Here's what it's really like on the set of 'Game of Thrones'
Margaret Gardiner gets to visit 'Castle Black', and takes us along
I'm standing in an inch of mud with a cutting wind making my jacket and three layers of protective clothing feel like a gauze top. I'm in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast, and enduring the bitter cold on the set of the final season of Game of Thrones. So yes, I'm chilled to the bone, but I'm not complaining.
The scale of the production means no expense was spared as exotic stark locations were sought. The ice wall is an abandoned quarry. Castle Black, which took 10 weeks to build, is made up of steep wooden stairs that overlook the courtyard where so much drama has unfolded. Beyond the tight wooden corridor are drafty rooms, where important votes among the watchmen were taken and Jon Snow came back to life.
During our set visit we were served hot chocolate and biscuits in one of those rooms. This was where the cast would sit between takes to warm up, being served hot chocolate.
The rock face that doubled as the ice wall was immense. It stretched up to the sky, painted white. CGI extends its size, but you got a thrill as you craned your neck to see its crest.
The lift you see in the series was a functional one. Actors were often hoisted to the height of the wall on it, as were cameras and crew. However, they also rebuilt the top of the wall in a studio so you'd do the outside shots and then move indoors.
In the distance a huge barricade blocked out the view of the road. Tourists, on hearing that the quarry was a GoT location, would drive by and try to climb the barricade to get a shot they could sell to the tabloids or keep as a souvenir.
The rate of leaks was so high that they had to build the barricade. Later, as we drove away, we passed the barricade - a black wall that stretches, completely obliterating any peek at Castle Rock.
Earlier in the day we visited the costume department and were shown around by Alex Fordham, associate costume designer. Jon's Season 7 costume, with everything - even the fabrics - handmade, stands on a lookalike mannequin.
Surrounding me were costumes we've grown to know over the years. Fake fur abounds, while dragon "scales" and hide drape over holders. Jon had five replicas of his costume as it had to see him through frozen water and ranging on foot.
"You create one astounding costume then you have to make three more because the character drowns or gets his head chopped off," said Fordham.
More than 100 people worked to create the costumes that include crowd scenes and principal photography. The principal workshop turns out 60 to 150 principal items, plus clothes for an army of 100.
We were taken to a set made especially for Season 8 and saw everything - and were allowed to write about nothing. Our phone cameras were sealed over by production and NDAs were signed before we were allowed on set.
Later we were at the vast table where the cast and as many people as one could make fit, sat for the final table read of Season 8. The cast assured us that there were tears and groans as scenes unfolded and that most had damp cheeks when the final words were said...