Winter is finally here. But it took its sweet time.
The seventh season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” kicks off Sunday, and it’s been a long wait for fans dying to see what happens to the recently resurrected Jon Snow, the newly crowned Cersei Lannister and the approaching frost.
Production had to be delayed last year until enough snow arrived in the shooting location of Northern Ireland, pushing back this season’s debut.
“Game of Thrones” is so beautifully realized because much of it is filmed in exotic global locales.
The expensive location shooting benefits the show by setting its action against stunning backdrops, and the countries benefit via publicity.
Here are six spots that stand in for this rich fictional world.
Northern Ireland won the “GoT” sweepstakes, and much of the series is shot in and around Belfast, reportedly injecting more than $200 million into the economy since the show began in 2011.
Many of the interior scenes are shot at Titanic Studios, in a former shipyard.
The production often ventures to the green countryside surrounding Belfast, which stands in for the more temperate parts of Westeros.
Last year’s epic “Battle of the Bastards” was filmed on private land near the village of Saintfield, but many of the numerous “GoT”-themed tours stop at the very public Castle Ward, an ancient estate where the farmyard serves as Stark stronghold Winterfell.
Perhaps the most photogenic location is the Dark Hedges, a roadway leading to Gracehill House with a tree canopy that was planted in the 1700s by the Stuart family. In Season 2, a disguised Arya Stark is seen escaping King’s Landing via the route, known as the Kingsroad.
Iceland’s association with “Game of Thrones” has reportedly boosted the country’s tourism from 566,000 visitors in 2011 to more than 1 million in 2015.
“GoT” has used the icy Svínafellsjökull glacier to represent the freezing land beyond the Wall, where Jon Snow was held captive by the wildlings. (One of the challenges was dealing with the country’s short winter days.) And it’s not the only Icelandic hot spot.
Thingvellir National Park, with its rocky outcroppings, was used as the site for the Season 4 battle between Brienne of Tarth and Sandor “the Hound” Clegane.
Grjótagjá cave is a stunning volcanic lair in the northeastern part of the country that features hot springs and once served as a hideout for an Icelandic outlaw. It was here that Jon Snow finally succumbed to the charms of flame-haired wildling Ygritte during a memorable Season 3 rendezvous.
The show’s first season headed to this small European nation off the coast of Italy. A dozen locations were used, including as stand-ins for King’s Landing, but subsequent seasons were filmed in Croatia, in part because the production was reportedly banned after allegedly harming a natural wonder.
The Season 1 wedding between Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo, her barbarian captor, was filmed beside the Azure Window, a limestone arch that juts out into the sea.
In an attempt to make the location look like a desert, the production covered the honeycomb rocks with sand, and locals charged that the crew failed to clean up properly.
Making matters worse, the arch collapsed earlier this year — the fault of Mother Nature, not Hollywood.
In all, “GoT” filmed there for 37 days in 2010 and employed 267 locals, leading the Times of Malta to declare, “It seemed like the whole of the island . . . was involved, in some way or another, in the production.”
The first time executive producer David Benioff saw Dubrovnik, he was shocked by how closely the Croatian city matched the description of King’s Landing in the George R.R. Martin books.
The medieval port has served as the backdrop for many of “GoT’s” most memorable scenes.
The satisfying death of King Joffrey Baratheon, poisoned at his own wedding, was filmed at Park Gradac, an elevated space overlooking the sea. And Sansa Stark met with Olenna and Margaery Tyrell to discuss the evil Joffrey at Trsteno Arboretum, a lush, 15th-century garden.
And one of the show’s great water-cooler moments — Cersei’s Season 5 nude walk of shame — was shot on Dubrovnik’s main street, the Stradun. That scene reportedly cost $200,000 to shoot and required 500 extras, bringing jobs to the financially depressed city.
Daenerys has spent the last few seasons plotting and gathering an army in Essos, the land across the Narrow Sea from Westeros, and the locations called for a dusty, desertlike landscape.
The production found it in Morocco. “GoT” set up shop in Ouarzazate, a town on the edge of the Sahara that has been home to so many films and TV series that it’s become known as Africa’s Hollywood.
Parts of “Babel,” “Gladiator” and “The Red Tent” were shot in the area, sometimes on fabricated sets.
Perhaps the most stunning real-life location for “GoT” came with Daenerys’ arrival at Yunkai, a slave city that the Khaleesi ultimately conquered.
Less than 20 miles from Ouarzazate, the real life Yunkai is Ait-Ben-Haddou, a 17th-century walled city carved out of the desert that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Meanwhile, nearby Essaouira served as Astapor, where Daenerys recruits the Unsullied.
Several towns in Spain have been featured in the series, and viewers will get a glimpse of new locales in Season 7. Cáceres, an old walled city in the southwestern quadrant of the Iberian Peninsula, was reportedly used for some King’s Landing scenes.
But perhaps most recognizable to viewers is the Alcázar de Sevilla, a stunning palace in Seville that is considered among the most beautiful in Spain. It was used as the home of Prince Doran Martell and his family, including son Trystane, until Doran was murdered by the Sand Snakes after a stroll through the garden.