The Brexit Could Be Bad News for ‘Game of Thrones’
The European Union helps fund production of HBO’s epic in Northern Ireland. If the U.K. leaves, that money could too.
Millions of people are set to tune in Sunday to watch the season six finale of Game of Thrones, HBO's sprawling fantasy epic about warring kingdoms in the fictional land of Westeros. On Thursday, voters in a real-life kingdom will decide whether to break with the European Union -- a move that could spell bad news for the fictional Starks, Lannisters, and Tyrells.
Millions of people are set to tune in Sunday to watch the season six finale of Game of Thrones, HBO’s sprawling fantasy epic about warring kingdoms in the fictional land of Westeros. On Thursday, voters in a real-life kingdom will decide whether to break with the European Union — a move that could spell bad news for the fictional Starks, Lannisters, and Tyrells.
The hit show might seem to have little to do with this week’s referendum on Britain’s potential exit from the EU, which polls show coming down to the wire with the “Remain” and “Leave” camps locked in an increasingly tight race. But if voters cast their ballots in favor of a so-called Brexit, it won’t simply be the economies of Britain and Europe that feel the pinch. Shows like Game of Thrones will also be harder — and costlier — to produce, meaning that the real world and the fantasy one will collide to the possible detriment of both.
That’s because if the U.K. votes to leave the EU, it would take Northern Ireland with it, potentially robbing HBO of one of the show’s primary filming locations. It takes a lot of cash to depict Jon Snow and thousands of Stark loyalists defeating Ramsay Bolton’s forces to take back Winterfell, a scene shot there and aired this past Sunday.
That leaves HBO looking for partners to help pay for the show, and some of that money for it comes from the EU’s European Regional Development Fund, created to spur economic growth across the European Union. If the U.K. leaves, filmmakers might not be eligible to draw from that fund. This means that some of the cash used to bring big-budget productions to Northern Ireland could disappear.
HBO would not comment on the possibility of a Brexit impacting production of the show, which is or has been filmed in Spain, Croatia, and Malta, in addition to Northern Ireland. (It has also shot in Iceland, which is not an EU member state.) Northern Ireland Screen, the national film agency for Northern Ireland, also declined to comment.
But when asked if a Brexit would put financing for shows like Game of Thrones and other productions at risk, Peter Chase, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Brussels office, said “Absolutely.”
“It might be up in the air for U.S. studios who want to film in the U.K.,” Chase told Foreign Policy. “There are EU programs to help fund all of this. If the U.K. is no longer part of the EU, that has the potential to go away.”
Game of Thrones wouldn’t be the only show potentially threatened. British film and television projects were given $32 million over the last seven years from organizations like Creative Europe, which grants money for media and cultural projects. This includes Oscar-nominated British or British-American films Carol, Brooklyn, and Shaun the Sheep, as well as the documentary about the troubled singer Amy Winehouse, Amy.
Many artists, actors, authors, and other leaders of Britain’s creative industries have made their opposition to the Brexit public. In a letter published last month, author John le Carre, actors Jude Law, Keira Knightley, Benedict Cumberbatch, and 278 other signatories from the British film, music, theater, literature, dance, design, arts, and fashion communities wrote that “Britain is not just stronger in Europe, it is more imaginative and more creative, and our global creative success would be severely weakened by walking away.”
“Leaving Europe would be a leap into the unknown for millions of people across the U.K. who work in the creative industries, and for the millions more at home and abroad who benefit from the growth and vibrancy of Britain’s cultural sector,” they added.
In addition, 96 percent of London-based Creative Industries Federation members are opposed to a Brexit, John Kampfner, chief executive of the British industry group, told FP.
Of course, the potential damage to Britain’s creative industries pales next to the likely repercussions for ordinary Britons. The Economist Intelligence Unit warns it would plunge Britain back into recession. It also estimates the value of the pound would fall 14 to 15 percent against the dollar this year. By 2020, the economy would be 6 percent, or $155 billion, smaller than it would have been had it stayed in the EU. The British Treasury predicts up to 820,000 jobs would be lost if a Brexit occurs.
That may be why some current and former citizens of Westeros are also getting involved in the debate. Glasgow-born Daniel Portman, who stars as lovable sidekick Podrick Payne, and Kate Dickie, who played Lysa Arryn and hasn’t been seen since she was thrown to her death through the Moon Door in season four, are among 80 Scottish actors and artists who have publicly called for Britain to stay in Europe.
Photo credit: HBO/Getty Images/Foreign Policy illustration
David Francis was a staff writer at Foreign Policy from 2014-2017.
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