Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

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 season 8 Photo via HBO

When Game of Thrones‘ eighth season would debut on HBO was up in the air for month after season 7, with both 2018 and 2019 as possibilities.

On Jan. 4, 2018, HBO revealed that it would be the latter.

“The epic fantasy series Game of Thrones will return for its six-episode, eighth and final season in 2019,” HBO stated on its website.

HBO has not given any indication as to when in 2019 Game of Thrones will return, but it confirms that fans have to wait—at the very least—another year to find out what happens next.

Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, got fans excited after she appeared to reveal the season 8 premiere month in a January 2018 interview with the U.K. paper Metro, stating that “We wrap in December and we air our first episode in April [2019].” Williams has since walked back that quote and said that it was “completely false and taken from an interview I did years ago.”

 

maisie williams game of thrones season 8 release date Maisie Williams/Twitter

In past seasons, fans only had to wait a year to watch new Game of Thrones episodes, which typically premiered in late March or April. Season 7 was delayed so the production had more appropriate filming weather for winter in Westeros, resulting in a July 2017 premiere.

“I think this last season will take much longer to shoot because they can only use one unit because we’re all in the same sort of scenes,” Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah Mormont, explained at Stockholm Comic Con back in September. “We’re all starting to occupy the same territory, we’re all starting to be in the same storylines and so they can’t have two filming units anymore.”

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 

game of thrones season 8 Photo via Macall B. Polay/HBO

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.

Game of Thrones season 8 cast

game of thrones season 8 Photo via Macall B. Polay/HBO

Game of Thrones has yet to confirm any new additions to the cast, but so far several descriptions of characters being cast have appeared online.

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.

game of thrones season 8 cast : meera reed may not be involved Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

“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.”

However, at least one cast member whose fate at the end of season 7 hung in the balance appears to be returning. Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane) has been spotted in Belfast with several other cast members on the show—one piece of evidence fans used to deduce that Kit Harington would be back after Jon Snow’s season 5 death at the hands of the Night’s Watch. Recently, Hivju hung out with Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo in season 1, in Belfast according to Instagram photos posted by both actors.

game of thrones season 8 cast : jason momoa and kristofer hivju Screengrab via Jason Momoa/Instagram

It’s unlikely that Momoa—who was in the middle of promoting Justice League—is returning to Game of Thrones, but it’s safe to say that Hivju is. It’s unclear if Tormund will survive the Night King’s assault on the Wall with an undead Viserion or make it until the end of the series, but if he’s going back to the Wall, he’ll probably at least be given the chance to die on-screen.

Game of Thrones season 8 spoilers and leaks 

game of thrones season 8 Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

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.”

Where we left off at the end of Game of Thrones season 7

game of thrones season 8 Photo via HBO

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.

King’s Landing

game of thrones season 8 Photo via HBO

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.

Winterfell

game of thrones season 8 Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

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.

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.

The Wall

game of thrones season 8 Photo via HBO

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.

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