In the scenic foothills of the Mourne Mountains, Co. Down in Northern Ireland, a group of about 30 tourists drag heavy woolen coats through the wet forest where some of the most iconic scenes from Game of Thrones’ first season were filmed. Game of Thrones has become a significant player in the Irish tourism industry, and this particular company offer locations treks from both Dublin and Belfast. It’s a trick worthy of Littlefinger, really.
The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have worlds colliding in season 5 of the show, which airs in Ireland tonight, April 13. While you can’t book a ticket to King’s Landing or Winterfell, you can book a tour to walk in the footprints of Jon Snow, Robb Stark and the White Walkers who nailed a little girl to a tree. In Northern Ireland, you can walk right into the massively popular fantasy world created by George R.R. Martin.
Listen to Paddy O’Gorman describe the tour on RTÉ Radio 1’s “Today with Sean O’Rourke”:
The Haunted Forest north of the Wall is in real life a welcoming forest park called Tollymore, covering 1,600 acres only 2 hours on a tour bus away from Dublin. It’s the film location of many key scenes; including Tyrion and Jon’s camp on their way to the Wall and the opening scene of S01E01 starring the White Walkers and a whole lot of dead, dismembered Wildlings.
After finding a metaphorical dead stag and a Direwolf, the sigils of House Baratheon and Stark, the five Stark children and bastard Snow find a litter of Direwolf pups. Robb and Bran Stark’s pups, Grey Wind and Summer, were raised and trained by the local Mulhall family. The famous actors, in real life named after two gods of norse mythology, grew bigger along with the TV-series.
Although they’re not as big as the Game of Thrones-animated Direwolf-versions of themselves, they’ve become a tourist attraction in the area. The man on the other side of their leash has not only brought dogs into the industry, but three sons, two of them training to become Game of Thrones tour guides, after starring as extra’s in several episodes filmed in the North. White-bearded William Mulhall Sr. himself has appeared as a Dothraki and a slave trader in the series.
Winterfell is the main visit of the tour, although the medieval castle is barely recognizable without computer-generated imagery (CGI), special effects, knights and Starks. On the site around the 16th century castle and stableyard are nine film locations; the wooded shores of Strangford Lough where Brienne of Tarth escorts prisoner Jamie Lannister back to King’s Landing, the 15th century Tower House which served as one of Walder Frey’s Twins and as the location of Robb’s camp. Inch Abbey, the location of the first season’s finale, where Catelyn and Robb first hear the news of Ned Stark’s beheading and where Robb’s bannermen pleadge fealty to him as “the King in the North”, is the last stop of the tour.
The rain drenching the medieval gowns and fur collars during the first trail, eased as the group of tourists walked away from the White Walkers at the Wildling camp.
A couple of days ago, Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, made fun of Northern-Ireland and it’s capital city, Belfast, for only being “wonderfully depressing” and “wonderful for two or three days”. It was an unsuccessful, and probably not intentional, slate at Northern-Ireland’s tourist drive during an interview on a late night American talk show. Ireland is the principal filming location of the show, the heart of Game of Thrones, making tourists from all over the world walk hours in the rain, swinging fake swords.
You know nothing, Jon Snow.