Every season that HBO mega-hit Game of Thrones films in Croatia, a full half hour gets added to the tour of shooting locations around the city of Dubrovnik.
Already, it’s a walking tour that boasts a full 6,000 paces and copious locations, which cumulatively make up some of the most dynamic scenes of the show—think Cersei’s climactic walk of shame and the elaborate Purple Wedding that finally offs Joffrey Baratheon once and for all. Both scenes highlight the masterful production that goes into Game of Thrones in ways that are surprisingly analog.
Dubrovnik acts as the primary backdrop for King’s Landing; its imposing walls greet you with the type of regal magnitude you’d expect from a 7th-century fortress from the Byzantine empire. During season 1, Malta played host to the Game of Thrones crew and, according to my tour guide, Nikola, the government didn’t exactly welcome the show back with open arms. Thus, Croatia became the de facto filming spot from season 2 on, its locations extending along the Adriatic Sea. Bits of Malta can still be scene in flyover shots of King’s Landing, as the cityscape is an amalgamation of both locations.
(If you need to brush up on your geography, winteriscoming.net put together this handy map of the Game of Thrones filming locations.)
Our first major stop is Red Keep. Off-screen the location is known as the Lovrijenac Fortress, a monument of power constructed during the Ottoman empire. The show’s production team makes digital alterations to the structure, ranging from the minimal additions of a gothic rosetta and medallion here and there to added levels and towers, transforming the fortress into more of a castle. The harbor below, where Myrcella was seen on a boat bound for Dorne, offers just as uncanny a perspective. A trick of perspective is what turns the stunted stone dock into a lengthy, narrow pathway and additional columns were added in post-production for a bit of symmetry. Special effects make nearly every single ship seen in the distance come alive. Just one boat was used for every harbor scene.
Across Dubrovnik’s Old Town in the busiest thoroughfare of the city—Ploce gate—where the King’s Landing riot was filmed in short, 15 minute bursts culminating in a total of five days of shooting. Visitors were sent through the winding alleyways of the city with only two exit options as the riotous uprising was shot. As Nikola points upward toward the Croatian national flag, he remarks on the late summer and fall days of filming where the crimson banner of the Lannisters proudly fluttered instead. Some tourists mistook it for a Croatian coat of arms. The confusion was perhaps the mildest of visitor interactions that Nikola recalled.
Next we visited the first location of Cersei’s walk of shame. Nikola took out an iPad to play the scene we’d be transported to just as two British tourists walked by. Apparently they weren’t all caught up on season 5 because they started screaming “Game of Thrones! No spoilers!” before repeatedly dropping their water bottles as they tried to run away from our tour group. This is just one such hidden perk of the tour—the people-watching to see fans of all stripes stop in their tracks to take in the real-life King’s Landing.
Locals especially reaped the rewards of Game of Thrones filming in Old Town. Businesses were paid based off their highest earning day and many residents received money for their troubles as well. Living around a highly popular television show certainly allowed for some weighty spoilers and Nikola said he’d have to feign ignorance when local children would run by yelling “Jon Snow is dead!” prior to the season 5 finale.
Cersei’s walk of shame follows a rather convoluted path that surprisingly wasn’t the initial route chosen for the graphic scene. Crews were eying the Church of St Nicholas, which the Catholic church vehemently vetoed. Instead, the staggering Spanish Steps caps off the pivotal moment. There were extras aplenty to see the actress who played Cersei’s body double take her somber walk. By the time that scene arrived, locals were more than aware of the show’s popularity and had become fans themselves. But back in season 2, finding extras was a little more difficult. Nikola explains that ads were taken out in the local newspaper advertising opportunities for extras and that costumers had to remake many outfits due to the burly body type of the Croatian men they’d been seeking exceeding their initial measurements and expectations.
An impressive amount of manpower made the Purple Wedding as well. Located on what is typically a neighborhood parking lot, the lush location required a month’s worth of preparation before crews went to work on fabricating the elaborate props that would set the scene for Joffrey’s poisoning. The special effects team took a back seat to a team of carpenters and prop-masters who hand-crafted every stall and textile streamer as well as a massive automated wooden lion’s head. Despite the care that went into each object to set the scene, everything was was dismantled following filming.
Nikola lamented the fact that film crews would likewise be leaving the area quite soon. Slyly hinting at what’s to come in season 6, he mentions crews setting up in Spain instead. “Everyone’s dead here. Cersei is the only person alive in King’s Landing. They had to leave,” he says dryly. Even if Game of Thrones is to never return to Dubrovnik, the city’s forged a unique partnership with the George R. R. Martin empire. Game of Thrones memorabilia shops are everywhere and tours are plentiful. It’s perhaps the easiest way to step inside the show while also taking in one of the most iconic cities in the world and the people of Croatia wouldn’t have it any other way.
Photo by April Siese