As we less-than-patiently await the final season of Game of Thrones, let’s take a look at all the details that have come to light since the epic Season 7 finale left us hungrier than ever for more. Potential spoilers ahead, obvs.
Release date and episode count
Back in January, HBO issued a statement confirming that Season 8 will air in 2019 and consist of six episodes, with a specific premiere date yet to be revealed.
The short statement reads:
“The epic fantasy series Game of Thrones will return for its six-episode, eighth and final season in 2019.
“David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik will be the directors for the new season. Writers for the new season are David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, Bryan Cogman and Dave Hill.
The executive producers of the series are David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Carolyn Strauss, Frank Doelger and Bernadette Caulfield. Co-executive producers are Bryan Cogman, Guymon Casady, Vince Gerardis and George R.R. Martin.”
HBO programming president Casey Bloys later narrowed down that timeframe during his appearance at the Television Critics Association press tour in July, saying that the final season will air some time in the first half of 2019.
When news broke that the final season would consist of only six episodes, fans voiced concerns that this wouldn’t be enough to wrap up all the storylines. Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei, was quick to allay those fears, telling the UK’s Metro: “It definitely will not be a rushed conclusion. They’ve taken the exact number of hours to tell the story they want to tell and it will be brilliant. [Show bosses] will never leave the fans unsatisfied, they won’t leave the fans left short, it will go over and above the fans expectations as they do every season.”
Bloys, while tight-lipped about the specific release date and plot details, also offered some words of comfort for fans. “It’s pretty great,” he said of the final six episodes while at the TCA tour.
In an interview with IB3TV, Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy) echoed Bloys’ sentiment. “Usually, when we record the series, we need six months to do 10 episodes,” he said. “This time we needed 10 months to record six episodes. Honestly, I can promise that this season will be spectacular.”
Why is it taking so long?
The agonising wait for Season 8 is due to the epic scale of the action and special effects in the remaining episodes.
“Here’s what I’ll tell you,” Bloys told Entertainment Weekly. “They take the time they need to do the show at its highest level of quality. As the show has gone on, it’s gotten bigger – big battle scenes, big special effects.
“These things take time. Here’s the one thing I can assure you: Dan and Dave were not sitting around on a beach waiting to go back to work. They’re perfectionists and this is the soonest it can come back at a level of quality that they are comfortable with.”
It won’t be easy, but we’ll wait as long as it takes to see the series conclude on the high note it deserves.
Who are the directors?
As mentioned above, the final six episodes will be directed by Miguel Sapochnik, David Nutter and the show’s creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
Sapochnik directed ‘The Gift’ and ‘Hardhome’ in Season 5, as well as the final two episodes of Season 6: ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘The Winds of Winter’. He’ll take on episodes 3 and 5 in season 8.
Nutter is best known for directing ‘The Rains of Castamere,’ the infamous Red Wedding episode from Season 3. He also directed Season 2’s ‘The Old Gods and the New’ and ‘A Man Without Honor’, as well as Season 2’s ‘Mhysa’; as well as ‘The Dance of Dragons’ and ‘Mother’s Mercy’ from Season 5. He will direct episodes 1, 2, and 4 in Season 8.
Benioff and Weiss are set to direct the series finale, which will mark the first time they’ll share directing credit on the show. The pair are the most prolific writers on the series and will have co-written 51 of the total 73 episodes by the time the finale airs.
Who are the writers?
Season 8 writing duties will be shared by Benioff and Weiss, as mentioned above, along with Dave Hill and Bryan Cogman.
Hill will write episode one. His previous writing credits on the series are ‘Sons of the Harpy’, ‘Home’ and ‘Eastwatch’.
Episode 2 will be written by Cogman, who previously wrote episodes ‘Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things’, ‘What Is Dead May Never Die’, ‘Kissed by Fire’, ‘Oathkeeper’, ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’, ‘Kill the Boy’, ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’, ‘Blood of My Blood’, ‘The Broken Man’, and ‘Stormborn’.
The remaining four episodes will be split between Benioff and Weiss.
It’s costing $15m per episode
Yup, you read that correctly. According to a report by Variety, production will cost a staggering $US15 million for each of the final six episodes.
Compare that to the show’s previous expenses: Season 2 reportedly cost $6 million per episode, and Season 6 apparently cost $10 million per episode.
It’s looking likely that instead of being the traditional one-hour duration, Season 8 episodes will clock in at 80 minutes or more.
“Two hours per episode seems like it would be excessive, but it’s a great show, so who knows?” Bloys told The Hollywood Reporter.
Liam Cunningham, who is returning as Ser Davos Seaworth, also suggested that we’re in for bumper instalments of the show. Last October he told TV Guide that the final six episodes are “definitely going to be bigger and what I hear is longer.”
He continued: “When you think about it, up until last season we’d have six months to do 10 episodes, so we’re [doing] way more than that for six episodes. So that obviously will translate into longer episodes.”
The first promo poster for Season 8 was unveiled at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas in May and revealed online by Collider. The artwork features the sigils of the three remaining great houses: Stark, Targaryen and Lannister.
In terms of actual show footage, so far we’ve been given only a glimpse via a promo for HBO’s 2018/19 programming slate.
Let’s unpack these precious few seconds of new footage: Jon Snow and Sansa Stark are seen embracing at Winterfell, presumably because Jon has returned to battle the Night King and the White Walkers.
As filming for Season 8 began, photos from the set started popping up online, hinting at storylines to come.
First making the rounds were pics taken in Dubrovnik, Croatia, of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) together, a reunion that was teased at the end of Season 7.
Last season Samwell had arrived at Winterfell, where he and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) figured out the truth about Jon’s parentage. Meanwhile Jon was travelling back to Winterfell with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke).
Interestingly, the pictures show Jon and Samwell at what appears to be King’s Landing, based on the location. Just why they’ve travelled from Winterfell to King’s Landing is yet to be revealed.
Harington was also snapped with Lena Headey, revealing that Jon Snow will also share scenes with Cersei Lannister.
When these characters were last together, Cersei had agreed to assist Jon by sending soldiers to fight in the impending battle against the Night King, who had just breached the Wall at Westeros. Has Jon arrived to confront Cersei about her betrayal? Perhaps Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who was last seen riding north, was on his way to inform Jon of Cersei’s lie.
“I think he’s going to try to get up there,” Coster-Walder told IndieWire. “We see him covering up his golden hand because once he’s heading north, he’s in enemy territory, and it’s difficult to hide who he is when he has that golden hand. So I think he’s going to try to get up to some commander whether it’s Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen. We’ll see.”
Coster-Walder also suggested that Jaime will return to Cersei, if he survives his journey.
“I think that you never finish with your family even if you want to,” he said. “It’s the thing that Tyrion says that there’s not a day that he doesn’t think about the fact that he killed his father even though he hated him… I’m sure for Jaime it’ll be the same. He’ll never be able to not have Cersei be a part of what makes him what he is.”
Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, offered some broader insight into where the writers have taken the plot. “From reading the books thus far, it was their interpretation of where they thought the show would go,” she told Digital Spy. “They’re still doing justice to the story, and serving the characters in the way they feel like they should be. I mean, they definitely upped the ante [in the final episodes]. They’ve got nice, big battle scenes, that’s for sure.”
One of the most exciting pieces of info to emerge thus far is that Season 8 will feature a battle that took more than 50 days to film, no doubt contributing to that massive budget.
Jonathan Quinlan, an assistant director on the series, wrote about the gruelling shoot on Instagram. The post has since been deleted but the internet doesn’t let these things die, so here’s what he wrote:
“This is for the Night Dragons.
For enduring 55 straight nights. For enduring the cold, the snow, the rain, the mud, the sheep shit of Toome and the winds of Magheramorne.
When tens of millions of people around the world watch this episode a year from now, they won’t know how hard you worked. They won’t care how tired you were or how tough it was to do your job in sub-freezing temperatures.
They’ll just understand that they’re watching something that’s never been done before.
And that’s because of you.”
Deadline reports that this battle was shot in Toome and Maghermorne, Northern Ireland, which also served as the backdrop for the Battle of Blackwater and the Massacre at Hardhome.
Gendry’s bigger role
Blacksmith Gendry is set to play a significant part in Season 8 and will may feature in the show’s climax, according to Joe Dempsie, who plays the bastard son of King Robert Baratheon.
In an interview with Digital Spy, Dempsie said “For me personally, the only real hope I had for the character was just that he would be there when the reckoning came. You got the sense – even back in Season 3 – that this was a show that was building towards some incredible climax, so you just wanted to be there when it all happened. Not even necessarily just from a character point-of-view, [but] from a personal point of view – to be stood there on the set when they’re making that ending… that end game.”
Dempsie was quick to add that despite his bigger role, Gendry might not survive until the final scenes. “As with all these things, we never shoot in chronological order – so you might have people coming in at the beginning and at the end, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they make it all the way through!”
Fan site Watchers on the Wall revealed the casting of a new character played by Irish actress Danielle Galligan. According to a now-deleted credit on her talent management profile, Galligan will portray a character named Sarra. Would this be Sarra Frey, one of Walder Frey’s granddaughters from A Song of Ice and Fire? Most likely.
It was also reported that HBO was casting for two child roles, including a girl between the ages of 8-10 who comes from a good family full of soldiers. The casting notice describes her as “a straight-talking Northern-accented girl, someone remarkable for her dauntlessness and integrity.”
The second of these child roles is a boy of similar age but from a poor family, with a “physically fit and agile look” and a striking face. The actor chosen for this role will be required to “completely own the scenes that he appears in,” suggesting some significance to the storyline.
Another character joining the fray is new villain Harry Strickland, who will reportedly be played by Marc Rissman (Into the Badlands, The Last Kingdom). Strickland is the leader of mercenary group The Golden Company, who you may remember were called upon by Cersei in the Season 7 finale to help her conquer Westeros. Rissmann’s Game of Thrones credit was added to his CV and agent’s website (then later deleted).
Cast as non-book characters are Seamus O’Hara as Fergus, according to his Spotlight casting page, while EastEnders star Alice Nokes will play Willa, reports Watchers on the Wall.
Those eagle-eyed detectives at Watchers on the Wall also revealed other roles being filled include “Northern sentry, 18-25,” “Sailor, 35-50,” “Northern farmer, 25-35,” “Sassy and attractive girl, 18-25” and some guards aged in their 20s and 30s. Full descriptions here.
How will the series end?
The biggest secret of all, of course, is just how the series will finish and who will end up on the Iron Throne. So far details are scant, but cast members have been dropping clues about how the final episodes will affect viewers when they play out. An even bigger revelation came from an HBO executive who let slip that many of the main characters are killed off.
Variety reported that the actors were brought to tears at the table read of the final scripts. “None of the cast had received the scripts prior, and one by one they started falling down to their deaths,” said Francesca Orsi, HBO senior vice president of drama.
Speaking about her final scene as Daenerys Targaryen, Emilia Clarke said: “It fucked me up. Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavour in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is.” Clarke also shared that Daenerys will be “doing all this weird shit – you’ll know what I mean when you see it.” Excitingly, these scenes will require Clarke to shoot for the first time with a number of the show’s top stars, “including Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark).”
However, Clarke also revealed that several different endings were recorded to combat leaks. When asked about the finale, she said, “I think they’re filming a bunch of stuff and they’re not telling us. I’m being serious. I’m being deadly serious. I think that they don’t even trust us.” She added, “There’s lots of different endings that could happen; I think we’re doing all of them and we aren’t being told which is actually what’s going to happen.”
Bloys confirmed that different versions of the climax were shot to prevent spoilers being spread across the web. “I know in Game of Thrones, the ending, they’re going to shoot multiple versions so that nobody really knows what happens,” he told the BBC.
However it goes down, it’ll be brilliant according to Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), who seems to have more clarity about what happens in the finale. “When I read it, I thought it was rather brilliant. I am a bit of a fan of the series as well, and it satiated my expectation and hopes,” he told IndianExpress.com. “But we will just have to see. You know with something this big like Game of Thrones, you cannot please everyone.”
Isaac Hempstead-Wright who portrays Bran Stark was equally philosophical, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “It won’t go the way some people want. It will be too happy for some people, or too sad, or too whatever. That’s the nature of an ending. Midway through a season, there’s always the idea that this is going to continue and somewhere along the way we’ll make up for it all. When it comes to a conclusion, this is the end. Nothing more is coming, and the certainty of it being over will definitely bother people. But overall, I think we’re going to smash it.”
Maisie Williams, meanwhile, might have dropped a massive hint about the finale on Instagram. The actress, who plays Arya Stark, shared a photo of blood-spattered sneaker with the caption, “goodbye belfast. goodbye arya. goodbye game of thrones. what a joy i’ve had. here’s to the adventures to come,” followed by several hashtags including “#lastwomanstanding.” Could it be so?
But really, it’s unlikely that any theories about the ending are correct. In an interview with Digital Spy, Sophie Turner described the climax as unpredictable and not what fans have theorised. “It really is so unpredictable the way that it ends up. I’m very satisfied with that, and I think that the fans will be satisfied with that, too.”
In a recent interview with Huffington Post, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) also suggested that the finale is satisfying and unpredictable, without delivering any unnecessary twists. “I wrote the writers when I finished reading and just said, ‘I don’t think you could’ve done a better job at finishing this story.’ To me, it was very satisfying but also very surprising and all the things that I was hoping for,” he said. “It still made sense. It wasn’t like one of those where the killer is suddenly revealed in the last act and you go, ‘Oh! I didn’t see that coming.’ Here, they’ve done a really, really good job.”
Bloys concurs, telling Entertainment Weekly: “I think it’s epic. I think fans are going to love it. I think it’s a fitting way for one of the greatest shows in the history of television to go out and that people are going to be very happy. There’s going to be a lot of conversation.” Bring. It. On.
Prequels in the works
Last May, HBO revealed that five successor shows to Game of Thrones were being developed, with one stand-out now being prepared for a pilot to be shot in the first quarter of 2019.
As revealed by The Hollywood Reporter, the new show is based on a story created by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and George R.R. Martin, set thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones and chronicling the world’s descent from the Age of Heroes into its darkest hour. It will reportedly focus on “The Long Night,” when Westeros inhabitants first fought the White Walkers.
HBO offered a small taste of what the new series will entail:
“Only one thing is for sure: From the horrifying secrets of Westeros’ history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East to the Starks of legend – it’s not the story we think we know.”
Bloys expanded on the differences between Game of Thrones and its spin-off. “The story’s time period, another 8,000 years before [the events in GoT], it’s far enough away so it feels like a different story, a different world, because it is – the kingdoms do not exist at this point. So it felt distinct,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “We’re not trying to do Game of Thrones Part II. No one is going to duplicate what [GoT showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] did. By setting it when we did, there’s a lot going on, a lot of dynamics that are related to Game of Thrones, but it’s different enough with its time period and characters its duplicative.”
Whether the series gets picked up or not, Bloys has made it clear that it won’t air for quite some time after Game of Thrones concludes.
Bloys told EW: “The one thing I will tell you, which we talked about before, any sort of pilot-to-series [order], there’s not going to be anything on our air for at least a year after Game of Thrones airs. We’re not using the final season to launch a new show or anything like that. There’s going to be a separation between the two. These are among the best writers working and I’m hopeful.”
As for the four other potential spin-offs, Bloys has repeatedly said he doubts they will make it to the screen.
“I think that is probably unlikely,” Bloys said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “This show is very special. I’m not looking to have as many as possible. My sense right now is, we would be very lucky if one of the four rises to the level that we have set. Now, theoretically, what if they’re all great? That’s a high-class problem that I’ll solve when it comes to that. But knowing what we know about the development process, that’s why we wanted to increase our odds. But I do not see a scenario where we have more than one. But again, high-class problem.”