Winter comes to Banbridge for Game of Thrones studio tour

Cantillon: Long afterlife for HBO show would be ideal for Tourism Northern Ireland

“Winter is coming” has never seemed like the most ideal of tourism marketing lines, not least on Eunice-afflicted days when it definitely looks like it’s already here.

But such is the legacy of the television series Game of Thrones that the brooding motto of its Stark family is now being used to promote Northern Ireland's newest tourist attraction: a €48 million tour based at the Linen Mill Studios in Banbridge.

Working with HBO, Linen Mill Studios and its client, Tourism Northern Ireland, creative agency BBDO Dublin used drone footage to trace the flight of a raven as it soars over some of the North's most majestic topography in the 30-second advertisement. It was made to mark this month's launch of the studio tour, which comes almost three years after the series broadcast its final episode.

With CGI delivered by visual effects specialists Piranha Bar, the ad – written by Kirk Bannon, Ben Clifford and Dillon Elliott – shows the mountains and valleys of the area succumbing to the grip of snow and ice as the ominous raven flies overhead. It then arrives at the entrance to the studio tour, where hopefully conditions amid various props and sets from the fantasy epic are a little warmer.


Experiential tourism

Through the “Embrace a Giant Spirit” slogan rolled out in November 2019, Tourism Northern Ireland is hoping experiential tourist offerings such as the Banbridge attraction will help its post-Covid recovery in visitor numbers.

Visitors "don't need to appreciate the minutiae of the Great Houses of Westeros to enjoy the stunning shots of Northern Ireland and experience our Giant Spirit", according to Tourism Northern Ireland director of marketing Naomi Waite. But the agency's research suggests it certainly hasn't done any harm in the past.

Before the pandemic, it estimated about 350,000 people visited Northern Ireland each year to see the locations used in the HBO show – that seems like a lot. Wintry weather, for these fans, only speaks to the North’s authenticity as a stand-in for the fictional Winterfell and the other chillier capitals and kingdoms depicted across eight seasons of the show.

So all Tourism Northern Ireland needs now is for the cultural afterlife of Game of Thrones to last as long as a typical Westeros winter.