For the characters of Game of Thrones, the insanely popular HBO TV show adapted from George R.R. Martin’s series of novels, the phrase “winter is coming” is a warning: harsh times ahead. Be prepared. But if you told an Icelander, “veturinn nálgast,” she'd assume you were just making small talk. Iceland's forbidding natural beauty, and vistas unbroken for miles by modern homes or power lines, has made it a natural shooting location for Game of Thrones, which has utilized the frozen north and rocky south of the country to depict both the north and south of the Westeros—a land whose knotty web of blood feuds and tribal loyalties bears more than a passing resemblance to an Icelandic saga.
Game of Thrones shot in Iceland for the first time in the winter of 2011, using the waterfalls, lava stacks, and icy expanses of the northerly Lake Mývatn region for Jon Snow's adventures Beyond the Wall. In 2013, the show set up camp near Reykjavík, using the versatile landscape of Þingvellir National Park for multiple storylines in the show's fourth season. They came in summer this time—to the delight of the crew, and the consternation of the cast, who sweltered in fur and armor during the endless daylight of an Icelandic July.
Þingvellir—the site of Iceland's parliament from the year 930 A.D., and, according to the important Njal's Saga, the site of at least one pitched battle between warring chieftains—is a valley formed by the meeting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. A national park spanning two continents, it was used for two storylines set at opposite ends of Westeros in season four.
When a group of Wildlings strikeout to the south of The Wall in episode 4.01, ''Two Swords,'' they camp in the long fissure formed by the meeting of the two plates. The rift, with a natural path guarded on both sides by high, rocky walls and interrupted by the occasional tumbling waterfall, also stood in for the other side of the Game of Thrones world during Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane's journey to and from the Vale of Arryn.
The program also used other locations in South Iceland and inland, including the Þjórsárdalur valley, a popular way-station to the interior highlands, known for a Viking-era settlement, whose well-maintained turf houses came in handy during a certain season four massacre sequence.
The connections between Iceland and Game of Thrones go deeper than landscape, though. George R.R. Martin drew much from Norse mythology in building the world of the original novels: it was an anonymous Icelander, sometime in the 13th century, who wrote the Volsunga Saga, setting down the Old Norse legends of clan warfare and dragon-slaying which inspired Martin's forbears Wagner and Tolkien.
And there are a few more reasons why Game of Thrones is shot in Iceland: where else in the world could the show's casting directors find so many bearded extras? And who better to play Gregor Clegane, “The Mountain,” than Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, The World's Strongest Viking?
Travel to the Game of Thrones locations in Þingvellir and Þjórsárdalur, and learn more about the show's Icelandic connections, with Gray Line's Game of Thrones Tour.