Fantasy epic Game of Thrones has long spurred its more dedicated followers to set out on pilgrimages to the show’s filming locations.
“The locations really do bring the viewer into the kingdoms,” explains Northern Ireland and Spain location manager Naomi Liston. “They are hugely important in storytelling terms.”
Seville, the flamboyant capital of Andalusia, features in series five, where the historic Royal Alcazar doubles for Dorne Palace and gardens, home to the seat of House Martell. Fans will recall seeing Jaime Lannister attempting to rescue his daughter Myrcella (who didn’t actually want to be rescued) while she was wandering through its intricate Moorish architecture.
“It was just so incredible that we were able to work within this wonderful building that you felt had almost been built for Game of Thrones,” says Liston. Originally developed by Moorish kings, the ornate arches in the Alcazar’s Courtyard of the Maidens are the setting for House Martell’s Water Gardens.
Walk around this World Heritage Site and it’s easy to imagine you’re in the hidden walled settlement of Sunspear, containing miles of narrow alleys, hidden courts and noisy bazaars as described in the books by George RR Martin.
One of the most dramatic scenes of the latest series was filmed an hour outside Seville in the little Andalusian town of Osuna. More than 550 extras, plus the show’s cast and crew, took over the local bullring, the Plaza de Toros, which was used to represent a Daznak fighting pit, and staged a tumultuous Meereen battle scene.
“We had to do a lot of what we call ‘fire burn’,” says Liston. “This is when you set stuntmen on fire. We had to do around 18 of them!” Although the scene is only four minutes long on screen, it took 14 days to shoot.
“We used these enormous flamethrowers for the special effects,” recalls Liston. “It was a massive scene – great fun to shoot.”
Incidentally, if you are interested in the history of bullfighting, it’s worth heading 80km south of Osuna to Ronda, whose Plaza de Toros is one of the oldest in Spain; visitors will find the blood-stained costumes of famous bullfighters such as Jesulín de Ubrique at the Museo Taurino, and in July spectators can watch opera performances from the stands.
Between shoots, the actors stayed in Seville at the Alfonso XIII hotel, named after the Spanish king who enjoyed a feast in one of its six grand banqueting halls in 1929. Over the years, the rich and famous have enjoyed the property’s baroque-style courtyard and Mudéjar-style sweeping arches, decorative brickwork and wrought-iron features.
Sadly, the cast couldn’t stay long: “We had to keep moving the cast from hotel to hotel. When we got to Spain it was like looking after One Direction,” Liston laughs. “There were people camping outside the hotels. I had to put extra security on.”
Luckily, the crowds died down in sleepy Osuna, and the cast and crew could explore the narrow cobbled streets, beautiful buildings and try some of the restaurants dotted around the town: actress Emilia Clarke, who plays queen Daenerys Targaryen (known as the Mother of Dragons), celebrated her birthday here last October.
“The show has definitely boosted tourism numbers in Northern Ireland,” says Liston, “and I’m sure a small town like Osuna will be feeling the benefit of more Game of Thrones tourists coming to visit.”
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