'Game of Thrones' might be fantasy, but its economic impact on Northern Ireland is very, very real.

Winter is coming to Westeros and Essos, but the forecast in Northern Ireland is looking bright.

As far as historians are aware, Northern Ireland has never had to contend with dragons, white walkers, or seasons that last for years on end (unless ... maybe that explains why it's always raining there?).

But Northern Ireland has seen its fair share of conflict and turmoil, to the point where a major period of the 20th century in Ireland (from 1968-1998) is actually known as "The Troubles." And, unfortunately, that kind of prolonged unrest can leave a devastating mark on the economy.


However, things are looking up, thanks in part to a little book-series-turned-hit-TV-show called "Game of Thrones."

A "Game of Thrones" fan takes a selfie beside a plaque at Ballintoy Harbour, which appeared as the Iron Islands on the show. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

The fictional fight for the Iron Throne has brought a real economic boom to Northern Ireland.

In the last five years, "Game of Thrones" alone has brought in approximately £110 million (~$170 million) to the Northern Ireland economy.

The HBO show is responsible for creating around 900 full-time jobs and 5,700 part-time jobs in the area, which includes catering, hospitality, and other accommodation services in addition to the film crews, production assistants, and other local artisans that work directly on the show.

Lauren Wethers, a goldsmith at Steensons Jewellers in Glenarm, puts finishing touches on a Dire Wolf sterling silver brooch. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

That's not a bad return on investment, considering the £12.45 million (~$19 million) spent in subsidies and incentives to bring the show there in the first place. (The producers had originally planned to film in Scotland, where they shot the pilot episode.)

The government agency Northern Ireland Screen has also invested heavily in Northern Ireland's budding film industry, including £14 million (~$22 million) for building new movie studios in Belfast, where the actual RMS Titanic was built and where "Game of Thrones" now films.

The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney — known to fans of the show as Kings Avenue — has become a popular spot for tourists visiting the area. Photo by Christopher McQuillan/Getty Images.

The positive impact of the show extends well beyond the production itself. Just ask the people who live there.

Ingrid Houwers, a professional taxidermist and silversmith, provides furs and animal jewelry for "Game of Thrones."

Her business is booming thanks to the attention and publicity she's gotten as a result of the show. (And because, apparently, "Look! I got my dead cat stuffed by the woman who does taxidermy for 'Game of Thrones'!" is a bragging point for some.)

Ingrid Houwers and her array of pretty dead things. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

Ronan Hill is a sound mixer on "Game of Thrones" and I'm sure you can imagine how the Emmy displayed in his Northern Irish home will make it even easier for him to get jobs in the future. He's also up for another award this year. (The show has 24 total Emmy nominations this year alone.)

The success of artists like Houwers and Hill also affects the tourist industry — and of course, more people visiting Northern Ireland means jobs for people in Northern Ireland. Just look at how the tourism rate in New Zealand has doubled (making it the country's second largest industry) in the 15 years since the first "Lord of the Rings" film was released.

This influx of tourism is a regular economic stimulus for people like William Fells, a sword and archery instructor who plays Jon Snow on tours of Castle Ward, the real-life Winterfell, and for Damian Carr, an actor and sword expert who has appeared as an extra on the hit show.

When Carr first started working at Game of Thrones tours, the tours were only running once a week. But five years later, they're a full-time and fully-booked business.

Audley's Castle, which appears as Robb Stark's camp on the show. Photo by Chris McQuillan/Getty Images.

Northern Ireland isn't the only international filming location for the show, but it's easy to see the positive influence the show has had there.

From Winterfell to Belfast, the production of "Game of Thrones" has helped to enhance the local culture and community, in part by making it so locals can afford to live there and contribute to their own economy. Not to mention that those well-paid random Hollywood jobs can be enough to subsidize a local resident's income during slower seasons.

So while I can't alleviate your concerns about George R.R. Martin killing off your favorite character (again), I can assure you that, at least in Northern Ireland, things behind-the-scenes are looking better than ever.

Just, uh, if you visit, be sure to tip your tour guide.

William Kells interacts with tourists at Castle Ward, also known as Winterfell. Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images.

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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