By Kristy Barkan

Forget the Old Gods, the Drowned God, the Seven, and the Lord of Light; the magic of Westeros is far more complex than the conjurings of deities. It's a special type of alchemy so powerful, it can transform ones and zeros into fire-breathing dragons, sea-battered castles and legions of shuffling undead. The true magic of "Game of Thrones" is its visual effects.

With more than 13 million viewers per episode last season, "Game of Thrones" has established itself as one of the most popular programs on television. It's also an impressive example of film-quality VFX on the small screen. Since its launch in 2011, the series has bagged two Emmys for Outstanding Special Visual Effects and two VES Awards for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program.

A masterful mix of top-notch storytelling, acting, directing, cinematography, editing, makeup, costumes, set design, sound design and visual effects, "Game of Thrones'" success can't be attributed to just one element of its production. At the same time, many of the awe-inspiring environments and creatures of Westeros wouldn't be possible without the exceptional work of visual effects studios such as Pixomondo, Screen Scene, Spin VFX, BlueBolt, Look FX and Gradient FX (among others).

Through the magic of visual effects, viewers of "Game of Thrones" can experience fantastical things that are convincingly real. Last season, the audience stood beside Jon Snow on the edge of a towering wall of ice and looked down at miles of snow-covered mountains. They saw full-grown dire wolves strolling beside their masters, watched Daenerys Targaryen carry dragons on her shoulders and saw the Red Priestess Melisandre give birth to tendrils of darkness in the shape of a man. All experiences that were created after shooting wrapped, with the sorcery of digital information.

George R.R. Martin, whose book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" is the basis for the show, congratulated the visual effects team on their excellent work on his blog: "It takes a lot of people to make a quality show, and the craftsmen and artists who do all the below the line jobs contribute just as much as the above the line talent… though they seldom receive the recognition they deserve."

Viewers hungry for more of the same Westerosi brand of digital magic don't have long to wait. Sunday, April 6 marks the U.S. premiere of season four of "Game of Thrones." In an interview with Entertainment Weekly on April 4, showrunner David Benioff said audiences can expect to see even more visual effects this coming season. "This is the most action and VFX across the board," he told EW. "The last three episodes are massive."

Image Credit: Stills from Spin VFX breakdown reel.
Video breakdowns by BlueBolt and Screen Scene. Imagery © Home Box Office, Inc. A Time Warner Company.