WHERE on earth do you go to film a show that doesn’t look like anywhere on earth?
It’s the pickle Game of Thrones producers once found themselves in: they needed a place that could appear as a frozen wasteland, inhabited by “wildling” tribes and the deadly Undead.
The answer? Iceland.
The shockingly beautiful country is fiercely protective of the series that helped transform tourism into one of its most booming industries. Ever since the show first featured Iceland in season two, glimpses of its breathtaking landscapes have attracted fans from all around the world to the small north Atlantic nation.
In fact, so powerful is the “Game of Thrones effect”, it’s been credited as a key factor behind the extraordinary swell in annual tourist numbers — from 566,000 in 2011 when it premiered, to more than a whopping 1 million by 2015.
Over the past six years, Thrones creators have filmed key scenes at locations across Iceland.
These have included Lake Mývatn and the ethereal lava fields of Dimmuborgir in the north, the Höfðabrekkuheiði hiking area near Vik, on the island’s south coast, the Svínafellsjökull glacier near Skaftafell and Thingvellir National Park near the country’s capital of Reykjavik.
A number of those places are remote and difficult to access — in some cases, a fair way off the beaten track — and, pre-Thrones, often overlooked by tourists.
That’s where the show’s Icelandic location manager, Einar Sveinn Thordarson from Pegasus Pictures, comes in.
He’s worked with Thrones producer Chris Newman since the show first moved to Iceland — and revealed to news.com.au there’s been one major change in the production over that time.
“One script leaked like two years ago,” he said, adding that the writers had become “very protective” since then.
Einar explained: “Before that, [writers] were pretty cavalier about it. I’d just have my script lying in my car.
“But now we get briefs and they’ve become more protective. It’s different, like we’ll be filming a fight scene and we won’t know the context.”
Here are some other secrets from the real-life set of Game of Thrones:
JON SNOW AND YGRITTE’S LOVE CAVE
Sex and nudity features pretty regularly on the show, but Jon Snow losing his virginity to wildling Ygritte in a steamy cave is up there as one of the most iconic scenes.
(Don’t forget that it’s the moment that gave us: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”)
Einar found the perfect real-life cave for the spicy love scene to take place — a cave called Grjotagja, near Lake Myvatn in northern Iceland. It even featured a romantically ethereal aquamarine hot pool, perfect for the couple’s post-sex skinny dip.
During their pre-filming location checks, Einar and the producer had a trial run of the thermal spa and stumbled into some roadblocks.
“We actually went swimming to see if it would work, but it was really, really hot,” he explained, adding that they — unsuccessfully — tried to cool it down with ice cubes.
“And the water was very clear … that was a problem because Rose (Leslie, who played Ygritte) had it written in her contract that she couldn’t have that much nudity.”
It meant the famous scene was actually shot in different parts: a naturally-formed rock archway around the lake was dressed to look like the cave’s entrance, while an exact replica of Grjotagja cave was created in a Belfast production studio.