Game of Thrones fans are settling in for their own Long Night in the coming months, with the smash-hit fantasy’s final series not set to return until 2019 in the biggest gap between episodes we’ve seen since the HBO drama began in 2011.
And in the meantime we have just one thing to sustain us – feverishly trying to find out everything we can about Game of Thrones season eight, from the storyline and returning characters to exactly when we’ll actually see the last battle for Westeros erupt across our screens.
So enter our Citadel of knowledge, and prepare to wait out the coming storm. It shouldn’t be too bad – if the White Walkers can happily spend eight years walking veryslowly towards the South, we can handle a few extra months…
HBO has confirmed that the series won’t be back until 2019, following previous suggestions from showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss that they planned to spend a particularly long time crafting the final episodes.
Exactly when in 2019 is more of a mystery but given that the current filming is rumoured to conclude this summer, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Thrones to have a spring airdate, as it has done for all but its most recent series.
Why isn’t Game of Thrones on TV in 2018?
A combination of reasons probably, including the most recent series’ later-than-usual airdate, a desire to film in the winter months to properly show off a Westerosi winter and the showrunners’ plan to spend a bit longer working on the final episodes.
As a happy side effect, it’s possible that the delayed airing might also mean author George RR Martin (on whose books the series is based) could finish another novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire sequence prior to Thrones’ release, but maybe don’t hold your breath for that one.
How many episodes are there in season 8?
Just six, sadly, in contrast to 2017’s seven-episode run and the ten-episode seasons we enjoyed from 2011-2016. Still, most of the episodes are rumoured to be significantly longer than usual, so we might not miss out on as much material as you’d think.
What will happen in the series?
As usual, secrecy is paramount, but given the cliffhanger ending of the previous series – where the Wall is brought down by the White Walkers and their undead dragon – it seems fair to assume season eight will largely concern itself with the final battle between the living and the dead, as well as Cersei’s (Lena Headey) attempts to double-cross her new allies Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).
To that end, it seems likely that Cersei will recruit legendary mercenary army The Golden Company, a group who appeared in an unused storyline from George RR Martin’s novels and who were referenced multiple times in season seven. Marc Rissman has reportedly been cast as the leader of The Golden Company, Harry Strickland.
It also seems likely the new episodes will explore Jon’s true identity as the rightful King of Westeros, as well as Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen) attempts to rescue his sister Yara (Gemma Whelan) from the clutches of his evil uncle Euron (Pilou Asbaek).
And according to star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays tainted knight Jaime Lannister in the series), the whole thing could leave a few characters being turned to the side of the undead…
“You know some of the main characters are going to get turned. There are going to be some blue-eyed main characters running around,” he told Esquire.com when asked about the final season.
“And, god, I hope it’s not me. That’s three hours of make-up in the morning. I know that if [Thrones showrunners] David Benioff and Dan Weiss read this, they’ll go, ‘Oh, yes we will’.”
“It’s going to be the greatest thing that’s ever aired on TV,” former cast member Jason Momoa told EW following a visit to the season eight set.
“It’s going to be unbelievable. It’s going to f*** up a lot of people.”
How will Game of Thrones end?
Well, this is the million dollar (or rather, rumoured 15 million-dollar-an-episode) question. We imagine the White Walkers will either be routed or emerge triumphant, and while we’re hoping for the former, George RR Martin has always promised the end to his saga will be “bittersweet”.
This may mean that while our heroes win, there will be a terrible cost – possibly the life of one of our very favourite characters.
Sansa Stark actress Sophie Turner has described the ending as “incredibly emotional” and “very satisfying,” while Harington also said it made him “really emotional.”
“It wasn’t anything particular that happens. You have to remember, I’ve done eight years of it. I think, no-one really cares about [Game of Thrones] more than us… It’s been an institution longer than any other institution I’ve been in. School, drama school, anything.”
Basically, there will be no unexpected absences, and if you can think of one of the 6 billion characters in Westeros that are still alive, they’ll probably be in there (except maybe Indira Varma’s Ellaria Sand, who doesn’t appear to be back following her imprisonment in the last series).
Less clear, though, are the fates of fan-favourite characters Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and Beric Dondarrian (Richard Dormer), who were manning the icy Wall before it was at least partially destroyed by the White Walkers.
“I do know [whether I’ll be involved] but I have been told not to say – because it would give away whether Beric Dondarrion survives the collapse of The Wall,” Dormer told RadioTimes.com last year.
Fingers crossed they make it back, if only so Tormund can finally pursue his love for Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).
Will there be any massive battles?
We’re betting on YES – and given that the director of massive battle episodes The Battle of the Bastards and Hardhome, Miguel Sapochnik, is returning to direct the third and fifth episodes we imagine they might take place there.
Who else is directing the series?
David Nutter, who directed a number of Thrones episodes from 2012 to 2015 including fan-favourite The Rains of Castamere (aka the Red Wedding episode) will be taking the reins for season eight’s first, second and fourth episodes, while showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss are making their directorial debut with the very last episode. Guess they want to make sure that one comes off just right.
How are they keeping it all a secret?
In recent years the security around Game of Thrones has become tighter and tighter, and this time in an attempt to stave off the usual set leaks (collated by fans on reddit over the last few series) HBO president of programming Casey Bloys has revealed that multiple endings will be filmed to prevent spoilers from leaking ahead of the finale.
Meanwhile, star Nikolaj Coster Waldau has suggested the cast aren’t having scripts at all this year, instead using an odd method to deliver their lines.
“The first season we got the scripts like you should get them and then you could sit and do notes and stuff,” he said on the Scandinavian talk show Skavlan. “And then after a couple of years, they got paranoid because there was some leaks so we had to get them only digital, on a PDF file.”
“Now we’re not even going to get the script. Now we are going to do a scene, we will be told what’s going to happen and then we roll. We’re all going to have earpieces for the scene and then someone’s going to tell you the line and then you’re going to do the line.”
Coster Waldau is of course joking about that last part and those other accounts should probably be taken with a pinch of salt too – HBO previously claimed to have filmed fake scenes for season seven in an attempt to discredit genuine on-set photos – but after last year’s storm of leaks and hacks, we can definitely be sure HBO are taking things even more seriously this time.
Whether that means this page will remain fairly bare, well, only time will tell. For now just watch the skies, and remember that dark wings bring dark words – and the odd plot spoiler.
Game of Thrones will return to HBO and Sky Atlantic in 2019
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news