San Diego Comic-Con attendees, the Iron Throne is yours for the taking, assuming you can withstand an enemy even greater than the White Walkers: the long line.
Though San Diego is not known for its snowstorms, a small corner of the Gaslamp District will serve as the site of winter during the four-day Comic-Con weekend. Located across the street from the Omni Hotel, HBO's Game of Thrones event, called "Winter Is Here," sees attendees walking a mile or two in the shoes of Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and the other characters who have either sat upon the Iron Throne of King's Landing or battled White Walkers in the far north.
It also requires a tolerant attitude toward significant wait times. We'll get to that.
A press preview of the "Winter Is Here" environment was held Wednesday night, ahead of the exhibit opening to Comic-Con badge holders the following morning. Admission is granted on a first-come, first-served basis at the following times:
• Thursday, July 20, and Friday, July 21, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
• Saturday, July 22, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
• Sunday, July 23, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Arrive early if your Comic-Con to-do list includes "killing White Walkers" and "praying in front of weirwood trees."
Upon entering "Winter Is Here," you'll be given a Dragonglass RFID wristband that will serve an important role throughout the experience. It's a snap bracelet, too, giving it an extra air of nostalgia for any and all attendees who lived through the 1990s. You'll need to tap your wristband at the proper point of every station along the way through the environment. It's associated with your e-mail address, which is how you'll receive all the photos and videos you take over the course of the journey.
Near the entrance, attendees of legal drinking age are invited to sample a selection of official Game of Thrones beverages, including the three wines created by Vintage Wine Estates and winemaker Bob Cabral: a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley, a Red Wine Blend from Paso Robles and a Chardonnay from the Central Coast. No Dornish Red, and no Arbor Gold, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on which side of House Frey you stand on. Also on offer: a new beer, Bend the Knee Golden Ale, from Brewery Ommegang. Given the wait times ahead, claiming two beverages at the start of your journey isn't the worst idea.
Once you're settled with your drinks, it's time to step into winter. The environment is laid out across a large space, divided by kingdoms, where you're invited to capture some great moments in Westeros history. Up first: Winterfell, where you (or someone else in your group) will be crowned King in the North. You take a seat in front of a video camera, at the same long table where Jon Snow was sitting when his fellow Northerners swore their allegiance at the end of season six, with two seats next to you for additional guests.
As the camera starts rolling, the cries from Houses Glover, Mormont and others ring out: "The King in the North! The King in da North! Da Kinginda North! Dakingindanorth!" The final video blends together the scene from season six, with your own reaction to being anointed King in the North. During our run through the environment, several attendees took their new duties as king very seriously. Others were scrolling through their cellphones as the camera pushed in. However you want to react to being crowned Kinginnanorf is entirely up to you.
Next, you and a group are brought in front of a great weirwood tree (one of many, as there are several such trees littered throughout the environment), where you see a vision of Daenerys Targaryen arriving at Dragonstone. When the vision ends, you're brought into the next space, which is — you guessed it — Dragonstone. The space is marked with the new House Targaryen outfits worn by Dany and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in season seven, as well as the great table map of Westeros that Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his allies consulted during their reign in Dragonstone.
Attendees can take a picture on Dany's new throne, before moving onto another throne: the Iron Throne. This is the third station, and the most straightforward, as the all-powerful seat speaks for itself.
Here's where things get difficult, or at least where things went difficult during the preview event: the fourth station. Like the Valyrian steel weapon you're potentially about to hold, this station cuts both ways. When you reach it, you will have the choice of outfitting yourself as a wildling or as a member of the Night's Watch. You'll then choose your weapons: dragonglass daggers, or Jon Snow's sword, Longclaw. Finally, you step inside a 360-degree shooting space, where a camera swirls around you as you pose with your blades of choice. It is your finest opportunity to look like a true White Walker slayer — or if you're me, you can become "Stark Wars Kid."
As Davos once said: "I've never been much of a fighter. Apologies for what you're about to see."
It's easily the most exciting and entertaining part of the environment, but it comes at the expense of an excruciating wait period, largely due to participants having to armor up and step into the elaborate rig. During preview night, the wait between stations three and four was easily 30 minutes, if not longer. At a certain point, the line was so backed up that admission into the exhibit was suspended. It comes down to a question, then: Can you withstand a long line (and therefore a significant hit to your Comic-Con plans) if it means getting to swing a Valyrian sword at a camera for a brief but brilliant few seconds? If you plan accordingly (see earlier note about beverages of choice), maybe it's not so bad.
For those who last long enough to make it through the fourth station, there's a fifth and final element to the environment: an epic battle against White Walkers. You're given a dragonglass dagger (which is basically a video game controller, not unlike a Wiimote) and positioned in front of a vertical screen. White Walkers slowly stalk toward you, and you're instructed to cut them down by aiming for their eyes. The longer you survive, the faster their approach, until there are ultimately too many enemies to survive any further. (Is this a hint at how the series will end, perhaps? Will no amount of fighting prevent us from certain ice doom? Jerry Maguire was right — we do live in a cynical world!) The average survival time is between 50 and 70 seconds. Guess who lasted 71 seconds? Four guesses:
That's right: Withstand the long lines of "Winter Is Here," become a member of the Night's Watch and you, too, may find that you're just a touch above average at killing White Walkers.
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