The Making Of King’s Landing

Among many other things, HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” has become known for some pretty spectacular filming locations. Given the scope of the fantasy world in which the story takes place pretty much every type of landscape and background is in play. We’ve to barren rolling hills in cold northern climates, endless winter forests, rocky shorelines, desert climates, and perhaps most fascinating of all, sprawling cities. But it’s the main city, King’s Landing, that appears to be the greatest achievement in set design and CG engineering.

In designing the capital city for the show, HBO could easily have gone the route of completely inventing a location. George R.R. Martin’s novels are deeply descriptive, and it would have been conceivable for the show’s creators to simply fashion an entirely CGI-constructed setting to mimic the descriptions in the book. Indeed despite its reputation for globetrotting, “Game Of Thrones” is filmed largely in a studio in Belfast, and you can even see here that the studio offers immersive tours through several popular show locations that would seem on screen to be flung far and wide across the world. It’s truly amazing what can be done with a real world foundation and a few special effects, and one gets the feeling King’s Landing could have been constructed in Belfast if need be.


To that point, the show’s creators could also have gone a more generic route in forming their capital, basing it on the basic image of a medieval castle that so many of us have in mind. You’ve seen similar castles in countless shows and films, to the point that they’ve become staples of popular fiction. This platform even uses a stereotypical castle image to invite players to a castle-themed online bingo club in which you can “climb the stone stairs and push open the heavy wooden door.” Such uses of castle imagery work, in films, TV, bingo games, or wherever else, because they’re familiar and safe – and rooted in reality. There are countless castle ruins around the UK that could easily have served as inspiration for a more fairy tale-like castle like that the bingo room puts forth, should “Game Of Thrones” opted for an easier setting.

Instead of simply using the studio or building King’s Landing on a traditional British castle, however, the folks at HBO took the time to look around the world and find an actual location that closely mimicked Martin’s written descriptions of the Westeros capital. And as you may have heard by now, they found just such a place in Dubrovnik, Croatia, a gorgeous old seaside city that fit the description right down to the red rooftops of buildings surrounding the main castle.

This site is fully dedicated to showing the filming locations used in Dubrovnik, as well as showing some of the actual scenes, and it’s quite clear that in large part HBO simply used the city as it actually exists. As the site puts it, no special measures or effects were needed for Dubrovnik to play the part, so to speak, of King’s Landing. The Old Town in Dubrovnik functioned perfectly for scenes around the capital, with its ancient buildings and narrow streets generally used without embellishment.

However, when it comes to the look of the city beyond the streets, HBO came up with some of the best CG work we’ve seen on television of late. Though there are doubtless many other fascinating examples out there, this collection of before and after images regarding CGI in “Game Of Thrones” has a couple of absolutely incredible shots of Dubrovnik in which the regular city is almost untouched but for a massive castle or keep erected in the background. It’s special effects work when you look at how seamlessly these background towers are made to blend into the very real city in which the scenes are filmed.

Ultimately it’s the combination of real setting and CG creativity that makes King’s Landing and other locations in “Game Of Thrones” so terrific. While they could have gone the route of inventing a location in studio or basing the fantasy capital on a more stereotypical image of a medieval castle or capital, building on top of an existing city has proven to make for an incredibly realistic look. Plus one can only imagine it helps the actors to feel as if they’re actually in King’s Landing, and not on a show set!

Author, cgwires

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