Game of Thrones IRL: MTV Visits Northern Ireland & Spain
You can visit ACTUAL WINTERFELL, people.
As much as we love Game of Thrones, the reality is that spending long periods of time in Westeros would be deadly. It sounds fun in theory - knocking back some cheap wine with Cersei, watching someone get boffed on the head at a tourney, ending all conversations with “God’s be good!” and “Would that I could, m’lord”. Cool!
But then there’s all the murder and dead wolves and “ohgod everyone is secretly trying to murder everyone” and hang on is THAT THE APOCALYPSE COMING IN THE FORM OF AN ARMY OF FROZEN CORPSES?
So when HBO asked us if we would like to visit the exotic locations used to film Game of Thrones, and basically act out our wildest fantasies without any of the gore, beheadings and revenge that usually accompanies life in Winterfell, the Iron Islands and Braavos, we said: yes, yes we would, actually, that sounds extremely good.
But now that Winterfell is back under the control of #TeamStark, a trip oop Norf seemed like a good idea. Northern Ireland plays host to absolutely loads of the locations from Game of Thrones - everywhere from Winterfell to Braavos, via the Iron Islands and Dragonstone - so we were able to cram in absolutely loads of nerdy show moments over just a few days.
Carnlaugh - aka the steps of Braavos
In Season Six Episode Seven, The Broken Man, Arya gets stabbed by The Waif (disguised as an old lady, obvs) after quitting her assassin training. She falls into the canal, only to emerge up these white stone steps, dripping wet and bleeding.
While most the scenes in Braavos were filmed in Girona, Spain (which we visit later on), this one shot of Arya emerging up the steps was shot in Carnlaugh, a coastal town in Belfast.
Cushendun - aka the weird shadow-baby cave
In Season Two, Stannis sends Davos and Melisandre to infiltrate the caves under his brother Renly’s camp. Powered by her own branch of weird red priestess magic, Melisandre lies down and gives birth to a creepy shadow baby that runs off and assassinates the youngest Baratheon.
The Cushendun Caves, where it was filmed, can be found on the Northern Ireland coast, and are definitely worth exploring. There are actually two caves, and you can walk right through to a beachy bit. Lying down and pretending to give birth = totally optional.
Dark Hedges - aka the KINGSROAD
They’ve only been used once in the show - as one of the largest roads leading into King’s Landing - but the weird, spidery-limbed trees of the Dark Hedges are instantly recognisable from Game of Thrones. When Arya flees Kings Landing by pretending to be a Night’s Watch recruit called Arry, she is escorted out the city on the back of a wagon that heads up this distinguished road.
The twisty branches create a kind of tunnel effect, and if you think it looks regal as hell then you’re not wrong; the tree-lined road leads up to the v v fancy Gracehill House, which was built in 1775.
Larrybane, aka Renly Baratheon’s camp
Before he was murdered by a shadow-assassin-thingy, Renly hung out in the Baratheon-owned area called the Stormlands, full of rugged cliffs, rocky shores and windy mountains. IRL, the coastal stretch called Larrybane is where the Stormlands were filmed, specifically the bit where Renly and his wife, Margaery, hold a tournament to keep people entertained.
The huge, white-stoned quarry is actually used as a car-park most the time, but if you just use your imagination and pretend all the buses are actually massive horses, it feels like you’re transported back to Game of Thrones-times.
There’s a tiny little island called Sheep Island, which is basically just a big rock in the middle of the ocean that some farmer used to keep all his sheep on. The view is immense - you can see Scotland on a clear day, which is ridiculous and amazing.
This area was also used in Season Six to stand in for Pyke, when Theon and Yara attended the Kingsmoot to try and elect a new leader and it went about as well as this year’s US Presidential election. BOO.
Ballintoy harbour - aka Theon’s rebirth
Further along the coast is more beachy goodness that was used to film Theon’s baptism, aka the brutal ritual where his family kind of drown him in the hope that their God, who lives underwater, will bring him back to life. Nope, no idea.
Anyway, the coastal parts of Northern Ireland are incredible, and a perfect substitute for the ferocious, storm-heavy fringes of Westeros. The waters are a crystal-clear, Instagram-perfect blue. It almost looks like the caribbean, if you ignore the number of visitors wearing anoraks.
Castle Ward aka WINTERFELL
The first thing you need to know about Winterfell IRL is: IT’S CHUFFING AMAZING. Castle Ward doesn’t look much like Winterfell does on the TV, thanks to some CGI green screen wizardry, but it’s the one place any GOT fan should check out when they’re in Northern Ireland.
We donned our finest fur-trimmed cloaks and got taught archery by Jamie, one of the castle staff, who was one of the extras during last season’s The Battle of the Bastards. Fun fact: he got shot in the bum by an arrow.
Texting during a massive arrow battle = SKULL EMOJI
TOLLYMORE FOREST aka The North
After that, we explored Tollymore Forest, which is where loads of scenes from around Winterfell were filmed, including the bit where Ned and the Starks find the adorbz direwolf puppies (we looked really hard but couldn’t find any to take home, soz)
Some of the nearby areas, like Inch Abbey, were used in Season One when Robb began marching South to take on the Lannisters. Ignore the fact it ended HORRIBLY and look at this incredible view!
Girona AKA Braavos and King’s Landing
After Northern Ireland we headed to Girona, where loads of other bits of the show are filmed. Girona’s narrow streets and steep alleyways have featured in some big moments in the show - like Arya’s showdown with The Waif in Season Six - as well as parts of King’s Landing such as the Sept of Baelor.
We did the obvious thing when faced with loads of narrow streets near open water and took a segway tour around the city, despite the very high odds of us of falling over/mowing down tourists/tipping over a cliff.
CATEDRAL SQUARE/CATHEDRAL OF GIRONA aka the Sept of Baelor.
In the name of #investigativejournalism we ran up these steps and it was EXHAUSTING, which makes Jaime Lannister’s ascension up them on the back of a bloody horse even more impressive. This is where he came together with Mace Tyrell to storm the sept and get Tommen back, only to find out he’d converted to The High Sparrow’s cause.
Sant Llorenc Street aka ALLEYWAY BONANZA
This is just one of the several windy alleyways used when Arya was being chased by The Waif. In the show, Arya smeared her bloody hand on steps, walls and doorways to lead the Waif into a trap, but we can confirm the walls were VERY CLEAN when we visited.
The thing that was the most obvious visiting Northern Ireland and Girona was just how flipping excited everyone was to be involved in what is arguably the biggest show in the world (Geordie Shore aside, obvs).
Everyone in Belfast has a story or anecdote about the show - whether they’d been cast as an extra, or their friend worked on the show, or they’d served Kit Harrington a pint when he was off-duty etc etc. It means hanging out there was like the ultimate trip for fans of the show. In fact, just after we visited, a few locations were shut down for filming, which implied that Season Seven was well under way.
We tried to sneak on set, but breaching security would be harder than scaling The Wall on a windy day. It’s going to be a long wait til Summer 2017...
GAME OF THRONES®: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON will be available on Blu-ray & DVD November 14th, 2016, Available now on Digital HD
Thanks to: HBO Entertainment, Northern Ireland Screen, Discover Northern Ireland & Girona Segway.
Written By: Chris Mandle