- 04 May 19
Game Of Thrones is back (hurrah!). But it’s also coming to an end (sob!). However the saga of the Seven Kingdoms plays out, fans in Ireland will be able to continue their love affair with Westeros, thanks to the show’s close association with Belfast – and a king’s ransom of tours and exhibitions.
Game Of Thrones is back and it’s fair to say it has caused quite a splash. The world’s most popular TV series is pivoting towards its denouement and some of the choices it has made have proved distinctly divisive.
The loudest outcry followed the season’s third episode ‘The Long Night’. This was billed as the grand clash between the Night King and his white walkers and Jon Snow and the defenders of Winterfell.
But goodness how it upset the fanbase. Most egregious of all was killing off the Night King at the end of the episode. He’d been built up over previous years as an irresistible force of nature. Yet all it took was a quick stab of Valyrian steel from Arya stark to destroy the NK – and with him all his minions (you know the saying: kill one frozen medieval zombie, kill em all).
This rapid bundling off stage undermined nearly a decade of patient build-up – and an even longer period of ground-laying in the original George RR Martin novels.
Some were upset too that Arya did the killing. This had less to do with the character than with the lack of foreshadowing for the deed. She had indeed studied with the Faceless Men assassins in Braavos. Yet she was hardly a star pupil – and even if she is the super-ninja the internet wants her to be, how did she tiptoe past all of the Night King’s guards and slip in to slice him up?
And where now for the rest of the story. The focus turns south to King’s Landing where Thrones showrunners Benioff and Weiss have decided Cersei Lannister, yes that unpleasant regent from season one, is a more implacable foe that the Night King. Ooookay. Let’s all buckle up and see how it unfolds.
Regardless of how it all unspools, in a sense Game Of Thrones isn’t going anywhere. The series may end in May. But HBO is already planning a prequel, set thousands of years previously and starring Naomi Watts. At some point in the distant future it is also possible that George RR Martin will finish the two concluding volumes of A Song Of Ice And Fire, and we will discover if he agrees with HBO’s decision to kill off Mance Rayder, Stannis Baratheon etc etc.
Closer to home, Westeros is very much alive. Belfast served as headquarters of the globe-spanning production for nine years and, as you might expect, is now seeking to make the most of that connection.
Across the North are real-world locations that doubled as Westeros landmarks and are now waiting to be explored. These include Castle Ward, Co Down, a stand-in for Winterfell; Murlough Bay and Fair Head (Slaver’s Bay); and the Dark Hedges at Ballymoney, Co Antrim, aka the King’s Road (down which Arya fled after Ned Stark’s head was lopped off at the end of season one).
Back in Belfast, a Bayeux-style Game Of Thrones tapestry telling the story of the previous seven seasons – a blur of stabbings, swordplay and more stabbings, can be viewed at the Ulster Museum (don’t worry, they will be updating the tapestry after season eight).
And in the city’s Titanic Quarter, fans can see many of the costumes and props from the series first hand with the incredible Game Of Thrones: The Touring Exhibition at the Titanic Exhibition Centre until September. This is a true deep dive into Westeros.
Visitors are greeted by the banners of Houses Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Targaryen, Tully, Bolton, Arryn, Greyjoy and so forth. In a series of adjoining rooms they will next have an opportunity to spy at close quarters the wedding outfits of Joffrey and Margaery (the nuptials a happy affair that went well for all concerned); Jaime Lannister’s golden hand; the Hound’s dog’s head armour; and Red Witch Melisandre’s finest red shift (perfect if you’ve got to go to a child burning ceremony but don’t know what to wear).
The scale of some of the exhibits is breathtaking. In a recreation of the dragon vaults beneath the Red Keep is constructed the likeness of the skull of Balerion the Dread – and it’s really, REALLY big. You can also visit a mock-up of Castle Black, complete with Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly’s black furs and a sign reading “Traitor” (“for the watch!”). It’s the perfect appetite whetter as the TV series speeds towards what will presumably be a breathtaking conclusion. Some diehards have grumbled that, with the episode count severely curtailed (down to six from the traditional 10) and the FX budget vastly inflated, Game Of Thrones has become a different show. That was undoubtedly true as the Night King had his comeuppance with the Long Night.
How will it all play out? George RR Martin says the saga will have a “bittersweet” ending (though what could be more bittersweet than him not finishing the book of which the concluded two volumes are yet to be published). Which surely means that several of our favourite characters are in for an untimely demise. So fetch your breast-plate stretcher, say a prayer to the Seven and buckle up – it’s going to be an emotional few weeks as Thrones hurtles towards its end game.
Details of the Game Of Thrones exhibition and tours can be found at discovernorthernireland.com