Page last updated at 08:04 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

What's the appeal of Game of Thrones?

By Greg McKevitt
BBC News

Game of Thrones still
Game of Thrones is expected to be broadcast next year

The announcement that epic television series Game of Thrones would begin filming in Belfast in June caused ripples of excitement in the city, but for many science fiction and fantasy fans around the world it was momentous news.

US broadcaster HBO filmed a pilot in October and November in the city, and it was revealed last week that nine more programmes have now been commissioned.

A number of websites dedicated to the series based on the first book of George R.R. Martin's multi-volume A Song of Ice and Fire series have been set up, eagerly seizing on any new information or gossip about the production.

One of them is Winter is Coming, a fansite set up by New Jersey man Phil Bicking in November 2008 when the pilot was first commissioned.

He says the series has captured the imagination "because the books are so beloved and the fans are so passionate about this story".

"It isn't your typical good-versus-evil story, nothing is black-and-white.

"All the characters are just shades of grey, and each has their own ambitions and motives. I think that allows people to connect with the characters more."

You have fans that are just salivating to see the books played out on screen
Phil Bicking
Winter is Coming fansite

The series has been pitched as "the Sopranos with swords", and Mr Bicking says that "unlike a lot of fantasy, it is very realistic".

"You can almost believe that this land may have existed somewhere in Europe in the past," he says.

"Add all that to the fact that the producers of the show are fans of the books and have promised to be faithful to the source material and you have fans that are just salivating to see the books played out on screen."

Filming also took place in Scotland and Morocco, and a number of locations across Northern Ireland were used to create that medieval feel.

The demand for suitably hairy extras was so great that some had to be recruited from local heavy metal message boards.

It would have more in common with something like I, Claudius or the machiavellian misuse of power in the Godfather than the Lord of the Rings
Malachy Coney
Fantasy fan

Another location is the Mourne Mountains, a supposed inspiration for Belfast-born novelist CS Lewis when imagining his fantasy world of Narnia.

However, the recent adaptation of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe starring Liam Neeson was filmed in New Zealand, following in the wake of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Fans such as Malachy Coney say there is a huge difference between Game of Thrones and other fantasy fayre.

"It would have more in common with something like I, Claudius or the machiavellian misuse of power in the Godfather than the Lord of the Rings," he says.

Mr Coney is a manager at cult science fiction and fantasy store Forbidden Planet in Belfast.

He says that although the series is based in fantasy, it's "more about hierarchies, power struggles and cruelty".

"The books are extremely brutal, like history," he says.

"Most fantasy novels are an escape from that - they shun realism and are more about evil wizards.

"You have a country battered by famine or a breakdown in social order, and the leaders are often as bad as the people attacking them."

'Unspoilt landscapes'

Game of Thrones producer Mark Huffam, who is from Northern Ireland, says they had "passed the test" of making a pilot "for what is probably the best television network in the United States".

"They were slightly nervous at the start because such a drama on that scale had not been made in Northern Ireland before," he says.

"The project is set in a fictional medieval world, so they were looking for unspoilt landscapes on a reasonably epic scale and Northern Ireland came up trumps.

"There's the Mournes, Tollymore, the Antrim Coast and Shane's Castle to name but a few."

A number of Hollywood productions have been filmed in Belfast in recent years - the most recent being medieval comedy Your Highness - and Malachy Coney says he's delighted the city is attracting such attention.

"We've been so starved of everything here - who would have thought things like that would happen in Belfast?", he says.

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