Beyond the Wall: Iceland, Game of Thrones, and the Cave of Wonder

"You know nothing, Jon Snow."

Riding around northern Iceland in whiteout conditions en route to one particular lava cave, I couldn't help but identify with that poor bastard. Having willingly joined the real-life equivalent of the Night's Watch for a day, I and four other intrepid travelers were being lead by our brilliant guide—and professional trollologist—Jón Þór (pronounced Yon Thor) around the Lake Mývatn area on the Game of Thrones tour. It was below freezing, snowing, wind-gusting, and we were in something called a Super Jeep in search of the shooting locations for scenes that take place "Beyond The Wall." Those who've seen GoT know what that means, but let me explain anyway: 

Take the worst blizzard you've ever experienced and quintuple it. Then take into account that the snow doesn't melt, it never gets warm, you're required to leave your family forever, live there full-time, and patrol for snow zombies. Oh, and you're not allowed to have sex with anyone, ever.

You know nothing

That's life beyond The Wall. It's literally cool, but figuratively... not so much. Then again, northern Iceland isn't really Westeros, and there aren't any zombies (that I know of) and when you're done patrolling the ice, you can go have some lamb soup and a Coke.

"Why go to northern Iceland in the middle of February? Are you nuts?" These are questions I assume you're asking. The only answers I can give are that it was a less nuts decision than going, as I did last time, in mid-December; also that Iceland is a beautiful country; my boss said that I had to go with her; and that for GoT obsessives like us, the idea of a tour that took us to some of the show's most remote shooting locations seemed like an adventure we couldn't pass up. I cajoled my boyfriend into coming with, and the three of us bundled up and took the 7 1/2-hour flight from Seattle to Reykjavík. 24 hours after arriving, we got on another (much smaller) plane and flew even further north—to Akureyri.

 

Heading North

 

It wasn't exactly as punishing as joining the Night's Watch, but we were tired, and our Northern Lights tour the night before involved no Northern Lights, but plenty of rotting shark meat. The less said of that, the better. (Though I feel it necessary to point out that drinking hot chocolate next to an abandoned, seaside-adjacent herring factory at midnight, in the dead of winter, and at 66° of latitude is as surreal an experience as can ever be had, and I encourage everyone to to try it.)

And so we were picked up that morning by The Traveling Viking, Jón Þór, a self-described "Game of Thrones geek," and native of northern Iceland. During our conversations, it came up that GoT producers Chris Newman and David Benioff had taken the same tour three weeks ago. The guys who know how it all ends had been in the same Super Jeep! This was like learning you'd just missed meeting the President. Jón Þór had no spoilers for us—and truthfully, he's such a good guy that even if he'd had them, he'd never have let one slip—but took us to what any GoT fanatic would consider to be sacred ground: the cave where Jon Snow lost his virginity to Ygritte.

We'd just been to the lava ridge where Jon Snow is interrogated by the Wildling commander (and sees his first giant)—an intellectual loss of innocence, one could argue. But then, despite the visibility having gone down to something like three percent, Jón Þór drove us on to that infamous cave. True to the story, there's a hot spring in there, and yes, the five of us drank the sulfurous water. "WE DRANK JON SNOW SEX WATER!" we announced to our friends on Facebook later that day. Considering what Jón Þór had done to get us there (after the driving came some intense snow shoveling), and what we'd had to do to follow him in there (OK, truthfully, this just involved me falling into a snow bank and cursing), drinking the water seemed like the thing a Night's Watchman would do. It felt like an initiation.

We were Crows. We were cold. It was time for soup.

Check out the photo essay of our time in Iceland, including the Game of Thrones tour, a trip to The Wall, and to Þingvellir, where scenes from the upcoming season 4 were filmed.

Our thanks go out to Jón Þór and the staff of The Traveling Viking, Icelandair, Route 1 Car Rental, the staff of Icelandic Mountain Guides, and the people of Iceland for their hospitality.

Leah E. Friedman is the editor of SideReel.com. Her latest passport renewal takes her to within a month of her 40th birthday. You can follow her musings on Twitter.

 

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