Game of Thrones TV chief slams Belfast
Show's executives 'struggling with life here'
Belfast's new Lord Mayor has defended the city after it was rubbished by a senior executive at HBO – the channel that brought Game of Thrones to Northern Ireland.
HBO has received grants of more than £10m to film here and is a 'global ambassador' for Northern Ireland after a deal to promote the region in a worldwide advertising campaign.
And as excitement builds ahead of tonight's climax of the series, the proud producers – Dan B Weiss and David Benioff – said they put the episode up for two Emmy Awards. "It's the best finale we've ever done bar none," they said.
But HBO's president of programming has made it clear in an interview with US magazine Vulture that the two executives would rather be somewhere other than Belfast.
"It's a little bit of a personal challenge I don't think they contemplated when we initially found our location in Belfast, what that meant for them personally ... Belfast is not the most cosmopolitan of cities to spend half of the year," said Michael Lombardo, who met Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in March.
Asked if they were having a hard time, he replied: "I don't think they have a hard time, but the good news is work keeps them busy, let's just say that."
Despite the comments, HBO is set to return here to film a fifth season.
Belfast's new Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon said her city has transformed into a vibrant place in recent times.
"I don't want to get drawn into attacking HBO, who are doing a lot for Northern Ireland, but I think Belfast is a very vibrant city," she said.
"We can see from our visitor numbers that it is going from strength to strength.
"There is a lot about Belfast which is there to be showcased and celebrated."
It was only in April that HBO allowed its name and logo to be used in Tourism Ireland campaigns to promote Northern Ireland on Twitter and Facebook as a top holiday destination in markets across the world. At the time, Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said the partnership, formed after months of negotiations, was "a major coup for tourism and offers a unique opportunity to promote Northern Ireland".
And while the show has benefited from grants, it has also created hundreds of jobs here. Stormont has estimated the economic impact of Game of Thrones here at more than £82m.
Reaction on social media included comments decrying Belfast's early pub closing hours, and some arguing that despite its pretensions, it is a small city with too high expectations made of it, while having nothing particularly special to offer. Other natives were less understanding.
After last week's epic battle featuring giants, mammoths and a bodycount in the hundreds, fans are now looking forward to a nail-biting finale to season four.
In a hint of what is to come tonight, Weiss and Benioff said they put the episode The Children up for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series and Outstanding Prosthetic Make-Up – so expect plenty more gore.
While details of the big finale have been kept tightly under wraps, fans will be keen to learn of the fate of dwarf Tyrion Lannister, the show's main character, wrongly sentenced to death for the poisoning of the last king to sit on the Iron Throne.
And they will hope to find out whether Jon Snow's last-ditch bid to avert all-out war with the Wildlings north of the wall – Westeros' 700ft high peace line –has worked.
Westeros vs Belfast
A society with medieval values where several tribes go to war for control of a territory. Whoever sits on the Iron Throne is inevitably betrayed by those around him... First Ministers keep a very close eye on their backs these days. The Wildling hordes of the north are kept out of civilised society with a 700ft high ice wall... The Executive keeps the tribes of north Belfast apart with massive peace walls.