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Exclusive Game Of Thrones peek behind the scenes

Ahead of the premiere of series five of Game Of Thrones, Linda Stewart gets a sneak preview

Published 09/04/2015

On the set of Game of Thrones
On the set of Game of Thrones
Arya from Game of Thrones
On the set of Game of Thrones

It's one of the biggest stars of the blockbuster HBO epic Game Of Thrones - the stunning scenery of Northern Ireland. While scenes have been shot in Iceland and Croatia - and new for Season Five, Spain - the 'motherlode' is quite definitely Northern Ireland, said location manager Robbie Boake.

HBO says some 750 people across Northern Ireland work on Game Of Thrones every day, whether through location, creation of costumes and weapons, set catering and even on plastering and carpentry apprenticeships. If you are lucky enough to visit Titanic Quarter's Paint Hall, now reserved full-time for Game Of Thrones, you will see everything from the Lannisters' luxurious quarters at Kings Landing to the looming Sept of Balor, where a number of ill-fated weddings have taken place, to the icy summit of The Wall - now rather the worse for wear following a wildling invasion.

You'd be in good company as the home of the Iron Throne has been visited by everyone from the Queen to rock band Nine Inch Nails.

There are even a few sets you mightn't have expected to find in chilly Northern Ireland, such as Daenarys's imposing Throne Room in baking hot Meereen and the bougainvillea draped courtyard where Sansa's wedding party took place.

An Armagh castle doubled as the King's Landing brothel, while Attical near Kilkeel portrayed Vaes Dothrak and Shane's Castle is home to the bridge where Brienne of Tarth clashed with Jaimie Lannister.

Up the coast at Magheramorne Quarry, Castle Black is still in good condition, complete with ravens' cages, walkways and halls, six years after construction.

"There's a lot of fantastic stuff in Northern Ireland and it's mostly within an hour and 15 minutes from Belfast which makes it geographically ideal," Robbie says. "It's very rich and natural and wild, with lots of different kinds of geography and vast differences in vegetation, from the Dothraki sea to moorlands to limestone cliffs.

"They're all very interesting, distinctive feeling environments - it's a nice jigsaw puzzle to play with.

"There's also a lot of antiquity that has been preserved, a lot of interesting things such as 200- or 300-year-old farmhouses that aren't even listed."

He waxes lyrical about the number of ruins that Northern Ireland can offer. The production team avoid going to places with a high influx of tourists, but there is still a wealth of suitable sites and more are being scouted all the time.

Castle Ward is famed as the home of Winterfell but Robbie admits using historical locations can be a difficult balancing act.

"When things started burning and so on, operating within a listed environment became more tricky," he said. In some cases, sets are restored to perfect condition; in others, such as Castle Ward, the sets left a legacy, being recreated as part of a new Game Of Thrones tourist trail.

In one case - Craster's Keep - the set three years ago was built in Clandeboye estate and razed to the ground.

There may also be a few uninvited visitors that have got past strict security on the sets.

"Some of our locations have ghosthunters who continually visit and send me information purporting to be ghost sightings," Robbie said.

One such location is the tunnel beneath Shane's Castle which doubled as Winterfell's crypt.

"The first time I scouted there, I went down and it was pitch black and I definitely heard something scurrying around. But it was probably a rat!" he says.

The Paint Hall was a hive of activity from when filming for season five started in June to its end in mid-December. An entire industry creates everything from costumes to beautifully forged weapons. Armourer Steven Murphy, who makes weapons in-house, shows off Arya's sword Needle, Jaime's Oathkeeper and Joffrey's Widow's Wail, two steel blades pattern-welded to look like Valerian steel; the Viper's curved blade with a snakeshead on the hilt.

The Mountain's Blade stands taller than some visitors to the set and is based on the old gallowglass blade, while the White Walker's sword resembles an icicle.

You can also shudder at the sight of Ramsay Bolton's castration knife and Joffrey's ornate crossbow, which claimed the life of Tywin Lannister.

The costume department holds painstakingly designed dresses worn by Cersei and Daenarys, costumes from Braavos and row after row of soldiers' uniforms, including chain mail.

The level of detail is incredible, from intricately worked leather in the White Walker costumes to wildling costumes covered in mussels or cave paintings and even the shaggy costume worn by the wildling giant.

Belfast Telegraph

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