'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.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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