz Dean

Liz, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, is a professional tarot reader at Psychic Sisters in Selfridges, London. A bestselling Tarot author, she has researched and read Tarot since she happened upon her first Tarot deck, the Morgan Greer, in 1989. Liz is the author of six Tarot/divination decks and books, including The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, The Ultimate Guide to Tarot Spreads, The Victorian Steampunk Tarot; Fairy Tale Fortune Cards, The Golden Tarot, The Mystery of the Tarot, The Love Tarot and The Art of Tarot. She is also the author of Switchwords: How to Use One Word to Get What You Want, and a former Co-Editor of the UK’s leading spiritual magazine, Kindred Spirit.

What did you think of that finale?
I didn’t see it! I confess that I’ve been saving this whole season to watch in one go. Is Tyrion still alive? Because that’s what I really care about.

Yes, he’s still alive.
Oh, thank god.

How did this incredible project come to you?
I just got a call! It was the most amazing thing. They simply said, “We have an exciting project, are you interested?” And that’s when it began! I couldn’t quite believe the email when I read it. I asked myself, this is real? This is happening? That was beginning of October, 2016. And there was a nice synchronicity: just a few months before that call, we had moved home to Newcastle upon Tyne after many years living away. It’s in the north-east of England, and our house is just a few miles from the start of Hadrian’s Wall – the inspiration for the Wall itself.

There is a Lord of the Rings Tarot, but that story has a very clear Major Arcana story and characters built into it. Game of Thrones is far more convoluted. It’s hard to tell who owns the Fool’s Journey.
That has been the biggest part of the whole process—the alignment with the characters and specific scenes. It was a huge conversation between me, the amazing deck artist Craig Coss, the publisher, and HBO. If you include the art director, it’s a kind of five-way conversation about what worked. My role has been to represent Tarot to make sure the character and scene alignment are authentic for our practice. There were various suggestions for each of the Major Arcana, but choosing which characters would portray them was not always a clear choice. There were also certain limitations as we couldn’t use every actor who has ever appeared in the series as there were simply way too many people! But when you have certain restrictions, you get more creative. We’ve ended up with cards that we’re all really proud of because we had to think really, really hard about each one.

I can’t say who all of the Major Arcana alignments are at this point, but I can say that Daenerys is the Empress and Jon Snow is the Emperor. Tyrion Lannister is the Fool. We have Arya Stark as Death. She had to be.

Through these restrictions, were you clued into things that might happen later in the series?
They didn’t give us any information about future seasons. That’s absolutely under lock and key!

So you never had drinks with Kit Harington?
I wish! But I’d really love to meet Gwendoline Christie. I would love to meet her. She is such an extraordinary actress.

A very important question: Should Brienne end up with Tormund or Jaime?
Tormund. They’re totally together. I mean, you’ve seen the looks! There’s a whole different thing between her and Jaime. I feel she’s going to be with Tormund. She needs a big tall guy who gets how beautiful she is!

Where did you start? Many artists begin their deck designs with the Fool, but others jump around.
We started with a list of the characters that had the most natural, immediate fit. We started with Tyrion, Arya, and Daenerys as the Empress. Daenerys, as the “three” (number of the Empress), with the three dragons gave us that card instantly. There was certain symbolism that just worked. Arya, being the assassin, has the black and white and that resonated. I think Tyrion was always the Fool. I feel like that wasn’t even a decision, he was simply there in our consciousness from the beginning as the Fool.

What was the most fun part of doing this project?
All of it! Getting to really look closely at all of the intricate weaving of the story lines for work, and getting paid to watch Game of Thrones. It was a total dream! Even though I’d seen some of the series, I needed to refresh my mind. I binged-watched for ten days, five episodes a day. That was my life and it was amazing. I laughed, I cried, and I began to see all of it in a very deep and mythic way. When you’re looking at it from not just one hero’s journey but so many hero’s journeys, so many becomings. Brienne, Arya, Bronn, Davos, each one is its own hero’s journey. I call that fun because that much journey is amazing.

Craig Coss is an amazing artist and he would pick up on some detail and say, “Let’s use that as a pattern. Let’s take that as a motif.” We went through one phase in which we were only looking at swords; Ice, and Oathkeeper, and others. I spent a whole morning just looking at swords to see if Craig’s idea would work on a card. One time, we were only looking at fabric patterns. You get into this microscopic mindset, and then you see the care and richness and sheer talents of the people who have created this series. We then tried to bring those details into the cards. It helped me see this season in a very appreciative way, from an artistic perspective, and that came from Craig.

You mentioned your favorite character is Tyrion. Why is he your favorite?
He’s erudite and innocent. He has the innocence of the Fool. He always wants to learn. He’s open, and he’s quite childlike in some ways. You can see that in that scene when he’s talking about being a little boy who wanted a dragon. He’s had the worst possible life. He’s been hounded and disrespected and really abused by his family, but he still has love and desire to create change. He is incredibly brave as well. Remember when he took over the battle when Joffrey ran away? Clever Tyrion worked out how to get his men through a tunnel to ram back on the Baratheon army. A tiny man in a suit of armor. And he’s funny. “I drink and I know things.” He knows who he is. I think that’s the appeal of Tyrion. He really knows himself.

Who do you think will sit on the Iron throne?
I would love to see Jon and Dani together. I could be completely wrong. It could be Tyrion. It could be Gendry! I just know that it can’t be Cersei!

Are you able to tell us who The Lovers are?
No!!!! I wish I could! I’m sorry!

You have a lot of Tarot decks and books on the market that are very different from this deck. How was this journey different than others?
It was completely different because you are anchored in another story. It’s not so much about my response to the cards. It’s about how that card meaning connects with the show’s action. It’s a very different focus. The limitation for me is that it’s a small companion book, but you really have to make that connection clear so people really know why these cards are aligned in the way they are.

Because of the confidentiality restrictions, was it difficult to not be able to tap the Tarot community for advice?
Yes, that did feel incredibly strange. It was only me, Craig, and the publisher. Craig and I had many fascinating Skype conversations about Tarot into the night. The non-disclosure was a real kind of pressure. It was only released publicly at Comic Con six weeks ago, where the sample deck was officially shown. But until that point, I was very quiet on Facebook. It felt strange.

What are you most excited about in releasing this deck?
The big excitement for me is that a lot of new people who might never touch a Tarot deck might now think, “I’m going to have a go.” For me, the great thing is to get new people reading Tarot, to be able to see their own stories through it. If Game of Thrones opens the door to that, I think that’s brilliant.

What advice do you have for those who want to publish Tarot decks?
Consider how you want to do it, whether with a publisher or yourself. I see so many amazing decks…limited edition, self-published, collectible decks. Their creators do things on their terms. When you go with a publisher there is always a level of compromise, but they also offer distribution. I think it’s about how much control you want to keep. If you want to do a deck, commit to that. It’s just a question of how you want to do it, rather than ‘if’. If you have a strong idea, don’t hold back because it’s not perfect yet; just begin, and finish. My advice is to publish any way that works for you. Do it. And then do another one.

What’s next for Liz Dean?
I don’t know! I’ve had an incredible year. I’ve written an Ultimate Guide to Divination, which will be published by Fair Winds at the end of 2018. I’m also doing a ghost writing project. I’m still very busy even though Game of Thrones is behind me. Maybe a bit more teaching and classes? I’ve been away from people. It’s been a bit of a Hermit year for me. I think it’ll be a bit less writing and a bit more being out there. I’m trying to get balance. I’m coming up into Temperance, I think.

Thank you for speaking with me, Liz! Game of Thrones Tarot will be available March, 2018, but is available for pre-order, now!

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