For 10 days of filming during Games of Thrones’ fifth season, the producers allowed an embedded Entertainment Weekly reporter to travel with them and chronicle the extreme ambition on display while also fishing for potential plot spoilers. In those 10 days, James Hibberd visited the three different European countries which are used to depict Westeros in the show. First up was Croatia where they film all the King’s Landing stuff. Next up was Spain, a new addition to the show in response to the need to incorporate Dorne-set storylines into the fifth season. Last was Ireland, which stands in for Meereen, Castle Black and various other locations. With such a mammoth production, it’s amazing that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss keep it all straight. In fact, they’ve repeatedly said that critics of the show who demand longer seasons don’t understand how nearly impossible it is that they manage to produce 10 episodes every year, although anyone who’s read Hibberd’s EW cover story or seen the half-hour making of special which aired on HBO prior to the fifth season wouldn’t doubt them.
Of course, Benioff and Weiss have to delegate, delegate, delegate, and the epic fantasy series inherently demands much from the production designers who are ultimately responsible for the small army tasked with set construction and decoration. In a recent THR story, Game of Thrones production designer Deborah Riley revealed the biggest challenge she facedon on season five. [Spoiler Warning for anyone not caught up with the show] Was it finding the right historic Colliseum for Daenerys’ epic dragon-assisted escape from an assassination attempt? Or getting just the right remote village for Jon Snow’s jaw-dropping stand-off with The White Walker’s in “Hardhome”? Or clearing an entire section of the Croatian town for Cersei to perform her long walk of shame in the season finale?
Nope. According to Riley, the most difficult challenge was finding a base for Braavos, the city which we had only previously glimpsed in the fourth season but served as new home to Maisie Williams’ Arya Stark in the fifth season.
Wait, which one is Braavos again?
“It had to feel unlike anywhere we had ever seen before and be made up of canals and islands that are connected by bridges,” says Riley. “It also had to be found right next to where we shoot our other locations. This meant that it had to be in Croatia and near Dubrovnik, where we shoot King’s Landing, or Split, where we established Meereen. It also had to not have too many modern elements as we needed to keep as many scenes as ‘in camera’ as possible, with minimum intervention from the art department.”
Riley says her team “struck gold” when they found a tiny fishing village far from the usual tourist haunts. “The scene opens in a Braavosi canal, and we were able to create a thriving village in Kastilac, just outside of Split. It was built in 1545 by Benedictine nuns and is 40 meters away from shore with a long stone bridge,” she says. “It was tiny but charming, and we shot every brick and surrounding waterway to our advantage. When Michele Clapton’s beautifully idiosyncratic costumes walked onto set, we were transported to another place.”