Whether you love it, loathe it or are indifferent to it, there is no getting away from it; Game of Thrones has pervaded the lives of a great many of us since its first appearance on our screens over a decade ago. Eight series and seventy-three episodes later, it still manages to evoke the kind of awed response that few other television drama series have attained.
Here in Northern Ireland, our chests are puffed with pride knowing that filming took place in around twenty-five locations across the province, including The Dark Hedges, Murlough Bay, Cushendun Caves, and the Mourne Mountains, not to mention The Titanic Studios in Belfast.
Booking the tour
After it was announced that a world-class visitor attraction, highlighting the costumes, props and authentic sets from the programme had opened in the Linen Mills Studio near Banbridge, I was keen to have an early taste of what was on offer. As “the world’s first and only Game Of Thrones studio tour”, it would have a lot to live up to and I felt that, after my visit, it was important to offer feedback on the whole experience as honestly and thoroughly as I could. That would begin with my first and biggest worry – booking online.
As a self-proclaimed technophobe, I dreaded taking on the responsibility of booking for our group of five women, hoping that I wouldn’t mess things up. One member of our party had never even experienced a single episode of GOT, while the rest of us had seen every series at least once.
Tickets are not cheap, especially considering the financial difficulties for many families at the moment. Our group fell into one of the concessionary categories (66+) which brought the price down from £39.50 per adult to £31.50. One member of our group was accompanied by her carer and a carer’s ticket comes for free. There are some good offers for April and May however, and it’s worth checking these out on the website before you book.
Everything about using the website was straightforward and any queries I had (particularly regarding disabled access and mobility scooters), were responded to speedily and in a very professional manner. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble and there was a genuine feeling that (even online) the tour operators actually cared about their visitors’ experience from start to finish. This care extended to every staff member we met in person during the entire GOT tour.
In all honesty, their friendly enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject matter reflected the ethos of the entire production – many of them had appeared as extras in the show itself and therefore had hands-on experience during filming.
My experience of the Game of Thrones studio tour
The tour takes between two to three hours to complete, depending upon how diligent you might be at each point of interest, or if you take a break for lunch half way round. The tour is interspersed with interactive activities that are fun and educational in equal measure and offer an enticement for children to harness an interest in the special effects industry for the future. Pyrotechnics, green screens, visual effects and cutting-edge digital work are presented in such a user-friendly way that it’s hard not to hide the wonderment of it all.
One of the most intriguing sections of the tour was, for me, the costume department. A team of over a 100 skilled artisans were involved in creating the costumes and more than 80 km of fabric and textiles were used to fashion the garments. I could honestly have spent a good hour in this section alone, but everyone will be drawn to their own favourites and there are a multitude to choose from: prosthetics, armoury, hair and make-up, sculpting,… the list goes on.
From the crypts of Winterfell to the ancient fortification of Castle Black, or from King’s Landing to the Iron Throne Room, you will be carried along by the incredible talent, skill, and imagination that has gone into the making of this iconic series.
But all tours have to end somewhere and like many of these attractions, this particular journey ends in the GOT shop. Pricey – of course, but the merchandise is of a high quality and, in my opinion, worth the extra few quid for its assumed longevity. You can also purchase a set of photographs from the professionally taken ‘mugshot’ at the beginning of the tour (which can be superimposed on various settings), but this is optional and you can also take your own photographs as you go.
A successful visit?
You might say that I am biased in writing such a positive review given that I live here, and it’s true that I do generally try my best to support all things local in a constructive way. But actually, I think I am more inclined to point out the areas for improvement in such an important show-piece for our province.
The only flaw in our visit was down to me, in that I didn’t think to ask for wheelchair help for the short distance between the holding building and the bus that would take us to the tour. I am assured by the GOT team that, had they known that a wheelchair was needed, they would gladly have had one to hand (which they did on the return part of the trip).
Northern Ireland is thankfully becoming more known for its filming accolades. The Titanic Centre in Belfast is now one of the world’s most successful tourist attractions and I have little doubt that, although the Game of Thrones Tour is still in its infancy, it will achieve the same level of success over the coming months and years.
And the good news is that you don’t even need to have seen a single episode. Ask my uninitiated friend. She absolutely loved it.