Castle Black behind the scenes ©

HBO

With its rugged fields, castle ruins and sheer coastal views, there is a natural air of drama ingrained in the landscape of Northern Ireland.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, therefore, that the country was selected as a major location for HBO’s blockbuster television series, Game of Thrones.

First aired in 2011, the fantasy drama is this year heading into its seventh season. It follows various families and factions as they battle it out for the ‘Iron Throne’ and ultimate rule of the fictional Seven Kingdoms. The kingdoms are characterised by starkly contrasting physical environments, and the show’s makers had to set their sights far and wide to find unique locations across Iceland, Morocco, Croatia, Spain, and most prominently, Northern Ireland. In the video below, go behind the scenes of a single day of filming across Northern Ireland and other locations.

Inspiring locations

The programme’s producers were drawn to Northern Ireland’s raw and varied natural beauty, allowing for filming in markedly different locations. Led by Supervising Location Manager Robbie Boake, members of the Game of Thrones locations team scouted for sites ranging from the sun-soaked peninsula of Dorne to the northerly castle of Winterfell. In the video below, watch as Boake, along with other members of the cast and crew, discuss their experience of filming in Northern Ireland during Season 2.

Once a location has been chosen, the crew goes to work on transposing it into the Game of Thrones universe. This requires careful work from across the construction, production, locations and armoury departments. By combining the natural landscape with special set designs, the team creates an authentic and atmospheric backdrop to bring the characters and their world to life. In the video below, the crew discuss the thought processes behind the location they selected for Renley’s Camp in Season 2 and give an insight into how the set was created.

The search for new locations often takes the crew well off the beaten track, and the unpredictable weather conditions that are part and parcel of life in the region demand patience from all those involved. In the video below, members of the cast, production and location teams talk about some of the challenges and joys of filming in Belfast for Season 4.

Setting the scene

One of the most talked-about scenes of the Game of Thrones series is the so-called ‘Battle of the Bastards’ at Winterfell in Season 6. In a report published by Northern Ireland Screen, the company outlines the extensive preparations required for this single episode. For the battle alone, over 500 extras, 70 horses, and 25 stuntmen were involved over an astonishing 25 days of filming. In the video at the bottom of this page, learn more about the making of this iconic scene.

A lasting legacy

The success of Game of Thrones has paved the way for some considerable developments within Northern Ireland’s film industry. On the back of the investment the series has brought to the local industry, Belfast-based Northern Ireland Screen has been able to build Belfast Harbour Studios, a 64,000-square-foot extension of their main Titanic Studios site. NIS have also set up signage throughout Northern Ireland, along with a free ‘filming locations app’, extending access to their work across the region. The signs have been made in collaboration with local councils to help embed the Game of Thrones legacy into the fabric of the country’s cultural and physical landscape, while the app features two interactive maps – one displaying the sites as they are in the Seven Kingdoms, and the other as they exist in real-life Northern Ireland. Find out more about the app at the link below.

Along with the financial benefits and boost to tourism, the show has created significant new employment opportunities in the region. In the NIS report, Game of Thrones construction manager Tom Martin says: ‘The chief legacy for the Northern Ireland screen industry will be a local and highly skilled crew-base with vast experience on a show of this size and scale that has the highest productions values on television today’.

Game of Thrones remains one of the most popular television programmes ever made, and owes its success in part to the support and access granted by organisations like Northern Ireland Screen. The show’s triumphant run has helped raise the international profile of Northern Ireland’s screen industry, whose future looks brighter than ever.

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