WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven. Obvs.
No, it's not too early to get excited about the return of Game of Thrones. With the HBO hit's sixth run now over, thoughts are inevitably turning to the next season... and how much longer the fantasy epic can run.
Is the end in sight? From teasers to plot leaks to theories, here's everything you need to know.
Game of Thrones season 7 release date: When's it on?
Season 7 will premiere simultaneously on Sunday night, July 16 on at 9pm ET on HBO in the US and at 2am on Monday, July 17 on Sky Atlantic in the UK. But if you can't stomach the thought of staying up so late, there's always the repeat viewing later in the day at the more manageable time of 9pm to look forward to.
HBO has made a habit of debuting new GoT episodes in the spring – ordinarily in early April. But this year, it'll launch a little later, in the summer months.
"We're starting a bit later because at the end of this season, 'Winter is here' – and that means that sunny weather doesn't really serve our purposes any more," showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss previously confirmed.
"So we kind of pushed everything down the line, so we could get some grim grey weather even in the sunnier places that we shoot."
Makes sense... not that it helps to soothe our broken hearts. We'll be getting a bumper-length premiere - running to 59 minutes- and season finale - lasting a whopping 81 minutes - to make up for the long wait.
It's looking like we could be in for another long weight after that, too - with the eighth and final season possibly delayed until 2019.
"[Benioff and Weiss] have to write the episodes and figure out the production schedule," HBO President Casey Bloys said. "We'll have a better sense of that once they get further into the writing."
Filming wrapped on season 7 in February – with Emilia Clarke having already completed work on the "mindblower" new season. To give us a taste, here's a first-look teaser: featuring the first dialogue from season 7 courtesy of Jon Snow, it hints at a huge battle ahead between the living and the undead White Walkers.
"The same thing is coming for all of us. There is only one war that matters - the great war… AND IT IS HERE."
The season's key art also hints at the Walkers playing a major role this year, with a chilling look at the Night King:
Game of Thrones season 7 trailer: What can we see so far?
The latest trailer is pretty phenomenal and action-packed, teasing - amongst other things - Jon Snow battling White Walkers, Jaime at war, a siege at sea, giant dragons and Beric Dondarrion with a flaming sword!
Another season 7 trailer out there right now, featuring Queen Cersei, Daenerys and Jon Snow making their way to their respective thrones – with a hint of possible trouble to come as Cersei lets out a frozen breath which dissolves into the terrifying undead eye of the Night King.
With April came a HBO promo which revealed striking new looks for Daenerys, Tyrion... and a few more friendly (and not so friendly) faces.
In June, HBO España released a new montage as part of a Game of Thrones pop-up attraction which features Jaime leading Lannister forces into battle, shots of bloody hand-to-hand combat among Queen Cersei's forces, as Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) touring her ancestral home of Dragonstone.
Game of Thrones season 7 cast: Who's in it?
Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Lena Headey (Cersei), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime) all reportedly signed up for a seventh season back in late 2014.
But all these contracts mean is that GoT has an option on those actors. There's still no guarantee that their characters will actually survive that long – and Sophie Turner has hinted that "not all" of the current cast will make it to the final sprint.
For example, in October 2014, The Hollywood Reporter claimed that – along with Sophie Turner (Sansa) and Maisie Williams (Arya) – Natalie Dormer had also signed up for season seven. But that didn't stop her character Margaery from going up in Wildfire flames at the end of season six.
One character we'd given up for dead will be back, though – with Iain Glen (Ser Jorah) spotted on a flight to Northern Ireland, greyscale be damned (even if Glen has hinted that the character's end "may well be close").
Mark Gatiss has also confirmed he's returning as Tycho Nestoris, which could spell trouble for Cersei if the Iron Bank is looking to collect from the Lannisters.
House Mormont's littlest bad-ass, Lady Lyanna (Bella Ramsey), is also back after a scene-stealing turn in season six – and she might just be teaming up with our favourite Wilding, Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), too.
Official images confirm the return of Richard Dormer as the immortal Beric Dondarrion too, riding alongside The Hound.
As for Joe Dempsie's long-lost Gendry – last seen rowing to parts unknown back in season three – there's still no word when he'll be back, though the actor told Digital Spy he'd "love to be involved".
"There's a lot of unanswered questions about Gendry and the longer it goes on, the more obvious his absence becomes," he said.
But... he has since been spotted landing in Belfast – and in Spain, where he appeared to take part in a scene featuring Davos and Tyrion (make of that what you will) – so either way it looks pretty likely that he's on his way back.
There's even some talk that the long-dead Khal Drogo could be back... a rumour that sprang up after Jason Momoa was spotted in Ireland with GoT's showrunners and later fuelled by a second snap of the actor alongside Kit Harington.
"I prepare for the north," he posted on Instagram... What a tease!
And could the late villain Walder Frey be joining him on a trip back from the great beyond? David Bradley's online resume certainly suggests he'll be appearing in season seven...
Among the newcomers to Game of Thrones this year will be Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent – appearing in five episodes as "an old professor character" who aids Samwell Tarly – and Dickensian actor Joseph Quinn, who'll play an all-new character (as in, not in Martin's novels) named Koner.
Tom Hopper (Merlin, Black Sails) has also been spotted on-location and is rumoured to be playing the recast Dickon Tarly – Sam's brother who was previously portrayed by Freddie Stroma.
Perhaps the most unlikely cast addition is Ed Sheeran – yes, that Ed Sheeran – who'll be making a guest appearance, following in the footsteps of fellow musicians Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, Coldplay's Will Champion and Sigur Rós.
Sheeran's confirmed that his will be a brief cameo and that his character won't be subjected to a gruesome demise – sad news for anyone who's ever been made to listen to 'Galway Girl'.
Instead, he'll feature in a short scene where he serenades Arya Stark. Hasn't that poor girl been through enough? "I just know the scene I did with Maisie, and it's decent," Sheeran said. Nothing exciting happens in this scene, we just have a conversation and that's kind of it."
There was talk that UFC fighter Conor McGregor might be joining GoT – playing a pirate in Euron Greyjoy's crew – which his boss Dana White appeared to confirm. McGregor later denied the rumours - though maybe he's just being coy?
HBO is definitely casting a number of new mystery roles, though, with nondescript codenames like 'Young Lord' and 'Lovely Lady' – provoking much speculation as to which characters could be about to make their screen debut.
Following in the footsteps of Sigur Rós and Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, indie popsters Bastille are also believed to have shot a musical cameo in this year's finale.
Sadly, any rumours that Murder, She Wrote legend Angela Lansbury would show up in Westeros have since been totally debunked.
Game of Thrones season 7 episodes: How long will it run?
HBO officially renewed its smash-hit series for a seventh year on April 21, 2016 – with HBO's then-president of programming Michael Lombardo later indicating that Game of Thrones would end after eight seasons.
"David and Dan are feeling there's probably two more years after season six, that's what we're looking at right now," he said in January.
In June, Benioff and Weiss appeared to confirm that the show would wrap up with two shorter seasons:
"It's two more seasons we're talking about," Benioff said. "From pretty close to the beginning, we talked about doing this in 70-75 hours, and that's what we'll end up with. Call it 73 for now."
Given the 60 hours already covered, that does indeed leave us with just 13 remaining – and it's since been announced that we'll be getting seven episodes this year.
Then, in March 2017, we finally had it 100% totally officially confirmed that the eight and final season will span just six episodes.
(Ser Davos actor Liam Cunningham has revealed that filming on the final season will commence in September, while Sophie Turner also let slip in February 2017 that she'd be back filming on Thrones later in the year... so we guess that means Sansa survives season seven, unless she was employing some Littlefinger-style deceit.)
But don't fret: while the next two seasons will be shorter, the total time spent filming (roughly five months) will be the same as for a 10-episode run – and according to Iain Glen, this means that the "scale and size of the set pieces" will be more epic and "more extraordinary" than ever before.
Kit Harington later echoed his co-star's comments: "There are [fewer] episodes this year, so they spent more money on those episodes. So, the whole scale of it is up."
"Before, we'd have one or two show-stopping, major episodes per season," said GoT cinematographer Robert McLachlan. "This season, probably at least half of them are whoppers. They're not going to disappoint."
Fewer episodes doesn't neccesarily mean less of your favourite characters, either: "We're actually filming longer now - I don't know how that's happening," Emilia Clarke said, while Peter Dinklage also revealed that he's "worked more days this season" and Kit Harington insisted that "everyone gets a bigger slice of the pie".
"You kill a couple dozen characters, the people who are left by default need to carry more dramatic weight," Weiss explained.
Game of Thrones ending: What will happen in the final episodes?
The climax to season six saw Jon Snow appointed the King in the North, while Bran learned that his brother was not Ned Stark's bastard, but the offspring of Lyanna Stark and some other man – potentially Daenerys's deceased older brother Rhaegar Targaryen.
Meanwhile, Dany finally set sail for Westeros – rallying the combines forces of the Unsullied, the Dothraki and the Ironborn, with Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Olenna Tyrell, the women of Dorne and her dragons all at her side.
It looks as though she'll be retaking the castle at Dragonstone, a fortress built by her House Targaryen prior to their fall in Robert's Rebellion. (Dany was, in fact, born there.)
And those dragons? They'll be bigger than ever – roughly the size of jumbo jets(!), according to director Matt Shankman.
Here's our first glimpse of the new-look Drogon - with Dany on his back - and it has to be said, he's looking pretty impressive!
Here's hoping all the dragons make it out of the coming war alive – especially with rumblings of a dragon skull model being built...
"The thing that gave Cersei humanity was her kids," Lena Headey has said. "They're gone now. Her father is gone. Tyrion is gone. There's no-one to tell her she can't, she's stupid, she's just a woman.
"I think when Jaime looks anything other than happy, she has a 'f**k you' moment. This will be such an interesting season for them."
He later suggested that Jaime might not even be "capable" of killing Cersei after all that's gone between them.
(Fans, meanwhile, have speculated that Cersei might meet her end at Jon Snow's hand - or that The Hound might (indirectly) be responsible for her downfall.)
Will Jaime turn to the dark side, or the light? Coster-Waldau has revealed that Jaime will "step up and take his father's place" this season – will the tyranny of Twin live on in his favourite son? Or is Jaime secretly mankind's saviour, the Prince that was Promised, as some fans have theorised?
(An Easter Egg in a new batch of season 7 pictures hints that a reveal involving the Lord of Light could be incoming - so possibly we'll find out if it's Jaime, or Jon Snow, or even Ser Davos, very soon...)
Back to Daenerys, and as well as Cersei, she might have to face off against Jon, too – unless, of course, she makes him her husband, as part of an incestuous partnership? It's the sort of thing that GoT loves...
Emilia Clarke might've shot down that particular theory, though, suggesting that the Mother of Dragons has no time for romance and isn't keen to share the throne with anyone.
Fans have also been speculating that the Cleganebowl – a face-off between The Hound and his now zombified brother The Mountain – will come to pass this season.
"I did notice a lot of people were talking about the Cleganebowl – people were waiting for me and my brother to fight," Gregor Clegane actor Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson told us.
"There's a lot of expectation from the fans to see that happen – obviously I cannot comment on that... you're just going to have to see what's gonna happen!
One thing's for sure - we're going to get another "epic" bout that'll reportedly make the Battle of the Bastards look like a playground skirmish.
Rumours suggest it'll involve Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) clashing with his niece and nephew Yara and Theon Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan and Alfie Allen) – and Asbaek has hinted at Euron raising hell this season.
"After this season, Ramsay's gonna look like a little kid," Asbaek warned.
And if it's not Euron who'll do for Yara, it might be Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma). The pair are seen smooching in the latest season 7 trailer - another poison kiss from Ellaria?
Of course, a second major bout with the White Walkers after season five's 'Hardhome' is sure to be on the cards... with Liam Cunningham hinting that "a lot" of characters will come together to battle a common threat.
"The progress of the show with the White Walkers and all that stuff, it's pretty obvious nobody's going to be able to take this force on on their own," he said.
"So when we've had all these, for all these seasons, disparate stories come from disparate ends of Westeros, it has been – and it's been signalled from the end of last season – that there's a lot of people and situations going to be coming together.
"It was kind of interesting to meet some people who I normally only meet on a red carpet. Who that is and when that happens remains to be seen."
Producer Bryan Cogman went on to tease: "There are White Walkers and dragons and once they start to come together the story has to go where it goes."
"For a long time we've been talking about 'the wars to come' - well, that war is pretty much here," Benioff said.
No kidding - GoT even broke a record this year for setting more stuntmen on fire simultaneously than any other TV show or movie.
There's also talk of another climactic bout that'll take place in the season finale, with forces from Casterly Rock (the Lannisters' ancestral home) and Highgarden (ditto for the Tyrells) pitted against one another.
13 major cast members – as well as 500 extras and 100 horses – are thought to be involved. Surely the show'll deliver a death or two here? Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson has hinted at "absolute chaos" to come ("I'm panicked for people.") and Digital Spy readers are expecting Littlefinger to be the first character to meet a grisly end.
(Could it be Sansaaaaa that strikes the killer blow? Aiden Gillen, the actor behind Petyr Baelish, has described the object of Littlefinger's obsession as his "one weakness" - hmmm!)
Speaking of the deceased, don't expect (SPOILERS!) Lady Stoneheart to make an appearance on GoT any time soon. Though Catelyn Stark was resurrected in Martin's novels, she's yet to resurface on the TV show and director Mark Mylod has insisted he's had "not had one discussion" about the character in the GoT writers' room.
The first batch of season 7 photos do nothing to quiet rumours of a major battle either. From Jaime Lannister to The Hound to lovebirds Brienne and Tormund to Jon Snow, everyone in the Seven Kingdoms appears to be on the verge of war.
Final warning: from hereon out, we're in SERIOUS spoiler territory!!!
It seemed inevitable that Daenerys and Jon Snow would meet from the moment he was all-but confirmed to be her long-lost nephew – and sure enough, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington have been spotted shooting their first ever scenes together.
Some leaked concept art also appears to show Jon standing alongside Tyrion and Bronn near the ruins of the Dragonpit – apparently a sequence planned for the season finale.
Of course, Jon'll need all the help he can get if the speculation that Sansa will turn against him and ally herself with Littlefinger is borne out.
"She's playing the game now, and very ruthlessly," said Sophie Turner. "When she wants something, she's going to go out and get it."
There's been talk of more "reunions" and "unions" this summer – and a fan site's claims that Daenerys, Tyrion, Ser Davos and Brienne will unite at the Dragonpit next season seems to be borne out by photographs taken of the set.
Oh, and it looks like Jorah Mormont (now cured of his greyscale?) will be reunited with his beloved Khaleesi too...
It looks to be a rough season for Theon all-round (yes, again!) as he was also pictured being thrashed by his wicked uncle Euron.
That being said, Alfie Allen has hinted at "redemption" for his troubled character – so maybe there's light at the end of a very long and very dark tunnel?
Hempstead Wright has hinted at "collisions" between characters – admitting that things are "not looking great" for Bran, now that he and Meera are out on their own.
New footage also appears to show Arya travelling North - perhaps heading beyond The Wall, where Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) resides, or trekking back to her home of Winterfell?
"What overall excites me about this season is that main characters are coming together and it feels like things are ramping up," Sophie Turner said in December.
Maisie's also dropped the bombshell that season seven will end on a "huge cliffhanger" that will lead directly into the show's final season.
"It's just kind of tumbling now – we've come to the climax and it's rolling down to the end," she said. "It's exciting!"
If you're looking to delve into real spoiler territory... the Freefolk subreddit has released a batch of strong and plausible claims about the substance of season seven – shortly followed by a tweet from Natalie Emmanuel (Missandei) decrying people who want to "ruin" it for everyone – but if you want to read them, you'll have to go here.
As for the how the series as a whole will draw to a close? "We know what the end is, and we're barrelling towards it," Benioff and Weiss said of what's sure to be the most highly scrutinised series finale since Lost.
The tight-lipped pair haven't given any clue as to what that ending might entail - though George RR Martin has hinted at a "bittersweet ending" for his A Song of Ice and Fire books, which serves as the (increasingly loose) inspiration for Game of Thrones.
GRRM has also shared a significant twist – or "holy shit moment" – with Benioff and Weiss, which won't make it to the screen till "the very end" of the show.
It doesn't sound as though the cast have been let in on any secrets, though – Kit Harington, for example, has no idea how Game of Thrones will end. Yes, Jon Snow literally knows nothing.
"Everyone's been wondering how it's going to end, and what's going to happen right from the get-go, and theorising about it," he said. "It's really exciting to me not knowing, genuinely having no idea where it's going to end, what they've got in their heads, and being the first to find out."
"No one knows anything," echoed Emilia Clarke. "No one is told anything. It's all crazy. It's a secret from the cast. We can't be trusted. They pretty much have told us so."
Meanwhile, Samwell Tarly actor John Bradley told us that the very final Game of Thrones episode could change our entire perception of the series.
"Because we don't know how it ends – we don't know who wins or who loses – we've got no idea what kind of story we're telling," he suggested. "We don't know if it's an indictment of how bad people can triumph if good men do nothing, or a redemptive story about good triumphing over evil."
But even if he's not sure what kind of tale is being told, Bradley is convinced that Samwell will make it to the end of it: "If he's still around at this stage, you do suspect that there is gonna be a point to keeping him around."
Our money's on the final episodes being a bit of a bloodbath, with the concluding eighth season being described as "carnage" by the cast.
Watch our pick of the best Game of Thrones fan theories that are still active going into season 7:
Game of Thrones 7 episodes: Who's directing?
Alan Taylor – who's directed six GoT episodes, including Ned Stark's final outing 'Baelor' – will return to the show for the first time since 2012.
Jeremy Podeswa will also be back, having previously secured an Emmy nomination for directing the controversial 'Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken' – in which Sansa (Sophie Turner) was raped by Ramsay (Iwan Rheon).
Finally, Matt Shakman is also on board. He's not worked on the show before, but has directed episodes of The Good Wife, Heroes Reborn, House and 39 instalments of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
The Emmy nominee has however indicated that he's keen to return to GoT in 2018, to helm one of the final episodes.
Game of Thrones books: What's going on with 'The Winds of Winter'?
"I have days where I make lots of progress, I have days where I make next to no progress," Martin told Digital Spy back in 2014, discussing his long-awaited next book, The Winds of Winter.
The sixth novel in his fantasy saga, Winds has been in the works for several years now – before even the first episode of Game of Thrones had aired on HBO.
In January 2016, having missed a series of deadlines, Martin confirmed that the book wouldn't be published before the launch of season six of the TV series.
But is the sixth book in the series FINALLY on its way? As one Reddit user pointed out, a new ISBN number has been added at the ISBN office by Penguin publishing, which means the next book could be closer than we thought.
GRRM has suggested that the book will finally "be out this year", though he did add: "But hey, I thought the same thing last year."
And while HBO's season six – which consisted of mostly original material – was relatively optimistic by GoT standards, Martin's warned that his book could be decidedly less buoyant.
"I've been telling you for 20 years that winter was coming," he noted. "Winter is the time when things die, and cold and ice and darkness fill the world. So this is not going to be the happy feel-good that people may be hoping for. Some of the characters [are] in very dark places."
Game of Thrones spin-offs and prequels – and will there be a movie?
George RR Martin, ever the optimist, was bullish about the prospect of a GoT sequel, prequel and/or spinoff when questioned on the matter in April.
"There is certainly no lack of material," he said. "There are eight million stories in Westeros as well… and even more in Essos and the lands beyond. A whole world full of stories, waiting to be told… If indeed HBO is interested."
Just don't expect either Kit Harington or Emilia Clarke to feature. Representatives for Harington have denied that the actor has been approached to star in a spin-off, while Clarke insisted that "other spin-offs... might be more intriguing" than a Daenerys series.
Benioff and Weiss have also insisted that they wouldn't be involved in any such project. "At a certain point, especially if it's a serialised story, it falls apart and loses its heat and its momentum – because there's a carrying capacity even a world the size of ours has," Weiss said.
"When you reach that carrying capacity and you try to push it further, people start to wonder when this is going to be over and hope that it will be over soon so they can move onto the next thing. That's not what we ever wanted."
"I'm sure there will be other series set in Westeros," Benioff clarified at the 2016 Emmys. "But for us, this is it."
The pair reiterated their position in March 2017, with Benioff saying that he and Weiss are resisting the "urge to keep doing it."
"I think HBO might well do [a spin-off] and I'm looking forward to watching it. [But] I think it's better for them to get new blood in with new visions."
Bloys outlined its official stance on a spin-off in September 2016, saying that while "there are so many properties and areas to go" into, they'd have to find "the right writer" to replace Benioff and Weiss.
"There are things that sound interesting," he said. "But at this point, we have no writers assigned or anything like that."
Two months later, Boys would confirm that "preliminary" talks are "ongoing" about a possible GoT prequel series, comments echoed by HBO's CEO Richard Plepler in December 2016.
"It certainly has not escaped Casey and myself that there might be some brand extension that would be exciting. It certainly has not escaped the producers.
"Right now we're focused on finishing the series with the kind of energy and excitement that everyone has come to expect. We're going to do that while at the same time parallel processing very embryonic stages of other possibilities."
At this stage, a GoT prequel is looking more likely than, say, a Tyrion spin-off. Bloys again: "A prequel feels like it has less pressure on it. [Author George RR Martin's history of Westeros] gives you areas in which to say to a writer, 'If you were going to do this, then go flesh it out,' and we'll see what comes back."
In May 2017, news broke that HBO was officially developing at least four - yes, FOUR - different spin-offs, with four different writers: Kong: Skull Island's Max Borenstein, Kingsman: The Secret Service's Jane Goldman, L.A. Confidential's Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland and Westworld's Carly Wray.
GRRM later clarified that in fact five different shows are in development: all prequels, with no established characters. None of them, by the way, chronicle Robert's Rebellion - and an adaptation of Martin's Dunk and Egg novellas has also been ruled out.
The most recent update came in June, when Martin revealed that the "five successor shows are moving forward at various rates of speed."
Only one of the spin-offs is expected to ever make it to screen, and even then not for a long time, with Bloys explaining that each of the projects are at an "embryonic" stage as of June 2017.
There's been talk too of a Game of Thrones movie. And we'll give you one guess who's been doing most of the talking.
"It might need a feature to tie things up," George RR Martin said back in March 2014. "Something with a feature budget, like $100 million for two hours. Those dragons get real big, you know..."
You Might Also Like