It feels surreal to be standing in the castle courtyard where a scene from Game of Thrones with Cersei Lannister and Little Finger was filmed a few seasons ago.
Lord Baelish, implying knowledge of her incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime Lannister, says, “Knowledge is power.”
Cersei counters, “Seize him. Cut his throat. Stop! I’ve changed my mind, let him go.” She pauses, looks at him and says, “Power is power.”
Of all the quotable lines from Cersei, this to me distills her character’s understanding of what real power is. Manipulation is for children; cutting out the second act and going straight for the denouement in the third is the Cersei way, just like blowing up the Sept of Baelor with wildfire and killing everyone in such a spectacular manner.
That line, along with what she casually says to Maergery Tyrrel, “If you ever call me sister again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep” — which makes me laugh so hard! — is classic Cersei.
Power, which what makes GoT so compelling, is also understood by those who know they will have it only in doses that the gods old and new deem fit, like the eunuch and master of whisperers Lord Varys who says, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.”
It is September 2017 and I am on a solo road trip through the Balkans, a trip I had always wanted to do and wouldn’t shut up about to friends asking me what else was on my bucket list. Reading about the Balkans conflict and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia when I was younger made me want to see this region for myself.
Many years later, Game of Thrones entered my consciousness with the subtlety of a bullet through the head — and I was even more determined to go to this part of the world where they had filmed.
I’ve traveled to places before specifically to see where my fave movies were set — Savannah for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Bruges for In Bruges — but Game of Thrones is filmed in so many different locations I had to pick one first to suit my budget. Would it be Croatia, Spain, Morocco, Northern Ireland or Iceland?
My first choice is Dubrovnik, the setting of King’s Landing and perhaps the most publicized of all shooting locations in the series. Landing in Sarajevo, the third of nine cities I would go to on this solo trip, I rent a car at the airport and on the third day drive from Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Dubrovnik is a tourist city propelled by history and the Adriatic Sea, and only in the last decade by Game of Thrones. An American tourist once famously told my guide, “It’s great that GoT came to Dubrovnik to make it famous,” to which my guide replied, “Dubrovnik was Dubrovnik before the TV show, our castles were built before the TV show, our people existed before the TV show…”
I understood why she was so irritated in telling this story and two years later in Seville I would have to answer an equally stupid question from a fellow tourist on a walking tour. (“Do Filipinos consider Spain their motherland?” Me: “Of course not! It was our country before Spain, our people existed before Spain colonized our islands.”)
At my hotel facing the Adriatic Sea, I ask the local staff if they watched GoT and four out of four people said no. My guide at the walking tour, of course, did — many of her friends were hired as extras in episodes till season 4 when most of the shooting transferred to Spain.
But Dubrovnik is the place where some of the series’ biggest scenes were filmed and the city’s entrepreneurs have wisely capitalized on this. The Hilton just outside the walls is where Peter Dinklage stayed during shooting and he got so drunk one night he fell asleep on a sofa in the lobby. That sofa is now a tourist attraction.
I meet my walking tour group at the main entrance to the walled old town, Pile Gate, which was used in several GoT scenes.
Cersei’s Walk of Shame was filmed here, starting at the Baroque Staircase or Jesuit Stairs. Naked and pelted with mud, she walks through a seemingly straight street but in reality it was filmed in several streets in the walled city.
The main street leading from the Baroque Staircase (similar to Rome’s Spanish Steps) is flanked by bars and restaurants and on top is the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. On any given day, the restaurants are all full for lunch and dinner, and the hours in between when tourists try rakia or the popular fruit brandy in the Balkans.
To film the Walk of Shame, the owners were compensated to keep their establishments closed for several days. Then the shooting dragged on to 10 days, and they were very happy to be paid for staying closed.
Fort Lovrijenac doubles as the Red Keep. Outside the walls they shot the scene of Myrcella Baratheon — daughter of Cersei and Jaime — crying on a ship being exiled to Dorne to keep her safe from Stannis’ advancing army. This was filmed on a little beach below the fort. The yellow and red kayaks waiting for tourists to enjoy the sea were, of course, taken away.
You can see the small beach and the red rooftops of the town from the ramparts of the fort, which is located on a 37-meter-high cliff and known as Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar. Some of the walls in this fortified city are 12 meters thick while other walls are only 60 centimeters.
The Ethnographic Museum doubles as Little Finger’s brothel and where Tyrion Lannister meets with Oberyn Martell, who is seeking justice for his dead sister and her children.
Season 7’s ending scene at King’s Landing, after Jaime Lannister leaves Cersei and rides north, was filmed in the old city. What’s funny about this is that they had to use fake snow in that love scene of King’s Landing with the slow piano version of the GoT theme. After the cast and crew packed up for the season, real snow did fall on Dubrovnik, a first after many decades.
Had they waited five days, filming would have been easier and less expensive, but who’s counting money when you have the Iron Bank behind you?
A 20-minute boat ride from the harbor of Dubrovnik is Lokrum island, used as the city of Qarth near the Jade Sea, where Daenerys’ dragons are stolen and kept in the House of the Undying. In Qarth, the Mother of Dragons proves once again she is the Unburnt and merciless to those who betrayed her, locking Xaro inside his own empty vault.
Most scenes in Qarth were filmed in Lokrum’s botanical gardens and former Benedictine Monastery, and also at Dubrovnik’s Minčeta Tower, which stood in as the House of the Undying.
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And so two years later, in February 2019, I am flying to Seville, Spain on a budget airline to see Dorne, in real life Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a collection of palaces built by the Moors and then the Christians.
I’ve let my feet run wild again, booking flights without a real plan except to find GoT film locations, losing my phone on the first leg of the flight from Manila to Abu Dhabi.
Called “the frying pan of Europe” (it reaches 45 degrees in the summer), Seville is the capital and largest city of Seville province and the autonomous region of Andalusia.
In Sevilla without a phone, I have only rudimentary Spanish to communicate with my cabbie and Aibnb owner. My landlord is nice and welcoming, telling me she spent her honeymoon in Manila 25 years ago. She gives me the keys and a hug, and hours later the lights in her flat — my flat for a few days — have gone out. It’s shit but I don’t have the energy or the wifi to throw a hissy fit.
But I love this flat. It has a rooftop terrace, below the building are tapas bars and coffee shops — and most of all, the Water Gardens of Dorne (or Alcazar) are just 200 meters away.
Dorne holds a curious place in Westeros — a sort of breakaway republic within the Seven Kingdoms, properly away from its politics and hypocrisy, but an important ally nonetheless.
Bastard children — the Sands — are not shunned. “We are everywhere in Dorne. I have ten thousand brothers and sisters,” says Elaria Sand when she and Oberyn Martell meet with Cersei and Tywin Lannister in King’s Landing.
The intricately decorated Ambassadors Hall in Alcazar is where Prince Doran welcomes Jaime (after being imprisoned briefly for sneaking in on a fisherman’s boat with Bronn) .
In Dorne, the weather is warm and the people are ruled by passion. “Bastards are born of passion, aren’t they? We don’t despise them in Dorne,” says Oberyn.
Warm weather and passion are also fitting descriptions of Seville. There are palm trees in the palace grounds and the street parallel to Guadalquivir River. Cross the river and you’re in Triana, a neighborhood with such a strong identity it considers itself apart from Seville.
I didn’t book online for the Alcazar tour, so I stood in line for an hour.
There is music everywhere in Seville played by street musicians and ordinary people who just seemingly woke up and took their guitars outside to play. If you go out of the Alcazar, you’d still think this was Dorne — warm, laid back and tropical — and you fully understand Oberyn’s disdain for King’s Landing.
Emilia Clark (Daenerys Targaryen) said in an HBO interview that shooting in Seville was a joy, that it felt like they weren’t working at all but were on vacation compared to cast members shooting in Iceland like Kit Harington (Jon Snow).
Another shooting location in Spain, an hour by bus from Seville, is Santiponce, a town with a population of just over 8,000. This is where they shot the final episode of Season 7’s summit between the northerners plus Daenerys and her dragons, and Cersei and her minions, to show to the Lannisters the white walker they had captured from beyond the wall.
The Dragonpit is actually the Roman ruins of Italica, an archeological treasure to Sevillanos and commonly believed to be the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. That scene where Jon Snow and Ser Davos, Tyrion Lannister and the Hound are walking to the Ampitheater is one of many cobbled streets of this ancient city that was once the third largest in the Roman Empire.
In BTS interviews, the cast talked about how shooting in the Dragonpit was a sort of reunion for them — and for many characters it was the first time to shoot with each other, like for Cersei and Daenerys and Jon Snow who had never been together in a scene before.
As Game of Thrones progressed from its pilot episode in April 2011, previous shooting locations in Croatia were transferred to Spain. Scenes in King’s Landing, for instance, were shot in Girona even as the city doubled as Bravos where Arya Stark trained to become an assassin. Girona Cathedral doubled as the Sept of Baelor, previously shot in Dubrovnik.
Obviously, GoT isn’t the only reason to visit these places, but you do get a kick when you see a scene from this cultural phenomenon and remember your travels. And to be able to channel Cersei and say, “I was there, bitch.”