Game of Thrones Season 8 isn't coming until 2019, a wait that feels as long as a winter in Westeros. But plenty of news has trickled out about the in-production final season of HBO's world-conquering fantasy series.
We don't know much about the plot of Season 8, which is hardly surprising given the level of secrecy surrounding the show. But it's probably safe to assume a number of our favorite characters will perish before the series 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 won't debut until 2019: HBO confirmed in January that Season 8 won't premiere until 2019, meaning 2018 will be skipped entirely. What month in 2019 or even what season remains unknown. Hopefully they don't reveal it with a stunt like last year's ice block fiasco.
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. Davos Seaworth actor Liam Cunningham told TV Guide that since they're taking about three more months than usual to shoot 40 percent fewer episodes, "that obviously will translate into longer episodes." Principal photography will wrap this summer.
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.
The directors and writers have been set: The final six episodes will be helmed by the cream of the crop of Game of Thrones directors. David Nutter ("The Rains of Castamere," "Mother's Mercy"), Miguel Sapochnik ("Hardhome," "The Winds of Winter") and Benioff and Weiss will all direct episodes, according to Variety. According to director of photography Fabian Wagner, Sapochnik is directing Episodes 3 and 5. The other assignments remain unconfirmed, but Benioff and Weiss are expected to direct the finale. Benioff and Weiss are also the credited writers on the final four episodes, according to the Telegraph, with the premiere written by longtime Thrones writer Dave Hill and the second episode by Bryan Cogman, who's been a writer since Season 1.
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 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 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 (Ania Bukstein), 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 this other priestess made another appearance in Season 8, this time alongside Melisandre, and helps bring the fire to fight the Night King's ice.
Sansa won't know what to do with herself: Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) — who has suffered more than just about anyone — is finally in a good place. She's in charge of Winterfell, reunited with most of what's left of her family and, after the execution of Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) last season, finally free of the sequence of terrible men who made her life miserable. But without a specific goal to work toward, this comfortable place might be too unfamiliar to her. "What's going to motivate her?" Turner mused to The Hollywood Reporter. "Is it just about keeping Winterfell as it is in this currently good place? Is it the rising threat of the undead? It's a very strange place for her. Where do her motivations lie now? Now that she's run out of people to manipulate, I wonder if she feels a little bit lost!" Eh, she'll find someone to disagree with.
Don't worry too much about Tormund: Our favorite fire-haired wildling Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) seemed like he may have perished when the Night King used the undead dragon Viserion to melt the Wall, but he probably made it to safety. Maybe we'll find out he survived a literal cliff-hanger, and we'll catch up with him digging his fingernails into the part of the Wall that didn't fall. It'll take more than the end of the world as we know it to kill Tormund.
Everyone will be all over the map: It's a big world, and characters will be seeing parts of it they've never seen before. "Each of the characters this year is placed in a completely alien environment at some point in the season that they've never been placed in before," Samwell Tarly actor John Bradley told TV Guide. "The thrill is seeing how they react to it and how they respond... This season, I think, more than any other is stretching these characters." It is possible that he's talking about "alien environments" in an emotional sense, but he also might be saying that Sam is going someplace like King's Landing.
A familiar location will be made unfamiliar: Thanks to war and winter, many of the locations we've come to know intimately throughout the series' run will be destroyed or otherwise be seen differently. One iconic northern location was spotted going up in flames on the show's Belfast set.
It costs a gobsmacking amount of money: Variety reports that the budget for Season 8 works out to about $15 million per episode. By comparison, Westworld costs about $10 million per episode. With that kind of money, producers could make Jaime's hand out of solid gold and still have money left over to CGI long hair onto Emilia Clarke's head if they wanted.
And it won't really be the end: HBO has five potential spin-offs in the works to fill the hole Game of Thrones will leave in pop culture. Kong: Skull Island screenwriter Max Borenstein, Kingsman: The Secret Service screenwriter Jane Goldman, LA Confidential's Academy Award-winning writer Brian Helgeland, Mad Men and Westworld writer Carly Wray and Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman are all playing in the sandbox George R.R. Martin created, and presumably one of the ideas will make it to series. Wray and Goldman are working with Martin himself to develop their possible series. We don't know what ideas any of them are working on, but Martin dropped a hint that Cogman's is an "adaptation," but won't be the spin-off novella series Dunk & Egg. And a prequel about Robert's Rebellion has been ruled out, too, since that story has already been recounted in enough detail throughout Game of Thrones to render a new retelling unexciting. And the spin-off won't be as big as Game of Thrones is now; HBO drama chief Francesca Orsi thinks the new series would have a budget comparable to Season 3 of Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones will likely return for its final season in 2019.