Game of Thrones season 7 is finally here, and whilst many fans are still moaning about that woeful Ed Sheeran cameo (the one that felt like it belonged more on Coronation Street than in Westeros), few could deny that, by and large, the first episode was a solid entry in the saga. Viewing figures would seem to suggest as much too, with the episode shattering HBO viewership records in the states and a staggering number of fans (myself included) waiting up until after 3am on Sunday evening to catch it before the spoilers started dripping in. The show isn't just a ratings behemoth and a cultural touchstone though, it's a franchise that has brought fresh life to Irish tourism.
Most GoT fans will know that many of the 'northern' scenes from the show are shot on location in Northern Ireland, with a huge range of Northern Ireland locations stands in for everything from Winterfell to the Iron Islands. Indeed, I myself ventured to Belfast on a themed tour earlier this year to check out some of the filming locations and our tour group was just one of many. So, with any new season of Game of Thrones there will always be a renewed push by Tourism Ireland to draw Thrones fans over to the emerald isle, and this year, Publicis London, in partnership with HBO, have truly outdone themselves by weaving an actual tapestry telling the story of the show thus far.
The giant, 77-metre long, Bayeux-style tapestry, which will be hung in the Ulster Museum, tells the story so far from season 1 to season 6, bringing to life the trials and tribulations of the show’s characters in its most epic and famous scenes. The tapestry will be woven from one enormous piece of linen supplied by Thomas Ferguson’s in Banbridge, one of the last surviving linen mills in Northern Ireland – giving fans a chance to re-visit all the key events which led to the season 7 premiere. As season 7 unfolds, new sections of the tapestry will be revealed each week, in the build-up to the next episode, capturing key events from the previous week. Tourism Ireland will be sharing these new sections via social media – using a mix of cinemagraphs (“living” photographs), time-lapse videos of the weaving process, carousels and Instagram Stories – to bring the creation of the tapestry to life.
Each element of the campaign will drive people to a special section on Tourism Ireland’s international website at Ireland.com – where an interactive “Northern Ireland Game of Thrones Tapestry” web app will allow fans to zoom in and explore the tapestry in full, reliving some of their favourite scenes from previous episodes. Fans will also be able to use the app to share those scenes with their friends via social media, and can link to pages showing where they were filmed in Northern Ireland. They can also start to build an itinerary for their own holiday to Northern Ireland.
Given that season 7 is set to be the most condensed season yet, it makes sense that we'd see a more ambitious campaign, and this is a truly imaginative and fitting tribute to the show and its fans, which genuinely feels in keeping with the show's world and character. It's just a shame the same can't be said for Mr Sheeran, who apparently suffered so hearty a backlash after his appearance on the show last night that he deleted his Twitter account. Something tells me he wouldn't last a day in the Night's Watch. Let's not speak too soon though, as the tapestry will also apparently feature a hidden cameo appearance by a 'famous face' who will appear in the show in season 7. Here's hoping it's Jim Broadbent!
The campaign kicked off on Monday, July 17 and will roll out across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Tourism Ireland will also target its own social fanbase – posting and tweeting to its 4 million Facebook fans and more than 403,000 followers on Twitter globally. It will build on the success of Tourism Ireland’s previous Game of Thrones campaigns, including the 2016 “Doors of Thrones” campaign, which reached an estimated 126 million people around the world, and the 2015 campaign, which saw the world of Westeros brought into everyday Northern Ireland in a few very surprising ways.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from Kidderminster in the UK.