Tucked behind the walls of the Old Town of Dubrovnik, a city at the southern end of Croatia, is a student hostel that rents out a room with a sign reading “Tyrion Lannister slept here”. A lost Peter Dinklage crashed there after a night of partying with the rest of the show’s cast.
Irrespective of a backlash from fans, the final season of Game Of Thrones – which aired this May – garnered a record 32 Emmy nominations, and the finale had 19.3 million viewers tuning in. To put it into perspective, that’s about 5 times the population of Croatia.
Dubrovnik doubles up as King’s Landing in the GoT universe. Walking through the narrow and lively lanes of the historic Old Town, you’ll find at least half-a-dozen stores selling cute bobbleheads of Jon Snow and coasters bearing the House Targaryen sigil. The locals are accustomed to casually spotting cast members, who became regular visitors over the 8 years the show was being filmed. Many of these locals have also been extras on the show.
I signed up for a guided Game of Thrones walking tour – one of the things ‘you must do in Dubrovnik’. The tour guide congregated a group of 20 people next to the 600-year-old Onofrio’s Fountain, which had supplied drinking water to the town’s population. He was all set with a compilation of screenshots of specific moments from the show that featured locations in the town. The agenda was to experience Westeros up close – a dream for fanboys like me.
Our first stop was the Lovrijenac Fortress, or the interiors of the Red Keep. With 80,000 steps to its entrance (at least, that’s what it felt like), overlooking the pristine blue waters of the Adriatic, I wondered how the crew managed to get equipment all the way up. The Fortress had served as a point of defence from Venetian invasions in the 11th century, and was also where The Hound threw a knight off the bridge into the sea and where Joffrey’s nameday celebrations were held.
We walked back over to ‘Pile Gate’, the town’s main entrance. At one point in history, it was decided that the gate would always remain open to symbolise that entry was open to all, and not just the wealthy, as it had in the past. The GoT crew initially demanded that the gate be shut to film the riots of King’s Landing in season 2, but the locals protested. Finally, they agreed to leave it ajar as a mark of respect.
We then walked down the streets of Old Town, which were lined with green, wooden apartment windows. We were told that their owners were paid $100 per day by HBO to keep them shut during the shooting. This led us to the Historic Stairs at Jezuit Street – the steps to the Great Sept of Baelor. Capitalising on the (in)famous “walk of atonement”, in which a naked Cersei Lannister is paraded down the street while citizens jeer, a shop at the end of the steps sells a “shame mojito”. I bet Lena Headey’s body double could’ve used a couple of those. With this, our walk had ended.
A GoT walk is incomplete without sitting on the Iron Throne. A souvenir store, which had a replica, was filled with excited fans clamouring for a photo on the coveted Iron Throne.
By the end of it, you realise that the city’s own rich history was usurped by the fictional history of Game of Thrones. Its significance as a trade centre around the 16th century and its siege by the Serbs in 1991 pales in the face of the (fictional) Battle Of Blackwater Bay. The city has become synonymous with King’s Landing. Significant historic structures were scantily populated as compared to the merchandise stores, which were overflowing with tourists. It seemed as though the charm of the destination had been redefined by Game of Thrones – for better or worse.