So why did Game of Thrones leave Croatia?
Since the second season of the show went into production, the Old City of Dubrovnik has stood in for King’s Landing, the capital of Westeros, and for a time, the location was considered the heart of the series. Unlike Northern Ireland, which has stood in for the North since the pilot episode, Dubrovnik wasn’t always King’s Landing—Essos and the Southern Westerosi climates were originally filmed in Morocco for the pilot and Malta for Season 1. But for most Game of Thrones junkies, Dubrovnik and Croatia are all they’ve ever known as King’s Landing, and quite a few of them were surprised to hear that the production would pass over the place in favor of Spain when filming Season 6.
Now, there are several theories as to why the show changed venues. The most popular stems from the troubles the show had last season, when the Church of St Nicholas (which had been standing in for the Sept of Baelor) kicked up a fuss over filming Cersei’s Walk of Shame on their holy steps. This is understandable—the scene is a shocking one, and involved both Lena Heady doing take after take in a grey shift that was nearly see thru, as well as her body double filming it fully in the buff. It may be the 21st century, but most churches aren’t willing to condone that sort of spectacle. At the time, there were reports that the production was scrambling to find new locations, but in the end, everyone worked it out, and insisted that there was no issue between the city and the production.
It’s also been theorized that Spain might be giving the show extra tax breaks. After all, unlike Dubrovnik, which was not a major filming location before Game of Thrones, Almeria has been the backdrop for several major movies over the decades, from old spaghetti westerns through to today’s biblical epics. We cannot speculate on that, and perhaps we won’t ever know the answer.
But what we do know is that Spain was incredibly vocal about its excitement last year when Game of Thrones arrived to film scenes in Dorne, the first time the production had visited the country. But even though the locals were excited, the nation managed to keep things under wraps—all of the Dornish scenes were kept hidden, except for what the production itself released. Compare that to Dubrovnik, where the high walls allow hundreds of tourists to look down and take pictures of the filming. (There is a striking moment in the A Day in the Life special where the director, after saying “Quiet on the Set,” then has to yell the same thing at the hundreds of tourists watching from above.)
Then there are some of the other money-centric factors, like the fact that Dubrovnik’s Old City doesn’t allow car traffic, which makes loading in the sets and props far more arduous than it might be in a different setting. These could all be factors, but again, it’s hard to be sure.
But over the weekend I ran into an article at The Hollywood Reporter than struck me as part of the reason for the move. It was a discussion with the Emmy nominated production designers of various shows about the factors that went into choosing sets, props, design, etc. Production designer Deborah Riley, who is nominated this year for Thrones mentioned how hard it was to find areas to film Braavos.
“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.”
“It also had to be found right next to where we shoot our other locations.” Now, we fans of GoT take for granted that the show seems to have an infinite budget when it comes to shooting the series. But the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t. And last year, the show stretched itself a huge amount by filming in three countries at once. That may have just been too much. (Though it did make for a great Behind the Scenes video promoting the season.)
We didn’t see that much of Braavos last year, though some of what we did see was actually filmed in Dubrovnik, which then had it’s set flipped over to King’s Landing. It seems like, with no need to film outdoor scenes of Meereen in Split, and the show looking to do some Essos-centric desertscapes in Spain already, the production made the decision to tuck King’s Landing in around Braavos, rather than the other way around, for Season 6.
After all, King’s Landing is no longer the center of the series. At one point, more than 50% of the cast was found in that one location, requiring tons of outdoor scenes, street confrontations, and litter rides. But now, the Starks are gone or dead. The Lannisters are dwindling. The only major character we expect to spend their time in King’s Landing is Cersei, and one can’t imagine that she’ll be going out of doors much after her experience at the end of Season 5.
Instead, we expect to spent time with Blind Arya as she feels her way around Braavos. If the show follows the books at all, Sam and Gilly will make a stop over in Braavos as well on their way to Oldtown. With Braavos becoming more of a focus, it might have seemed prudent to find somewhere that could really stand in for the Free City, and then find one or two locations that could stand in for King’s Landing nearby. And bringing them all to the same continent as the rest of the southern and eastern filming (as well as flashback scenes) would ease the stress of spreading the production all over Europe.
With the president of HBO announcing recently that Benioff and Wiess had relented on their seven season hardline, the showrunners are also going to have to pace themselves for the next three years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real reason the show left Croatia had very little to do with the logistics of Croatia itself, and more to do with retrenching in order to keep their sanity. And if there were a few tax breaks along the way, all the better.