'Game of Thrones' filming locations we love

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Editor’s Note — Warning: Contains dragon-sized spoilers.

(CNN) — We dedicated eight years of our lives to this.

Through fire, through ice, through stilted dialogue and superfluous torture scenes, we persevered. Sometimes, being a “Game of Thrones” fan was as exhausting as a triple-shift in the Night’s Watch.

But as we survivors pick our way through the embers of burnt-out narrative arc and character development, we can still look back fondly on memories of children falling from high windows or Dornish princes dying eyes-first, and think: It was all worth it.

Countless destinations around the world have, with a generous dollop of CGI, represented the Seven Kingdoms over the years.

In this nondefinitive list, here are the real-life filming locations of 10 of our favorite moments from the incredible eight-season run of the world’s biggest TV show.

S.1, E.1: Bran’s fall

Castle Ward, Northern Ireland

County Down's Castle Ward was the real-life setting for Winterfell.

County Down’s Castle Ward was the real-life setting for Winterfell.

Shutterstock

Incest and unexpected violence: That’s the winning combination that “Game of Thrones” had nailed by the end of the opening episode, when Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark out of a window for the crime of accidentally discovering Jaime and his twin Cersei’s sexy secret.

The real-life Winterfell is at Castle Ward in County Down, Northern Ireland. Aside from hosting “Game of Thrones” tours, it’s a beautiful National Trust property on the shores of Strangford Lough, with an 18th-century stately home and acres of landscaped gardens to explore.
Also in this episode, nearby Tollymore Forest Park — which was also the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia — is where the Starks find the direwolves. This magical spot, filled with waterfalls and 18th-century garden follies, was a regular shooting location in early seasons.

S. 1, E. 9: Ned’s dead

Fort Manoel, Malta

Fort Manoel, Manoel Island, Malta

Fort Manoel, where we said goodbye to Ned Stark.

Mike Watson Photography/viewingmalta.com

When the sword fell upon Ned Stark’s neck in the penultimate episode of Season 1, it was our narrative expectations that ended up a bloody mess. He was the hero! How could the show possibly go on?

It went on just like real life, we learned. People die, new ones come along. Until that is, the show ran out of book characters and what was an incredible expansive universe had to become smaller — and the main characters’ lives became precious.

By the time of Season 8’s “The Long Night” episode, the battle between the living and the dead may as well have been known as the Massacre of the Background Talent and CGI Fallen.

Back in the good old days when life was cheap, Joffrey had Ned executed on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor, represented in this season by the 18th-century Fort Manoel in Malta.

S. 1, E. 10: Birth of a dragon queen

Mthaleb Valley, Malta

Mtahleb, Malta

Mtahleb: A great place to raise your dragon babies.

Stefan Stafrace/viewingmalta.com

In the season finale, Daenerys’ transition from naïf to warrior queen was complete when she emerged from Aquaman’s funeral pyre tastefully nude, wholly unscorched and with a trio of kickass dragon babies.

The scene was shot in Mthaleb Valley on the west coast of Malta.

S. 4, E. 2: Purple Wedding

Gradac Park, Croatia

Capricious boy king Joffrey met a satisfyingly undignified end when he was poisoned by Lady Olenna Tyrell during his wedding feast.

He sputtered his last in Gradac Park in Dubrovnik, which — after the first season — took over from Malta’s Mdina as the real-life setting for King’s Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms.

S. 4. E. 4: Melisandre’s shadow baby

Cushendun, Northern Ireland

Evil witch-vamp Melisandre showed she meant business in episode two when she organized a mass burning of Stannis Baratheon’s subjects as tribute to the Lord of Light. That was in the dramatic setting of Downhill Beach on Northern Ireland’s Atlantic coast.

Two episodes and one copulation with Stannis later, she was in nearby Cushenden Caves birthing a monstrous shadow baby, who flitted off to murder Stannis’ brother Renly, then was never heard of again.

Dragonstone, Mussenden

Downhill Beach: Nicer without the burning corpses.

Courtesy Northern Ireland Tourist Board

S. 4, E. 8: The Mountain vs The Viper

Hotel Belvedere, Croatia

So handsome, so dashing, so fond of theatrics: Oberyn Martell made the fatal mistake of showboating during his duel with Gregor Clegane, granting the fearsome man-mountain the opportunity to destroy the Dornish prince’s head in a most unpleasant manner.

It all went down in the ampitheater of the derelict Hotel Belvedere, a once five-star property which was abandoned in the 1990s due to the Croatian War of Independence.

The site isn’t open to the public and it’s set to disappear when a new luxury resort is built at the Belvedere.

We were introduced to Oberyn’s home kingdom of Dorne in Season 5, in a plot line so dull it made having one’s eyes gouged out seem appealing.

It was, however, damnably pretty. Consider the Alcazar in Seville — stand-in for the Water Gardens of Dorne — a royal palace built for King Peter of Castile and one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous places on Earth.

S. 4, E. 10: Brienne vs The Hound

Hengill, Iceland

In Season 1, most adventures north of the wall were filmed in Northern Ireland, but from Season 2 onwards the bulk of the action switched to Iceland.

Hengill, a huge volcanic mountain in the southwest of the country, is where The Hound and Brienne of Tarth had their fight to the almost-death and where Arya left The Hound to bleed out in the wilderness.

S. 5, E. 10: Cersei’s Walk of Shame

Jesuit Staircase, Croatia

The Jesuit Staircase is in Dubrovnik, setting for much of the King's Landing action.

The Jesuit Staircase is in Dubrovnik, setting for much of the King’s Landing action.

DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP/Getty Images

Criminally underused by Season 8, where she underwent the double indignity of a grown-out pixie cut and having to get it on with Bam Margera, Cersei Lannister was the most satisfyingly complex villain in all of Westeros.

In Season 5, she — or Lena Headey’s body double — was brought low when she was forced to walk naked through jeering crowds from the Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep.

Her brutal walk of shame began at the top of Dubrovnik’s Jesuit Staircase.

S. 6, E.10: Cersei bombs the Sept

Girona Cathedral, Spain

Like the Hulk, when Cersei got angry her revenge was enormous, violent and green. She killed her enemies — including most of the Tyrells, the High Sparrow and lots of his followers — in one fell swoop by igniting a huge stash of wildfire under the Great Sept of Baelor, represented here by Spain’s Girona Cathedral and a heck of a lot of CGI.

However, it was immediately followed by one of the most poignant deaths in the entire series. Her son Tommen Baratheon — a soul too gentle for the wicked world of Westeros — knowing that his beloved Margaery was lost, gave into his despair and dropped quietly from a window to his doom.

Seasons 1 to 8: The Red Wedding, indoor stuff, and all those battles you love

Linen Mill Studios, Northern Ireland

While there were many stunning real-life locations featured in “Game of Thrones,” the real stars of the show were the huge studio sets and the impressive post-production work, most of which took place in quiet corners of Northern Ireland.

The epic Battle of the Bastards was shot in a private field in the town of Saintfield, itself the site of a bloody clash between Irish rebels and British royalist forces during the 1798 Rebellion. The battle at Hardhome — another fan favorite — was filmed in Magheramorne Quarry in County Antrim.

The Red Wedding’s exterior setting was Audley’s Castle in Strangford, County Down, but the interior shots — like so much in the series — were filmed on sets inside Belfast’s Titanic Studios, which comprise the original Paint Hall in which the infamous ocean liner was prepared for launch, and two purpose-built sound stages.

While Titanic Studios isn’t open to the public, the production’s Linen Mill Studios in the County Down town of Banbridge will next year open for the official “Game of Thrones” studio tours, where visitors will be able to get up close to original costumes, props and set-pieces used to create the world of the Seven Kingdoms.

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