Belfast Telegraph

Game of Thrones: Northern Ireland's big break on global TV... and critics just can’t get enough of it

By Maureen Coleman

After months of anticipation and speculation, epic fantasy drama Game Of Thrones launched to rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

The new HBO series premiered in America on Sunday night amid fever-pitch hype, quickly followed by its UK launch last night on Sky Atlantic HD.

Filmed for the most part in Northern Ireland, Game Of Thrones began its journey onto the screen in 2006 when executive producer David Benioff first read A Song Of Ice And Fire by best-sellling author George RR Martin.

“I read about a hundred pages of the first book, Game Of Thrones, and all of a sudden it became addictive,” he said.

After approaching his screenwriter friend DB Weiss, the pair realised what they had on their hands was too vast a story to be compressed into a film, so they approached HBO with a plan to make a fantasy series that would redefine the genre.

With HBO firmly on board, Northern Ireland and Malta were chosen as the locations for filming and in 2009 a pilot was shot in and around Belfast, prompting HBO to commission a 10-part series.

The series has finally aired to widespread applause, with critics advising viewers to get in early to absorb the gritty, dark and complex tale. Not surprisingly, many focus on the attention to sex and violence in the series, but these are central to Martin's fantasy world.

“Sexuality is an important part of the books and the violence is uncompromising because the Middle Ages on which they were based were violent and brutal,” he said. “It takes someone like HBO to do it.”

Sean Bean, who plays central character Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, said there was no shying away from the adult themes.

“There are twists and turns and very complex underlying stories,” he said. “It has a real edge to it and there are no-holds-barred violent confrontations.

“It's very brutal and very sexy, as sex is used as a tool for power by various individuals in the story.

“So the combination of all those elements make it quite disturbing but very watchable. It's real nail-biting stuff.”

- Read Maureen Coleman's review

- Behind the scenes of HBO’s stunning blockbuster

The story

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.

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