How to play the game
Dubrovnik is a delight for fans of a mega-hit TV series
Highborn and saltwives, knights and wildlings, please know I have been to Westeros and walked the Path of Atonement. Well, a bit of it anyway.
Readers of George RR Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice will know of what I speak; watchers of HBO’s Game of Thrones, now airing on Foxtel, will have to wait until near the end of season five to witness a spectacular fall from grace.
How did I get to Westeros? Easy. Flew to Croatia and entered the former Republic of Ragusa, now known as Dubrovnik, through the Pile Gate. When HBO’s film crews are in town, this is Kings Landing; and the Pile Gate is the very spot where nasty King Joffrey was pelted with dung.
The good folk of Dubrovnik know a thing or two about Game of Thrones, living as they do in the shadow of the Red Keep and walking the marbled streets and twisting alleys of Kings Landing. It is somehow fitting that this ancient walled town, itself fought over by various empires, is a key location for the series. Large parts of seasons two, three, four and five were shot here, and contracts have been signed for the next.
Game of Thrones tours are now part of Dubrovnik’s rich mix, along with walking its medieval walls and checking out its plethora of palaces, museums and churches. Tourism is increasing rapidly, especially in the 18-35 age range, which may have something to do with the city’s new-found fame as Kings Landing.
Extras and others involved in filming have signed confidentiality agreements but in Dubrovnik the walls do have ears (it claims the phrase as its own, courtesy of the Old Town’s narrow streets and cheek-by-jowl housing). We haven’t been in the city an hour before someone refers to the route of the upcoming “Walk of Shame”.
But first a disclaimer to protect the engaging Tomislav, our Game of Thrones guide via Mediterranean Experiences. Not wishing to jeopardise his livelihood (or his sister’s role as an extra), he’s cagey about upcoming episodes but happy to share his knowledge of the various locations, props and actors, peppered with some lighthearted gossip. We walk up to the Red Keep (aka Lovrijenac Fort), the stronghold the Lannisters defend against Stannis Baratheon (and Dubrovnik’s symbol of resistance to the Republic of Venice). The fortress is spectacular in its own right but has acquired crenellations post-production. “The spend is about $US6 million an episode, a lot of it on computer-generated imagery,” says Tomislav. “CGI is the real star of the show.”
We look down on Gradac Park, setting of the Purple Wedding celebrations; across to the Minceta Tower, where Daenerys Targaryen tries to find the House of the Undying, and to the island of Lokrum, which these days doubles as Qarth. We see where Sansa was rescued by the Hound; the alley where Cersei seeks High Sparrow (and told how present-day airconditioners are hidden by “medieval” arches).
Towards the end of our tour, Tomislav says he has a special secret for us. Are we going to hear something we shouldn’t? He takes us into a modest hostel, past somewhat surprised guests, and points out a framed notice over a small day bed: “Tyrion Lannister slept here”. The story goes that Tyrion, aka Peter Dinklage, fell into drinking with a bunch of Aussies who, as the night wore on, took him back to their place to help empty the bar fridge. Lord Tyrion awoke the next morning, suitably hung over, checked his watch and shouted for a taxi. At the door of the hostel, he was confronted with several flights of stone steps and a manager who was unimpressed with an unexpected guest and not at all bothered that m’lord was late for his shoot.
The best part, especially perhaps for those who are not Game of Thrones fans, is that his Australian drinking companions had no idea who he was. dubrovnik-walking-tours.com tourthegameofthrones.com insightvacations.com.au
Carrie Kablean was a guest of Insight Vacations.
Series five of Game of Thrones screens on Foxtel’s Showcase at 11am Mondays with an encore at 7.30pm.
Dubrovnik’s old town, top and above left; scenes of
shot in Dubrovnik, above right and below left