Winter has finally come on Game of Thrones.
The White Walkers have broken through The Wall with a dragon under their command, and Westeros’s fate rests in the hands of a Stark bastard, a heavy drinking dwarf, a faceless girl, a red-headed schemer, a boy-turned-Raven, and the Mother of Dragons.
So, what do we know about the upcoming season? Look no further, as The Independent has put together a comprehensive list of everything we currently know about season eight, from new cast members and story speculation to air dates and how to watch.
Release date and how to watch
Game of Thrones returns on 14 April.
HBO teased the official release on multiple occasions before announcing the actual date, first confirming that Game of Thrones would return in the ‘first half’ of 2019 last year, then narrowing that down to April 2019 a few months later. The network narrowed that down further to April soon after, only officially announcing the 14 April date with an extended teaser.
Maisie Williams – who plays Arya – previously let slip that the “our first episode [will air] in April”. Viewers in the US can watch on HBO. Sky Atlantic and NOW TV will simulcast every episode in the UK. You will also be able to catch up via NOW TV.
What we have seen so far
At first, HBO kept information regarding the upcoming season very close to their chest, doing all they can to prevent leaks. However, just over a month from the first episode and they have released a trailer of actual footage (the video can be seen at the top of this article).
Following that trailer's release, two more teasers were released, featuring a few more new scenes. One new moment sees Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) standing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) in Winterfell.
“We must all fight together now, or die,” Tyrion tells the pair, hinting that there may have been some initial conflict.
Another moment during the same clip – titled “Together” – sees Daenerys looking away from Jon Snow (Kit Harington), with the bastard Stark having a sullen face.
The second clip, titled “Survival”, extends a previously seen scene of Jon Snow standing before a weirwood tree. This time, though, the shot continues and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) comes into focus behind him.
There’s also a new look at Tyrion, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) and Varys (Conleth Hill) at Winterfell.
The network initially released a couple of teaser trailers featuring mild hints at the future of these beloved characters without including actual footage for the show.
The most notable of those first teasers was released to coincide with the official season eight release date announcement. The teaser features Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), Sansa Star (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) walking through the crypts of Winterfell as the voices of deceased Starks echo out .
Meanwhile, fans got a glimpse of footage from season eight in an HBO 2019 sneak-peak video, which saw Jon and Sansa embrace. The network’s extended look at their 2019 schedule also featured a brief look at Daenerys (Emelia Clarke) meeting Sansa for the first time. Watch below.
On the picture front, HBO has been more forthcoming. The network has released a set of 14 photos from the upcoming season, establishing the 13 main players heading into the last few episodes. Like the trailers, there’s little to gleam from them – but at least we know Jon, Danny and Tyrion make it to Winterfell.
Episode count and runtimes
Whereas the first six seasons all consisted of 10 episodes, season seven was made up of only seven. Showrunners David Benioff and D B Weiss have decided to likewise limit the length of season eight, deciding on just six episodes. (The duo originally wanted to release three feature-length movies, rather than six episodes, but HBO went against the decision.)
Reports have previously claimed that each episode will also run for around 80 to 90 minutes – longer than the normal 60 minutes for the show. This has been backed up by a leak from one of HBO’s French broadcasters, which claims the season will begin with two hour-long episodes, with the remaining four lasting at least 80-minutes each.
HBO has since confirmed the runtime for each episode: the third episode will be the show's longest ever episode.
Episode one: 54 mins
Episode two: 58 mins
Episode three: 1 hr 22 mins
Episode four: 1 hr 18 mins
Episode five 1 hr 20 mins
Episode six: 1 hr 20 mins
Also of note: each episode cost a rumoured $15 million to produce. Reports vary on how much the cast have been paid, but Variety previously claimed Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) all got $500,000 (£384,000) per episode.
Episode writers and directors
David Nutter – best known for directing the infamous Red Wedding – returns to helm three episodes of the final six, including the premiere, which is written by Dave Hill (who was behind last season’s episode “Eastwatch”). Producer Bryan Cogman has written the second episode, while Benioff and Weiss have written the last four.
“Battle of the Bastards” director Miguel Sapochnik returns for episodes three and five, while Benioff and Weiss will follow in the footsteps of other showrunners (including those behind Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Mad Men) in directing the very last episode of their show.
Reactions to episode one
Following the season eight premiere in New York the first reactions were posted online. While some reporters remained tight-lipped about specific plot twists, some shared a general idea about what occurs in the show's first instalment since August 2017.
Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd said the return was "fantastic" and teased "reunions" and "epic sequences". He added: "Major stuff happens in deeply satisfying ways." However, according to The Telegraph, the opener contains "no epic battles or large-scale set pieces".
New cast members
Seeing as there are only six episodes in which to wrap up this epic story, it should be of little surprise that few new characters will be introduced. Casting calls have been ambiguous, detailing such parts as ”Northern Girl” and “Boy”. There’s little to go on, but reports previously detailed that Harry Strickland – the leader of the Golden Company in the books – has been cast, with The Last Kingdom’s Marc Rissmann taking on the role.
Who’s coming back?
Along with all the main cast, Carice van Houten let slip that the Red Woman will return in a now-deleted Instagram post. Welsh actor Wilf Scolding, who played Jon Snow’s real father Rhaegar Targaryen during the season seven finale, also hinted at his return on Instagram – the post has, as expected, been deleted.
One person who does not look set to return is Mark Gattis’s Tycho Nestoris, who said earlier this year: “I’m not in it, so I guess I survive.” Ellie Kendrick’s Meera Reed also looks set not to return, having previously said: “[I’m not appearing] as far as I know.”
Also of note: Joe Dempsie has teased a huge role for Gendry in the upcoming season, saying he’s “done well out of it this year, for sure,” adding that he has filmed “a fair bit” for the final season.
A battle to end all battles
With so much secrecy, we know little for sure about season eight’s plot. However, we understand that the crew spent a massive 55 days filming one major battle in at the Moneyglass Base in Northern Ireland. That’s far longer than has been spent on any other Game of Thrones battle. Dinklage said the scene “makes ‘Battle of the Bastards’ look like a theme park.”
Maisie Williams and other cast members have since elaborated, with the Arya actor saying she was "broken" by the intense, physical shoot required for a huge battle at Winterfell.
“I skip the battle every year, which is bizarre since Arya’s the one who’s been training the most,” Williams said. “This is my first taste of it. And I’ve been thrown in at the deep end.”
Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah Mormont on the show, concurred that the gruelling schedule for the battle left the cast feeling "miserable".
“It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had on Thrones,” Glen said. “A real test, really miserable. You get to sleep at seven in the morning and when you wake in the midday you’re still so spent you can’t really do anything, and then you’re back. You have no life outside it. You have an absolute f**ked bunch of actors."
Even The Hound actor Rory McCann was struggling with the battle, which saw an unnamed actor collapse on set. “Everybody prays they never have to do this again,” McCann said.
The battle was nicknamed "The Long Night" by the crew, who spent months building the gigantic Winterfell set. Davos actor Liam Cunningham added: "I heard the crew was getting 40,000 steps a day on their pedometers.”
Director Miguel Sapochnik, who previously helped bring the infamous "Battle of the Bastards" to screen, said they took inspiration from the huge Helms Deep battle in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
“The [Game of Thrones battles] I’ve done previously were generally from Jon’s perspective,” Sapochnik said. “Here I’ve got 20-some cast members and everyone would like it to be their scene. That’s complicated because I find the best battle sequences are when you have a strong point of view. I keep thinking: ‘Whose story am I telling right now?’”
The opening scene
A report has also confirmed that the season will begin with Daenerys and Jon Snow arriving in Winterfell, with Entertainment Weekely describing the scene in a recent set report.
“What follows is a thrilling and tense intermingling of characters — some of whom have never previously met, many who have messy histories — as they all prepare to face the inevitable invasion of the Army of the Dead.”
HBO may have stayed quiet about the finale, but the cast and crew have spoken multiple times about how the show will end. Emilia Clarke said Daenerys’s finale moments “f**ked me up”, adding: ”Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavour in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is…”
Sophie Turner has called the show’s ending “satisfying”, adding that season eight sees the show “bloodier than ever. It’s full of betrayal, full of war, full of danger.” Peter Dinklage said the showrunners “end it brilliantly. Better than I could have imagined, and you people are in for it. It ends beautifully for my character – whether it be tragic or not.”
Francesca Orsi, the Senior Vice President of HBO’s drama series, has spoken about the final episode, saying the script left the cast and crew crying. Read more about what each actor had to say here.
The showrunners have compared the final episode to Breaking Bad, with Weis saying: "There is no version where everybody says, 'I have to admit, I agree with every other person on the planet that this is the perfect way to do this'—that's an impossible reality that doesn't exist," Weiss said. "I'm hoping for the Breaking Bad [finale] argument where it's like, 'Is that an A or an A+?'"
There have been multiple reports of directors shooting fake scenes, with director David Nutter recently confirming they took place. Asked if he knew which scenes were fake and which were not, he said: “Oh yeah. Oh yeah, of course.”
Speaking about the security measures taken by the producers, he said: “Well, sometimes there were paparazzi in amazing places – on construction cranes and all kinds of crazy places, to try to get a point of view of things.
“They were all over, everywhere, trying to get in on what was happening. But it was definitely a situation where there was no paper on the set, [that] type of thing. “[The production team] wanted to make sure nobody knew what was happening, and they went to the nth degree, like they do on the show in general. They basically take it to the point where it’s like the Gestapo. It’s tough to get answers.”
Ian Glenn has further added that the “paranoid producers” did not allow a “written word on a page,” adding: ”Everything was accessed through iPads with different security you had to get through to access it. Which caused a problem for the actors, I have to say.”
An awkward reveal
While we, the viewer, know that Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are related (Jon’s father is actually Prince Rhaegar Targaryen), the star-crossed lovers do not. However, they soon will, as hinted at by Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington.
“Jon is someone who plays by the book. He cannot lie,” Harrington recently said. ”Finding out about Dany would be very hard for him.” Clarke, too, spoke about her character’s feelings for Jon, saying: “She truly loves Jon. Were she to find out about his title, it would cut deep.”
Co-showrunner Weiss was also on hand for comment, adding: “From a dramatic standpoint, it makes things interesting, because the story is no longer about who Jon’s parents are. It’s about what happens when Jon finds out.”
Sean Bean previously revealed that a special, featuring past and present cast members, was filmed in Belfast, with Conan O’Brien hosting the one-off episode.
HBO has since confirmed as much, revealing the special will be made exclusively available on the upcoming Game of Thrones complete series set box set, packaged alongside seasons one to eight.
HBO boss’s reaction
Remaining coy about specifics, Plepler offered his own verdict on the final six episodes. “It’s a spectacle. The guys have done six movies. The reaction I had while watching them was, ‘I’m watching a movie,’” Plepler said.
“[Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] knew the bar was high. They’ve exceeded the bar. I’ve watched them twice without any CGI and I’m in awe. Everybody’s in for an extraordinary treat of storytelling and of magical, magical production.”
The Starks team-up
Despite feuding throughout season seven, Arya and Sansa will finally be working together at Winterfell.
“It’s not often you see a character siding with Sansa who’s not manipulating her,” Maisie Williams said. “Last season it was really tough for Sansa because Jon was thinking with his penis and it kind of made Sansa look bitter.
"This season you see Arya teaming with Sansa and sometimes calling out Jon. It felt nice and powerful to stand next to Sophie. Sophie and I are the tightest of friends when sitting across from anyone, so no acting required.”
**MAJOR SPOILER WARNING**
For those wanting to go in completely unsullied, turn back now, for the following paragraphs are dark and full of spoilers.
Reports have emerged that an in-depth description of the first episode of season eight has found its way online. A Reddit post by user "TheRealFikiDoctor" has been widely shared, with many fans outraged by the high-profile leak. The Independent will not be posting the leak here.
Another huge castle
During production, the set of a newly built castle was spotted in Belfast. Originally, the construction was believed to be extra battle defences for an already established location, but images soon revealed a highly complex structure, having tripled in size – only the set of Winterfell matches up. Speculators believe it could to be the streets of King’s Landing which have been built to burn down, which likely means dragons are coming to the capitol.
Speaking of fire...
One fan of the series just happened to be passing by the set of Winterfell when they spotted the entire place on fire. You can see the video here. Looks like the Night King’s making the most of that dragon.
Speaking to Bran in season one, Old Nan mentions that the White Walkers raised an army of ”ice spiders” to fight by their sides, telling the Stark child that they “swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds”.
Fans have long wondered when the creepy crawlers would make an appearance. Thanks to an official sneak peak of John Howe’s cover art for the 2020 Song of Ice and Fire calendar, shared by George RR Martin, we have a first look at the creatures.
Here’s an official sneak peak of John Howe’s cover art of our 2020 SoI&F calendar featuring the legendary ice spiders which haunt old Nan’s creepiest bedtime stories. pic.twitter.com/5Tm0FbPFpC— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking)December 13, 2018
Whether they will appear on the show remains a mystery, but arachnophobes beware.
Over in King’s Landing...
Kit Harrington and John Bradley were spotted in character as Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly filming a scene together. Not too surprising, seeing as Sam’s currently in Winterfell, where Jon is heading. However, the pair were not filming in the Northern stronghold, but in King’s Landing, where their enemy, Cersei, awaits. Could they have finally put their differences aside?
Two fan favourites, back together
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie have been spotted filming scenes together. Reports claim that, during episode four, Brienne and Jaime — who will be reunited a few episodes back — will be forced to fight side-by-side against the undead. Where exactly the fight will happen remains unclear.
Until the bitter end
Speaking of Jaime – thanks to a lawsuit against the actor Coster-Waldau, we know that the character will survive until the end of the season. Documents filled in court show that he appears in all six episodes of the final season.