March 28th, 2015
The Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen houses are back next month as the new season of Game of Thrones roars back on to our screens. Season 5 kicks off on HBO and HBO GO on April 12th for what will likely be the hottest show on TV throughout the Spring and Summer once again.
Game of ThronesÂ follows a pretty consistent schedule; it’ll debut alongsideÂ VeepÂ andÂ Silicon ValleyÂ during the network’s classic Sunday Night Lineup. There’s no rush to premiere now thatÂ we knowÂ Game of ThronesÂ will likely speed ahead of George R.R. Martin’s books in the seasons to come.Â
Fans — and those who have read the book — have been preparing themselves for a more toned down season in terms of action and direct correlates to the previous chapters, but the GOT franchise has been the hottest franchise in Premium TV for the last 4 years and that’s unlikely to change even if the author’s work is no doubt changing, popularity aside.
At least, for advertisers and executives, ot only does the show attract huge viewing figures â€“ a reported 18.6 million per episode in the UK last year â€“ but it stirs up a particular type of obsessive fandom: for a key fight scene, filmed in Osuna in Spain for the forthcoming series, the producers thought it might be nice to ask a few hundred of those fans to be extras. They had 86,000 applications from all over the world. Lena Headey, who plays Cersei Lannister, the embittered wife of the former king and the mother of the current one, sums it up succinctly: â€˜It isâ€¦ a beast.â€™
In fact, the success of Game of Thrones has prompted this model elsewhere, even if few other studios have proven an ability to come through on what HBO has pioneered: franchises that take on a life of their own and almost become franchises outside the HBO umbrella.
The lair of the beast is these series of cavernous warehouses in the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. Maybe it is the subject matter â€“ battles, odysseys, subterfuge, vengeance â€“ but when you go there it is hard to think of the production as anything other than a major military campaign. The money, the statistics and the manpower involved all point to a vast operation: a reported budget of $100 million per series; thousands of extras; 300 shooting crew; more than 700 workers involved in the production as a whole at any one time in and around Belfast.
Unusually for a television show the sets for Game of Thrones stay up all year round, which is one reason the series has come to feel like a sort of roving city state of its own within Northern Ireland. The series commands 140,000sq ft of stage space in Belfast alone.
Away from the Titanic Quarter there are permanent sets dotted all round the country like miniature theme parks â€“ at a former quarry in Magheramorne, on the shores of Lough Larne in Co Antrim, you will find the Castle Black set, a distant outpost with the entire bluff behind it painted white for the ice of the Wall. The Game of Thrones crew have built a fishing village there called Hardhome, a new location for series five. It didnâ€™t exist a year ago; now it feels like it has been there for generations.
And if you want to create an entire new world you need more than one country, more than one topography and climate â€“ Game of Thrones films right across Europe: in Dubrovnik, Seville and Osuna. Previously it has been shot in Iceland, Malta, Morocco. Locations are expensive â€“ to make the most of their time in each locale, two units film continuously between July and December; effectively Game of Thrones is two television series being made at the same time. Sometimes three or four different directors will be filming different episodes in a single location on a single day.
The logistics are mindboggling, the sets vast. But it is the accoutrements and attendant auxiliaries that are most striking when you see them. At one point I find myself taking a note while leaning on what I thought was a scaffolding rig in a corridor. That, someone tells me, was the leg of a woolly mammoth (before computer graphics were added) from last yearâ€™s climactic Battle of Castle Black, the Wildlingsâ€™ attempt to storm the Wall.
They are making weapons here on an industrial scale. Game of Thrones has its own on-site arsenal, to make the 10,000-plus weapons used to date. â€˜Swords, shields, spears, bows, crossbows,â€™ says resident blacksmith Stephen Murphy, surveying a tennis-court-size shed of weapons, triplicated in steel, aluminium and rubber for close-up, action and actually hitting someone. â€˜Iâ€™m the armoury blacksmith so I do any of the forging they need to do. This was one of my creations,â€™ he says, holding up a bone-handled â€˜castration knifeâ€™ used for that very purpose in season three. â€˜I was told to make it as unpleasant at possible.â€™
Where do we go from here? Even if you’re not a fan, it’s hard for TV junkies to not pay attention to what GOT and HBO are doing with the series, as it continues to lead the way into the new age of cord-cutting television, premium or otherwise.
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