As SXSW brand activations go, HBO’s “SXSWesteros” exhibit attracts perhaps the most loyal and enthusiastic fans. Even cynical locals, who curse the name SXSW like it was “Lannister” for the disruption it brings to the streets of Austin, line up around the block for the chance to interact firsthand with the world of Game of Thrones. Last year, when HBO brought a full Oculus Rift-based VR experience to the Austin Music Hall, along with the touring Game of Thrones exhibit featuring over 100 costumes and props from the series, the average evening wait to go through the exhibit was over two hours.
This year, the wait time has yet to be established, but the interactive experience–now housed in the former home of the historic Austin blues club Antone’s–is on pace to attract a lot more sword/dragon/boob enthusiasts. The exhibit this time trades virtual reality for physical reality: Visitors begin with the chance to be photographed on the Iron Throne–an opportunity that thrust the entire kingdom of Westeros into brutal war and chaos for years, but here is free to visitors–and then get another photo taken by a professional photographer before being escorted to the club’s former stage, where three swords, sheathed in front of 10-foot screens, await.
Those swords lead to the interactive part of the exhibit. An experience vaguely reminiscent of Arya Stark’s sword training in the first season of the series, visitors swing a sword around in attempt to shatter targets that appear on the screen. The interface is a little buggy–you’re as likely to puncture the targets accidentally as you are intentionally–but at the end, you’re rewarded with the photo they took upon entering, graphically enhanced so that your face is composed of Game of Thrones-style imagery, based entirely on the sword strikes they made during the training.
The exhibit ends with a drink–a preview of Brewery Ommegang’s Three-Eyed Raven Dark Saison Ale, available in stores in early April–and a Twitter activation for users who tweet #CatchTheThrone and a custom hashtag, which triggers a Game of Thrones-branded vending machine to release GoT headphones, phone cases, and more. It may be a little less epic than what SXSWesteros brought to Austin last year, but if you’ve been looking for the perfect cover for your metal album, you’ll definitely get what you’re looking for here.