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Belfast Set Visit: Part 1

A funny thing happened in October…

But if you want to hear the whole tale of how I had a chance to visit the sets in Belfast in late October, and my breakfast with George and Parris where I met Isaac Hempstead-Wright, or my first meeting with script editor and writer Bryan Cogman and what it was like to stand atop the Wall, or even a report of the Belfast Moot where many of the actors and crew hung out with fans… well, you can read those from my earlier postings. But if what you really want to read was what it was like to actually be inside the Paint Hall sets, or visiting the various production departments, read on!

Driving up from the production office, Bryan took George, Parris, and I to the Paint Hall. It’s a massive structure, among the largest studios in Europe so far as I know, and inside… Inside was that tower I teased in my last post before we entered the hall, but the first thing we saw clearly were a pair of huts with dirt on their floor, seemingly woven out of grass or reeds, and a tower with a pair of ancient gargoyles flanking a tall open window. The huts were, of course, for scenes involving the Dothraki (who are said to make structures out of woven grass in the novels) and looked very realistic. And the tower? Well, it served double duty. For the first episode it was the ancient First Keep of Winterfell, and a certain chamber in it. And now? Well, its interior had been redressed to be Bran’s bedchamber (fans of the books will see the irony in this.)

It was marvelous to one moment be inside this massive, modern sound stage, and the next be transported into the heart of Winterfell. The work of the set decorators was very thorough, and what impressed me most was not just the quality of the things that were found or specially made to fill the room, but how much effort had been put to making it look truly lived-in. From a child’s carved toy to the furs on his bed, it all looked just as you imagined a boy’s bedchamber would look like. George supposed that this job was something the set decorators particularly enjoyed, since more typically they’d be decorating modern living rooms and the like for TV dramas, and this would be quite different. This was also the location where at least one pivotal scene has already been filmed.

So, that’s three areas of the setting (the Wall, the Dothraki sea, and Winterfell), just like that, all in the space of ten minutes. From there we went on to a chamber at Castle Black (formerly a chamber in Winterfell, I believe it was said) and passed through into what turned out to be a small replica of the feasting hall at Doune Castle, where the Winterfell feast was originally shot and where a number of angles had to be redone due to the recasting of Catelyn (who was originally played by Jennifer Ehle). It looked terrific, though I noticed a strange thing on the table: the manual from a DVD player. Bryan agreed that the Starks probably did not own a DVD player…

After this, we went on to the first really big set: the High Hall of the Eyrie. My understanding was that it was in a separate cell—one of the four which constitutes the Paint Hall—from the things I saw previously. It was remarkable, with pale stones accented with colors such as a predominant blue. I was particularly taken with two mosaics on the walls. The amazing high seat of the Arryns dominated a raised area, and all three of us took turns sitting in it and getting our photos taken.

Parris mentioned that the day before, they had filmed a sequence with the young actor Lino Facioli, who plays little Lord Robin Arryn. Lino would flop in the chair and read a book between takes. Takes, I soon learned, can take quite a long time to set up, and there was an actor at the Moot (I think it was either Mark Stanley or Luke McEwan) who noted that it’s said that actors are paid for the long waits, and that the acting was done for free. I also later learned from an extra who had been present that day (hats off to EdricStorm, and his would-be-extra brother ezeqiel) that Jerome Flynn was absolutely amazing as Bronn, and that he was very good in what was proving to be a physicially demanding role. One other anecdote that was shared with me was when George and Parris saw Peter Dinklage at the Paint Hall for the first time since the pilot, he was in shackles for a scene he was filming. He explained his situation by telling them with a straight face, “I’ve been a bad actor.” Heh.

And yes, I saw the Moon Door, and tried to imagine what it’d be like to “fly” through it. Erk, not a pretty sight… I have to say, GRRM seemed very pleased with the hall’s appearance, and I can’t say I’m surprised. Though there are differences from what’s described in the books, I think the grandeur of it really captured something of the essence of House Arryn and the remote beauty of the Vale, which to me is the most important thing about the depiction of the House and its seat in the novels.

When we left the High Hall, we passed a number of props lining the long hallway. Among them? Two statues from the tombs of the dead lords and kings of Winterfell. Very cool! What they can do with plaster and resin and the like is simply stunning.

I’ll leave this first entry about the visit to the sets here, but I should add one last picture, this one a personal one that Parris took and has kindly allowed me to use (I’ll have two or three more pictures from my visit in following reports). This was from when we were inside Bran’s bedchamber, and George sat himself down on the chest at the foot of Bran’s bed while we looked around and chatted. It’s probably the image I’ll remember most from the visit, George sitting surrounded by the room, the castle, the world that he had created and brought to life on the page. It was a great thing to see, as someone who’s been caught up in the novels since I first read A Game of Thrones back in 1997 and who has had the honor, and the pleasure, of watching the fanbase grow in the years that have followed.

I’ll be posting the next part of the report tomorrow, so keep an eye out for it. Just as a tease, I can say that I had a chance to look at a veritable treasure trove, had a chance to wonder why flying might be like, and met a few unique character actors who play an important part in the show…

But that’s for tomorrow.

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