GoT travelogue: From Karachi to King's Landing

From the site of Battle of Blackwater to the Walk of Shame, an unforgettable visit to the Jerusalem of pop culture


Rafay Mahmood April 12, 2019
PHOTO: HBO/RAFAY MAHMOOD

DUBROVNIK: September is not the best month to visit any country around the Mediterranean. The weather is hot and humid and you sweat like you’ve just stepped out of your car at Karachi sea view in July. I had limited time and wanted King’s Landing off the bucket list so I decided against the research and concluded my Euro Tour in Dubrovnik.

Needless to say, I regretted the decision while taking the day walks in the sweltering heat but the drive to offer pilgrimage at the Jerusalem of pop culture kept me going like a believer.

Hold that thought. I’ll come back to the sheer dreaminess of Dubrovnik after I’ve entered the city, which can be difficult with a Pakistani passport. I was flying in from Athens with a British Residential Permit and a student ID but that didn’t convince the authorities against making me wait in a separate que alone.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

To be honest, I was so used to frisking and needless security checks by this point that it made me think I’ll make it. And I did… but after a series of questions so dry and random that I had to break the flow by congratulating Croatia’s world cup campaign.

Do keep in mind that the country became a part of the EU in 2012 and you can only enter it on a multiple-entry Schengen visa – not a single one.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

The airport is far off so you’ll have to take a 30 to 40 Kuna (around $6) shuttle that’ll eventually transport you to the majestic Dubrovnik, which has a history of wars much darker and longer than the Red Wedding. But just like King's Landing, it looks beautiful and full of life.

Perhaps George RR Martin and HBO have provided a perfect coping mechanism for a country that won its independence a year before Pakistan won the cricket World Cup and fought the War of Independence for another four years

The terracotta roof tops of King’s Landing

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

As soon as you turn onto the main road that connects the airport to the city, you start getting the feel of being in King's Landing. The distinctive terra cotta rooftops cover almost the entire old city and the walls, as if they are powering a huge space like solar panels. It is the same red/orange texture that makes King's Landing look like King's Landing.

Also known simply as red/orange rooftops, the unique skyline of the city has been the same for quite some time – reportedly since the 12th century. But a number of these walls were damaged during the War of Independence due to bombing by the Yugoslavians. Later, a Restoration Fund was initiated to which the government and the non-government, the young and the old, all contributed – sometimes with something as basic as one tile per person.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

Dubrovnik’s unique skin tone and the captivating view of Blackwater Rush from King’s Landing has a story marred by war, sacrifice and resolve; the parallels between the real and the utopian are uncanny and the multiplication of the roofs via CGI quite not so subtle.

PHOTO: WATCHERS ON THE WALL PHOTO: WATCHERS ON THE WALL

Battle of the Blackwater and the Adriatic Bank

Although the charm of discovering locations from Game of Thrones on your own is fascinating, it’s always best to hire a guide or pay for one of the dedicated tours. The guide not only keeps you entertained but also tells you some local anecdotes related to the filming of the scenes. After entering the old city, just keep following the narrow streets that take you to the city’s West Pierr.

The Adriatic beach on this side has been featured as the harbour of King’s Landing. Whether it’s Jamie Lannister returning with the sad news of Myrcella’s death or Sansa trying to escape the Lannister stronghold – both scenes used the same harbour. Locals revealed HBO booked all the kayaking tours for the season and took over the location for filming.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

The battle

The Loverjenack Fort in Dubrovnik is located right beside the kayaking spot. This is where a number of the Red Keep scenes were cheated and from the balcony of the same fort, you can actually spot the point where Tyrion helped Joffrey win the Battle of Blackwater.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

The fort that you see in the background of the tour guide holding the picture is Fort Bokar. If Dubrovnik is a city known for its walls, then Bokar is the place you’ll find the most of them. In fact, ‘Wall Tours’ are also offered where you can literally walk through the walls of the port city including the walls of Fort Bokar.

And in doing so, you not only exceed the target of 10K steps but also realise how Tyrion and Lord Varys have come up with the best military strategies while walking along the same walls and looking out at the sea. This is a real test of your fandom because every nook and corner has featured in Game of Thrones in some way– you just have to watch out.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

The Red Keep indoors are quite fascinating as well. Some of the modern furniture chairs were replaced with vintage collection to give that Utopian feel to which you notice in the art and production design of the show. Scenes, including Joffrey's name day or when he sentences a buffoon to death, have all been filmed inside the Loverjenack premises.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

Pile Gate and the riot

One instance that all Game of Thrones fans remember fondly is when the young and lethal Joffrey is pelted with stones during his short and not-so-sweet reign. In response to his aggressive measures, someone also throws manure at him after which he orders the guards to seize culprit.

The entire sequence is filmed at the Pile Gate. This marks the borderline of the old town and the walls leading to it so technically, this is the only sequence that was filmed at the old and the new city simultaneously.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

Shame shame shame!

I had once passed by the St Ignatius Church in search of food but was a little taken aback when one of the shopkeepers randomly yelled, “Shame, shame, shame!”

I was so tired and hungry that I didn’t engage and wondered what I was doing wrong to get such frank and loud disapproval from a seemingly gentle and very pretty bunch of Croats. Yeah, you got that right!

I was passing by the staircase where Cersie was forced to atone for her sins by walking naked through the streets. This scene was filmed at the famous Jesuit Staircase that leads up to the church.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

According to one of the tour guides and some locals, it took two days for the crew to film the scene because they had to use a body double for Lena Headey and their walks and steps had to match exactly for it to be perfectly executed.

PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD PHOTO: RAFAY MAHMOOD

The small dine-outs that you see in the picture below and the apartments atop were vacated for the two days of filming. Of course, the owners were compensated heavily and the residents were given a stay in 5-star hotels with room service included. There’s a reason why everyone in Dubrovnik loves HBO!

This is the end, my beautiful friend, the end

Of course, my trip didn’t end as sadly as the Doors’ song but I was exhausted after travelling solo for good 20 days. That way, Dubrovnik is a nice landing space. You get enough of architecture, Game of Thrones fan-moments, beaches and a little of bit of that calm you need before going back to the daily grind.

As far as the show is concerned, there are quite a few other locations in the city that you can explore if you are enough of a fan. As for me, I’m more of a The Wire and Madmen kind of a guy so this much was enough to make all Game of Thrones crazies jealous. Ha!

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