Winter is here.
Warning: This article contains extensive spoilers and speculation for Game of Thrones season 8.
“There is only one war that matters, the Great War” Jon Snow warned Cersei Lannister in the dragonpit of King’s Landing in the Game of Thrones season 7 finale, “and it is here.” But fans of the world’s biggest TV show will have to wait until 2019 before it finally arrives on their screens.
For seven seasons, Game of Thrones has drawn fans into the vast and wondrous worlds of Westeros and Essos that George R.R. Martin first introduced to readers in A Song of Ice and Fire more than 20 years ago. It balanced a complex political drama and a high fantasy epic and made us cheer, cry, and become torn over which characters to root for when they faced one another on the battlefield. For much of the series, we’ve constantly worried over the fate of our favorite characters. The show dominated the pop culture sphere and birthed more conspiracy theories than we can count as fans tried to piece together decades-old mysteries and the show’s eventual end game.
Starting in season 6 (and continuing in season 7), fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels were left without a lens into the future as the show officially went off-book. Despite Martin’s best efforts to complete The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring—the sixth and seventh books in ASOIAF respectively—Game of Thrones will officially finish Martin’s epic before he does. (Albeit with some divergences from Martin’s sprawling story.)
But all things must come to an end and Game of Thrones is no exception. And standing between us and that end, which may end up being TV’s most anticipated series finale of the decade, is six final episodes that will bring Game of Thrones to a close.
Game of Thrones season 8 release date
Game of Thrones‘ final season will air in April 2019, HBO announced in a teaser posted online in November 2018 that highlighted some of the biggest events of the past seven seasons but didn’t feature any new footage. We still don’t know what day Game of Thrones will premiere, but it’s now narrowed down to four possible dates instead of more than a dozen.
— Game Of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) November 13, 2018
The announcement lines up with HBO programming president Casey Bloys’ previous announcement at theTelevision Critics Association summer 2018 press tour that Game of Thrones would debut during the first half of 2019.
Even though season 8 will have the fewest number of episodes to date, they will reportedly all be feature-length. (The longest episode to date, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” was 79 minutes and 43 seconds.)
Game of Thrones season 8 news
We might not know what will happen in season 8 just yet, but we now know just who will be shaping it for us when it does.
Benioff and Weiss announced the season 8 writers during a March 2017 SXSW panel. Dave Hill, who’s been on the writing staff since season 5, will write the season 8 premiere while Bryan Cogman—who’s also working on one of the five proposed Game of Thrones prequel series with Martin—will write the second episode. Benioff and Weiss will write the final four episodes of season 8, including the series finale.
The official directors’ list for season 8 arrived much closer to the planned start of production. Game of Thrones alum David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik, who won Emmys for their Game of Thrones episodes in seasons 5 and 6 respectively, are returning to direct in season 8. The number of episodes they’ll direct is unknown, but Sapochnik could direct as many as three of the six episodes. Benioff and Weiss, who previously directed two Game of Thrones episodes together, will take on the task of directing the series finale themselves.
HBO confirmed the final list of writers and directors in a press release announcing that Game of Thrones wouldn’t return until 2019. As previously reported Benioff, Weiss, Cogman, and Hill will write episodes for season 8 while Benioff, Weiss, Nutter, and Sapochnik will direct those episodes; although it’s unclear how many each director will take on; Benioff and Weiss have previously directed episodes together.
With the list of writers and directors confirmed by HBO, it’s now clear Game of Thrones will end its run without a woman writing or directing, marking Game of Thrones‘ fourth season without a female writer or director. A woman hasn’t directed an episode of Game of Thrones since Michelle MacLaren directed season 4’s “Oathkeeper” and “First of His Name.” The last female writer on Game of Thrones was Vanessa Taylor, who penned three episodes, the most recent one being season 3’s “Dark Wings, Dark Words.”
Game of Thrones has yet to confirm which countries will provide set locations for season 8 (like it did for season 7), but scouting reports revealed at least one country possible for filming. Alongside its flagship studio in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the production appears to be returning to Spain for season 8.
And although Game of Thrones has always had an expensive budget, the cost of making season 8 will be much higher than previous seasons, even though it’s the shortest season to date. According to a Variety cover story on the rising cost of television in the era of Peak TV, season 8 will cost $15 million per episode.
A now-deleted note from the Game of Thrones producers posted by assistant director Jonathan Quinlan praised the cast and crew after they finished filming a battle shoot that took 11 weeks (including “55 straight nights” of filming) to complete. In his caption, Quinlan said that you’ll “never again see anything like it.”
The extensive battle is believed to take place at Winterfell based on previous set reports and references in the producers’ note to shooting at Toome and Magheramorne, two sets in Northern Ireland that have been used for Winterfell. It also beats Game of Thrones‘ previous record for the longest battle shoot, season 6’s Battle of the Bastards. Given the extensive filming time (and probable need for visual effects), the upcoming battle in the great war will likely be beyond anything we can imagine.
Game of Thrones season 8 cast
One of the bigger roles being cast so far is being referred to as “Mercenary” for a male actor ages 35-50 that sounds a lot like someone associated with the Golden Company—the sellsword company Cersei sent Euron Greyjoy to bring over from Essos at the end of season 7.
According to Watchers on the Wall, Marc Rissmann (Into the Badlands, The Last Kingdom) will portray Harry Strickland, who is the leader of the Golden Company in the books, for two episodes. (The information, which was first posted to Rissmann’s CV, has since been removed.)
Although some fans hoped that Meera Reed, who planned to return home to defend the Neck when the Army of the Dead arrived on her doorstep, would show up in season 8, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ellie Kendrick, who’s portrayed Meera since season 8, has yet to hear if the show plans to bring Meera back before the end.
“Not as far as I know,” she told Metro in November 2017. “I don’t know. It’s funny because I always get asked, ‘What’s going to happen? Are you in it?’ Genuinely the truth is I don’t know. I wait for the phone to ring and then I find out, but it hasn’t rung so I don’t know. I’ll find out whether I am or not at some point, but for now I haven’t been notified so I’m yet to discover.”
At least one cast member whose fate at the end of season 7 hung in the balance appears to be returning.
The script for the Game of Thrones season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” was released in August 2018, along with all of the other shows nominated for a writing Emmy. It not only gives insight into some of the directions given within the episode, it also reveals Tormund and Beric Dondarrion’s fate, which Hivju previously described as the “huge cliffhanger of the season.” The script reveals that Tormund and Beric didn’t fall to their deaths but rather escaped on the other side of the new hole in the Wall created by the Night King and Viserion.
Tormund and Beric lead their wildling comrades to the stairs carved in the ice — Eastwatch has a massive zig-zag stairway, not an elevator like Castle Black.
They run for their lives and disappear from view.
Of course, surviving this encounter with the Night King doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be lucky enough to escape the next one.
In early May, a since-deleted Instagram post revealed that Wilf Scolding, who played Rhaegar Targaryen in the season 7 finale, was at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. Given his presence in Belfast, along with how quickly he deleted the photo from Instagram, some fans believe that Scolding will return to Game of Thrones in season 8.
Scolding’s character has been dead for years before Game of Thrones began so anything he’d appear in would be a flashback or another one of Bran’s visions. We likely won’t know what he’ll be doing until we see it air, but Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark’s interactions at the Tourney of Harrenhal, his death at the hands of Robert Baratheon, or something to do with The Prince That Was Promised—the prophecy that Rhaegar believed was about him for a time—could be possibilities.
In Vanity Fair’s summer 2018 cover story, Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) revealed that while she is still shooting Game of Thrones, she has already filmed Daenerys’ final moments. (The show is being shot out-of-order, so Clarke’s last day of filming on the show won’t coincide with the last scene Daenerys appears in.) And although Clarke is mum on the specifics, she hinted that it’s going to affect some fans on how they might view Daenerys.
“It fucked me up,” Clarke said. “Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is.”
Clarke has also added fuel to the fire on the debate about how many endings Game of Thrones is filming in its efforts to keep fans unspoiled until it airs. In an interview that appeared on the Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, Clarke believes that the crew is filming more than one ending, and although she’s read the script for the final episode, she isn’t sure what’s being included.
“I did [read the script], and since then, you just—people are saying something on set and you’re just like, ‘I think that they’re filming other stuff and everybody’s being really cagey about it,’” she explained. “And then there’s a lot of like, ‘Wait why’re you—what are you—wait a second.’ Cause there’s lots of different endings that could happen that I think that we’re all doing all of them and we aren’t being told which is actually what’s gonna happen.”
Game of Thrones season 8 spoilers and leaks
Reports from the Game of Thrones set indicate that fire will play a major role in season 8 on two of the show’s major locations. Constructed city buildings and reported fire tests indicate that parts of King’s Landing may burn to the ground while photos of broken wall suggest that the gates of King’s Landing have been breached, although it’s unclear what caused it. Winterfell’s future isn’t looking so great either; a video filmed of the set shows parts of the castle on fire during a scene with hundreds of extras. This appears to take place during a battle—perhaps one between the living and the dead.
Game of Thrones is at least a year away from airing on HBO, but it’s already gearing up to have one of the most anticipated series finales on television in years. The pressure is massive thanks to insurmountable expectations from show fans (and book fans who will be experiencing the end of ASOIAF on TV first instead of a book). It probably won’t make every single viewer happy, but HBO will probably have an even bigger problem on its hands once production begins: How will it keep the end of its massive hit from leaking online long before it ever airs?
Jon Snow’s return to Game of Thrones in season 6 leaked ahead of time thanks to reports of Kit Harington’s frequent visits to Belfast and a grainy paparazzi shot of him filming the Battle of the Bastards. Nearly a year before season 7 premiered, someone revealed almost every single plot point of the season in a Reddit post, which turned out to be almost completely accurate and led those who read it to know what was coming. Hackers breached HBO’s systems toward the beginning of season 7 and released several episode outlines. And that’s not to mention the two episodes—“The Spoils of War” and “Beyond the Wall”—that leaked in full ahead of time in incidents unrelated to the HBO hack.
Although Benioff and Weiss were reluctant to say what measures they had in place to prevent leaks for season 8, HBO programming president Casey Bloys reportedly revealed in September 2017 that the show would shoot multiple endings to throw leakers off the scent of the real ending. However, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) is calling bullshit on that story.
“Do you think that’s true? It seems really stupid to me,” he told Marie Claire. “I mean if it’s true I don’t believe it, but I don’t know, maybe. I mean, I haven’t read the script, so unless they will show several endings that could be a twist, they’re not going to waste that money. They know how expensive it is to shoot. You’re not going to waste $100,000 a day to shoot something you’re not going to use. It’s not going to happen.”
In an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Williams said that she knows how Game of Thrones ends and throws more water on reported remarks from Bloys’ about shooting multiple endings for the show.
“Well I heard this and I immediately thought, ‘I don’t think we’ve got the budget to shoot lots of different endings,'” she said.
When Kimmel pointed out that reports about multiple endings came from Bloys himself, Williams added, “As we know, sometimes presidents don’t always tell the truth.”
Set reports reveal that along with Winterfell, a major battle will take place in King’s Landing during season 8 that will involve Dothraki and Unsullied soldiers. Parts of the city appear to have been destroyed by fire, although it might be due to wildfire instead of dragon fire.
Several major Game of Thrones cast members have been spotted in Seville, Spain, in early May 2018 with the exception of Clarke, who was taking part in the press tour for Solo: A Star Wars Story. Game of Thrones has returned to the ruins of Itálica for a multi-week shoot, which serves as the filming location of the Dragonpit in King’s Landing that made its debut in the season 7 finale. The shoot includes actors such as Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), whose characters have yet to be at the Dragonpit, but several of the actors spotted—which include Vladimir Furdik (Night King) and previously departed actors Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H’ghar) and Faye Marsay (the Waif)—are raising some suspicion.
It’s possible that some of the actors are only in Seville to confuse set watchers from figuring out which characters will show up at the Dragonpit; some of their characters might be dead by the time we return to the Dragonpit and may be there as a ruse. If Arya is alive at this point, some of those characters could be there only as a “face” that she wears. The cast could even be there to—in part—shoot behind-the-scenes footage that will be released once the new season begins or to appear on season 8’s home release. But if Shae’s presence on the Game of Thrones set during season 6 taught us anything, it’s that just because an actor is on set doesn’t mean they’ll show up.
Where we left off at the end of Game of Thrones season 7
For much of Game of Thrones’ run, you could find many of the major characters scattered far from each other, spanning from Pyke to Meereen and the Dothraki Sea, Dorne and King’s Landing to Winterfell, the Riverlands and the Vale, the Wall and beyond it. In season 8, the show’s getting back to basics and bringing much of the cast together in a handful of locations as they prepare for the Great War.
We haven’t seen some characters like Meera Reed and Melisandre in awhile, but others are still fresh in our minds. Although we’re now focused on the Night King and Viserion’s blue flames taking down the Wall, let’s check in to see just where we left everyone at the end of season 7.
Despite agreeing to a truce, Cersei soon showed that she wasn’t willing to hold up her end of the bargain. With a fresh line of credit from the Iron Bank of Braavos, she ordered Euron Greyjoy to fetch the Second Sons so she could continue to fight for the Iron Throne for her and her and Jaime’s unborn child.
Disgusted at the betrayal in the face of the Army of the Dead, Jaime finally left Cersei for good and left King’s Landing to ride north just as snow started to fall on the Westerosi capital.
Although not seen after the meeting in the Dragonpit, Sandor Clegane, Brienne of Tarth, and Podrick Payne are likely on their way to Winterfell—or at least up north.
Sansa and Arya Stark finally teamed up and executed Westeros’ biggest schemer for his many, many crimes against the Stark family and the realm. Samwell Tarly, having recently arrived at Winterfell from Oldtown, met with Bran Stark for the first time in years and put together the show’s biggest mystery: Jon Snow—whose real name is Aegon Targaryen—is the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and the true heir to the Iron Throne.
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Dragonstone and at sea
After Jon, Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei established a truce, Daenerys’ council planned their journey north to fight in the Great War. Instead of riding Drogon to Winterfell, Dany would join Jon, Tyrion Lannister, Davos Seaworth, and other members of her council on a boat sailing north to White Harbor alongside the Unsullied. From there, the Unsullied would sail to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea while everyone else would ride to Winterfell and eventually meet up with the Dothraki.
While Sam and Bran pieced together Jon’s parentage, Jon and Dany slept together (and committed accidental incest in the process). That probably won’t sit well with Tyrion, who saw Jon entering Dany’s quarters.
Theon Greyjoy, on the other hand, wouldn’t be sailing north. He and several other Ironborn fighters loyal to his sister Yara are heading back to King’s Landing to rescue his sister (and their queen) from his uncle Euron in King’s Landing.
We don’t see Gendry after “Beyond the Wall,” but he likely wasn’t at the Wall for the season 7 finale. Presumably, it was wiser to keep Robert Baratheon’s bastard son out of sight from the two queens vying for the Iron Throne.
Tormund Giantsbane and Beric Dondarrion stayed at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea after “Beyond the Wall,” and it was they who witnessed firsthand the destruction of the Wall by the Night King and Viserion. The last we saw them they had gotten across one section of the Wall before it crumbled to the ground, but their fates were left up in the air in those final moments.
Are they still alive? We won’t know for sure until season 8 but it’s likely that they are—or at least one of them still is. Come on, somebody has to get to Castle Black to let Dolorous Edd know that all hell is about to break loose.