Northern Ireland: Belfast and Environs
Belfast and the diverse, dramatic vistas around it have served as home base for Game of Thrones since the series’s beginning. “You’ve got fantastic ruins and landscapes all within, tops, an hour of Belfast,” says Northern Ireland location manager Robert Boake. One stalwart stunner through seasons two and three has been Murlough Bay, with views across the sea to Scotland, just a short drive up the picturesque Causeway Coastal Route. “Scenic landscapes like that are gobsmacking,” he says. “It’s just a no-brainer if you want to shoot something really, really big.” This season Boake was most proud of using the waterfall-covered Pollnagollum cave in the heart of County Fermanagh’s cave country by Belmore Mountain, which served as an outlaw hideout.
Iceland: Lake Myvatn
To capture the cold, lethal beauty beyond the Wall—land of the White Walkers and the wildlings—north Iceland’s rugged, geologically rich terrain was the perfect choice. After filming atop the glacial landscapes of Vatnajökull and Jökulsárlón last season, the crew took it (comparatively) easy at Lake Mývatn, swapping cross-glacier snow scooter rides for spas heated by geothermal springs. According to producer Chris Newman, the real motivation was the unique aesthetic of the rock around the lake: “[The area] is beautiful and is a character in itself. Black lava in snow has a graphic quality, being ideal for Mance Rayder’s camp.”
Thrones returned to Morocco this season, dressing the stone walls and passageways of coastal Essaouira as the slave city of Astapor. “It has fantastic Portuguese ramparts with a dramatic coastline,” says executive producer Bernadette Caulfield. “The setting helped [dramatize] the brutality one would imagine in Slavers’ Bay.” This isn’t Essaouira’s first brush with fame: Orson Welles used its medina in his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello (with Welles himself playing the Moor). There’s even a broken-nosed bust of the portly director in town. The production also shot at the old kasbah of Ait-Ben-Haddou in Ouarzazate, a UNESCO World Heritage site, for some key, large-scale scenes.
Since the second season, the city that George Bernard Shaw once called heaven on earth has stood in for King’s Landing, the treacherous center of the Thrones universe. As Croatian line producer Erika Mllutin says, “The old town is so well preserved, when you’re there you can shoot 360 without any modern buildings in sight, which is rare.” The show has featured some of the city’s most iconic landmarks: the Pile and Ploce gates, Rector’s Palace and a Benedictine monastery on the island of Lokrum. This season the production team also shot at the arboretum in nearby Trsteno, a lush botanical garden dating from the 15th century. Afterward, producers retired to the grand Hotel Excelsior Dubrovnik (rooms, from $140; Frana Supila 12; 385-20/430-830; alh.hr), which has hosted Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Queen Elizabeth II.