Game of Thrones recently wrapped its seventh season in spectacular Wall-crumbling fashion, but it's never too early to start thinking about next season, especially when it is also the show's final season.
Unfortunately, the concrete information we have about Season 8 isn't all that much, which is hardly surprising given the level of secrecy surrounding the HBO fantasy series. However, it is probably safe to assume a number of our favorite characters will likely perish before the series finale ends. Whether they go out fighting the White Walkers and the army of the dead or fall victim to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and the Golden Company remains to be seen, but if we start preparing for their deaths now, it might not hurt as much when they come to pass.
Anyway, here's what we know — and think we know — about Season 8. Check back often as we'll be updating this story as more information becomes available.
The final season likely won't debut until 2019: Filming on Season 8 is scheduled to begin in October and could run as late as August 2018, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That would likely mean the final season, which will focus on the Great War between the living and the dead that's been promised almost from the start, probably won't air until the following year. The reason for the delay is an extended production shoot, plus the additional technical effects that will follow.
Translation: If you work in television and don't want your series to go up against the final season of Game of Thrones at the Emmys, do your best work next season, when the series again won't be eligible. (Because of the extended break between Seasons 6 and 7, the series also isn't eligible for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards, which will be presented Sunday, Sept. 17.)
It will be only six episodes long: Prior to Game of Thrones' seventh season, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss repeatedly made comments that stated they only had enough story for 13 episodes. Given that Season 7 consisted of seven episodes, simple math tells us that the final season will feature six episodes.
However, those six episodes might be feature length: The Season 7 finale was the HBO fantasy series' longest episode yet, clocking in at more than 80 minutes. But that could change during the final season. Vanity Fair reported in July that each of the episodes in the final season may be feature length as well. Given the accelerated pace of Season 7 that completely ignored the rules governing the passage of time, spending a little more time in Westeros each week may actually be to the show's benefit. We don't want the White Walkers to arrive at Winterfell in the premiere, after all.
Cersei Lannister will (probably) die: The villains of Game of Thrones may have had the upper hand for several of the show's earlier seasons, but the tides have begun to turn as the White Walkers enter Westeros and the end of the series nears; Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) have each had success in their various endeavors, even if they've also suffered losses. Meanwhile, Cersei has morphed into a more traditional villain during this same period, a devolution that has alienated even Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the one person who's stood by her all this time. If the show follows the same path it has been on, then it stands to reason Cersei will not survive the series, as heroes will overcome villains.
But who will kill Cersei? A popular theory revolves around Maggy the Frog's prophecy, which states that Cersei would be strangled by "the valonqar," aka her little brother. Jaime is technically Cersei's younger brother, since she was born first. His slow-moving but remarkable redemption arc has made him an unlikely hero, and what better poetic justice would there be than to see Cersei eliminated by the one man she always thought would be by her side?
Jon will find out who his parents are, and it will likely be hella awkward: One of the longest-running mysteries of Westeros was solved in Season 7, when it was finally confirmed Jon was not the child of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), but the son of Ned's sister Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi) and Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding). It was also confirmed that Rhaegar had annulled his marriage to his first wife, Elia Martell of Dorne, to marry Lyanna in secret, which meant that not only was Jon not a bastard, but he was also the true heir to the Iron Throne.
Of course, Jon also closed out the season by sleeping with Daenerys, whom we know to be his aunt. While the Targaryens had a history of inbreeding to keep the bloodline "pure," we in the modern world know this practice isn't biologically advantageous. It can lead to genetic issues and is almost certainly the reason Daenerys' father went mad. So it won't be too surprising if things become a little awkward for Jon and Daenerys in Season 8, especially if ...
Daenerys is going to become pregnant: The series dropped enough hints this season that we feel pretty safe when we say it's is very likely that Daenerys will be carrying a little brooding baby who broods when the series returns. A baby born to Jon — a wolf and a dragon, and the true heir to the Iron Throne — and Daenerys — a full-blooded dragon — could definitely complicate the war for the Iron Throne. But it could also provide Daenerys with a successor should she eventually need one, because let's be honest: Jon has no desire to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Even if he didn't have a habit of failing upwards, he's too noble to break his word to Daenerys just because he might now be considered the rightful heir.
Arya will likely cross off at least one more name on her list: If Jaime kills Cersei, that leaves just five people on Arya's (Maisie Williams) infamous kill list alive: the Hound (Rory McCann), the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus "Thor" Björnsson), Ilyn Payne (Wilko Johnson), Melisandre (Carice van Houten), and Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer). We're pretty certain everyone's favorite assassin will be able to cross off at least one more name by the time all is said and done, because otherwise the writers will have left a major thread dangling. We wouldn't be surprised if that person is none other than the Red Priestess who brought Arya's brother (er, cousin) Jon back to life in Season 6, as some of the men are likely to meet their deaths elsewhere. Basically, watch your back, Melisandre.
Melisandre will return from Volantis to play one more hand: After orchestrating the first meeting between Jon and Daenerys in Season 7, Melisandre departed Dragonstone for Volantis. However, she'll return to Westeros before the Great War is over. "I will return, dear Spider, one last time," she told Varys (Conleth Hill). "I have to die in this strange country, just like you."
But why is Melisandre going to Volantis? Some fans on Reddit have speculated she is gathering the Fiery Hand, said to be the the slave soldiers for R'hllor who guard the Temple of the Lord of Light, to bring them to Westeros to aid the Prince (or Princess) That was Promised. The Red Priestess Kinvara, the High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis introduced in Season 6, believed Daenerys to be the chosen one. Therefore, we wouldn't be surprised if she made another appearance in Season 8, this time alongside Melisandre, and helps bring the fire to fight the Night King's ice.
Game of Thrones will likely return for its final season in 2019.