Actors and producers preview season 7 in Entertainment Weekly’s Game of Thrones cover story

Some people have all the luck — or, in the case of Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, some people have all the years of legwork, experience, and credentials necessary to get their hands on exclusive Game of Thrones stories. In EW’s summer TV preview, which is on store shelves now in a variety of Game of Thrones-themed covers, Hibberd teases fans with hints and tidbits from the season 7 set. Let’s look at some of the highlights.

Of course, if you believe everything you read on the internet, fans don’t need hints and tidbits — thanks to spoilers, they know a lot about the season already. Hibberd doesn’t shy away from this discussion:

Who meets who during season 7—and why—are closely guarded secrets (though not as guarded as the production would like). […]

Some of the pairings have seemingly leaked online, with paparazzi relentlessly stalking the show with long-distance lenses and drones. The cast and producers get annoyed by the attempts and struggle to understand why anybody would want to experience their months of obsessive hard work diluted to a blog post.

The actors are just as willing to add their two cents on the matter. Conleth Hill (Varys) advises fans to take it all with a grain of salt. “It’s the asshole element of your profession, and they get it all wrong anyway,” he says. “They’ll take a photo of two actors between shots and they’ll say they’re in a scene together.”

So regardless of any alleged leaks, we can still expect surprises.

It sounds as though even the people behind season 7 surprised themselves when writing it. Hibberd reports that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took the penultimate season in a different direction than they’d originally anticipated. “We always thought this season would have less action and more conversation,” Benioff said. “And then we started realizing all the conflicts that were about to occur.”

That change in course isn’t terribly shocking. After all, with a total of 13 episodes to go until the end, there’s only so much time for talking. It’s time to put this baby on launch mode, and that’s just what the show is doing. “The warp-speed narrative was driven by the characters’ conflicting agendas,” Hibberd writes.

Hibberd hones in on some of those agendas, most notably those of Daenerys, Cersei, and the Starks. Producer and writer Bryan Cogman hints at how these different journeys may converge:

Dany in Westeros makes Game of Thrones a new show. It has this amazing ripple effect throughout every storyline that’s very exciting to explore. There’s a pace and urgency that’s very palpable. This is the endgame.

My personal takeaway here is that, essentially, Daenerys is finally where the relevant action is. The presumed last of the Targaryens — a notorious family of loose cannons — has shown up to raise hell. Of course it changes Thrones, which has largely thrived on localized political machinations and targeting homicide. Now the characters have Daenerys’ nation-wide ambitions to contend with, and it’s hard to one-up someone who would just as soon go “Dracarys” on your ass.

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I’m a little wary when it comes to Daenerys’ particular brand of violent heroism. Emilia Clarke suggests that kind of reticence may be justified. “Dany forces you to think about her objectives this season,” she tells EW.

Hibberd continues on this train of thought when he talks about Tyrion Lannister’s season 7 journey. “Tyrion remains by [Daenerys’] side and will be challenged to rein in Dany’s fire-blooded impulses.” This reminds me of how fellow WiC writer Sarah Weymes once described Tyrion and Daenerys’ dynamic: Tyrion is charged with telling Dany “Don’t press the big red button,” which means she’s probably going to press the big red button eventually. Otherwise what’s the point?

We shall see what we shall see. Either way, her temper notwithstanding, Daenerys won’t find it so easy to take the Iron Throne out from under Cersei Lannister. “[Cersei] didn’t get to be the first queen in Westerosi history without being clever,” Benioff said. “She’s a survivor. She certainly knows the odds are stacked against her. And it’s her mission to find a way to even the odds.”

Fresh off her bombing of the Sept of Baelor, Cersei has proven she’s capable of evening the odds. Dragons present a new kind of challenge, though. Although there’s always the possibility that Drogon goes on another bender instead of doing precisely as his mother tells him. And without her dragons, Daenerys loses her upper hand and is rendered far more vulnerable.

The Lannister/Targaryen showdown doesn’t appear to have too much impact on the goings-on in the North, where the Starks are preparing for the coming winter. But that story isn’t without its hurdles, as Hibberd hints that “Sansa will continue her gothic-toxic relationship with corruptive seducer Littlefinger, who continues to try to drive a wedge between her and Jon.”

Translation: Littlefinger grows paranoid since Jon and Sansa have adopted hairstyles similar to those worn by the late Ned and Catelyn Stark respectively, and so now he’s projecting his boyhood insecurities onto them. He couldn’t bag Cat, and he’ll be damned if Sansa prefers Jon’s company to his, even though Jon’s not the one who sold her into a traumatic marriage for his own devices. Women, amirite?

But I digress. Actor Aidan Gillen had this to say about his character’s relationship with Sansa:

It’s pretty obvious what my game is there. But at the same time, my character is becoming quite aware that Sansa is becoming as bright as me and wary of my manipulations of her. They use each other. They enjoy each other. They’re onto each other.

I’ll tell you what I’d enjoy, and that’s if I can get a scene of Sansa rejecting Littlefinger’s advances again, but this time she does it to the tune of “No Scrubs” by TLC.

Meanwhile, Bran and Arya are returning to the larger fold, possibly alongside their sister at Winterfell (fingers crossed). While Hibberd admits that Arya’s story is “so top secret we can’t even hint at what she’s doing after brutally crossing Walder Frey off her list in last year’s finale,” Maisie Williams is a touch more forthcoming with her character’s future:

She’s more learning about the political game this year, which she hasn’t had to play any role in before.

Mayhaps she gives Littlefinger—the ultimate political game player—the ol’ one-two this year? Stick him with the pointy end, Arya… like a thousand times, if you would. Much obliged.

As for Bran, Benioff says that “He’s got serious challenges dealing with all the stuff happening in his mind.” That’s no small wonder, since the kid had to endure the onslaught of puberty and magical powers all at once. “The Three-Eyed Raven endowed the young Stark with visionary powers that not only showed him events from Westeros’ shrouded past, but showed he could change those events as well,” Hibberd writes. “But inexperience hinders Bran from being too powerful.”

Well, Bran’s inability to completely control all of space and time is probably for the best, lest his arc become a little too Back to the Future for this high-stakes fantasy series.

Along with these character speculations, Hibberd spills the not-so-detailed beans on some of those action-packed scenes we glimpse in the trailer. Fans can expect to see the following:

  • A battle scene with dragons. Obviously.
  • An elaborate sea battle: Eat your heart out, Ursula.
  • The Night King/White Walkers: Somewhere beyond the Wall, Michael Jackon’s “Thriller” is playing.
  • A sequence in the North that “will likely prove fatal for at least one character,” per Hibberd. Hibberd also says that while the group of characters involved in this scene is “ready to fight and die together,” they don’t particularly like each other. So they’re coming together for a common cause, but they won’t be spending any leisurely brunches afterwards, despite the fact that drinking mimosas at 10:00 A.M. will fix any problem you’ll ever have. It is known.

Hibberd finishes off his extensive coverage with a flourish and perhaps the biggest tease yet:

Given what happens in the season 7 finale, however… there is a single common assumption among the actors about what happens in the final season. Their prediction is just one word, actually: ‘Carnage.’

For many more details, grab a copy of this special edition of Entertainment Weekly and get to speculating.