Game of Thrones
Having sold out in record time, this touring show is an interesting diversion from the ongoing series
The fictional world of Westeros forms the dual backdrop for George RR Martin’s hulking A Song of Ice and Fire literary saga and HBO’s unstoppable Game of Thrones drama series, much of which is realised by Northern Ireland's beautiful landscapes.
Fittingly, both Northern Ireland Screen and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have coordinated once more with the American cable giant to bring its Game of Thrones: The Exhibition back to Belfast, where much of the series is filmed in studios at the Titanic Quarter, for the second consecutive year.
Set to run at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast until June 15, this is an especially prestigious event for a city that has now hosted the award-winning television show since 2009. Judging by the scale of tonight's preview opening at the riverside venue, its notional arrival is a very big deal.
A lively gala is attended by an eager press pack and a respectable smattering of enthusiastic onlookers, keen to grab some time – and selfies – with four members of the fantasy drama’s enormous ensemble cast.
Finn Jones (Ser Loras Tyrell), Daniel Portman (Poderick Payne) Sibel Kekilli (Shae) and Belfast’s own Ian McElhinney (Ser Barristan Selmy) all turn out to lend their support to HBO’s much-hyped touring tribute to the majesty of its own prized asset.
And why not? The series is the most popular (and most pirated) in the world, a truly brilliant slice of unmissable entertainment in an era of video on demand and, as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, a stellar production with which to be so intimately involved.
The latter point, in particular, is drummed home more than once, and quite rightly, by Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and First Minister Peter Robinson, all three of whom are honoured guests at the opening of the exhibition. Elena Lowenthal, director of international marketing at HBO, also emphasises the country’s valuable contribution to the continuing success of Game of Thrones.
Situated in the Waterfront’s main auditorium, the exhibition features a trove of recognisable props and costumes, armour and weapons. The tragic Ned Stark’s great broad sword, Ice, for instance, is fixed in one corner, its size and weight proving it to be a truly impressive example of local craftsmanship. The violently ornate crossbow of odious, sadistic boy king Joffrey is there too.
Other gruesome exhibits are dotted throughout. Jaime Lannister’s severed hand and a just-as-severed wolf head offer immediate reminders of the endlessly visceral thrills that so define Game of Thrones. Indeed, a collection of framed images pays cheeky homage to the vast range of characters who have died off in the years since many of us were first introduced to Martin’s brilliantly sadistic imaginings.
Fans of the show will be just as fascinated by the costumes on display. These are beautifully rendered pieces of couture, with the plain, calming and delicate desert garb of ethereal ‘Mother of Dragons’, Daenerys Targaryen, contrasting sharply with the intricate, courtly dresses of the scheming Cersei Lannister and naive Sansa Stark.
Diehards will be excited also to see the attire of diminutive scene-stealer Peter Dinklage – who plays the wonderfully conflicted dwarf Tyrion Lannister – amongst the King’s Landing fashions.
In truth, however, this an event likely to be appreciated best by the sizeable hardcore fan base. There is a strange hint of sparsity about the whole thing – surprising given the massive scale of HBO’s undertaking – and casual observers, or those still some way behind the current trajectory of season four, will be hit with dreaded spoilers from all angles, the wall of death mentioned above being one particularly egregious culprit.
Speaking of walls, the centre piece at this year’s ode to all things Westerosi is an immersive, 4D experience in which one is given the opportunity to ascend the iconic edifice that is the ice wall of the Night’s Watch.
The Oculus Rift technology uses sight and sound – alongside cold air and underfoot vibration – to depict what might well be a gruelling experience in the abstract. Unfortunately, the image is badly blurred, rendering moot any pre-trip warnings about vertigo or acrophobia.
It is not insignificant that tickets for Game of Thrones: The Exhibition sold out within two hours of their release, a testament to the rabid global appetite for anything linked to this televisual juggernaut, and the chance to be photographed sitting on the gruesome Iron Throne will thrill most who flock to the Waterfront from now until Sunday.
Yet, for those missing out, they need not be too disappointed; a weekly trip to the Seven Kingdoms will more than make up for their absence here.
Game of Thrones: The Exhibition runs at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast until June 15.