Game of Thrones, the biggest production ever to be filmed in Northern Ireland, launches on Sky Atlantic HD tonight, just one day after its US premiere and is tipped to be the next worldwide TV phenomenon.
The series has already received rave reviews and another series is thought to be in the pipeline.
Based on the series of best-selling novels, A Song Of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, the 10-part medieval fantasy epic follows kings and queens, knights and renegades, liars and noblemen as they vie for power in the mythical kingdom of Westeros.
It’s a gritty take on the fantasy genre, a tale of family, betrayal, lust, greed and power.
Excitement in the run-up to the launch of the HBO series has reached fever pitch, with dedicated fan-sites and internet forums buzzing with anticipation.
A Song of Ice and Fire has built up a massive cult following and the show is expected to be watched by millions .
Created by BAFTA award nominee David Benioff and American author D B Weiss, Game of Thrones boasts a stellar cast including Sean Bean, Lena Headey, Mark Addy, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Charles Dance, Alfie Allen and Peter Dinklage.
With most of the multi-million pound production filmed in Northern Ireland, Game of Thrones stars many local actors as well, such as Michelle Fairley, Ian McElhinney and Conleth Hill.
Dublin actor Aiden Gillen, best known for his role as an ambitious politician in The Wire, also stars.
Producer for the series was local man Mark Huffam (Mamma Mia, Killing Bono) while Armagh's Brian Kirk directed three episodes.
Huge sets for interior shooting were constructed in the Paint Hall Studio in the Titanic Quarter, while much of Northern Ireland's countryside was used for exterior shots.
Stuart Murphy, Director of Programmes, Sky Atlantic HD, said: “With Game of Thrones, HBO is going to redefine the term ‘event TV’.
“We know our customers’ anticipation for the series has reached fever pitch, so we wanted to ensure they could see the show as close to its US broadcast as humanly possible.
“The series is a true spectacle that will surprise and captivate audiences, and it’s a huge testament to HBO's bravura film-making that they continue to subvert the genres we know and love, this time in the fantasy genre. We will transmit within 24 hours of the show being on air in the States, so Sky Atlantic HD can bring Sky viewers the best TV as close as possible to its American release.”
Creator D B Weiss said: “Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy kingdom called Westeros, a place that is like our world in many ways and unlike our world in many other ways.”
Finding the right location to bring Martin's detailed world to life was a challenging task, he said.
“We needed somewhere that could give us a wide geographical variety,” he said.
“It wouldn't do to drive seven hours between locations because every time you do that, you lose a day. We really needed somewhere that was compressed enough for us to get from place to place and Northern Ireland was fantastic for that.”
Author and executive producer George R R Martinsaid:”I can't get over the size of the Paint Hall, it’s amazing,” he said.
“To watch my world come to life, to see it as a tangible reality was breathtaking.
“And the cast is fantastic too, Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage and all the children as well.
“Game of Thrones is an epic fantasy, with a conflict for power at its core.
“But it’s more than just politics; there are questions of loyalty, lust, sexual obsession, desire, defiance, history. In this world, when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Honour and mercy have no place in the game of thrones.”
Director Brian Kirk said: “It's great to see so many local actors and they have all put in incredible performances. Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark is amazing to watch, depicting her inward nobility perfectly, while Aiden Gillen steals every scene he is in.
“Not many shows of this scale have been seen on television and to have it filmed in Northern Ireland was quite a coup. As a director, each of my episodes had its own specific challenges, but these were made easier by the great actors, good script and a wonderful crew.”
It is believed Game of Thrones, which was supported by Northern Ireland Screen, created around 800 jobs locally and boosted the economy by up to £20m.
If the series is a success, a second run is likely to be commissioned by HBO.
Set in the land of Westeros, Game of Thrones follows the struggle for power between several noble families for the right to sit on the realm's Iron Throne. Lord of Winterfell, the honourable family man Eddard Stark (Sean Bean) is asked by King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) to head south to become his right-hand man. He reluctantly agrees, aware that he is walking into a viper's nest of political in-fighting, treachery and into a violent world where sex is as powerful as the sword. Meanwhile, there is a plot by the son of a deposed king to raise an army to reclaim the kingdom from Baratheon.
For more information visit HBO.com