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Game of Thrones final season: Release date, trailer, cast and theories

Winter is coming, but until then, we're left with reports and juicy rumors about the battle for the Iron Throne. Here's how to watch and what to expect.

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Daenerys is so close to landing that Iron Throne. Or is she?

HBO

Winter is supposedly coming, but for Game of Thrones fans, the wait can seem eternal. Season 7 ended in August 2017 with dragons and White Walkers and, uh, a little unwitting incest. And fans who are impatiently waiting for resolution can't even console themselves with a new George R.R. Martin book in the saga, because ha ha ha boo hoo hoo

But the book, like winter, is coming. Just before Thanksgiving 2018, Martin told the Wall Street Journal he was at a remote mountain cabin where he goes to "hunker down" and write, and that he's "hard at work" on Winds of Winter.  He wouldn't give spoilers, but he said he had a master plan, despite the TV show events. 

"I'm still going to finish it the way I always wanted to finish it, the way it's been in my head for 25 years now," Martin said.

Martin also spoke up about Winds of Winter in August 2018. Then, he noted that some people have died on screen who won't die in the books. (Margaery? Hodor? Shireen? We can dream...) Despite what Martin said, he's not adverse to killing major characters on the page too -- and blames J.R.R. Tolkien's Gandalf, of all people.

That final episode is going to pull out all the stops, too, according to Thrones star Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei. In August 2018, she told the Hindustan Times the season would finally wrap up some intriguing storylines.

"This season is going to be incredibly satisfying for people," Emmanuel said. "It is going to be incredibly exciting and heartbreaking. I feel like people will have their mind blown when they watch the final one."

But those of us who have to live in the world of tax deadlines and performance reviews sure could use a fantasy escape back to the land of castles and wildfire and Tyrion's one-liners. So while we wait, and say bye like Daenerys Targaryen herself, here's a guide to the eventual final season of HBO's blockbuster fantasy hit. 

We'll update this story as new information is revealed, be sure to check out the plot section for new details, or rumors. Hold the door, spoilers incoming!

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Latest info on final season

Big news dropped on Nov. 1, when Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd shared details from a set visit. He wasn't allowed to leak much, of course, but here are the highlights:

Fans might be surprised at who survives till the end. 

While watching the absolute last episode being filmed, Hibberd wrote, "I look around at a meticulously constructed set that I've never seen on the show before. Several actors are performing, and I'm stunned: There are characters in the finale that I did not expect."

Winterfell is coming

What goes around, comes around. Hibberd says the final season begins at the Stark stronghold of Winterfell, and contains plenty of parallels to the show's pilot. "Instead of King Robert's procession arriving, it's Daenerys and her army, he writes.  From there, characters meet and mingle and prepare to fight the Army of the Dead. 

And speaking of Winterfell...

The Winterfell set had a massive expansion for the last season. There's now a "towering castle exterior, a larger courtyard, and more interconnected rooms and ramparts," EW reports.

Building to the massive battle 

We've already heard that there will be a massive battle (presumably, humans vs. dead) that took 55 days to shoot, and takes place at three different locations. Hibberd's report says that "wildly understates" the actual events, that the 55 days were only for outdoor scenes shot at Winterfell, and that the battle was shot for weeks more at indoor studio sets.

Oh, brother

There's one tiny actual tease dropped -- Sansa (Sophie Turner) isn't happy that Jon (Kit Harington) bent the knee to Daenerys, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who knows the proud Stark heritage. But it sounds like she changes her mind about Dany eventually. (Which is good, because they're actually family.)

Don't believe those leaked scripts

While noting that a supposed leaked script turned up on Reddit, Hibberd warned that real Game of Thrones scripts don't say Game of Thrones on them, and production documents use code names to refer to the actors. (Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys, was referred to as "Eldiss.")

Release date, episodes and timing

So what's left to watch? The final season is season 8, and HBO has confirmed it's coming in 2019, and will consist of six episodes. Only six, but they'll be super-sized. In 2017, the show's sound designer said they'd be as long as movies, but late in 2018, director David Nutter said on Reddit that each one will be over an hour.

Early suggestions were that the final season wasn't coming until summer, but then on Nov. 13, HBO revealed that the new season is coming in April 2019.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, as well as David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik, will direct episodes, and Benioff, Weiss, Bryan Cogman and Dave Hill will write the scripts. As fans well know, the TV show has veered off from Martin's books due to necessity, as a new book hasn't come out since 2011.

To watch the new season whenever it eventually drops, you'll need a subscription to HBO (or a friend with one), but if you don't have cable, you can pay for HBO Now, a streaming subscription version of HBO that doesn't require a regular cable subscription (or even a TV). Not sure you'll like it? You can stream HBO Now free for 30 days. And you can catch up on past seasons via HBO, Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra Blu-ray. Past seasons are also available on Hulu with an HBO Premium Add-on

Meet the cast

The major cast members who've survived to this point will be back (one exception: Ellaria Sand, who's presumably still watching daughter Tyene's body rot away in Cersei's dungeon).

Some of the top stars coming back are:

The Lannister children, Tyrion (Dinklage), Queen Cersei (Headey) and Jaime (Coster-Waldau), are still surviving, even if Tyrion and Cersei are gunning for each other and Jaime seems caught in the middle. Is Cersei lying to her brother/lover about being pregnant with their fourth child together, now that the other three have died? Quite possibly.

As far as House Stark is concerned, dad Ned (Sean Bean) lost his head back in the first season, and mom Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) and brothers Robb (Richard Madden) and Rickon (Art Parkinson, who really shoulda zig-zagged) joined him in the afterworld later. But Jon Snow (Harington), who's really Ned's sister's son, and Ned's true children Bran (Hempstead-Wright), Arya (Williams) and Sansa (Turner) are still alive and discovering that life in Westeros really is a Stark proposition.

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Life for Sansa and the other Stark kids has been anything but easy. 

HBO

Daenarys Targaryen (Clarke) seems to have found love with Jon Snow -- too bad she's his aunt (that sort of thing has never really mattered to Targaryens though, tbh). She's also teamed up with Tyrion, and her faithful retinue includes eunuch Grey Worm (Anderson), Missandei (Emmanuel) and Jorah Mormont (Glen).

Jon Snow's pal Samwell Tarly (Bradley-West) and his partner Gilly (Hannah Murray) discovered some vital secrets about Westerosi history during their time at the Citadel, and you just know it'll all eventually come out.

Also returning are Brienne of Tarth (Christie), her wannabe lover Tormund Giantsbane (Hivju), Davos Seaworth (Cunningham), Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (McCann) and his creepy zombie brother Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (Björnsson), Arya's pal Gendry (Dempsie), mysterious priestess Melisandre (van Houten), tormented Theon Greyjoy (Allen) and his evil uncle Euron (Asbæk).

Not a lot is known about new characters joining the show in its final season. But according to the top-notch Game of Thrones Wikia, actor Marc Rissmann will play Harry Strickland, commander of the Golden Company, an army for hire. Other new characters who we don't know much about beyond their names include Fergus (played by Seamus O'Hara), Willa (Alice Nokes) and Sarra (Danielle Galligan).

What we know about the plot

Director David Nutter revealed some tidbits about the final season in his Reddit AMA on Nov. 13. Asked about Daenerys' goals, he said the Targaryen's quest for the Iron Throne has good intentions. "I think she wants to make a difference," he said. "She wants to free the slaves. She wants to be a good, fair just ruler. After so many years it chasing her and now her chasing it -- I think in some respects it's about destiny for her and some of it's really beyond her own calling and something she's destined to become.

Nutter also promised the return of at least one direwolf, and said showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were aware of what fans wanted to see when working out the final season, and took that into consideration. Asked to describe that last season in three words, he chose, "Spectacular, inspiring, satisfying."

Remember the Red Wedding? When asked to compare the upcoming episode to that bloodbath, Nutter said, "As far as season 8 compared to the Red Wedding I just have to tell you -- hang onto your seat cause it's going to be special."

Peter Dinklage, whose Tyrion Lannister is a favorite character of many, revealed a bit about what will happen to the youngest Lannister. First, he said the show "ends beautifully" for his character, but he added "whether it be tragic or not." Fans probably didn't expect Tyrion to live happily ever after, but "tragic" is a frightening word, especially in this context.

Have you been wondering what happened to the few surviving direwolves? Joe Bauer, the show's visual effects supervisor, promises Jon Snow's direwolf, Ghost, will play an interesting role in the final season. "(Ghost is) very present and does some pretty cool things in Season 8," Bauer told The Huffington Post. Good -- Jon is going to need all the backup he can get.

Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, says the show's finale will be divisive. Though she didn't reveal any spoilers, Turner told IGN, "I think a lot of fans will be disappointed and a lot of fans will be over the moon. I think it will be really interesting to see people's reactions."

We also know that even after the show ends, fans will be able to relive the terrors and triumphs of Westeros by visiting the Game of Thrones sets in Northern Ireland. HBO isn't confirming a lot of details for what will be called the Game of Thrones Legacy attractions, but the sets Winterfell, Castle Black and King's Landing could be included, and costumes, props, weapons and other items will be on display.

And in late September, George R.R. Martin published a new book excerpt on his website. Unfortunately, it wasn't from the long-awaited Winds of Winter, but instead from Fire & Blood, the first volume of his Targaryen history. Fire & Blood is written from the perspective of Archmaester Gyldayn, and digs into the lives of the fascinating Targaryens, Daenerys' family (and now we know -- spoiler alert -- Jon Snow's as well). 

One interesting tidbit that may or may not play out in the final season: Queen Alysanne flies her dragon Silverwing high above Castle Black, but the dragon, who has never refused to fly where her mistress wants, will not go north of the Wall. This could just be something Martin came up with for Fire & Blood, but if he's told the showrunners that dragons don't like to fly north of the wall, that could be an issue. 

Older updates

Get ready for some serious action, and be braced to possibly lose some major characters. An HBO executive has made the final season sound like a bloodbath, describing cast members "one by one ... falling down to their deaths." If the deaths are just too many for you, keep in mind that Martin announced in August 2018 that not all who die onscreen will die in his books.

The tiniest bit of footage, just seconds, came out in August 2018, as snippets shown during an HBO video promoting its 2019 lineup. Other than Jon Snow (Kit Harington) hugging sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), nothing happens, but fans will take whatever they can get.

We know that Emilia Clark, aka Daenerys Targaryen, is done filming her final scenes, thanks to a touching Instagram farewell she posted in June 2018. Sadly, she didn't offer up any plot details or spoilers.

And while this is hardly a spoiler, we know that "someone's gonna die," in the final season, thanks to the show's armourer Natalia Lee, who spoke to CNET's Richard Trenholm. "There's always cool weapons and swords," Lee said. "I can't really say much. It's gonna be the biggest battle in TV history, I can definitely say that. It's just getting bigger and badder."

Drogo! Drogo! Could Daenerys' Sun and Stars, aka Khal Drogo, aka Jason Momoa, make a return? Maybe in flashback, or maybe in some kind of creepy zombieish resurrection? Fans became a little excited when Momoa shared a photo on Instagram in which he's seen lifting a Guinness with Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff during the show's filming. Maybe they're just three pals hanging out. But fans can dream.

Drogo may or may not be present, but according to a June 2018 report from the Daily Express, the Dothraki will be back to aid their Khaleesi. A riding stable in Ireland apparently deleted two Instagram posts, one that showed a Dothraki warrior, another that mentioned them.

We don't know if there will be other celebrity cameos, but we do know the actor who played Hodor, Kristian Nairn, thought the controversial 2017 appearance by singer Ed Sheeran hit a sour note. "I'm not a fan of the cameos in 'Game of Thrones.' I don't like them. I think it's stupid," Nairn told the Huffington Post. "Especially Ed Sheeran. I was like, 'Why is Ed Sheeran here?' I mean, Ed Sheeran's great. He's a great guy, great musician, but why is he in Game of Thrones?"

Star Maisie Williams knows how the show ends, and she's told her mom, so maybe you can bribe her to fess up. She also didn't buy into HBO president Casey Bloys announcing that the show planned to film multiple endings to fool nosy on-set folks who might leak big news. "I immediately thought, 'I don't think we've got the budget to shoot lots of different endings,'" she told Jimmy Kimmel.

Could a young generation of Northern leaders, led by young Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), Alys Karstark (Megan Parkinson) and Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) be prepping for a powerful presence in the final season? We sure hope so, because Lyanna Mormont is a badass.

Will the Dragonpit appear once again? Fan site Winter is Coming reported on April 2 that the show is preparing to film at a ruined Roman amphitheater in the ancient Spanish city of Italica that served as the Dragonpit for a major scene in season 7. It could serve as a pivotal point for dragon drama or just a nice giant open meeting place for a battle or other confrontation.

Gendry's finally done rowing, and ready for action. Actor Joe Dempsie, who plays Robert Baratheon's secret son Gendry, told Digital Spy that he's been filming "a fair bit" of the final season, but smartly wouldn't reveal if he survives until the very last episode. Still, based on his parentage, fans are expecting big things from the young blacksmith with royal blood.

Will the final season include more flashbacks featuring Rhaegar Targaryen, father of you-know-who (R+L=J)? The actor who plays him, Wilf Scolding, posted a photo of himself on May 2 standing in front of a hotel in Belfast, where the show is shooting, and fans went wild with speculation. He's since deleted it, but you can see it here, and really, fans would like to see a little more of his doomed relationship with Ned's sister Lyanna Stark.

Another rumor, courtesy of Watchers on the Wall, claims Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) have filmed a scene in which they fight alongside each other once more, presumably taking on the undead. That's a nice juicy scene to look forward to for those who ship that combat-ready couple -- but what does this mean for poor Tormund?

Speaking of secretive plot twists, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) revealed in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival that the scripts were only given to the cast digitally, and that they self-deleted after a certain amount of time. So no hawking those things on eBay, folks. Coster-Waldau also revealed that he thinks the show ends "the right way" and "on its own terms." He says the storyline is one complete story from season 1 until the end, "and it makes sense."What's up with the GOT spin-offs?

Coster-Waldau also hinted at an identify crisis for Jaime in the final season, as his always-complex relationship with sister-lover Cersei continues to deteriorate. "The core of him has always been Cersei," he told Vanity Fair.  "When that's taken away, what are you then? What's left? Is there anything left?"

What's up with the GOT spin-offs?

George R.R. Martin doesn't want to call them spinoffs, but HBO is working on as many as five "successor shows" taking place in the Game of Thrones universe. Martin has said fans should not look for any familiar faces, as all of the new shows will take place before the time period depicted in Game of Thrones. It's not yet known if all, or how many, of the shows will actually make it to air.

In June 2018, Deadline reported that HBO ordered a pilot of one of the shows. There's not a lot known about the show itself, which comes from writer Jane Goldman, who's known for the Kingsman movie series, as well as StardustKick-Ass and two X-Men blockbusters. It'll be set thousands of years before Game of Thrones, and HBO delivered a fairly generic plot summary, except for that bit about the White Walkers.

"The series chronicles the world's descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour," the network revealed. "And only one thing is for sure: From the horrifying secrets of Westeros's history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East to the Starks of legend … it's not the story we think we know." 

Martin says "some (of the successor shows) may not even be set on Westeros." (An Essos-set story would certainly be fresh.)

We do know what won't be covered: no Robert's Rebellion and no Dunk and Egg. Robert's Rebellion refers to Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon and Jon Arryn's rebellion against House Targaryen, and Dunk and Egg are other Martin characters, a hedge knight and his squire, who have their own stories taking place a century before the current books. Martin said when he's done writing all his tales of Dunk and Egg, he'd love for them to have a show, and that Robert's Rebellion will be explained in the current book series when (if...) he finishes.

This story was first published on April 6, 2018, and is updated more frequently than GRRM publishes. 

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