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'no flutes' A look inside the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour attraction in Northern Ireland

Entry costs almost €50, but do visitors get bang for their buck?

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Wun Wun the giant on the Game of Thrones Studio Tour

Wun Wun the giant on the Game of Thrones Studio Tour

The Production Design Department on the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour - where much of the filming started.

The Production Design Department on the new Game of Thrones Studio Tour - where much of the filming started.

A glimpse at the Costume Gallery.

A glimpse at the Costume Gallery.

Outside the Linen Mill Studios.

Outside the Linen Mill Studios.

Daenerys Targaryen's famous white fur suit from Season 7.

Daenerys Targaryen's famous white fur suit from Season 7.

Visitors in the Special and Visual Effects section

Visitors in the Special and Visual Effects section

Lannister Family costumes from King's Landing

Lannister Family costumes from King's Landing

White Walkers in the prosthetics section...

White Walkers in the prosthetics section...

The Iron Throne took over two months to make. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The Iron Throne took over two months to make. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The Great Hall set from Winterfell.

The Great Hall set from Winterfell.

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Wun Wun the giant on the Game of Thrones Studio Tour

Welcome back to Westeros.

This Friday, February 4, the world’s first studio tour dedicated to HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones opens near Banbridge, Co Armagh.

The 110,000-square-foot interactive experience aims to bring visitors “closer to the Seven Kingdoms than ever before”, with a stunning array of sets, costumes, props and more from the show.

With tickets priced from £39.50/€47.35 for adults, it’s also one of the most expensive visitor attractions ever to open on this island.

So what can visitors expect?

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A glimpse at the Costume Gallery.

A glimpse at the Costume Gallery.

A glimpse at the Costume Gallery.

It starts with a bang. After checking in for a preview visit, I stand with guests in an oval ‘Preview Theatre’, where an introductory video tees up the tour and recaps series highlights.

The lights go down. The theme music plays. Afterwards, the screen slides across and a wooden door rises to reveal a tunnel to a frozen landscape.

"You’re now free to venture into the North,” a guide says. “Be careful!”

Walking forward, we come face to face with White Walkers, the giant Wun Wun and the first rows of costumed dummies populating several halls from the recreated Seven Kingdoms.

After moseying through sets from the Black Castle, scattered with eye-catching originals like Melisandre’s red dress and Jon Snow’s winter woolies, there comes a hall devoted to production design.

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White Walkers in the prosthetics section...

White Walkers in the prosthetics section...

White Walkers in the prosthetics section...

The storyboards, models, studio recreations and making-of videos here give a stunning insight into the effort and collaboration involved in the show – and the stats are mind-boggling.

Every season needed 100 sets in three countries, I learn. Production teams used 20 million screws and bolts, along with 1,199km of repurposed timber. The costume department cut and stitched its way through 80km of fabrics.

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Game of Thrones was shot over seven series from 2011 to 2019, and about a third of the scenes were shot in Northern Ireland – on location or sound stages at Linen Mill Studios and Belfast.

The public have not been able to access these… until now.

For me, Winterfell’s Great Hall is the first bona fide wow moment – you feel like you are actually standing where those mesmerising scenes were shot.

That's because you are, I overhear one guide pointing out.

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The Great Hall set from Winterfell.

The Great Hall set from Winterfell.

The Great Hall set from Winterfell.

The Dragonstone Hall sees the Tour take a more open-plan turn, giving a greater sense of the scale of the studios.

Here, highlights range from the Map Table to Daenerys’ throne (its floor contains hexagonal shapes in a nod to the Giant's Causeway), and of course, giant sculptures of dragons’ skulls.

There is an armoury bloated with weapons (including Arya’s souvenir-sized sword, Needle), interactive screens where you can try on virtual costumes and an opportunity to add your mugshot to the moody Hall of Faces.

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Along the way, I stop to examine props like the three original dragons’ eggs and Tyrion Lannister’s wine cup.

There’s even a small set recreating composer Ramin Djawadi’s studio. His brief included just one major rule - “no flutes”.

Panels provide lots of similar insights that will be catnip to GoT fans – at ‘Hodor's Door’, for example, we learn that several stuntmen were pushing from behind as the beloved character battled to hold it closed, “creating a very real struggle for the actor”.

After passing through the Red Keep, there’s a fitting finale – a gigantic room with the eight-foot Iron Throne spotlit as its centrepiece, surrounded by rubble and the screeching of dragons.

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The Iron Throne took over two months to make. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The Iron Throne took over two months to make. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

The Iron Throne took over two months to make. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

"This is it,” a panel reads. “The seat of power at the heart of the explosive war that wreaked havoc across Westeros and beyond.”

I’d forgotten just how detailed and extravagant a universe Game of Thrones created across its 73 episodes.

The Studio Tour takes me around two hours, and has its faults (the price is a stretch, low lighting makes it hard to read small costume signs in places, and given how adult the show was, I wonder whether many family tickets will sell).

But it makes me want to watch all over again.

The tour is a collaboration between Linen Mill Studios and Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment (WBTE), which is responsible for global attractions like The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and WB Movie World Australia.

Tickets cost from £39.50/€47.35 for adults, £27.50/€33 for children and £115/€138 for a family ticket for two adults and two children.

To my knowledge, that makes it one of the most expensive attractions on this island – compared to £21/€25 for Titanic Belfast and SS Nomadic, for example, or €18.25 for Dublin Zoo.

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Visitors in the Special and Visual Effects section

Visitors in the Special and Visual Effects section

Visitors in the Special and Visual Effects section

Perhaps a better comparison is Warner Bros.’ ‘Making of Harry Potter’ Studio Tour in London, which starts with a similar reveal and charges from £49.95 – though it’s much larger and more evolved.

WBTE specialises in allowing fans “to physically immerse themselves inside their favourite brands and franchises", so expect an opportunity to open your wallet in the gift shop, too.

This is a production in itself, selling everything from House Baratheon beanie hats (£15/€18) to House Stark hoodies (£45/€54), themed tea towels (£10/€12) and gel pens (£5/€6).

It remains to be seen whether the Game of Thrones Studio Tour will attract international visitors in a post-Covid landscape, but fans will be in heaven, it provides a remarkable insight into the collaborative nature of an iconic TV production, and Northern Ireland has won an astonishing piece of tourism business.

As John McGrillen, Chief Executive of Tourism NI, puts it: “Game of Thrones has transformed Northern Ireland into a globally recognised screen tourism destination and the launch of the Studio Tour will give visitors another compelling reason to come.”

Tickets are on sale now for Game of Thrones Studio Tour at Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge, Northern Ireland.

There is no parking on-site at the studios. Visitors must park at the dedicated Studio Tour Car Park at The Boulevard, Banbridge. From there, a Studio Tour Shuttle will take you to the main tour entrance – the transfer is included in the entry price.

See gameofthronesstudiotour.com for more info.

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