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Game of Thrones season 8: Cast, recaps, spoilers and theories

Winter is here, and there are plenty of juicy theories about the battle for the Iron Throne.

got-daenerys

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

HBO

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones has begun, and it's about time. 

The first episode landed on April 14, and here's our spoiler-filled recap. It was full of reunions, set up future action, and even featured a couple of big revelations. Bran became the meme king, and viewers turned out in record-breaking numbers to watch.

The youngest actors have grown up with the show, especially Arya, Bran and Sansa.

Speaking of Arya, she dropped a big spoiler on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But check the calendar for that air date before freaking out...

Episode runtimes and dates revealed

Now that the show has returned, there'll be a new episode each Sunday through May 19, so don't plan on taking a Sunday off.

The runtimes vary a little. That first episode, which aired on April 14 was 54 minutes, the second 58 minutes, and then they get notably longer. Episode 3 is an hour and 22 minutes, episode 4 is an hour and 18 minutes, and episode 5 and 6 are each an hour and 20 minutes long. Episode runtimes aren't a huge deal to fans, but it does add more support to the idea that the six-episode final season will be jam-packed with action.

What's to come?

An Entertainment Weekly article published March 4 dug into the final season, focusing on the Battle of Winterfell, which sounds like it was almost as agonizing for the actors as for their characters.

It's expected to be "the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film, and brings the largest number of GoT major characters together since the show's debut episode in 2011," EW reports.

Some tidbits from that article include:

  • "Beloved heroes lay dead," EW says, but naturally not revealing who, because what fun would that be? Characters involved include Arya Stark, in that character's first battle, plus Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister and Brienne of Tarth. Sansa Stark, who's not usually in battles, is mentioned too, and Samwell Tarly, not usually a fighter, joins in as well.
  • The Battle of Winterfell is called "arguably the most difficult-to-produce episode in television history." In it, living characters face off against the Army of the Dead. It required 11 weeks of night shooting, during which 750 people worked all night long in freezing temperatures and "ankle-deep mud."
  • Director Miguel Sapochnik reportedly tried to find a longer cinema battle and couldn't, but says the closest was "the nearly 40-minute Helm's Deep siege in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."
  • One of the regular actresses fainted during a scene that required much standing. She went home early, but was back the next day. Her identity wasn't revealed.
  • The Battle of Winterfell wasn't the only big episode of the final season. Naturally, secrecy reigned supreme on the series finale, so EW didn't really have any revelations. But the article does note that "only crew members wearing a special Episode 6 badge were allowed on set during filming and some scenes were shot on a closed set."
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Trying out the Iron Throne

The big question remains: Who will eventually sit upon the Iron Throne and rule this cruel, yet fascinating land? We don't know who wins the throne (still rooting for Tyrion over here), but the major stars all try it out in posters recently released by HBO on Feb. 28. They show the main characters each giving the Throne a go, pairing them with an iconic quote from that person. 

Even characters who are extremely unlikely to ever challenge for the throne (Grey Worm, Brienne of Tarth, Samwell Tarly) were pictured. And of course, there are theories. British newspaper The Independent wrote that Jon Snow's posture is so similar to that of Ned Stark in a promotional picture from the first season that it could be a clue -- will Jon meet a similar sad fate to Ned? Let's hope not.

More news and rumors

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.

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How to watch

To watch the new season, 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 are 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 still around 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

Daenerys 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.) 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 in the first episode of the final season, he fessed up to Jon about his parentage.

Also back 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.

Wolves, maybe, but don't expect to see the Lannister cat, Ser Pounce. Benioff and Weiss joked (we hope) to Entertainment Weekly that Cersei had the furball horribly killed. Let's just pretend we didn't hear that.

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.

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.

Khal Drogo probably won't return, unless in flashback, this season, but as we saw in the first episode, the Dothraki are back to aid their Khaleesi. They didn't do much in episode 1 other than hunt for dragon food. They'll be busy, those dragons eat a lot.

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. He had some fun scenes with Arya already.

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?

Coster-Waldau also hinted at an identity 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 spinoffs?

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.

But one has definitely advanced more than others. Martin called it The Long Night, then had to say that's not the official title (but if we had to guess... it is). And on Feb. 4, HBO announced that the show would start filming in early summer. We also know Naomi Watts has been cast as a "socialite with a secret," and Josh Whitehouse also has a role.

Need some background? In June 2018, Deadline reported that HBO ordered this pilot 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' 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."

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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