The most downloaded HBO series to date, and the book series that publishes a new book every decade, G.R. Martin’s world renowned Game of Thrones is the most talked about and anticipated series of all time. Ok so I’m a big fan, and it seems I’m not the only one with 32 million downloads of the fifth season’s premiere in its first week. It’s the gruelling show everyone tunes in to clench their teeth and flip their stomachs to every Monday night after a gruelling day. It’s ironic that the way we distress and unwind is by watching a show that has more rape and murder than hot dinners, but it makes for good tv! So when I had a chance to do a Game of Thrones Tour in Northern Ireland, I was first in line.
Although the beautiful landscapes from the tv series are filmed in places like Croatia, Iceland and Malta (which you can also read about in my Maltese post) the production is based in Northern Ireland, with the interior scenes filmed in the Titanic Studio’s, one of the largest production set in the world, and various set locations scattered around the northern part of the country. In fact, 80% of the show is filmed in Northern Ireland! This makes for an incredible tour of the locations and inside stories of what actually goes on behind the medieval brutal scenes of Westoros.
Although there are many tours which offer various ways of seeing different locations, we booked through the Game of Thrones Tours and delighted we did so. Our tour guide was the biggest Game of Thrones fanatic that actually works on the show himself, a soldier in the army of “The one true King” – I assume you know who I’m talking about! So he made the tour even more memorable as he shared tales and jokes from working on set, and he was so passionate about the series that he knew just about every single thing there is to know! And what we don’t know? Well he had all the theories for that too.
So after getting picked up in Belfast we went on a scenic drive to Portaferry, and crossed “The Narrows” to get to Strangford Island. The ferry being oldest continually active ferry in the world, took us across the mouth of Strangford Lough where we headed for Winterfell.
We arrived at Castle Ward Estate or Winterfell and got to see where it’s all at with The Northerners. Although a lot of what we see on screen is actually CGI, it was interesting seeing everything in reality, and in fact the difference between reality and tv. We trekked approximately 3km around the grounds that offered about 16 set locations from the show, including Walder Frey’s Twins (a 15th Century Tower that was duplicated in effects), Rob Starks base camp in the Riverlands and many isolated scenes from the earlier seasons, such as the spot where Brienne of Tarth killed three Stark bannermen (such a badass) and took the Kind Slayer for a romantic canoe ride on the Stangford Lough.
It was a beautiful day and the scenery and landscapes were the icing on top of an already luscious cake.
After lunch we took the band wagon on to our next stop, Inch Abbey. Here we let our inner northerners out, dressed in cloaks and posed with Valyrian steel swords for iconic photos in the 12th Century Cistercian Castle, where Catilyn and Rob hear the news from King’s Landing of their beloved’s beheading, poor poor Ned – the first jaw dropping murder of the never ending line of shockers in the series. We should have known back then what was in store for us, with our foolish emotional attachments to characters! We stood where Rob Stark was declared “King of the North” and with our cloaks and swords by our sides, it was as if we were also pledging fealty to him, accept that the King of the North also doesn’t last very long and I’d put my money on someone a lot farther away than the North….
The best part of all was seeing the direwolves and a Dothraki! This Game of Thrones family that we visited were like the mascots of the series. The father being a Dothraki, the brothers both in separate armies; and in fact their beautiful dogs that were used in the series! Unfortunately Ghost was away filming in the US at the time, and his schedule didn’t fit in with ours but we did manage to meet his brother and sister! They were trained as game of thrones actors while puppies and also got a makeover while being filmed. They were such gentle giants and the family were the coolest clan ever!
(under pic – did you know that the dothraki language was made by linguist David J. Peterson, comprised of over 3000 words phonetically “is a mix between Arabic and Spanish”.
Although nothing could beat hanging out with some direwolves, the last stop of the day was to Tollymore Forest – 1600 acres of woodland and forestry that is used for many backdrops and scenes throughout the seasons. Another 3 km trek took us to some locations of iconic scenes such as the very first scene of Game of Thrones with dismembered bodies in the (fake!) snow and with our introduction to White Walkers, and the spot by the riverbed where the direwolves were first found and adopted into the Stark family. The tour guide also made a habit of pointing out each log and tree stump that Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) sat on and used in scenes, so to keep all the ladies happy!
All in all this tour was amazing and a great day out. We saw some awesome locations, heard some great inside stories of the set and people of Game of Thrones and hung out with the best characters of all – direwolves and Dothraki! We spent the day discovering the beautiful outdoors and trekked through historical castle grounds. A few things I would consider before booking this tour – it includes a lot of activity so be prepared for it. Maybe small kids or elderly people should skip this one. Also, if you aren’t the greatest fan of the show but expect to see jaw dropping sets, this might not be your cup of tea either. A lot of what you see are castles and scenes from wooded areas, which you can relate to if you know the storyline, but you might not see the significance without following the series yourself.
That being said, the guide does show stills of the scenes and has plenty to say about the ins and outs of what went on in each area, and if you like being outside and exploring then you will enjoy the day for what it’s worth either way! I certainly did, and can’t wait to do it again! I need Game of Thrones to be back in my life and the wait between seasons is too much for me, it’s like dangling food above a puppy – it’s just not fair! I left the tour both delighted and disheartened, as after getting a taste of what goes on behind the scenes and meeting some of the actors and people involved – I didn’t want to go back to reality of the 21st century, and it was all I could do but stay with the coolest game of thrones family ever and hear more about their life on set.