Inside the Real 'Game of Thrones' Tower of Joy

We spoke to production designer Deborah Riley about the real-life location behind the mythic 'Game of Thrones' location.

by Beckett Mufson
15 May 2016, 12:40pm

Pictured: Eddie Eyre (left) and Luke Roberts (right). Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO

This aricle contains some spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 3.

Few set pieces on Game of Thrones have the level of built-in fan expectations as The Tower of Joy. The location is connected to one of the most rabidly-defended and best-supported fan theories this side of The Wall, R + L = J (click for spoilers), and thus a lot is riding on its depiction in the show. We got a glimpse of the tower through one of Bran's visions at the beginning of episode three, "Oathbreaker," revealing the surreal structure built directly onto an outcropping of rocks, and we expect to see a lot more of it in tonight's fourth, "Book of the Stranger." From the vantage we've seen, it almost looks fake, jutting out of the landscape like a ship sinking into the water.

“The Tower of Joy is an amazing location that we found in Spain," Deborah Riley, Game of Thrones' production designer since Season 6, tells The Creators Project. The location is called el Castillo de Zafra, and was known as an inconquerable fortress during the conflict during the wars of the Reconquista between the Christians and the Moors. 

Riley's training as an architect at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia gives her a unique perspective on the castle. "Although it looks like it could be a visual effect because it seems so odd, the way these towers are perched upon that incredible rock formation, that is actually a location," Riley continues.

As we've seen in many behind the scenes VFX featurettes, most of the outdoor locations are the result of heavy compositing and computer graphics, on top of props and set pieces added by Riley's team. However, she says that el Castillo de Zafra was different. "It had been completely restored, so what you see in the shot is exactly how it is. The art department didn’t change it at all, apart from adding a few rocks, which is extraordinary.”

Hardcore Game of Thrones fans have suspected that el Castillo de Zafra would become The Tower of Joy for some time, but Riley's comments give us insight into the excellence of the location for the job. “We were after something that would be memorable and interesting and unexpected and distinct," Riley says. "That location met all those requirements with the added bonus of being able to be shot all on-camera.”

Check out some pictures of el Castillo de Zafra, a.k.a., The Tower of Joy, below.


A photo posted by ferdygrau (@ferdygrau) on


A photo posted by ferdygrau (@ferdygrau) on


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Game of Thrones airs on HBO Sunday nights at 9 PM EST.


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Game of Thrones
Production Design
Deborah Riley
Isaac Hempstead Wright
el castillo de zafra