A red priestess wandered the aisles with a stern look, locking eyes with the attendees. Her gaze shifted to meet mine, and I fought the urge to turn away. Her piercing eyes never left mine as she wound her way through the room, between pews full of people, until she was standing right in front of me. She touched my shoulder and leaned in. “The night is dark and full of terrors” she whispered. A chill ran down my spine. This is the story of my time at HBO’s Bleed for the Throne event at SXSW.
HBO’s Game of Thrones experience for SXSW was phenomenal. I was able to attend via a VIP pass from HBO and enjoyed it immensely. The event didn’t reveal any significant hints about the upcoming final season, but there was an impending sense of doom in many ‘scenes’ that day, along with multiple calls to prepare for the battle to come. I truly felt that I was in the world of Westeros during the event.
Bleed for the Throne was at Fair Market this year. Last year’s Westworld Experience, also hosted by HBO, was absolutely massive. It was located slightly out of town at an Old West village that HBO had rented for the event. This year’s event wasn’t quite as large, but it was still stunning and beautiful, mixed with a sense of foreboding about the war to come.
The line to get into the event was long, but if you chose to donate blood and “bleed for the throne,” you were able to get in a little faster. I thought this was a nice touch – using an event like this to encourage people to donate blood.
As we entered the room, I immediately felt like we were in the world of Westeros and had stepped inside a real-life castle. The Iron Throne sat intimidatingly at the far end of the room, guarded by Kingsguard. And a red cross symbol that looked like stained glass was affixed above the throne. It was a reminder to donate blood, but it also gave the throne room a spiritual type of feeling, which was a nice touch. We couldn’t go to the throne right away, however. First, we needed to follow a storyline for four people who bled for the throne: Tyrion, Jon Snow, Arya, and Cersei.
As we waited to begin our experience, a Lannister guard greeted us. He did a great job of staying in character the entire time. Props to everyone who acted in this event. They never broke character, no matter how tempting.
After waiting in line for a bit, we were each given iPods and headphones so we could listen to the stories of Arya, Jon Snow, Cersei, and Tyrion during a walkthrough. The walkthrough had four rooms, one for each character, and a chance to relive the moment when they bled for the throne. This warning was included before we entered. People with medical and emotional conditions were warned not to continue.
Here is what the iPod looked like. It was a nice touch and easy to use. When you saw the matching photo on the wall, you just clicked the photo on the iPad and were told what to do for each part, where to walk, and when to leave a room.
In the Cersei room, we were greeted with large, filmed figures telling us “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Jon Snow’s room showed the moment when he was killed and bled for the throne.
All four rooms helped put us in a somber mood before entering the experience. Right before leaving this section, we were greeted by a life-sized Mountain statue who towered over us. It was a great way to get an idea of just how huge the Mountain really is.
In the outdoor part of the experience, we were first greeted by the Unsullied. In this outdoor camp area, Dothraki, Freefolk, and Unsullied all comingled.
There was a stage for sword fighting, a stage for bards who played songs while in character, well-trained horses, and several fights broke out among the different groups while we were there.
My husband, Derek Dwilson, had a somewhat tense conversation with one of the Freefolk, which you can watch in the video below.
I happened to see Henry Winkler at the event (“The Fonz”), walking with friends and enjoying the ambiance. I wanted to take a picture to include in this story, but I didn’t realize that it was him until he had already passed. It was shortly after this that a follower of the Lord of Light greeted us. She said she could tell we were having difficulty choosing our next path and that we should follow our heart. Derek asked if she was a follower of R’hllor (the Lord of Light’s name.) That detail is a little obscure, so she didn’t recognize the name. But she quickly covered by saying that she was new to the path and still learning. Like I said, they never dropped character.
The outdoor portion also included an opportunity to get free hamburgers, including an amazing Shake Shack hamburger that was combined with a jalapeno sausage and cheese. They even had a vegetarian burger to meet everyone’s needs. The hamburger was delicious. This photo doesn’t really do it justice. We also got to have themed non-alcoholic beverages.
Inside, we attended a “church service” with a 24-piece choral concert and orchestra. They sang the Game of Thrones theme song, among other musical numbers from the series, in a concert that was 30 minutes long. I couldn’t help but think about the dedication needed to do this, since they were performing all day.
A red priestess led the service. She kept a stern expression the entire time, and you could really feel that she was someone deeply concerned about the coming battle with the dead. She would stop and whisper messages into different attendees’ ears. She talked to my husband, Derek Dwilson, and warned him that the night is dark and full of terrors. Here’s the video of that moment:
When she talked to me, she also told me not to be scared, and to recognize that there is a warrior within me fighting to escape. I wonder how many different messages she had for attendees?
At the end we were all asked to kneel and pledge our loyalty. She whispered “valar morghulis” (all men must die) to Derek. She whispered something different to me, but I don’t know the translation. :(
After everyone kneeled, we were each given a Hand of the King pin. One guy in the audience refused to kneel, so they turned him away when he wanted a pin. That was a nice touch.
And then the service ended.
The event was stirring and immersive. I truly felt like I was in Westeros, and now I can’t wait for the season to begin.