The 'A Song of Ice and Fire' Domain


Finn Jones Behind the Scenes in Chicago

Copyright HBO 2016

We’ve a special feature today courtesy of a fan, Christine, who attended the Game of Thrones exhibit in Chicago the weekend before last (there’s one more coming to Los Angeles on December 9th and 10th), with a look at all the neat stuff HBO has put together in celebration of the release of the Season 6 Blu-Ray... as well as an exclusive new interview with Finn Jones, who portrayed the late, great Knight of Flowers… and is now due to star in the Netflix Marvel series, Iron Fist. Read on to learn what Christine saw, and what Finn had to say about Game of Thrones and what he’s been up to since filming wrapped on the previous season!

To celebrate Game of Throne‘s sixth season and the November Blu-Ray release, HBO created a pop-up theme park, showcasing an interactive world of the special featured content, allowing die-hard fans to traverse Westeros as a Khaleesi, stave off a horde of wights north of the Wall, train as a soldier in the Night’s Watch, claim the Iron Throne, or get caught in a wave of deadly chaos in the Battle of Bastards. Plus, as a special treat to early arrivers, Finn Jones â`“ also known to fans as Sir Loras Tyrell â`“ was on site to meet and greet, sign copies, and spare a few minutes of his hectic schedule to talk music, politics, and of course the burning question â`“ how will Game of Thrones end?

These events, held in New York, Chicago, and this upcoming weekend in Los Angeles, recreate some of the most iconic sequences of season six and offer hands-on sneak peeks of the Blu-Ray bonus content. Set up by location, fans navigate throughout Westeros and Essos faster than if they were on dragonback. Each location replicates the set design on the show, with a treasure trove of memorabilia and fun inside.

The tour starts North of the Wall, in a meticulously-constructed wood building that features at its center a gorgeous weirwood heart tree, with its pale roots growing throughout. The set is lit from above to represent the sun shining through the leaves â`“ a very impressive staging touch. To me it recalled the scene where Ned polishes Ice near the heart tree, oh so many books and episodes ago. On display throughout the room are actual props from the show, including an impressive White Walker’s ice sword, which thanks to the Chicago weather, did not melt.
In addition to the curated prop content, a TV with looped video played one of my absolute favorites of the special bonus features â`“ the illustrated histories. While I adore all of the fun behind-the-scenes glimpses and insightful commentaries, for me it’s these narrated tales that make the Blu-Ray a must-purchase for any fan of the show. Appropriate to the setting, the video was about the mysterious Children of the Forest, narrated by the show’s One-Eye-Raven and film icon Max Von Sydow. His delivery alone is worth the price of admission (AKA buying the Blu-Ray).

HBO seemed to know that these histories were pivotal in generating fan fevor and gave us more of what we want â`“ and what we want is more details on Martin’s fantastic world â`“ and went all in for season six, producing EIGHTEEN of these histories. Others include backstory on the Old Ways of the Ironborn, House Dayne, the newly-introduced location of Oldtown, and the famous tourney at Harrenhaal, narrated by the actors playing Euron Greyjoy, Young Ned Stark, Maestar Pycelle, Qyburn and Meera Reed, to name just a few.

Although I loved watching the videos and admiring the craftsmanship of the props, the centerpiece of each exhibit is the interactive fan experience. Visitors North of the Wall have the opportunity to re-live the heartbreaking and courageous moment when Hodor holds the door, and like every hands-on feature, the staff records it for posterity and emails it to you directly by scanning your pre-programmed wristbands â`“ technology!! For my Hodor moment, I smiled a bit too eagerly, but other fans more aptly captured the courage and fortitude of our favorite gentle giant.
After braving the land up north, guests make their way to Vaes Dothrak, a near-replica of the grass and straw Temple of Dosh Kahleen from the show. Judging by the concept art hung within, the exhibit was about half the size of the actual setpiece â`“ which did in fact get burned to the ground during filming. According to our HBO guide and Game of Thrones expert, Vanessa, it was a very cathertic and fun experience for the designers and crew to not just dismantle a set, but raze it with fire. I wonder if they have some Tagaryen blood in them?

Copyright HBO 2016

The hut’s props include Dany’s CSI:Westeros ring, Daario’s naked-woman arakh, and script pages of Dany’s dialog. I discovered that the cast learns Dothraki phonetically â`“ which makes sense â`“ and Emilia Clarke beatboxes it out. While this method sounds a bit silly, it’s working because that scene when Dany burns down Vaes Dothrak is mighty convincing. Maybe she’s got hip-hop career once Game of Thrones comes to an end. 

Here too, the fans can re-live this iconic moment, fanning the flames of the briar to punish those that would imprison the mighty Khaleesi. Again my video took a rather humorous turn, as I seemed to dance in snarky victory at the fall of my captors. Other fans took this opportunity to be regal, dominating, or even “dab"as the flames roared around them. One had a lot of fun with his “peace out” moment.

As visitors make their way over to Castle Black, a large â`“ perhaps 10X20 feet â`“ 3D relief map based on the famous show’s famous animated intro â`“  complete with castles and strongholds. If guests look closely, they might even find Dany’s dragons flying east. One was missing â`“ and yes, there were many “where are my dragons?!” jokes by the crew and guests.

Once within the relatively barren confines of Castle Black, visitors join the ranks of Night’s Watch recruits via the wonders of virtual reality. Donning the goggles and holding the handsets, you’re transformed to the training grounds, learning both offensive and defensive tactics. It took me a few tries to shoot the arrows, but I was fairly adept at fighting off any rocks the wildlings threw my way. By the end of my session with the bow and arrow, I felt as skilled as Yigritte herself. If I muttered a few “you know nothings” under my breath, it was only a testament to the quality of the VR.

Copyright HBO 2016

The next step for visitors was Winterfell itself, a tent donned for war with banners, battle plan map, gorgeously detailed costumes like Melisandre’s cape, and even Sansa’s letter to Littlefinger. But the prop that seemed to elicit the most gasps from visitors seemed to be Shireen’s little wooden stag â`“ aww, RIP. The looping video from the Blu-Ray features showcased some of the behind-the-scenes footage and facts that truly boggle the mind at the grand scale and achievement the show reached with its Battle of the Bastards episode. 26 days, 300 extras, and almost a hundred horses â`“ and at least one giant of a man to play Wun Wun. The interactive feature allows the guests to green-screen themselves into a picture, replacing Jon Snow in the sea of soldiers as you’re being swept away by the enormous battle tide. Once again in the picture I was smiling â`“ a testament to the fun I was having â`“ while others better captured Kit Harrington’s harried expression in the show.

Finally, the exhibit ends with a small-scale replica of the colossal Paint Hall studio, where much of the indoor filming takes place in Ireland. While some of the coolest props and costumes were on display here â`“ a full Unsullied costume, Arya’s â`“ I mean No One’s â`“ training staff at the House of Black and White, and Young Ned’s Sword from the Tower of Joy â`“ the true centerpiece was most certainly the Iron Throne, complete with the Seven-Pointed-Star stained-glass backdrop. Visitors were able to claim the throne while wearing a crown of their choosing â`“ mine was Renly’s, in homage to my favorite Baratheon brother â`“ and have their picture taken. Unsurpisingly, I seemed to be a happy, benign ruler, captured in time with a goofy grin, while my fiancee took a more stoic, Stannis-like approach. Luckily the throne didn’t deem either of us unworthy by stabbing our bits.

Touring with the exhibit was Finn Jones â`“ our dearly-departed Loras Tyrell â`“ who he sat with me to discuss music, politics, his new project Iron Fist, and his wish for the ending of the show.

Upon meeting Finn, I was immediately struck by how much he resembled my mind’s picture of the Knight of Flowers â`“ even more so than his appearance on the show, when he’s resplendent in his shining armor and the fantastical settings. This guy with the sparkling eyes, gym shoes (trainers â`“ after all, he’s British), leather jacket, and curly locks is most certainly a charming and chivalrous member of a rich, noble house. I’ve been a fan of his throughout his tenure on the show, but after ten seconds with him I thought to myself “bravo once again, HBO casting”. Someone give Nina Gold a raise.

Finn â`“ like Hodor, err Kristian Nairn, is passionate about DJing. He played his music throughout our talk and I was impressed enough to offer him a gig at my wedding next year. Chances are with his talent and multiple projects his dance card is already full.

We chatted a bit about Chicago, which Finn thinks is like New York, but even cooler â`“ NYC with a bit of balls. As a native Chicagoan, I can appreciate that. He had also just enjoyed his first Thanksgiving feast, and I believe with the enthusiasm he used to describe eating the turkey, mashed potato, and gravy he may find himself in the United States every late November. Hopefully somewhere warmer though, even if we are pretty cool in Chicago.

It’s a thrilling time for Finn, given that he just wrapped up filming Marvel’sIron Fist â`“ and no, he didn’t get the job because it has the word “Iron” in it â`“ and is starting production on

The Defenders, where his character teams up with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage in another new Netflix series â`“ so we’re getting two Finns for the price of one! 

I’m enthusiastic for Iron Fist â`“ not just because Finn is in it, though it certainly helps â`“ but because of how different Danny Rand is from the other Netflix Marvel characters. Like Finn, he’s an enduring optimist, and by his view, although Iron Fist has issues, he’s not faced the hardship, or down on his luck and broken as the rest of his band of warriors. While I love me some grit, I appreciate that they are bringing some naiveté and optimism to add some balance to their merry band of ass-kickers.

However, in the midst of all his career excitement, it’s apparent that it hasn’t dulled his interest in social and political issues. As we are both passionately liberal, Finn and I commiserated over the state of the Western world after Brexit and the U.S. election.

But like his Iron Fist character, I appreciate Finn’s optimism, because he believes this current turmoil is going to “galvanize a lot of change for the better. Things have to get a lot worse before they get better, before people will wake up. All that bad shit had to happen. We were sleepwalking into oblivion. We’re faced with climate change, economic turmoil â`“ and now all of this is a harsh slap in the face. But now we get to come up with some resolution. Band together and stay positive. Now we can see how shitty it is, we know what we don’t want to be like. There’s such a large group of people, ready to usurp power. The throne is empty.”

Boy, they should make a show out of this!

Which led us to chat about his wishes for the show’s ending. Now that Ser Loras and the entire Tyrell clan (minus the Queen of Thorns) has been effectively Castermere’d â`“ who does he want to win the throne?

Copyright HBO 2016

“I think the Iron Throne is going to be dissolved, and that by the end of the show there will be no throne and that physically and ideologically there will be no seat of power, and what I’m hoping to see is that the power will be given back to the individual lands and everyone can live peacefully once again. I think if the show wants to send a message out, it will hopefully give a solid, progressive message. It would be sad to see a very nihilistic ending â`“ especially in the times we’re living right now, we need some lessons of hope in our storytelling. No throne â`“ give the power back to people, with a small council. Chaos will bring in order, ice and fire will destroy themselves â`“ so in the great war, out of the rubble and destruction, spring will come. But most importantly, in the hearts and minds of people there has to be hope.”

Later, when Finn made his way to the Iron Throne for photo opps, he also sat with his legs crossed and a big, benevolent, genuine smile. Now that’s my kind of ruler.

I ended the day pleased as pie â`“ Hot Pie, even. A glimpse into the magic behind the show â`“ both the moviemaking and the storytelling kind, met a political kindred spirit that just happens to be a television star, some souveniers to remember that I can’t not smile when there’s a camera in front of me â`“ whether I’m burning down a temple or getting crushed in battle â`“ and a renewed appreciation for HBO’s commitment to allowing us fans a deeper glimpse into the staggering depths of the World of Ice and Fire.