The best way to ground your show in reality is to shoot at an actual location, and in the early days of “Game of Thrones,” that was the intention when it came to Winterfell. That was to be a major home base for the series, and they needed to make sure it not only fit the time period in which the show was set but could be a visually dynamic place to shoot. In their location scouting, Doune Castle was that place. Co-creator D.B. Weiss recalled in Bryan Cogman’s “Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones: Seasons 1 & 2” how they settled on that location:
“It was difficult because it needed to feel like the kind of place the Starks would come from: solid, trustworthy, simple, grounded, and … well, stark. But it also needed to be unique and not just pulled into the orbit of ‘standard twelfth-century Scottish castle.’ We shot pieces of the pilot at Doune Castle, a medieval stronghold in central Scotland which is an amazing place, not to mention the location for much of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ — but we wanted to introduce different elements and influences to keep Winterfell looking like a real place yet unlike any real place we’d ever been.”
No matter how right the location is, shooting at one for a long-running TV show is completely impractical. So, for season 2, according to production designer Gemma Jackson, “an exact replica of Doune’s great hall was built on the soundstage in Belfast, along with other Winterfell interior sets.” This is exactly like how “The Bear” shot the pilot at Mr. Beef in Chicago and recreated it on a stage for the rest of the show.
Monty Python definitely couldn’t afford to do that.