On the final day of our visit to Northern Ireland we were taken to Glenarm (on the beautiful County Antrim coast, which we will be doing a video on soon) to see the store & workshop of Steensons who have produced some of the iconic pieces of jewellery seen on Game of Thrones such as Joffrey’s and Margaery’s wedding crowns and the lion pendants worn by Cersei, Myrcella and Sansa. Most recently, they made the crown donned by Cersei as she takes the throne in the final episode of season six. Some of these pieces are on display in their store, which allows for a very close look at them. As the store is also their workshop—and a so called économusée, where you can see craftsmen at work—you are also able to view their goldsmiths at work. Also available in the store—and in their store in Belfast—is their newly launched Game of Thrones collection, with necklaces, pins and cufflinks using elements of the designs they produced for the show. In our video below you will get a closer look at this collection as well as some of the unique pieces made for the show.
The Game of Thrones collection is as of yet not available on-line, but if you contact them via their website or via facebook, they can send you a catalogue showing the pieces and arrange for an order that way. Or you could take it as (yet another) reason to visit Northern Ireland!
The final stops on the tour of the Doors of Northern Ireland, alas!
Ballygally Castle is a terrific place, situated on the beautiful Antrim coast and featuring one of the oldest still-used buildings in Northern Ireland. Its garden was a real pleasure, and made us wonder a bit about how palm trees could grow in Northern Ireland (answer appears to be that prevailing ocean currents make Northern Ireland somewhat more temperate than the equally-northern reaches of the Nordic countries). We were warmly greeted and found that there was a large wedding reception going on, but that didn’t phase anyone as we were smoothly led to the dining room (it may have helped that our waitress recognized us from Thronecast!) We were treated to their menu for the Game of Thrones banquet they do, though with a variation: their Westeros-inspired tomahawk steaks were served as the main. Never had that cut before, and certainly never with that amazing presentation of a long, long rib bone jutting out. Absolutely delicious!
Belfast saw the unveiling of the final door at the Dark Horse pub, and this was quite the party with over a 150 people packed into the bar and spilling into the courtyard outside where fans could meet Odin and Thor, two of the dogs that were the direwolf puppies at the start of season 1 (they were Grey Wind and Summer, specifically). Their owners happen to have been extras on the show as well, and run Direwolf Tours in association with the Winterfell Tours based out of Castle Ward and its demense. Really handsome dogs, I have to say.
That’s more-or-less the end of our adventures in Northern Ireland, but as you’ll see in the video embedded above, we have a couple more videos planned thanks to our visit. One will be a video about the gorgeous Antrim coast (we’re both quite fond of beautiful coastlines!) but using that to springboard into a discussion of the coasts of Westeros (yep, ASoIaF geekery is coming), and one will be about our visit to Steensons jeweller’s store/workshop in Glenarm where we met Brona Steenson and her husband Dan Spencer who not only make beautiful jewelry, but specifically have made a number of the jewelry props for Game of Thrones (including Cersei’s latest crown!)
Gracehill House has a long history stretching back to the 17th century, when King James I of England (also James VI of Scotland) made a grant of land to a kinsman of his, a James Stuart. The man had the misfortune of drowning while journeying to take posession of the land, but his grandson inherited it and in time his descendants began building the house in the late 18th century. The famous Dark Hedges were in fact originally a part of the estate, the beech trees planted along the drive to make a suitably impressive path to the home. In more recent times, Gracehill House has changed hands and has been developed with an eye to becoming a premiere golf resort in Northern Ireland. It’s definitely a beautiful stately home, currently in the process of renovation to establish a number of well-appointed rooms for guests.
Mary McBride’s Bar is a very different experience as one goes to the eastern coast of Antrim. It’s a small town, and Mary McBride’s is (as so many of the pubs in Northern Ireland seem to be!) an institution in it, a place where the locals gather and share the news of the day. For Game of Thrones fans, the Caves of Cushendun is where Melisandre gave birth to a shadow in the second season, to the shock of all the viewers.
Tomorrow, we’ll have our final video on the Door Tour, heading to Ballygally Castle Hotel and the Dark Horse in Belfast!
On our third day in Northern Ireland, we left Lough Erne after a delicious breakfast at the hotel and embarked on a journey that gave us a wonderful tour of the amazing shores of the North Coast.
Our very first stop was in Limavady where we visited Owen’s Bar and were introduced to its current owner, Garry (his father, Frank, passed away at the age of 99 this April) . We had a great time talking about his bar with Garry and we got the sense that, like many other pubs, is a true social centre of its community. Owen’s Bar is the host of the 5th door, or as we nicknamed it, “‘The Door’ door”, which makes it a definite must-see for anyone interested in glimpsing at least some of the doors while visiting the country.
Much of the rest of the day was spent taking in the breathtaking scenery of the North Coast, seeing such sights as Ballintoy Harbour and the Giant’s Causeway. The 6th door can be found at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy and here we found that they had set up a whole Game of Thrones room with shields, display armor, and more in a nice space made for a quiet chat or for some gaming thanks to the stack of board games in the room.
Continuing our journey through Northern Ireland in pursuit of the Game of Thrones doors, our trip took us to Newcastle on the coast and then across the southern reaches of the country to gorgeous County Fermanagh and the lovely town of Enniskillen:
After a lunch and a bit of a gawk at The Percy French with Slieve Donard and the Irish Sea in the background, the trip to Enniskillen was long and rewarding. As Linda explains in the video, Blakes of the Hollow is quite remarkable: the original pub in front still retains much of its original charms, including a stone countertop from the era. However, it has grown over the decades, and a regular at the pub volunteered to lead us around to additional bars, function spaces, and a very well-regarded (and quite beautifully appointed) restaurant called Café Merlot beneath it. One regular wanted his picture taken and when I said that it’d cost him a pint, he ordered a Guinness up directly (alas, I don’t drink beer and had to put a stop to it—though the devotion to Guinness in Northern Ireland made me tempted to at least give it a try!)
Following our visits to the Game of Thrones doors at The Cuan and Fiddler’s Green, we found ourselves making good enough time that we could stop by at Castle Ward where we were given a little taste of their “Winterfell Experience”. Various parts of Castle Ward have served as Winterfell, hosting such memorable scenes as King Robert’s arrival and Bran’s archery practice. Indeed, one of the activities offered at the site includes practicing your own archery in the very same spot where Bran and Theon practiced their archery in the first season.
The Northern Irish weather was not smiling upon us when we reached Castle Ward – there was a steady drizzle which saw fit to increase in intensity while we were there – but the greyness added to the (pardon the pun) stark experience of the site. Our guide, Dee Morgan, drove us down to the heart of “Winterfell” and introduced us to William van der Kells from Clearsky Adventure Centre who run the “Winterfell Experience”. He had been at Castle Ward since well before Game of Thrones came there, working for the National Trust which owns the site.
Our readers may have noticed we were a bit quiet last week after the airing of “The Winds of Winter”. For those who watched Linda’s review video, you’ll know why, but for those who didn’t it just so happened that we headed out early Monday to the airport to get ourselves over to Northern Ireland, the home base for much of the filming of Game of Thrones.
At the invitation of Tourism Ireland, Linda and I spent the better part of four days seeing the sites, traveling around much of the beautiful Northern Irish countryside and coastline to see locations as diverse as Ballintoy Harbor (which served as Lordsport and the Iron Isles), Castle Ward (Winterfell), and the Dark Hedges (part of the Kingsroad). At the same time, we were able to visit the ten Game of Thrones-themed doors installed in various noteworthy pubs, restaurants, and hotels throughout the country. These doors draw on the bountiful imagery of the series, and happen to have been made from beech wood reclaimed from two of the ancient trees of the Dark Hedges that had fallen thanks to the storm Gertrude.
Below, you’ll find our very first video in the series, discussing our trip and focusing on the first two doors which can be found at The Cuan in Strangford and Fiddler’s Green in Portaferry, right across the lough.
In the coming days we’ll be highlighting the rest of the doors in pairs, as well as some of our other adventures in Northern Ireland (which includes the result of a conversation with an ewe and her lamb, watching Linda try out her archery skills and get beheaded, and wolfing down enormous steaks fit for King Robert’s own table, among other things!)
The final chapter in Telltales Games’s first Game of Thrones episodic game, “The Ice Dragon”, has been released, and we’ve played it through to the (rather bitter!) end. BEWARE: Spoilers follow!
Suffice it to say, Telltale takes a cue from its source materials to pull no punches… and to leave quite a lot of loose ends for potential future seasons. But we have to say, certain aspects of this finale left us a bit puzzled on a number of fronts, not least the sense that this episode felt somewhat rushed and not as fully produced as previous installments. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that the game’s taken rather longer to come to its conclusion than originally intended by Telltale Games. Whatever the reason, facial animations felt rather broader and less convincing than in previous episodes, and certain segments seemed to show somewhat lax animation.
The fourth entry in the Game of Thrones series, “Sons of Winter”, provides a terrific jolt of energy to the proceedings after the third episode’s flagging pace and lack of depth. That episode, which we didn’t review largely because of a lack of time, felt quite flat and left us concerned that the writers of Telltales’ adventure game had run out of steam after the first two episodes proved solid and interesting. This concern proves unfounded with this episode, which includes several excellent set-pieces which advance the story, each in their own way.
Of the four focal areas of the narrative, Ironrath and King’s Landing are the most enjoyable as the narrative plays with the byzantine machinations that take place in the “game of thrones”.
Last month, we posted our impressions from the world premiere, with a follow-up video regarding a particular aspect of that episode. Since then, we’ve received screeners of the first four episodes of the season, and as with previous seasons, we thought we’d offer early impressions based on those first four episodes. Regarding our remarks on the first episode, they remain largely unchanged: it’s a typical first episode, heavily packed with a lot of short scenes, and it doesn’t get much narrative momentum as it has the difficult job of catching up viewers to the current status quo.
Surprisingly, in many ways the second episode feels very similar, suggesting that the the growth of the story means that it now takes the better part of two episodes before significant advancement can take place. This may be a problem for the remaining seasons of the show, unless they become quite ruthless with some of their storylines.
Three particular areas of season 5 seem worth talking about in this discussion, and the first of these is the one that dominated our video: changes. This is a season with a host of changes, many minor, but a handful being among the most substantial deviations from the novels that the series has ever tried. In some cases, changes are presented as a means to simply close down one particular avenue of the story: we discuss one of those at some length in the video involving the death of a certain character in the first episode, and another change of this kind presents itself in the third episode as readers of the novels come to realize that a significant section of story for one popular character (a section that has implications for other, equally significant storylines, to boot) has been excised in its entirety to speed on a character’s journey.
This puts me in mind of one of the analogies George R.R. Martin has lately brought forward when asked about the different stories of the novels and the TV show. After asking how many children Scarlett O’Hara has in Gone with the Wind, GRRM notes that while she has 3 in the original novel, she only has 3 in the movie. This, George notes, is a significant storytelling difference in the case of Gone with the Wind, and yet the film (noted for a number other such differences) is considered a faithful adaptation of the novel, and one that is the highest grossing film in history once adjusted for inflation.
After our return from the London premiere, we managed to film this video discussing a particular aspect of the first episode: some significant deviations from the novels. Unfortunately, shortly after filming it we both became rather violently ill, so it’s taken awhile to actually get it edited together. This video goes along with our early impressions of the episode, though for reasons we explain there, neither of these items are proper reviews.
A whirlwind visit to London—we spent less than 24 hours there, and got very little sleep indeed—saw Linda and I at the world premiere of season 5 of Game of Thrones at the historic Tower of London. As Dan Weiss would say in a specially prepared video (neither he nor David Benioff was in attendance, claiming too much work finishing up season 5), the Tower was the “throniest” place they could think of at which to have a premiere. Thanks to the good offices of Sky, it was a spectacular occasion, filled with projected displays, costumed caterers, a Dornish-themed party, an enormous group of actors (35 actors from the show, past and present, were in attendance according to HBO CEO Richard Plepler; we’re fairly sure that this was the largest public gathering of the show’s cast to date), and of course the first episode of season 5, “The Wars to Come”.
As it happens, this is not really a review. Various U.K. newspapers were very quick to scrape out reviews and commentary, some more spoiler-filled than others, and you can go look at them if you really want someone’s measured opinion (for the most part, it seems the press was enthusiastic). Because of the circumstances of our trip—very early flight, little time to get ready, little time to rest—for my part I think I was a bit too tired to really be fully attentive to the episode. My habit of checking my watch was at first an effort to just track the pace of the episode and try and help fix in memory sequences of events… but eventually it was simply the distraction of a wandering attention. Linda, on the other hand, was more well-rested, and she felt her attention wandering as well. Perhaps it was the experience of watching it in a packed theatre? That might be it, as it’d be a new experience and the novelty of it may have been distracting, but we’ve another thought.
Thanks to the good graces of HBO Nordic, Linda and I travelled to Stockholm this past Friday to take a look at the Game of Thrones exhibit in Kungsträdgården. A quick train trip from Gothenburg and after checking in to our hotel we took a walk over to the park, where we meet our press contact who got us our press passes. We had arrived too late to take part in the panel with Coster-Waldau, but Nikolaj has been a frequent interviewee of our site already so not a big deal, we thought.
The exhibit is housed in a large tent in the middle of the park, which extends down to one of the more scenic views of Stockholm’s glorious waterfront—though with the grey, windy weather, it wasn’t all that beautiful at the time. Ushered in, we were greeted first by a few heraldic banners, and then a mass of costumes, armor, weapons, and props that ran the gamut from all four seasons of HBO’s hit show… and even into the fifth season. Naturally, we took many pictures.
While there, Nikolaj came in to do a series of television and radio interviews, but before they started he came by to chat with Linda (who he’d not met before, but evidently recognized) and I. He remarked that the Oculus Rift-driven Wall experience was particularly amazing and wondered if we’d tried it (we had.) And then back to interviews for him, and back to looking around for a bit more. During this time, Elana Loewenthal of HBO introduced herself, revealing that she was largely responsible with arranging the exhibit and its contents. She was particularly helpful, discussing some of the thinking behind the story of the exhibit—the way things were laid out in conjunction with one another—and the little hints of season 5 they were able to work into the show with the permission of executive producers David Benioff & Dan Weiss. Afterward, she said we’d see her again at the opening party held in a nearby gallery….
The second episode of the Telltale Games Game of Thrones game was released today on PC. Titled “The Lost Lords”, the launch trailer can be seen below:
For the most part, our thoughts on the game based on the first episode hold—it’s a solid but (so far) unexceptional game, with some of the annoying Game of Thrones quirks present, like veritable teleportation between far-distant locations (made even more blatant in this episode, as a character makes his way to Yunkai from the North in what seems to be a span of a few days). So far the game seems to be moving around pieces on the board, not least because this episode introduces two additional point of view characters, but that seems reasonable in a six-episode series.
There are a few thematic notes that we’ll discuss beneath the cut, for those who (like us) are interested in how Telltale has worked the setting into its narrative.
The newly released first episode of the Game of Thrones adventure game from Telltale Games—a company that’s been around since 2004, creating adventure games of all sorts, but which only fairly recently rose to prominence with the critical acclaim for its The Walking Dead game—has certainly drawn some attention. Reviews have varied (see Polygon at one end, IGN at another, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun is always worth reading) but everyone certainly seems to feel that they’ve captured something of the Game of Thrones TV series in its tone and style (even if, in certain areas—the sexual content, namely—it’s toned way down [so far]).
I myself have had a little experience of Telltales’ games, but from their pre-TWD period when the games they produced (such as the licensed Back to the Future and their first episodic title, Sam and Max: Season One). These were much more traditional adventure games, and were solid-to-pretty good. But the real boom of success that The Walking Dead brought—a success that has led to their Fables: A Wolf Among Us game based on Bill Willingham’s comic book series, and more recently Tales of the Borderland based on the popular FPS—was also paired with a very different approach to the adventure game. At the outset, Telltales Games made very traditional adventure games. No surprise there, really: several members of the company came there by way of Lucasarts, famous for its adventure games such as The Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and the Secret of Monkey Island series among others. Those games generally featured a lot of puzzles, and while they had strong central narratives you had relatively little control over it. You might end up with two or three different end states, with some minor variations in the mechanics of how to get from point A to point B, but your character’s interactions would have little lasting impact in terms of the dynamics of character relationships. The characters would generally always think of you in the same way, regardless of what you did.