A year ago, I had barely heard of Game of Thrones. Apart from being aware that it was a series on TV – a popular one, set in a fantasy world – I didn’t even know the names of any characters. Now Series 5 is on our screens every week, and I am as desperate as any other “GoT” fan to watch it and find out what happens to Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, Anya, Sansa, Khaleesi and the rest of them. I’ve caught the GoT bug.
In July last year, after months of rumours and speculation, it was announced that the fifth season of HBO’s Juego de Tronas, currently the world’s most successful TV show, would be shot partly here in Seville, specifically in the Alcazar, and also in the town of Osuna, 80km south-east towards Malaga. Needless to say, there was huge excitement, and I ordered my box set of Series 1 to 3 to mug up forthwith.
I was immediately grabbed by plot and the characters, as well as the authentic settings. Beautifully shot, and with genius editing and perfectly paced, it knows exactly how to draw you in, build up the drama and suspense, and then stop unexpectedly so you’re left open-mouthed, desperate to know what happens next.
Having become totally immersed in this fictional medieval-era world, based on George RR Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire, I was delighted to see how warmly the Andalucians embraced the actors during the shoot – Twitter constantly carried photos of Jaime Lannister (in Sevilla) and Khaleesi (in Osuna) with their fans.
Khaleesi, also called Daenerys Targaryen, or Mother of Dragons, rules the city of Meereen – keep up at the back. She’s the one with long blonde tresses (not her real hair) who wears sexy Greek goddess dresses and fiddly hairdos. And Meereen has places called fighting pits, where slaves fight in no-holds-barred combat like Roman gladiators. They’re designed to entertain the masses (and distract them from getting into mischief).
Osuna’s bullring takes on the role of the mightiest of these in episodes 9 (where we also see the Alcazar’s famous gold ceiling) and 10: Danzak’s Pit, scene of a major battle featuring hundreds of nobles, slaves, and Khaleesi’s fire-breathing beasties which have already caused consternation among the populace by roasting lambs and small children alike with their flame.
I am not a fan of bullfighting, but I wanted to see this arena as it’s the setting for such a spectacular sequence.
The arena dates from 1904 and was designed by Anibal Gonzalez, who built Seville’s magnificent Plaza de España, the centrepiece of the Expo 1929. It seats 5000. An impressive space, you can get a good idea of its scale by climbing up to the top, above the seats, and walking all the way around. Here is a short Vine video showing a 360-degree view.
One of the reasons this arena was chosen, was for the similarity to the stone in Croatia, where other scenes in this city were shot.
The sequence was shot over a 12-day period in October 2014, during long days which started at 4am with make-up and wardrobe, filming from 6am in the bullring, with umbrellas to provide shade from the powerful Andalucian sun. Hundreds of locals from Osuna, around 650, were employed as extras, playing the fighting pit audience of nobles and slave. Meereenians had to have natural hair (ie not coloured), which could be cut; no tattoos; and those who were chosen to be slaves had to look unkempt, the men with stubble or beards.
I was told by a local media source that the director, David Nutter, was very impressed by the Osunans’ cheerful demeanour – while resting between takes, they didn’t complain, but told jokes and maintained a good, upbeat ambiente. He would applaud them at the end of each day from the centre of the arena/bullring, and when shooting finished, congratulated each extra one by one.
While filming in Osuna, the cast ate at Casa Curro restaurant in Plazuela Salitre every day, and hired out the whole place for Emilia Clarke (Khaleesi)’s birthday party. The restaurant has even created a special menu (only available during the week) with dishes named after characters and “Houses” (families) in the show, including the Khaleesi – spinach, sundried tomato and avocado salad, and the Lannister – a hearty venison stew with black beer and red berries. On our weekend lunchtime visit, we plumped for montaditos – filled toasted rolls, which were not cheap at 2.50 euros, but were good-sized, with fast and friendly service.
While we were in the town, my trusty assistant Lola (aka my six-year-old daughter) and I ventured up the hill behind to explore. We found the necropolis – Roman burial caves – and Las Canteras, ancient quarries where the beautiful pale stone was excavated to built many of Osuna’s grand baroque mansions, as well as the bullring. A spectacular concert hall/auditorium, shown above, is used occasionally. Relief sculptures found here, dating from prehistoric Iberian times (Tartessians and Tudetan), are now in the Louvre.
The Plaza de Toros in Osuna is open daily from 10am-2pm and 4pm-6pm. For more information about the town see the official Osuna website.
Watch this documentary about one day of shooting Season 5 in Croatia, Northern Ireland and here in Spain: Seville (8:50) and Osuna (1:14 and 20:50).