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Game of Thrones (abbreviated GoT) is a television series based on the medieval high fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, written by George R. R. Martin; A Game of Thrones is the title of the first novel. The series was produced by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and has been very successful, with many viewers, much critical acclaim and many Emmy awards. It was produced by and for the American pay television channel HBO, but was also carried by other TV companies around the world.
Eight seasons were aired between April 2011 and May 2019. All seasons are available on DVD, Blu-Ray and, depending where you live, perhaps also on cable TV. Eventually there are supposed to be seven novels, but it is not clear when; the 1st was published in 1996 and the 5th in 2011. As of early 2021 there has been no announcement of when the 6th will appear.
The series is one of very few in the fantasy genre to feature graphic sex and violence, as well as foul language. It is also adult in its exploration of moral gray areas and of philosophical and political concepts.
|“||When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.||”|
The setting of the series is loosely based on various periods of English history, most notably the Heptarchy, which served as the inspiration for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, and the Wars of the Roses, with the Houses of Stark and Lannister standing in for the Houses of York and Lancaster respectively. The quick succession of monarchs, court intrigue, backstabbing and religious persecution in the capital has many similarities with the Tudor court of late Medieval/Renaissance England. The Red Wedding was inspired by two events in Scottish history; the Black Dinner in 1440 and the Glencoe Massacre in 1692. The Ironborn of the Iron Islands were loosely inspired by the Vikings, who conducted raids on the British Isles throughout the Middle Ages. The Wall is loosely based on Hadrian's Wall in northern England, which was built during the reign of the Roman emperor Hadrian at what was then the northern boundary of his empire.
The series draws some inspiration from the history of other parts of Europe as well. King's Landing is said to be an amalgamation of various medieval European capitals, combining the royal and political machinations of Paris, the religious might of Rome and the mercantile grittiness of London. The banking city of Braavos, built on a network of canals, has clear parallels with Florence and Venice at the height of their power in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. The massive Titan of Braavos statue recalls the sadly lost Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Martin was born and raised in Bayonne, New Jersey, and has said in interviews that growing up in view of New York City, its light and harbor as well as the ships entering and leaving it, let his imagination run rampant and served as an inspiration to think of various sci-fi and fantasy stories that ultimately became the books he is now famous for.
The series was shot in a number of locations in different countries. We describe many below, and web search will turn up at least a half dozen other sites with lists and descriptions.
The story has multiple threads that happen in different places so an episode usually includes things shot in several places. Material from several locations is sometimes used even in a single complex scene. For example, most of the loot train battle in Season 7 was filmed in Spain, but the dragon and some of the other effects were added with computer graphics and Dani riding the dragon was filmed in front of a green screen in the Belfast studio.
Much of the series was shot in the Paint Hall Studio in 1 Belfast, Northern Ireland. This is part of Titanic Studios, located in a former shipyard where the great ship RMS Titanic was built, and is generally not open to the public. Most of the interior scenes for any of the fictional locations were shot in that studio, and the green screen work was done there as well.
Many outdoor locations were also used; quite a few are near Belfast, and organized tours are available that go to many of those; see this list. Some of the series' sets have been left up to attract tourists. A joint venture between HBO and Linen Mill Studios was due to open a GoT Legacy Tour in 2020, but that has been delayed due to COVID-19.
Belfast has six outdoor stained glass panels in an exhibit called "Glass of Thrones". Seeing them is free and a local tourist promotion site has a map.
Most of the temperate-zone outdoor shooting was done around Belfast, but the plot also required that some things be filmed in other climates or on different terrain. The series often had two or three film crews working simultaneously in different places, and in Seasons Three and Five they got up to four. The list of countries is:
- Croatia - starting in Season Two
- Iceland - mostly on glaciers in the national parks
- Malta - in Season One
- Morocco - in Season Three
- Scotland - for a few scenes in the first episode of Season One
- Spain - starting in Season Five, for Dorne and cities in Essos
- United States - the scene involving the bear in Season Three was filmed at a studio in Los Angeles
- Canada - starting from Season Five, some scenes involving the dire wolves were filmed at the Calgary Film Centre in Calgary, and in Banff National Park.
Iceland was used throughout, and Morocco was the main location for the parts of the Daenerys story line that happen in a desert. For other warm areas Malta was used in Season One, mainly Croatia in Seasons Two to Five, and mostly Spain from Season Six on. Seasons Seven and Eight were shot almost entirely in Northern Ireland, Spain and Iceland.
With the exception of most of the studios, all the filming locations can generally be visited by travellers, and indeed many locations are fascinating tourist destinations in their own right, having natural or architectural beauty and plenty of real life history beyond their interest to Thrones fans.
In both the books and the TV series, the fictional continent of Westeros, where most of the action takes place, is divided into seven kingdoms. Parts of the tale are on another continent, Essos, and other parts on the Iron Islands (ruled by the Greyjoy family) and Bear Island (the Mormonts).
King's Landing is the capital of Westeros and was important in every season. The interior sets were in the Belfast studio, and outdoor filming was done in various places.
- Season 1 used 2 Mdina in Malta.
- For seasons 2 to 6, 3 Dubrovnik in Croatia was the main location for King's Landing, and was also used for Qarth which is in Essos.
- Some locations used in season 5, including the Great Sept of Baelor, were in the Catalan city of Girona.
- 4 Doune Castle (Doune, Scotland). Featured in the TV series as Winterfell, the capital of the North. This castle is very picturesque and has been used in several films. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail it is the castle with the taunting Frenchmen.
- 5 Castle Ward (Strangford, Northern Ireland). Also used for Winterfell.
- Myra Castle, also near Strangford, was used for the Bolton stronghold, the Dreadfort.
- 6 Þingvellir National Park in Iceland was used as a filming location for some of the wildling camping scenes in Season 4, as well as for the pass leading to the Bloody Gate in the Vale of Arryn.
- The Dark Hedges in 7 Ballymoney, Northern Ireland was used to film the tree-lined parts of the Kingsroad.
- Most of the forest scenes were filmed at 8 Tollymore Forest Park near Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland.
Many of the scenes in the far North around the wall (mainly the Jon Snow story line) were shot in Iceland, but the sets for Castle Black and Hardhome are both in 9 Magheramorne Quarry near Belfast. The scenes in the Haunted Forest were mainly filmed in Tollymore Forest Park.
- 10 Dimmugrobir is a volcanic wasteland in the Mývatn region of Iceland; it was used for Mance Rayder's huge army camp.
- Grjótagjá Cave, in the same region, is the cave where Jon Snow and Ygritte tryst in Season Three.
Elsewhere in Westeros
Much of the series was shot in Spain; in particular most scenes in Dorne were shot around 11 Seville. In Season Seven, Gaztelugatxe, near 12 Bilbao, was the location for Dragonstone and the loot train battle was shot near 13 Cáceres.
Various real castles stood in for fictional ones, at least for exterior shots.
- Gosford Castle near 14 Armagh in Northern Ireland was the location used for the Tully stronghold Riverrun.
- The Moorish castle at Almodóvar del Río in Andalusia was used for the Tyrell stronghold Highgarden.
- The Castle of Trujillo in Cáceres, Spain, was used for the Lannisters' Casterly Rock.
- Castell de Santa Florentina, just outside Barcelona, was used for the Tarlys' Horn Hill.
Continent of Essos
Essos lies to the East of Westeros, across the Narrow Sea. All of Daenerys' story line in season 1-6 takes place on this continent, and some characters from the Westeros story lines — Arya, Tyrion and Varys — are there as well in seasons 3-6.
- Dubrovnik in Croatia was the location for the city of Qarth, as well as for King's Landing in Westeros
- 16 Split, also in Croatia, was used for many scenes set in Meereen. Others were shot in 17 Peñiscola, Spain.
- Some of the scenes in Volantis, in particular the great bridge there, were shot in 18 Córdoba, Spain.
- Many of the desert scenes in Dani's story line were shot in Morocco, with 19 Essaouira as Astapor and 20 Aït-Benhaddou as Yunkai.
- Some of the filming for Pentos was done in Malta.
- The streets of Braavos, in particular the scene where Arya is hunted by the Waif, were filmed in 21 Girona, Spain, while some other Braavos scenes were filmed in Šibenik and Kaštel Gomilica near the city of Split, Croatia.
- The desert scenes in the Dothraki Sea around Vaes Dothrak were filmed in Spain, in Bardenas Reales in Navarre, and in the Tabernas Desert in Almería.
At the end of season 6, Danaerys — with an army and an entourage that includes Tyrion and Varys — sails to Westeros, and all the action in seasons 7 and 8 is there.
Related events and places
The Emmy Awards are the main awards in the television industry, given every year. Usually the awards ceremony takes place in Los Angeles in mid-September. Over its run, Game of Thrones got 160 nominations and 59 awards, both the most any series has ever had. This page has details.
George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels on which the TV series is based, lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He owns a theater there and sometimes has showings of TV series episodes on the big screen.
Comic Con is a huge event held every summer in San Diego; attendance in 2019 was over 130,000. There are also Comic Con events in other cities. Their original focus was comic books, but sci-fi and fantasy in any medium are now definitely part of the mix. They have had a panel involving Game of Thrones people — cast, crew, writers, directors, ... — every year since the series started. Some panels included the showrunners Benioff and Weiss, or the author Martin. Most or all of these panel discussions are available on YouTube.
Finland has a hotel with a Game of Thrones theme. It is mostly built from ice and snow, and the White Walkers are important in the decor.
For the Game of Thrones TV series, linguist and president of the Language Creation Society David J. Peterson was hired to construct the Dothraki language, as well as various dialects of the Valyrian language based on the limited material (only a couple of words) provided in Martin's novels. Peterson has published several books detailing these languages, and some Game of Thrones fan clubs have dedicated resources to promoting and teaching these languages, with a few even conducting some meetings in these languages. The language-learning platform Duolingo offers a free course in High Valyrian.
HBO has an online store, and a physical shop in New York City, where you can purchase Game of Thrones memorabilia. They also license out various things so items like coffee mugs, posters and T-shirts are available in bookstores and gaming shops worldwide. There are even action figures for major characters.
HBO has a large website for the series, and at least two wikis — Wiki of Ice & Fire and Game of Thrones Wiki — each have enough material to keep a fan amused for days. A site called Making Game of Thrones has many interviews with cast and crew and "journey" articles for major characters. Another called Winter is coming has material on both the TV series and the GoT board game, as well as articles on other shows like Star Wars.
The author of the books, George R R Martin, has his own website with material on the books, the TV series, and his other works.