After the explosive “Beyond the Wall,” season seven is coming a close with “The Dragon and the Wolf,” quite an evocative title for a season finale. But it’s not a series finale! This story isn’t over. In three days we’ll be reeling, and then we’ll be itching for more … but there won’t be any more Game of Thrones for a while. If you still need to scratch that itch, however, Watchers on the Wall will be here throughout filming season and even the barren months after it to bring you the latest on casting, location and filming news.
This thorough coverage begins today, with a breakdown of absolutely everything we know about season eight: filming schedules, air dates, writers, casting, filming locations and, perhaps more significantly, the showrunners’ approach for the endgame. You will not find any explicit spoilers below the cut, but the information regarding casting and locations has implications regarding the upcoming season seven finale.
Along with the news that the mysterious prequels would take a long while to produce, we also learned that season eight would probably not see the light of day until late 2018 at the earliest. Everything we have heard ever since has corroborated this estimation.
This delay is affected by a likely much longer post-production phase as well as a much more winter-focused filming schedule: though pre-production has already begun, filming will probably commence in October and continue until March, at the very least.
Unprecedentedly, we got a full writers lineup more than a year before broadcast. In fact, we knew who would write each of the last six episodes of the show before we knew how the showrunners had divided writing duties for season seven. That was a weird one.
During the show’s panel at SXSW 2017, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss revealed Dave Hill would write episode one of season eight, Bryan Cogman episode two, and Benioff & Weiss themselves would take the remaining four episodes in this short six-episode season. This is the first time D&D aren’t writing the season premiere, but it makes sense for the showrunners to be the ones to bring the story to a close with the last four episodes in all of Game of Thrones, leaving the setup to Hill and Cogman.
As for the directors, none are known at this time. We can hope for an all-star team (Sapochnik, Taylor, MacLaren…), but please recall the negative reaction when we learned Matt Shakman would direct a battle instead of Miguel Sapochnik. The marvelous Field of Fire Battle in “The Spoils of War” was the result. Going back further, there was criticism for hiring Sapochnik for “Hardhome” instead of Neil Marshall, who had directed “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall.” Maybe there is a lesson to be learned here!
The cast has been mercilessly culled, but most of the major late-game pieces remain. Those actors whose characters survived in season seven are expected to return, so any surprises will have to come from secondary characters who didn’t need to reappear.
One such character is Tycho Nestoris, played by Mark Gatiss, who has confirmed the representative of the Iron Bank of Braavos will be back for two season eight episodes. Cersei now depends on the Iron Bank to bankroll her war efforts, so Tycho’s return is not shocking, but it’s nice to know we’ll see more of Gatiss as a greasy sociopath. Coupled with Nikolaj Coster Waldau essentially confirming he will return in season eight, this probably means the story isn’t over for the Mad Queen, Cersei Lannister.
As for new named characters, they are increasingly rare as the story nears its end. We shouldn’t expect much major casting news, though there will probably be plenty of bit parts, which we’ll report on as they come. In regards to new significant characters, unless Meera returns to Winterfell with her father, Howland Reed, I can’t see a need for anyone who hasn’t been cast yet, not even for flashbacks. We’ll have to wait and see!
The White Walkers are almost at the Wall. It’s time for the people to retreat to their fortifications … though that won’t save them, if Old Nan’s stories were to be believed. Might that be why the producers are still scouting for castles this late in the game? Whatever the reason may be, looking for castles they certainly are, and they are doing so in the most suitable region for such a pursuit: Castilla — that is, the Land of Castles.
Game of Thrones producers were spotted scouting Urueña Castle in Castille, Spain. Though they seemed particularly interested in its round tower, we have no idea if they did choose the site for filming, but at least now we know they are looking in the area, and that they need new castles, which is surprising news in and of itself, at this point. Now, let’s all endlessly theorize about whether one of these Castilian fortifications will turn out to be Storm’s End or White Harbor or Sunspear, only to be disappointed when it’s inevitably used to fill in for yet another corner of King’s Landing. Speaking of which…
Against all odds, King’s Landing may survive the season … and Cersei’s love for wildfire. The show is looking to return to Southern Spain, where much of last season was filmed. HBO has an eye on Itálica’s Roman amphitheater and Seville’s old Royal Shipyards, which depict the Dragonpit and the Red Keep’s dungeons respectively in season seven. This means a major return to the capital before we must bid the show farewell.
These locations were said to be “indispensable for the sake of narrative continuity,” but the Royal Shipyards will be closed off for restoration in March 2018, and HBO will not return to Itálica if they can’t also film at the shipyards, which makes sense logistically. It was never confirmed whether any dates were agreed to or not, but let’s hope they were.
Winter may be ‘here’ in the Seven Kingdoms, but the largely Southern European locations and climate change aren’t collaborating with the show to make this a reality. Since Winter came at the end of season six, Game of Thrones turned to the usual tricks to threaten us with the Long Night: artificial snow and computer-generated snowy backgrounds, as well as, of course, filming in the beautiful locale of Iceland. Yet, even the glaciers have been diminished since the last time the show filmed there, and even with sufficient snow Iceland lacks any signs of a medieval civilization. Iceland is perfect for the Frostfangs beyond the Wall; for a city in the Seven Kingdoms, not so much. And so, for the eighth and final season, the show is looking for winter elsewhere.
Other Nordic countries were scouted in search of an urban setting in the midst of winter. Whether it is for White Harbor, King’s Landing, or perhaps both, we know they are looking at old towns and fortifications in Scandinavian countries: first they looked in Sweden, until they decided against it for tax reasons, at which point Norway became the prime contender. However, it’s worth noting we haven’t heard anything since November, and we have no idea which Norwegian locations were or are being considered.
Fortunately, if Norway ends up being a filming location, the list of candidates is slim. Unlike most of Europe, this country isn’t filled to the brim with Medieval architecture. The likeliest candidate may be the Akershus Fortress in Oslo, an easy wintry substitute for the walls of King’s Landing with the help of clever editing and VFX enhancements. Other locations could, if put together, make up the snowed-in streets of the capital, such as the Old Aker Church in Oslo, Jugendstilsenteret in Ålesund, Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, and St. Mary’s Church in Bergen. Yet, keep in mind this is all speculation!
If there’s something we are absolutely sure of, however, it’s that the show will always return to its Belfast HQ. One can never know what’s going on inside Paint Hall Studio, but thankfully there are many other Game of Thrones sets all around Northern Ireland.
One such set stands in Moneyglass. Castle Ward stood for Winterfell at first, but for season two a courtyard and a few rooms were built instead of returning to the castle. For season five, the show was more ambitious, so the elaborate, geographically coherent Winterfell set that still stands today in Moneyglass was built. As we saw in many recent walk-and-talk scenes, this interconnection makes the castle feel truly real. But it isn’t! It’s a set and as such it needs frequent repairs and expansions, so construction work always takes place a few months before filming begins. This year was no different: about a week ago, pre-production began in Moneyglass, with the front wall being removed.
THE END OF THE GAME
The White Walkers are at the Wall, and they have an undead dragon on their side. The Princes That Were Promised have come together in a political alliance and perhaps more. While the Starks and Targaryens intend to end the Long Night before it begins anew, for the time being the Lannister Queen stands alone. This is the endgame.
Before this season, many wondered how the story could end in thirteen episodes, but now it’s easy to picture the show coming to a close in seven more hours, or rather this week’s 80 minutes finale and, according to rumors, six similarly extra-long episodes. There aren’t any loose threads or side-plots left. We are heading straight to the finish line, so six to eight hours seems more than enough for a climax and a denouement.
Whether we are prepared or not, the showrunners have been for years: “So much of the endgame is stuff that we’ve been discussing for at least four or five years, if not longer. So a lot of the pieces have been put on the board years ago. You could go back to season two and some of these ideas started to come out” Weiss told TIME. “The actual endgame, the main climactic moments, we had in mind then. We had ninety percent of this crucial chunk of the story for the final season, and we were mainly talking to George [R.R. Martin] to see how our notion of where things ended up jibed with his notion.”
Most of that “talking” took place in 2013, when Benioff and Weiss got Martin’s road map for the ending. However, it was only a rough outline of the major story beats, as Martin is (in)famously a “gardener” who doesn’t plot everything out — “he discovers things by writing,” as Benioff put it. Understandably, that’s not a possibility for them as TV writers: “We have to be architects. Everything has to be planned out really far in advance.”
It’s time for these plans to come to fruition. Soon we will see “The Dragon and the Wolf,” which will not only end season seven but set up the eighth — the endgame. Get ready, knights of summer, because winter is upon us, and we know what’s coming with it!