The largest Game of Thrones exhibition in the world is coming home to Northern Ireland in time for the season 8 premiere next week and Lonely Planet got a sneak preview before it opens to the general public on Friday 12 April.
Excitement was high at the TEC Belfast this morning as press from all over the world gathered to take a look at the biggest Game of Thrones attraction ever staged. Actors Liam Cunningham (Davis Seaworth), Isaac Hampstead-Wright (Bran Stark) and Ian Beattie (Mervyn Trant) welcomed the small crowd, along with costume designer Michele Clapton, Jeff Peters from HBO and Robin Stapley, curator of the exhibition.
Even the entrance to the exhibit is atmospheric and, as the theme music plays, the doors swing open to reveal the colourful banners of all the major houses of Westeros. After the opening video with key scenes from the series, you step into the mist and the snow-covered forest from the opening scene from episode one.
The sumptuous costumes are truly the star of the show and being in this close proximity allows you to drink in the details usually lost on screen. Margaret Tyrell’s wedding dress is particularly spectacular and is Liam Cunningham’s favourite; he praised the intricate train of hand-sewn flowers. Jamie Lannister’s golden hand is far more intricate than you may think, complete with lion sigil and embellished swirls. It also emphasises the size difference between some of the actors; Arya Stark’s outfit looks incredibly tiny beside and the Hound and his fierce helmet.
There are two exclusive areas to the Belfast exhibition; the fearsome Dragon Skull Pit that lay underneath the Red Keep and the Winterfell Crypt. For Liam Cunningham, the dragons were especially exciting. “I’ve been in the show and I’ve never been that close, so that meant a huge deal to me. It puts the hair up the back of my neck.” The crypt of dead Starks is also especially poignant, as it has a starring role in the season 8 teaser trailer. You also get up close to the statues of Lyanna and Eddard Stark (this version at least does look like him).
If the desire to touch the costumes and sets gets too much (and it can, trust me), there are a few photo opportunities within the exhibit to have fun with, including posing with replicas of Jon Snow’s Longclaw sword, climbing the Wall and, of course, a chance to sit on the Iron Throne yourself (this version at least is surprisingly comfortable).
The importance of Northern Ireland in Game of Thrones
The cast at the event were full of praise for the epic landscapes of Northern Ireland. Liam Cunningham joked that “there’s no such thing as too much time up here. This is home.” Isaac agreed saying: “I think the people of Belfast and the city of Belfast has been a home away from home. Flying over all these familiar sites [yesterday] it’s like I never left.”
“The locations is something I will remember forever”, he added. “Some of the places you go to you just find yourself thinking ‘wow this is totally awe-inspiring’.” Ian Beattie, who lives just ten miles away from the main studio brought a local’s point of view. “It has completely changed our landscape, it has given us our wonderful tourist industry. It is the gift that keeps on giving.”
“The place is blooming” Liam adds. “There’s a palpable sense of optimism. To be part of that transition is joyful as well.” The exhibition has already been on tour in Oberhausen and Barcelona but this incarnation is particularly special as Northern Ireland provided the location for many iconic Westerosi places. The creators have confirmed the sets of the Winterfell Crypt and Dragon Skill Pit are also not going on display in other locations for the exhibition.
This touring exhibition will run until 1 September, helping ease the pain of the end of the much-loved show. The Seven Kingdoms won’t be going for long though; a permanent studio tour will open next spring in Linen Mill Studios, Co Down, promising to be a permanent home to the sets.