After seven long years, winter has finally come, and the final season of Game of Thrones is on its way.
The fantasy series has defied all expectations from the get-go, stretching a high fantasy saga out over an extended, premium cable series rather than a few high budget movies. It has become one of the most watched, revered and expensive shows on TV, making the secrets of its grand finale very valuable. However, a few choice pieces of information have emerged.
Game of Thrones' eighth season will consist of just six episodes, though it seems safe to say that all of those will be longer than the typical 60-minute run time. This is one episode shorter than season 7, and much shorter than the six before that, all of which were ten episodes.
Still, a format change is to be expected as the showrunners venture into uncharted territory. Ever since the season 5 finale, Game of Thrones has been past the point at which the novels it is based on left off. While George R.R. Martin still consults on the show, it has become an entirely different narrative from the books. The series is carving its own narrative, and the ending will not necessarily be a happy thing.
HBO has tied up the final season in non-disclosure agreements, misdirections and all kinds of other secrecy. Still, there are some things fans can be certain of as they wait impatiently. Here is what we know so far about Game of Thrones season 8.
First and perhaps most importantly, HBO recently released a teaser reel for all of its upcoming programs. The video — about 1 minute and 40 seconds long — played during the finale of Sharp Objects, and it started with a shot of Daenerys and Tyrion standing in the in the war room of Dragonstone.
"Shall we begin?" she asks calmly.
To be fair, you could count the seconds of new Game of Thrones footage shown on one of Ser Davos' hands. Still, it was enough to show us that Dany will return to Dragonstone, Tyrion will continue drinking wine, Beric will continue lighting his sword on fire and Jon will continue looking like he knows nothing.
For a while, rumors circulated that HBO was producing multiple endings of Game of Thrones, hoping to prevent cast and crew members from leaking anything. This seemed to be answered back in February when Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. She laughed at the idea, saying that the producers would never waste their budget on such a stunt. However, Emilia Clarke (Danaerys Targeryan) revived those rumors in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in May.
"I don't know that I even do now. I'm being serious," 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. 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."
The directors for the final season have been announced, and there may be some clues as to what we have ahead of us based on their distinct styles. Showrunners and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss both oversaw episodes of the final season.
The only other two directors to get their hands on the last season were Miguel Sapochnik and David Nutter. Both are known for having directed particularly grisly, action-packed episodes of the series before. Nutter was behind the camera for "The Rains of Castamere," better known as the Red Wedding, while Sapochnik directed "Hardhome," "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter."
While they have not been able to say much, cast members freely gave interviews over the summer as they wrapped up filming on the series that has been their life for so many years. Sophie Turner, the actress behind Sansa Stark, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about her thoughts and feelings on the top-secret ending.
"It was very, very bittersweet," she said. "The first day of the actors coming in and that kind of production starting, the day where we had the final read-through for the final script, it was really bittersweet. It was hard. At the end of the very last script, they read aloud, 'End of Game of Thrones.' As soon as they read that out, pretty much everyone burst into tears. There was a standing ovation for [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss]. We were all clapping and cheering. It was amazing."
Iain Glen, the actor who portrays Ser Jorah Mormont, gave an interview with IndianExpress.com back in March, while filming was underway. However, he had apparently already seen the final script.
"When I read it, I thought it was rather brilliant," he said. "I am a bit of a fan of the series as well, and it satiated my expectation and hopes. But we will just have to see. You know with something this big like Game of Thrones, you cannot please everyone."
Isaac Hempstead Wright, the young actor who plays Bran Stark, offered his parting words to The Hollywood Reporter as well. Wright seemed to take a page out of his character's book, warning grimly that there might be some tough times ahead for the audience.
"It won't go the way some people want," he said bluntly. "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."
Just last week, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) spoke with reporters from the Huffington Post. He left no doubt that he loved the ending, revealing that he had reached out to the writers personally to compliment them.
"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.'" he said. "To me, it was very satisfying but also very surprising and all the things that I was hoping for. 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."
We also know that the finale of Game of Thrones will not be the last time TV audiences see Westeros on screen. HBO is reportedly developing five spin-off series, including prequels and other projects based on George R.R. Martin's sprawling world of ice and fire. One of these projects has been greenlit for a pilot — a series set 8,000 years before Game of Thrones, during the construction of The Wall.
The series is titled The Long Night, and just this week Geeks Worldwide reported that filming is set to begin in February. HBO is apparently wasting no time in capitalizing on the success of their fantasy epic. Still, The Long Night is only approved for a pilot so far, and executives will still have the chance to change their minds.
On Thursday, a report by Harper's Bazaar seemed to have uncovered a rare spoiler for the season, buried in the paperwork of a lawsuit between Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and his former manager. The legal documents revealed that Coster-Waldau had been paid for all six episodes of the final season, snuffing other rumors that he would only appear in four.
While this may seem like a hopeful turn for the one-handed knight, it does not mean much in the midst of the Great War. It is perfectly possible that Jaime Lannister will be killed in the first five minutes of season 8, only to rise up as part of the Night King's army. It would be no surprise of Coster-Waldau were wandering the frozen north amongst all those frozen zombies, his eyes even more blue than usual.
Of course, the rumors and whispers are fun, but only one truly important question remains: when will season 8 premiere? HBO is being shrewdly tight-lipped about that as well. The season has always been intended for 2019. It was not until the Television Critics Association press tour back in July that they finally narrowed that window, promising that it would air in "the first half of 2019."
Fans should hunker down and prepare to wait as long as June of 2019 for new episodes, and remember that while we cannot wait for the White Walkers to arrive, the characters we've come to love are dreading it.