Warning: Potential spoilers, unsubstantiated gossip, and rampant speculation ahead!
The big scandal in Dubrovnik this fall is that Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen won’t be coming back. After several years of shooting in Croatia, Game of Thrones just dropped the bomb that they’re shooting elsewhere in 2015. According to HBO, the change is “based on story and location needs.” In other words, Croatia, it’s not you — it’s me. My Dubrovnik friends tell me that the mayor’s official statement had the tone of a regretful dumpee. (“If you ever decide to come back, we promise we’ll do whatever it take to make it work!”)
Whether or not it’s truly over, or they’re just on a break, Dubrovnik has really enjoyed its affair with Game of Thrones. For years, locals have been excitedly telling me about their brushes with GoT: Seeing Peter Dinklage, in full Tyrion Lannister regalia, strolling down the main street. Or sitting down for dinner at a neighborhood konoba and spotting Joffrey at the next table. One of my Dubrovnik friends was an extra — dressed as a blink-or-you’ll-miss-him nobleman at a royal wedding.
I’ve only recently caught up on the show. And while I enjoy disentangling the mythology (not to mention the dragons), I’ve gotten a particular kick out of seeing places I know well as the backdrops for mystical lands.
For example, most of “King’s Landing” has been filmed in and around Dubrovnik’s walled Old City.
The real-life Fort of St. Lawrence looks over a pleasant cove that becomes Blackwater Bay.
And parts of Dubrovnik, Split, and the countryside and islands in between have been the setting for Daenerys Targaryen’s gradual conquest of the continent of Essos, from idyllic Qarth to the cities of Slaver’s Bay. This is the Rector’s Palace, one of the main sights in Dubrovnik’s Old Town:
For die-hard GoT geeks, here are more specifics: Trsteno Arboretum is where Sansa Stark had many heart-to-hearts with Olenna and Margaery Tyrell. The eventful royal wedding of Joffrey and Margaery was filmed in Dubrovnik’s Gradac park. The epic duel between Oberyn Martell and The Mountain was filmed at the amphitheater below Hotel Belvedere, facing Dubrovnik’s Old Port. The Qarth garden party was shot on the island of Lokrum, and the tower where Daenerys’ dragons were held captive after that party was Minčeta Tower, the biggest in Dubrovnik’s City Walls. And one character was humiliated by being forced to walk naked through town, beginning at the top of the grand staircase below the Jesuit Church (which I now can’t stop thinking of as the “Steps of Shame! Shame! Shame!”).
Speaking of that scene, locals told me that the entire route of that walk (which traversed basically the entire town center of Dubrovnik) was walled off with high privacy fences. And in this vertical town, that meant that locals who were caught unawares might have to circle up a steep stepped lane, then all the way around town, just to cross the street. But one elderly woman, a local fixture famous for her incredibly slow gait, reached the fence and asked very kindly if she might be able to take a shortcut. The crew took pity on her, halted production, opened the gate…and proceeded to hemorrhage money as they watched her take several excruciating minutes to hobble through the middle of their set.
Locals have mixed feelings about all Dubrovnik’s Game of Thrones connection (and resulting tourism bonanza). They worry that the Hollywood magic is overshadowing the real-life majesty of their town, and that it will draw people here for “the wrong reasons.” I guess my philosophy is that if dragons and duels are what it takes to lure people to a gorgeous town like Dubrovnik — which they’ll certainly enjoy in all its glory once they’re here — then where’s the harm in that?
What’s even more painful about the Game of Thrones snub this year is that Dubrovnik has only just started to exploit its Hollywood connection. When I was here a couple of years ago, I wondered why nobody was doing GoT tours. Now there are at least three companies offering daily walking tours of movie locations, and even a GoT sunset cruise that provides you with costumes to dress up as characters on board. These days, every shop in Dubrovnik sells “officially licensed merchandise,” and one has even imported a replica of the Iron Throne. If you buy an overpriced souvenir, you can take a picture of yourself seated as the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. (The cheapest trinket I saw was a $6 lighter or refrigerator magnet, making that one expensive photo op.)
As Game of Thrones’ fame continues to build, I’m sure, so will Dubrovnik’s GoT cottage industry…whether or not they ever film here again.