By Max Godnick
Millions of die-hard fans will presumably cry when HBO airs its final episode of flagship series "Game of Thrones." Kit Harington certainly did when he read the scene pages. Twice.
It's been 431 days since HBO aired its most recent episode of "Game of Thrones," but the network still hasn't confirmed a premiere date for the phenom's eighth and final season.
But winter is still coming ー at some point.
In July, HBO programming chief Casey Bloys said the show would air at some point in the first half of 2019, but the network hasn't revealed any more specifics since then.
But the wait for a concrete premiere date may be ending sooner rather than later.
"I don't think you'll have to wait too much longer to find that out," James Hibberd, editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly, said Thursday in an interview on Cheddar.
Hibberd would know. He spent time on the series's Belfast set as part of the publication's exclusive first look at the final season.
The experience took him to the cast's final table read and brought him face-to-face with Emmy-winning showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
"There are so many secrets," Hibberd said of the closely-guarded production.
He learned new details about the series's conclusion including how the actors responded to reading the final script and what the epic culminating battle will entail. (It's between the living and the dead and goes down at Winterfell.)
Hibberd described the clash as "potentially the longest consecutive battle sequence ever shot." It was shot by Miguel Sapochnik who won an Outstanding Directing Emmy for helming 2016's iconic "Battle of the Bastards" episode.
During his time on set, Hibberd was able to follow up on a conversation he had with Benioff and Weiss during the filming of season three. The creators shared their initial ideas of how they planned to one day end the series, and now that the day has finally come, Hibberd said the pair's predictions largely came to fruition.
With some exceptions.
"They originally thought they were going to have to do three movies to pull off the final season," he explained.
"The amount of time that would be involved and the amount of money that would be involved seemed like it was far beyond what you could ever do for a television show at that time."
But, Hibberd said that HBO made true on its promise to give Benioff and Weiss whatever they needed to end the series as they saw fit. Creating a show that pulled in as many as 30 million weekly viewers in the U.S. alone and a record number of Emmy wins for a drama series didn't hurt the show's case to end on its own terms ー with six, feature-film-length episodes to close out the series.
With just a few months left before the anticipated premiere, Benioff and Weiss find themselves in the same position of showrunners before them who were faced with the daunting task of wrapping up a beloved show in a way that satisfies, but still surprises its adoring fans.
"I don't think anyone's ever been under pressure quite this much," Hibberd said, revealing that the producers told him they've looked to predecessors "The Sopranos" and "Breaking Bad" for finale inspiration.
Unlike those shows, "Game of Thrones" has the advantage of having mapped out its end game years before shooting its final episodes.
"It's something that they've been working toward actively behind the scenes for years" Hibberd said.
"They seem confident, the cast seems pretty confident."
But until that fateful Sunday night in "the first half of 2019," we, just like Jon Snow, know nothing.
For full interview click here.