You will enjoy this detailed report from a visit to Iceland, filed by our reader Michael, who scouted out the wildlings’ camp set location. Now that we know how to find it, more visitors may decide to hike there and enjoy the beautiful location if they find themselves in Iceland. As long as they are mindful of nature and know how to behave in a national park, we do not mind that one bit.
by Michael Denis
“Strike hard and true, Jon Snow, or I’ll come back and haunt you.” – Ygritte
We all know that Game of Thrones shot its second season in a variety of European locales including the Balkans, Ireland, and Iceland, but where precisely were particular sequences shot?
On a recent trip to Iceland, I made special efforts to locate these areas. With respect to Jon Snow and the Night Watch’s long patrol north of The Wall, some of these scenes were shot in studio (Kraster’s Keep, for example), while many were shot in Iceland in November 2011.
Unfortunately, wasteland scenes of nondescript mountains are tricky to locate using only the show itself as a source. One scene, however, stood out because of its use of glaciers and glacial lakes (indicating certain areas of Iceland), particular mountains and ridges (indicating a particular glacier) and lead actors (indicating a reasonable proximity to roads and accommodations). While hiking on the eastern edge of Kristinartindar, a moorish bluff overlooking Skaftafellsjökull and other glaciers, I noticed a distinct “mountain on the upper north east of the glacier-long ridgeline to the east of the glacier” pattern that suggested to me a scene from Episode Six “The Old Gods and The New.”
The scene in question was where Jon Snow beheads a certain kissed-by-fire freewoman. About twenty minutes into that sixth episode, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand’s team sneak up on Wildling watch-post at the foot of the Frost Fangs. The sneak attack works swimmingly, although Jon Snow captures an adversary alive, and she turns out to be a sassy red-headed babe: Ygritte.
Upon close examination in-person the next morning, it became apparent that Game of Thrones shot this sequence a few dozen spear throws east of Skaftafell National Park’s visitor center, just off Route 1, the “Ring Road,” Iceland’s main highway. Skaftafell is a premiere hiking location full of mammoth glaciers and wind-swept sand fields in “the South,” actually the south-east, of Iceland.
The precise location of Ygritte’s Rock, and really the entire sequence of the sneak attack, the beheading, Ygritte’s escape, Jon Snow’s chase, and both characters sliding around on the glacier was shot on Svínafellsjökull or “Pig Mountain Glacier.” This is the fourth glacier mouth that a visitor to the area heading anti-clockwise around the Ring Road will see in the Skaftafell region. In relation to the visitor center, it is the second glacier over to the east.
To get there from the visitor’s center, return to the Ring Road and turn left, heading east, and drive slowly for a few hundred meters. Upcoming and on the left will be a dusty unpaved road trailing towards the northeast, veering towards the western side of a glacier narrowly bordered by two ridges and flanked in the distance by (likely) year-round snow-capped mountains. Take this road. At its end is a large gravel parking lot, some hills, a glacial lake, and the Svínafellsjökull glacier. If there is any uncertainty, then a large blue sign tells the glacier’s name.
From the gravel parking lot, proceed east by northeast along a well-trod walking path and through a gate in a wire fence. A tall ridge will be to your left, a glacial lake will be to your right, and the Svínafellsjökull glacier itself will be in front of you.
The path along the rocks will continue towards a glacier overlook. From there, narrower paths proceed in two directions. Below is an access point to the glacier, where the park recommends experience, special equipment, and extreme caution, whereas above is a steep-but-manageable rock face with ample stair-like footholds. Take this latter route upwards, remaining on the rock face.
Not far above will be another natural end to the trail. There sits a small open area circled by boulders. Watch your back, for you now stand where Ygritte and her Wildings stood as the Night’s Watch attacked. Turn slightly to your right and look towards the south-eastern part of this small clearing, and there you have it: Ygritte’s Rock.
The rock itself is moss-covered and distinct. One can imagine it taking a blow from even the best of blades.
One can see the glacier behind to the east and where a lass in desperate circumstances might slip down as she escapes from a sword-wielding virgin.
To your right and south of Ygritte’s Rock is a triangular-shaped rock leaning away from the ridgeline. It was from this rock that a Night’s Watch archer fired his opening volley into the Wildlings.
The area is stunning in its beauty. Tall mountains stand prominently in the north, oftentimes draped in puffy white clouds that cling to the glacier’s cold surface. The use of the location is superb and Game of Thrones does an impeccable job of capturing a remarkable setting and planning and editing the scene across the topography of a dynamic and dangerous landscape. The sequence occurs a few feet from a precipitous drop-off, and the howling winds and alien glacial landscape do little to assuage fears of lurking shadow-cats. Ygritte’s escape path leads down into the glacier and then out towards the lake, and these are all real features and not filmmaker trickery (except perhaps her agility), lending additional realism to this memorable scene.
Ygritte’s Rock is an easy-to-access location, one of my favorite sequences from the book, “A Clash of Kings,” and a testament to the boldness and success of Game of Thrones. If you have a love for the show or the books or even cinema more broadly, then perhaps this guide will allow you to enjoy a known filming location.
Photography by Michael Denis
Michael Denis © 2012