While Ireland has helped serve as a placeholder for Westeros throughout all eight seasons of HBO's Game of Thrones, the country has been forever changed by the insanely popular fantasy series. From direwolf petting zoos to generally positive PR, Ireland has become a sort of pilgrimage spot for those who worship at the altar of A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin.
Oh, you thought we were gonna just skim over that whole "direwolf petting zoo" thing, didn't you? Not a chance! Two of the five pups that the Stark children adopted in Season 1's pilot can be found (and belly-rubbed) in Ireland for a small fee. Obviously, they're not actually direwolves, but Odin and Thor are a pair of 110-lb. Northern Inuit dogs owned by the Mulhall family. For the price of $65 a pop, you can meet and pet these camera-ready canines in the Tollymore Forest, per The Los Angeles Times. Just make sure to give them an extra treat to make up for Jon not bidding farewell to Ghost two episodes ago.
“Every time a plane flies overhead, my dad says, ‘Look, more tourists!’ " Caelan Mulhall told the paper. Caelan, 23, has reportedly played a Stark soldier on the show while his two brothers took up the posts of Wildings. Even their father got in on the action as a Dothraki slave master.
While Game of Thrones has also shot footage in Iceland, Croatia, Spain, and Morocco, over the years Ireland has served as some of the show's most important locations — take Winterfell, which is actually Castle Ward in County Down. You can visit places like this through organized group tours, branch out on your own with special iPhone apps, or wait until next year when the official Game of Thrones studio tour opens to public, just outside of Belfast.
Tourism boom aside, the show appears to have helped with the public’s perception of Northern Ireland, which has, in the past, been associated with the Irish Republican Army, a militant and nationalistic group that committed acts of terrorism against the U.K. in a bid for Irish independence. With HBO setting up production there, a new emphasis has been placed on the country.
“We’ve come so far as a people and now we have this jewel in the crown to be so proud of,” Irish native Helen Sloan, who has served as series still photographer for all eight seasons, told the L.A. Times. According to Sloan, people abroad used to ask her if she was a member of the IRA; now, they’re eager to talk to her about Game of Thrones.
The series has even become a part of the fabric of Northern Ireland’s culture: The Ulster Museum houses a hand-embroidered, 250-foot linen tapestry that "tells the story of the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones," the L.A. Times reports.
Game of Thrones wraps up for good this Sunday with the sixth and final episode of Season 8. The series finale airs on HBO at 9 p.m. EST.