Ireland's new Game Of Thrones studio tour: A fitting monument to a staggering success story
An absolute must-visit for fans of the show.
Situated in Banbridge in County Down, about a 40-minute drive from the Titanic Studios in Belfast - which, before now, was probably the location most synonymous with the making of the show in Ireland - the brand new Game Of Thrones Studio Tour opens to the public this week.
JOE was invited to a special tour of the studio prior to the full opening, and arrived at the thoroughly modernly designed building, convincingly hiding a trove of what feels like historical artefacts.
Once inside, you're greeted by a huge reception area, with the gift shop on one side (which is also where the tour will eventually end), and the initially low-key entrance to the tour on the other.
The first room sees six of the show's biggest characters - Jon, Sansa, Daenerys, Cersei, Bran, Arya - bathed in ice cold light, successfully setting the mood for the journey you're about to embark on.
A cavernous round room converts half of its walls into one huge screen, giving a visual journey of the hit show, from relatively humble beginnings to legitimately the biggest thing in the world, before the entire wall slides to one side, revealing a frosted-over replica of The Wall behind it.
A giant gate opens up, showing a carved-out ice tunnel, and the trip through the history of Game Of Thrones officially begins.
From there on out, the world of Westeros is your oyster, to focus on as many individual parts as you like.
What is immediate, and remains at the front of your mind all the way through, is the details. Obviously, when you're making a show like this, there are many, MANY different people involved, all of whom masters at their own craft, all working together to create something so magnificently detailed.
Room after room, you'll travel from different parts of Westeros (and beyond), from Beyond The Wall to The Throne Room via King's Landing, each brilliantly evoking the feel of their particular surroundings. We're sure the temperature is set at a steady value throughout the venue, but just walking through the different rooms, your mind will make you think you're colder at The Wall, and warmer at King's Landing.
Equally, as you travel from place to place, different aspects of the show are given a spotlight.
Costumes, weaponry, set design and structure, the music, the CGI special effects, the prosthetics... every single aspect is given their time under your own personal microscope, each aspect as significant and impressive as the last.
The sheer wealth of actual physical props and behind-the-scenes assets is properly staggering, and that is before the inventive and entertaining interactive aspects, including an archery session to keep the White Walkers at bay, or adding your own image to The Hall of Faces.
On the day, we chatted to Barry and Sarah Gower, who ran the prosthetics department on the show, and they revealed their personal favourite parts of the tour (we won't spoil them for you, but they're terrifyingly real versions of some of the major characters), but they were also almost overwhelmed by nostalgia.
Barry told us: "I mean, when we first did our brief tour earlier, standing at the start of the tour where you saw the video, the documentary and the behind the scenes. The pair of us were welling up. It really brought back memories, didn't it?"
Sarah agreed: "And just walking through and seeing the pictures and seeing the faces and all of the sets. It just brings back so many memories. It is quite emotional."
We also chatted to Natalia Tena (who played Osha) and Daniel Portman (who played Podrick Payne) on the day, who were similarly in awe of their surroundings, and the impressive level of detail that was necessary for a show like this to succeed the way it did.
Daniel told us: "I think there were so many things that the camera would never even pick up. The level of detail on the inside of costumes that people might never even see. Maybe somebody was in the back of a shot wearing something for one scene, and the level of detail for all of that was so impressive."
Natalia added: "For me, the Wildling area, that was great to see, I was like 'Oh yeah! Those costumes! I remember those!' So that was really nice to see, really brought me back."
It will bring everyone else who visits the studio tour right back too. Whatever your outstanding memories of the show might be, you can't help but be jaw-droppingly impressed by what it took to bring to life.
Check out our full video of the tour right here:
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) February 5, 2022
The tour is open daily from 10am to 6pm (until April, when new opening times will be implemented).
Tickets start at £39.50 for adults, £27.50 for children, with additional discounts for Students, Seniors and Families. The full ticket pricing list can be found here.