Winter has come and fans of the record-breaking HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” will finally find their thirst at least slackened as the eighth and final season kicks off tonight.
Based on the popular “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a series of linked novels written by Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, “Game of Thrones” is set in mythical Westeros and follows the various plights of characters as they wage war among themselves – sometimes in incredibly despicable ways – vying for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms even as a greater threat creeps down upon them all from the frozen north.
Filmed in Belfast and elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, Scotland, Spain and the United States, some of the more remote “Game of Thrones” filming locations are opening up to tourists eager to see where some of the more famous scenes were shot.
In Ireland, the Glens of Antrim will be familiar to avid viewers as the Dothraki Sea and it is not unheard of to hear the guttural Dothraki being spoken as fans gaze out on the pristine and photogenic Causeway Coast.
For those really in-tune, it also will be familiar from the show’s opening season as the site where Ned Stark beheads a traitor from the Night’s Watch.
Ireland also is home to nearby Ballintoy Harbour, which translates appropriately enough to “Town of the North.” Constructed with limestone blocks, it will be familiar as the docks of the fog-shrouded Greyjoy Kingdom of Pyke from Westeros’ Iron Islands.
Also nearby, the UNESCO-listed Giant’s Causeway is a short drive and is not to be missed even if it does not directly play in the “Game of Thrones” dialogue. Some 40,000 basalt rocks create a stunning landmark jutting out into the sea.
Travel north to Tollymore Forest, where in the series-opening episode the dreaded White Walkers began their march into the realm of men.
The “bastard of Bolton” hunted Theon Greyjoy here, and it is where the Starks discover the direwolf pups. The haunting ruins of Inch Abbey in Downpatrick were most notably the setting in season one as Robb Stark’s camp where he became the King of the North.
The Castle Ward complex near Strangford in County Down makes frequent appearances as the Starks’ Winterfell and nearby Audley’s Wood is where Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister trekked together as they made way for King’s Landing. Here one can become one of the Stark clan and dress in authentic “Game of Thrones” wear and even receive archery instructions from Jon Snow.
Venturing farther north to even more remote locales, Iceland is home to an array of sites with deep meaning to the storyline.
Thingvellir National Park, about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, is the home to the impregnable Eyrie, where the Hound and Arya Stark wander in season four. It’s also where Brienne and the Hound wage their grueling and climatic duel in a locale near Hengill that contains majestic mountain background scenes.
The Öxarárfoss Trail – remarkable stone pathway carved through formidable cliffs – leads to the thunderous Öxarárfoss waterfall. It also serves as the Bloody Gate, entrance to the Vale that Arya and the Hound negotiate in season four in search of a safe haven.
Shiver a little in Skaftafell National Park and be aware for things that go bump in the dark as the frigid and stark landscape serves as the home to the Night’s Watch, the downtrodden Wildlings and appears like the White Walkers’ domain.
Although the scenes in Grjótagjá Cave had to be cut short because of steamy water temperature causing too much mist, it served as the love cave scene when wildling Ygritte lures “You know nothing Jon Snow” into a fateful tryst in season three.
On its own merit, the small lava near lake MÃ 1/2vatn is worth a visit, even if the thermal spring has been too hot for bathing.
And finally at Dyrhólaey on the country’s south coast is Eastwatch-by-the-Bay from the last season. Two great stone arches thrust into the sea and next to it is the infamous black-sand coast where Jon Snow and his party land in preparation for their journey beyond the Wall.