Winter Is Coming: The Epic Real Estate Behind HBO’s Game Of Thrones
“You think it matters who sits on the Iron Throne?”
So says Jeor Mormont to Game of Thrones favorite Jon Snow in Season 1. In real estate terms, he is dead wrong. As we ramp up for the seventh season of one of the most popular dramas in television history, it is easy to forget that the battle for the Iron Throne is not actually playing out in Westeros, but in real, concrete locations here on Earth.
Bisnow explores the real-life real estate of the Seven Kingdoms, including what it took for HBO’s crews to nab these locations and transform them into Westeros. Specifically, Bisnow examines the real estate surrounding the Iron Throne — from the Starks’ former home of Winterfell in Ireland to the Martell’s Sunspear palace in Spain, to the site of (spoiler alert!) King Joffrey’s death in a beautiful Croatian park — just in time for the long-awaited July 16 season premiere, in which these promise to collide.
Real Site: Castle Ward
Location: Downpatrick, Northern Ireland
Most scenes featuring the seat of House Stark and their home Winterfell are filmed at this site. Castle Ward is part of a multiplex dating back to the 1700s owned by the Irish National Trust, a government organization dedicated to Ireland’s historical and environmental preservation. (The complex includes the shoreside Audley’s Castle in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland). Unlike the relatively smaller Scottish Doune Castle, where some initial indoor and outdoor shots of Winterfell were filmed for the first season, the crew began filming in Castle Ward’s expansive gloomy woodlands in Season 2. The castle’s imposing Gothic architecture spans more than 820 acres. Castle Ward’s grounds have also served as the set location for scenes including both House Lannister and House Stark army camps, as well as the set of the fortified stronghold seat of House Frey, according to the "Game of Thrones" website.
Castle Ward has served as a backdrop for many films and television shows have been filmed at the castle. It also served as Leoch Castle in the television series “Outlandish.”
2. Castle Black
Real Site: Magheramorne Quarry outside Belfast, Ireland
Location: Outside of Belfast, Ireland
For the headquarters of the Wall’s Night Watch, Castle Black, and the domain of one of the show’s protagonists, Jon Snow, HBO filmed principal scenes in Magheramorne Quarry. The site is a few miles from the show’s Belfast studio, according to the GOT site. The town’s stark hills also have been home to multiple King’s Landing city walls, such as the capital of the Seven Kingdoms and the seat of the Iron Throne.
The site was also the backdrop of the second season's Battle of the Blackwater, in which the late King Robert Baratheon’s brother, Stannis, staged an attempt to overthrow villain King Joffrey Baratheon from the Iron Throne. The crew built a full set, loosely modeled on the town’s own historical homes, to create the the Free Folk fishing bay village of Hardhome — before destroying it all for the heartbreaking massacre in Season 5.
3. Sunspear Palace
Real Site: The Alcazar Palace
Location: Seville, Spain
“A Song of Ice and Fire,” the book series the show is based on, is loosely based on England’s War of the Roses (a series of wars between two rival families from 1455 to 1487 for control of the English throne) — and it shows most heavily, of all places, in its depictions of Westeros’ southernmost region of Dorne (the universe’s equivalent of Inquisition-era Spain).
The Alcazar Palace was built over hundreds of years between 914 and 1364 A.D., surrounded by enormous gardens and palm trees. Seville’s warm weather and the palace’s gorgeous architecture certainly offer a lush, leisurely atmosphere, rendering it the perfect site for House Martell’s Sunspear palace — and a way to visually distinguish the Dornishmen’s culture from those of the continent’s northern regions.
Real Site: Downhill Strand
Locations: A beach in Ireland
It would be remiss not to mention the Northern Irish beach that makes up House Targaryen’s home island and seat of Dragonstone. Downhill Strand is where crews filmed the Season 2 opener in which Stannis and the Red Priestess Melisandre famously burn the statues of the Seven, as well as where Gendry is last seen in Season 3 rowing away in a boat. Intriguingly, Dragonstone’s most famous export, Iron Throne contender Daenarys Targaryen, has yet to be filmed here.
5. King's Landing — Purple Wedding
Real Set: Gradac Park
Location: Dubrovnik, Croatia
"Game of Thrones" is infamous even among non-fans for its proclivity toward breaking fans’ hearts with the deaths of beloved characters, but Gradac Park retains the dubious honor of hosting one of the few deaths viewers were overwhelmingly thrilled to watch unfold: the assassination of King Joffrey in the fourth season’s Purple Wedding. This public park rests on a waterfront high point right next to Dubrovnik’s Old City region, and is accessible by climbing an ancient rocky staircase.
6. King's Landing — Arena
Real Set: Belvedere Atrium
Location: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is the ideal medieval port city to stand in for King’s Landing in the beginning of Season 2. The city seems to have a penchant for hosting some of the series’ most intriguing deaths. Formerly a hotel dating back to the 1980s, the property was left abandoned for more than two decades after a 1991 Serbian bombing during the disintegration of Yugoslavia. HBO set dressers washed out a great deal of grime and graffiti before the atrium was fit to serve as the site of Oberyn Martell’s and Gregor Clegane’s fight to the death in Season 4. Today, the hotel belongs to Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who purchased the building in May 2014 for an undisclosed sum after filming concluded for Season 4.