CHICAGO — Among the hundreds in costume at the C2E2 Expo in Chicago this weekend, a duo decked out as characters from "Game of Thrones" stood out from the crowd.
Dressed as Bran Stark, AJ Arkebauer made his way through the throngs in a wooden throne on wheels, pushed by his caretaker Matthew Soper, himself dressed as Hodor from the show. Just like in "Game of Thrones," the two share a special bond as they journey through life together.
Roughly two years ago, Soper was hired to help care for AJ. The job description was pretty straightforward: go out and have fun. AJ has cerebral palsy and needs assistance to get around.
"They give me free reign to come up with fresh ideas," Soper said.
The duo go to movies, explore downtown, and never miss their favorite show, "Game of Thrones." As they ventured out — even in the rain and snow — Matt noticed the strong parallels between their favorite show and their own lives.
"I was thinking, 'I may have to carry him to the movies if the snow is really bad,' and then I realized that's kind of like Hodor, how he carries Bran; and then I realized the uncanny resemblance," Soper said.
From that simple idea, AJ's living room morphed into a full-blown costume shop.
"We sat down, brainstormed ideas, made some drawings and looked at a lot of pictures," Soper said.
It took weeks, but by the time they were finished, Matt and AJ knew they had nailed it just in time for the C2E2 Expo. So they headed out, to a place where people can be whatever they want, and being stared at is a compliment. Time and again they were stopped by fans asking for a photo.
"It's been really cool to bring AJ to this and have him be a part of this," Soper said. "The reactions have been really amazing."
It was a day where everyone saw two friends with the best costumes in town. The reviews were universally positive, even from their fellow "Game of Thrones" cosplayers.
The costumes were so good, that Matt and AJ were actually asked to join a "Game of Thrones" cosplay group that travels to different shows around the Midwest, opening a whole new world of possibilities for the duo.