Battle scenes, character drama and more—Game of Thrones cast and crew talk all things season 8


Entertainment Weekly has just put out a cover story about the final season of Game of Thrones, and without using hyperbole, I think it’s safe to say that it will be the biggest television event in history.

Did I already slip into hyperbole? Let’s hit the highlights and you can decide for yourself.


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James Hibberd, who’s had singular access to the Game of Thrones set for years, takes us back to September of 2012, when showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were filming the third season of the show and already wondering how in the world they were going to pull off the series finale. By that time, A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin had spoken to them and outlined the ending, and it was a tall order. “We have a very generous budget from HBO, but we know what’s coming down the line and, ultimately, it’s not generous enough,” Benioff said back then.

At the time, the solution they came up was to ask HBO to release the final season as three two-hour movies, each with a budget beyond what they could get for an episode of television. “It’s what we’re working towards in a perfect world,” said Weiss. “We end up with an epic fantasy story but with the level of familiarity and investment in the characters that are normally impossible in a two-hour movie.”

That, of course, didn’t happen. HBO exists to serve its subscribers, not make theatrical features, and the top brass gently refused the request. They did, however, assure Benioff and Weiss that when the time came, they would pony up the needed funds to make the Game of Thrones finale “a summer tentpole-size spectacle.” Given that every episode of season 8 cost a staggering $15 million to produce, they came through. “They put their money where their mouths are — literally stuffed their mouth full of million-dollar bills, which don’t exist anymore,” Weiss said.

It helped that in between then and now, Game of Thrones went from a popular show to a worldwide phenomena, with the tipping point probably being the Red Wedding. In season 2, the show averaged 10.3 million viewers across all platforms, which is already impressive. By season 7, that number had ballooned to 30 million, which is coocoo nutso impressive. It got to the point where the biggest problem Benioff and Weiss had was convincing HBO to end the series where and how they originally planned, rather than stretching it out. “We want to stop where we — the people working on it, and the people watching it — both wish it went a little bit longer,” Benioff said. “There’s the old adage of ‘Always leave them wanting more,’ but also things start to fall apart when you stop wanting to be there. You don’t want to f— it up.”

Basically, they’re committed to ending the show on the highest of notes. And by the sound of it, season 8 will make one one hell of a beautiful noise.

Hibberd has been to the season 8 set, and while he doesn’t reveal spoilers, he does give us some hefty teases about what’s to come, including a description of the first episode:

"Season 8 opens at Winterfell with an episode that contains plenty of callbacks to the show’s pilot. Instead of King Robert’s procession arriving, it’s Daenerys and her army. What follows is a thrilling and tense intermingling of characters — some of whom have never previously met, many who have messy histories — as they all prepare to face the inevitable invasion of the Army of the Dead."

I’m already looking forward to that callback; what a terrific way to echo an important moment in the series. Also, remember the first footage we saw from the new season, with Jon and Sansa hugging and Sansa glaring at something importantly offscreen? Hibberd confirms it means what you think it means: Sansa is seeing Daenerys Targaryen for the first time, and is none too happy that her half-brother/cousin/king chose to bend the knee to her.

Writer-producer Bryan Cogman adds more context. “[Season 8 is] about all of these disparate characters coming together to face a common enemy, dealing with their own past, and defining the person they want to be in the face of certain death,” he said. “It’s an incredibly emotional, haunting, bittersweet final season, and I think it honors very much what George set out to do — which is flipping this kind of story on its head.”

It sounds like season 8 will preserve the political gamesmanship and character drama that was always at the heart of the show, which is terrific to hear.

That said, we’re also in for some show-stopping battle scenes, particularly a huge one between the armies of the living and the armies of the dead to take place at Winterfell. We watched the filming of that battle from afar for months, but it was more elaborate than even we knew. Director Miguel Sapochnik, the guy behind seminal episodes like “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” was at the helm. In addition to shooting for 55 nights outdoors, he shot for weeks after that on set, meaning that this is far and away the most labor-intensive battle sequence in the show’s history, and therefore in the history of TV. “It’s brutal,” said star Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister). “It makes the Battle of the Bastards look like a theme park.”

According to Hibberd, this episode is “wall-to-wall action,” although it intercuts between many different characters, each of whom has a story that “feels like its own genre.” Said Benioff:

"Having the largest battle doesn’t sound very exciting — it actually sounds pretty boring. Part of our challenge, and really, Miguel’s challenge, is how to keep that compelling… we’ve been building toward this since the very beginning, it’s the living against the dead, and you can’t do that in a 12-minute sequence."

Hibberd was also on set for the filming of a key scene for the final episode. “There are characters in the finale that I did not expect,” he writes “I gradually begin to piece together what has happened in Westeros over the previous five episodes and try not to look like I’m freaking out.”

Be still my heart.

There are a lot of other fun bits in the story. For example, we get a look at how different cast members reacted when they received the final six scripts, which were delivered digitally and carefully password-protected:

  • Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark): “It was completely overwhelming. Afterwards I felt numb, and I had to take a walk for hours.”
  • Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen): “I turned to my best mate and was like, ‘Oh my God! I gotta go! I gotta go!’ And I completely flipped out…Genuinely the effect [reading the scripts] had on me was profound. That sounds insanely pretentious, but I’m an actor, so I’m allowed one pretentious adjective per season.”
  • Peter Dinklage: “This was the first time ever that I didn’t skip to the end.”
  • Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth): “The f—ing scripts wouldn’t open, the double extra security!”
  • Kit Harington (Jon Snow): “I walked in saying, ‘Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.’ What’s the point of reading it to myself in my own head when I can listen to people do it and find out with my friends?”
  • Benioff and Weiss: “We knew exactly when our script coordinator sent them out, we knew what minute they sent them, and then you’re just waiting for the emails.”

Some of the actors, like Clarke, also reflected on the moment they realized this was all over. “I had a scene with someone and I turned to him and said, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to do this ever again,’ and that brings tears to my eyes,” Clarke said. Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) had a similar experience:

"There was a great sense of grief. It’s a huge sense of loss, like we’ll never have anything like this again."

And Kit Harington cried twice during the first table read. “Every season, you read at the end of the last script ‘End of Season 1,’ or ‘End of Season 2. This read ‘End of Game of Thrones.’”

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