It's the height of summer, but "winter is coming" to Spain.
For those who may not be well-versed in the lingo of the Seven Kingdoms, that's a reference to Game of Thrones — the HBO series filmed partly in Spain. It's hugely popular here, dubbed over as Juego de Tronos. Fans are flocking to Game of Thrones-themed tours of Spain, and they're also looking for plot parallels in real-life Spanish politics.
HBO got unprecedented access to the country to shoot the show's fifth season in Seville's ancient Moorish palace, the Alcázar, for about a month last fall. It may or may not be a coincidence that the U.S. ambassador to Spain, James Costos, is a former HBO executive.
The Alcazar was transformed into the Water Gardens palace in the mythical kingdom of Dorne, where Prince Doran Martell resides.
"When we go into the gardens, they say, 'Ah, this is the Water Gardens!' " observes Pepe Pallarés, a licensed tour guide in Seville who has added a Game of Thrones-themed tour to his itinerary. "For fans, it's like an amazing experience."
Seville's Alcázar has seen a 25 percent jump in tourist visits this past year, in part because of Game of Thrones fans.
"Everything looks really familiar — the architecture and what not," says Sam Dawson, a college student visiting Seville from Minnesota. "I've traveled to a few of the other locations where they filmed, and it's got the exact same vibes."
More than 85,000 locals applied to be extras on the Game of Thrones set in Seville. Only 5,000 were accepted — and only a fraction ever appeared on TV. But people are so obsessed, they've started searching for parallels in real life.
"You can see the fight between the different royal houses in Game of Thrones — and they're more or less the same as our politicians today," Pallarés says. "They're fighting to keep their jobs inside city hall, inside the presidency, etc. It's the same!"
Game of Thrones analogies are most popular among supporters of Podemos — a new left-wing, grass-roots party that hopes to wrest power from Spain's ruling conservatives in elections this fall. At a recent Podemos rally, activists dressed up as rival Game of Thrones characters — the queen Daenerys Targaryen and the incestuous Lannisters.
When the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, met Spanish King Felipe VI in Brussels this spring, he defied royal protocol and handed the king a gift — a DVD box set of Game of Thrones.
"I told him it's a series he'll definitely like, if he wants to understand the political crisis in Spain," Iglesias told reporters afterward, with a wink.
Iglesias has promised to hold a referendum on getting rid of Spain's monarchy, if elected. And his new slogan is "Winter is Coming" — for those in power, at least. Iglesias even edited a new book entitled To Win or To Die: Political Lessons from Game of Thrones.
Several of his co-authors are Spanish political scientists who also love Game of Thrones. One chapter's author, Dani Irraberi, who teaches political philosophy at Madrid's Complutense University, compares the people-power of Podemos with Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons.
"She doesn't just free the slaves; she empowers them to free themselves," Irraberi says. "And that's what we see with Podemos. It's a political movement that tries to empower citizens to stand up to their oppressors, the ruling class."
Conservative political commentators in Spain are jumping on the Game of Thrones bandwagon, too. Even if Spanish conservatives are compared to the Lannisters — some of whom number among the TV show's villains — that's not necessarily bad, says conservative commentator Ruben Herrero. It's realpolitik, he says.
"From Podemos, they try to say, 'We're good, we're like Khaleesi [Daenerys Targaryen], in favor of justice for poor people.' But that's not true," Herrero says. "For instance, the Lannisters are realists — classical realists. It's like, 'I don't mind the nature of my partners while in power.' "
Herrero's favorite conservatives may lose that hold on power in Spanish elections this fall. But not before the sixth season of Game of Thrones starts shooting this summer — in Spain once again.