Amazing Game Of Thrones Filming Locations (Part 2)
As I stated in Amazing Game Of Thrones Filming Locations (Part 1) I am a Game of Thrones fan – of both the TV series and the books. I am in love with the world created by George R.R. Martin and I think the TV series is the perfect adaptation especially regarding the world and cultures described in this universe.
When I read, I always project the action in my mind using real locations. I am sure there is a complex process when selecting a location for filming, but somehow this process is working for me. I like to visit the Game of Thrones filming location to better understand this universe and how these locations were chosen. However, sometimes I associate real cultures with cultures described in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe – for example, I’ve always thought that the Dornish culture is somehow similar with the Iberian culture and the cities from Essos are influenced by Morocco.
Game of Thrones filming locations in Malta
The islands of Malta and Gozo were used as filming locations for season 1 for Dothraki lands and also the Mdina in Malta was used as a filming location for King’s Landing.
Game of Thrones name: none (Featured as a landscape on Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s Wedding)
Appearances: Season 1, episode 1 “Winter is coming”
Described in books: none
Azure Window or Dwejra Window was a limestone natural arch on the island of Gozo in Malta. Due to intensive corrosion the arch collapsed completely in stormy weather on March 8th, 2017. I was really lucky to visit this amazing natural wonder on my trip to Malta in Spring, 2016. It was a dream like imagine and the Dwejra Bay will never look the same. When filming for season 1, a controversy regarding the protection of the ecosystem in Dwerja Bay has raised. According to Maltese news articles from 2010, the fossil-rich site was not protected during the filming.
Mdina is a fortified city in the Northern Region of Malta and I can honestly say it’s the mostly beautiful city in Malta. It is on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage sites and it’s definitely worth seeing. I visited Mdina after a short trip to Mosta on our way to the Dingli Cliffs. The city was built around 8th century BC and it is one of the most visited places in Malta. However, unlike King’s Landing, Mdina is not located on the water and therefore all the shots using this city where outer walls and squares. Beginning with season two of the TV series, the filming location for King’s Landing is Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Frank Doelger, producer for the TV series described in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones book written by Bryan Cogman how this came to be.
FRANK DOELGER (producer): We shot the majority of the King’s Landing exteriors for season one in Malta, which worked very well for our needs at the time. But we felt we’d exhausted what it had to offer. Starting with season two, we’re filming in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It’s a city that grew up over centuries and has many features similar to King’s Landing: it’s fortified, surrounded by enormous walls, and guards over an important waterway. And the views from the walls and fortifications are fantastic.
Two locations in Mdina were used as a filming set for Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones name: King’s Landing Gate
Appearances: Season 1, episode 3 “Lord Snow”
Described in books: none
The Main Gate of Mdina or the Vilhena Gate was built in 1724 in the Baroque style and is the main gate into Mdina.
Game of Thrones name: The brothel owned by Littlefinger
Appearances: Season 1, episode 3 “Lord Snow”
Described in books: “Chataya runs a choice establishment, I’ve half a mind to buy it. Brothels are a much sounder investment than ships, I’ve found. Whores seldom sink, and when they are boarded by pirates, why, the pirates pay good coin like everyone else.” (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 35, Eddard IX. In the books the brothel is owned by Chataya)
Pjazza Mesquita is a pedestrian square located in Mdina, near the Main Gate. Located in the square is a balcony and a fountain both featured in Game of Thrones TV series.
Saint Dominic Monastery, Rabat
Game of Thrones name: Red Keep Garden
Appearances: Season 1, episode 7 “You Win or You Die”
Described in books: none
The Saint Dominic Monastery is located in Rabat at a walk distance from Mdina’s Main Gate. I visited this Monastery on my way to Dingli Cliffs and it was worth the little detour. The fountain and the citrus orchard used in the TV series can be found in the interior garden and it’s one of those rare occasions when the filming location looks exactly like the way it does in the movie.
Game of Thrones name: Great Sept of Baelor
Appearances: Season 1, episode 9 “Baelor”
Described in books: “You shall wed the king in the Great Sept of Baelor, before the eyes of gods and men.” (A Game of Thrones, Chapter 51, Sansa IV)
One of the most important scenes from Season 1 – the decapitation of Ned Stark at the Great Sept of Baelor was filmed in Fort Manoel. Fort Manoel is located on Manoel Island in Gżira, Malta. I didn’t get the chance to visit Fort Manoel, due to the fact that the fort was closed for the public. However, I got to see the exterior walls on our ferry trip to Valleta from Sliema. The big problem was that every time I tried to take a picture the sun was always in front of the camera. Apparently they also had this problem while filming the scenes.
It is mentioned in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones book written by Bryan Cogman by Alan Taylor (director): There was really only one fort in Malta that was big enough to accommodate the scene, but when [director of photography] Alik Sakharov and I got there, our shoulders drooped because the sun was always in the wrong place. If you shot one way, you saw a modern city, but if you shot the other way, the sun was flattening everything. So Alik and I designed the shoot in such a way that we could basically chase the sun.
Fort St Angelo
Game of Thrones name: Red Keep Dungeon
Appearances: Season 1, episode 5 ” The Wolf and the Lion”
Described in books: “The black cells have not oft been occupied in recent years” (A Feast for Crows)
Fort Saint Angelo is located in Birgu (or Vittorioso) and the best view on the outer walls of the fort is from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, in Valletta.
I took a day trip to Birgu to visit this fort, however it was also closed for visitors due to the Maltese Fashion Week. Hopefully next time I will have the chance to visit the interior as well.
Game of Thrones name: King’s Gate
Appearances: Season 1, episode 3 ” Lord Snow”
Described in books: none
Fort Ricasoli is located in Kalkara, and is one of the cities located in South Eastern Region, facing the capital city. Unfortunately, I was too tired to visit Kalkara after Birgu, but I spent my last day in Valletta at the Saluting Battery at midday taking a last glimpse at the Saint Angelo Fort and at Fort Ricasoli.
Other places in Malta used as filming locations for the first season of Game of Thrones (that sadly I didn’t have time for) are: Tal-Qargħa, Manikata, San Anton Palace and Gardens, Mtahleb Cliffs and the Verdala Palace located near Dingli Cliffs.
Game of Thrones filming locations in Greece
Game of Thrones name: Vale of Arryn
Appearances: Episode 5 in season 1, “The Wolf and the Lion”
Described in books:“It stretched before them to the misty east, a tranquil land of rich black soil, wide slow-moving rivers, and hundreds of small lakes that shone like mirrors in the sun, protected on all sides by its sheltering peaks” (Catelyn Stark, book A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, Catelyn VI)
The Metéora – literally “middle of the sky”, “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above”, is a formation of monolithic pillars located in Thessaly, Greece and included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today, Metéora is home to complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries.
The House Arryn’s seat, the Eyrie is described as an impregnable fortress located in the snowcapped peaks of the Mountains of the Moon. The Metéora’s monolithic pillars are not covered in snow, but seeing the structures you can understand why one can associate it with the Vale of Arryn. The Eyrie was added by GGI on top of the rock formations.
I visited Metéora way back in 2000, when Game of Thrones was not a big thing. I remember the magical feeling about the place, and if I had to describe it in a few words – suspended in the air it is. The sky cell scene immortalize perfectly the feeling Metéora is offering.
ADAM McINNES (VFX supervisor, season one): The view from the sky cell is one of the most “high-concept” visuals of the first season. Initial art department concepts, using the Huangshan mountains from China as a background, looked enticing, but we needed somewhere closer to home that could be photographed. [Season one producer] Mark Huffam mentioned some mountains in Greece, and I found the Meteora mountain range, which even has a monastery perched unfeasibly way up on top, much like the Eyrie. Photographs of the mountains combined with matte painting created the environment we needed.
BRIAN KIRK (director): The visual conceptualization of the different worlds, and the role of CGI in establishing them, was ongoing and constantly evolving, but there was room for fun, too. The sky cell, for example, was a simple moment of pure pleasure. Despite the existence of the storyboards, none of us during filming could have imagined how spectacular it would look.
Game of Thrones filming locations in Scotland
Game of Thrones name: The Great Hall of Winterfell
Appearances: Episode 1, Season 1 “Winter is coming”
Described in books: “The Great Hall of Winterfell was hazy with smoke and heavy with the smell of roasted meat and fresh-baked bread. Its grey stone walls were draped with banners. White, gold, crimson: the direwolf of Stark, Baratheon’s crowned stag, the lion of Lannister” (A Game of Thrones)
As Scotland is one of my favorite places on Earth, I was a bit disappointed that only one filming location was used for Game of Thrones. Doune Castle is a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. Doune Castle was used as a filming location for the unaired pilot and then the interiors were replicated as a set in Belfast.
Gemma Jackson, production designer mentioned in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones book written by Bryan Cogman how this happened: Doune set the tone, but Winterfell has really evolved from season one to season two. As it wasn’t practical to return to Scotland for the filming of the series, an exact replica of Doune’s great hall was built on the soundstage in Belfast, along with other Winterfell interior sets.
We only had a glimpse of the Doune Castle on our way to the Highlands. The river view of the castle was magical, although it lasted only a second or two. When reading the books, the Scottish Highlands were always in my mind as a potential scenery for Game of Thrones. As I always associate Spain with Dorne, for me the Scottish Highlands will always represent the Kingdom of the North. Seeing the pictures on Google with the Doune Castle interior court I can understand why they choose another location. Winterfell is more grandiose, but I am happy that they use the Scottish Castle as a base.
D.B Weisse, executive producer and writer for the Game of Thrones show mentioned in Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones book written by Bryan Cogman that: The show pretty much begins in Winterfell, and the Starks were very much the anchor of the first season, so designing their home was no small task. It was difficult because it needed to feel like the kind of place the Starks would come from: solid, trustworthy, simple, grounded, and …well, stark. But it also needed to be unique and not just pulled into the orbit of “standard twelfth-century Scottish castle.” We shot pieces of the pilot at Doune Castle, a medieval stronghold in central Scotland—which is an amazing place, not to mention the location for much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail—but we wanted to introduce different elements and influences to keep Winterfell looking like a real place yet unlike any real place we’d ever been.
As I’ve told you before, my dream is to visit all the Game of Thrones filming locations. This is (one of the reasons) why this summer we’re visiting Iceland and I’m happy to say we’re going on a tour to visit all the Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland. Can’t wait to photograph Jon Snow face to face with the Night King 😉
Disclaimer: All the pictures from the TV series “Game of Thrones” are the property of HBO. More information about all the different filming locations and a map can be found on MovieMaps.