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‘Game of Thrones’ cast (plus a few 'Bake Off' stars) bid a fond farewell to Belfast

‘Game of Thrones’ cast (plus a few 'Bake Off' stars) bid a fond farewell to Belfast
Maisie Williams, left, and Sophie Turner at the "Game of Thrones" season finale premiere in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Friday. (Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for HBO)

Like Jon Snow making the trek back to Winterfell, “Game of Thrones” returned home Friday night to Belfast, the Northern Ireland city that has been the series’ main production base for most of the past decade.

For the first (and last) time in eight seasons, the HBO series held its European premiere at Waterfront Hall overlooking the River Lagan.

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While the event was more modest than the one at Radio City Music Hall in New York City last week, it held a special sentimental value for the cast — particularly locals such as actors Conleth Hill and Richard Dormer — and several hundred crew members in attendance.

“We feel honored and fortunate to call Belfast our home and we are forever joyful to be a member of the mighty Belfast family,” said executive producer Bernadette Caulfield before the screening.

Caulfield oversaw production out of Titanic Studios — in the same massive space where the doomed ship was built — and in dozens of picturesque locations around the countryside.

With its scope, ambition, meticulous craftsmanship and eye-popping budget, the series has been a boon to the local industry and helped develop a new generation of homegrown talent in all aspects of production. It has also helped turn the city, once known for sectarian violence, into a filmmaking hub and major tourist attraction.

“There’s been a lot of talk about legacy this week, and the legacy we are proudest about is the legacy of the crew that has progressed in leaps and bounds,” Caulfield said.

“Sadly, it is time for some of us to leave. However, we are leaving richer in spirit, richer in friendship and filled with pride for all we did here together, hand in hand with Northern Ireland,” she added. “We thank you, Northern Ireland, for the best years of our life.”

Nathalie Emmanuel dances with her infant niece at the premiere's after-party.
Nathalie Emmanuel dances with her infant niece at the premiere's after-party. (Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for HBO)

At a party afterward, “Thrones” stars Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) cavorted hand in hand. Nathalie Emmanuel (who stars as Missandei, an advisor to Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen) swayed to the music while clutching her infant niece, who wore ear-protecting headphones.

Bartenders dressed in Dorne-style tunics and scarves poured shots of White Walker, a “Game of Thrones”-themed whisky (alas, from Scotland, not Ireland). A massive throne sculpted from willow dominated the room, while a matching trio of sinuous dragons hung from the ceiling.

Each piece took artist Bob Johnston three months to construct by hand, using different varieties of willow grown on his farm in Moneyrea, just outside Belfast. He’d spent a year of his life crafting the sculptures, which will go on display at the Ulster Museum.

The show had a “massive” effect on Northern Ireland, he said. “The legacy will go on for many, many years. There’s a real pride in the whole country because of ‘Game of Thrones.’”

Artist Bob Johnston's willow throne.
Artist Bob Johnston's willow throne. (Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic for HBO)

Other attendees included Sue Perkins, former host of “The Great British Baking Show” and host of a “Game of Thrones”-themed talk show that airs on Sky Atlantic in the UK.

Asked who she hopes will ultimately claim the Iron Throne, she said, “In this weird way, and it’s a testament to the show’s brilliance, I’m rooting for everyone. Because everybody has my heart in some way.”

But she admitted that Cersei — both “a badass villain and bereaved mother” — was her favorite character. “She’s fighting for something from the ashes of her life to make something count.”

Perkins was joined at the party by Candice Brown, who won “The Great British Baking Show” in 2016. The two bonded over their love of “Game of Thrones” during filming of the somewhat less deadly yet still quite intense competition.

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“When they first come into the tent, they’re always so scared,” Perkins said of contestants on the show. “Our job, which you don’t see onscreen, you have to make very quick contact with people and find common ground. [Brown] just went, ‘I watch ‘Game of Thrones.’ And it just became dragon, dragon, dragon. So we bonded.”

Perkins was pleased to be visiting Belfast for the first time, and decided it would not be her last.

“I’m obsessed with it,” she said. “For me, as a people person, that’s how I judge a place.”

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