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Game of Thrones Considers Shortened Final Seasons

4 minute read

All shows must die – even Game of Thrones. As the fantasy epic readies to launch its sixth season, HBO and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss are nearly ready to confirm a seventh – and the duo are also talking about an eighth run of episodes that might include an end-date plan. “We’ve known for several years now how many hours, roughly, we want it to go,” Benioff tells EW. “It hasn’t changed.”

The proposed magic number? About 73 hours, with the final run split between seasons 7 and 8. Thrones would then have six 10-episode seasons and shortened seasons for years seven (with seven episodes) and eight (with six episodes). So this could, in theory, mark the final year Game of Thrones gets a 10-episode season – and there could only be 13 hours left after season 6.

But nothing has been officially decided, as this discussion has been going on for quite a long time and may continue well into next year. “In every conversation, that’s been [the showrunners’] thinking,” says HBO’s entertainment president Michael Lombardo of setting a season 8 end date. “It will be interesting to see how strongly they feel about being definitive about that when we are in a position to announce seasons 7 and 8.”

Some background: The Thrones team first told EW a version of this idea back in October. We’ve been holding on publishing because of the level of uncertainty involved. But Variety published an interview with the Benioff and Weiss where they essentially said the same thing, prompting HBO to release a statement: “Any conversations about the end of Game of Thrones and the number of episodes of future seasons is purely speculative. As is customary, HBO will sit with Dan and David to discuss the details once a decision has been made to go forward with season 7.”

Since this will doubtless prompt a frenzy of discussion, we’re telling you what we’ve heard so far, along with some major caveats. Keep in mind HBO and the Thrones producers might not decide to announce an end date plan for another year or more, and could eventually agree to different numbers entirely.

See Photos from Game of Thrones Season 5

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark. Macall B. Polay—HBO
Michael McElhatton as Roose Bolton, Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Bolton and Elizabeth Webster as Walda Frey.Helen Sloan—HBO
Conleth Hill as Varys and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Helen Sloan—HBO
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.Helen Sloan—HBO
Jacob Anderson stars as Grey Worm in Game of Thrones
Nathalie Emmanuel as Missandei and Jacob Anderson as Grey Worm.Helen Sloan—HBO
Indira Varma as Ellaria Sand and Deobia Opaeri as Areo Hotah. Macall B. Polay—HBO
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark and Aidan Gillen as Littlefinger. Helen Sloan—HBO
Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon and Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth.Helen Sloan—HBO
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. Helen Sloan—HBO
Alexander Siddig as Doran Martell. Macall B. Polay—HBO
Carice van Houten as MelisandreHelen Sloan—HBO
Kit Harington as Jon Snow. Helen Sloan—HBO
Daniel Portman as Podrick Payne and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth.Helen Sloan—HBO
Dean-Charles Chapman as Tommen Baratheon and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister.Macall B. Polay—HBO
Kristofer Hivju as Tormund Giantsbane. Helen Sloan—HBO
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister. Helen Sloan—HBO
Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow.Macall B. Polay—HBO
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant.Macall B. Polay—HBO
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister.Helen Sloan—HBO
Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder.Helen Sloan—HBO
Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Tyene Sand.Macall B. Polay—HBO
Jessica Henwick as Nymeria Sand.Helen Sloan—HBO
Keisha Castle-Hughes. as Obara Sand.Helen Sloan—HBO
Nell Tiger Free as Myrcella Baratheon and Toby Sebastian as Trystane MartellMacall B. Polay—HBO
Nell Tiger Free as Myrcella Baratheon.Macall B. Polay—HBO

If the Game of Thrones team decides to drive a sword through its own production, some would consider it a Herculean act of creative integrity above financial gain. Thrones is HBO’s most popular series ever, an international sensation that gains a bigger audience every season (racking up 20.2 million viewers in the U.S. alone for season 5). Just as crucial to HBO, the series shattered Emmy records with 12 wins last fall, more than any other drama series in history for a single year. This combination of audience passion and critical acclaim is an enormous incentive for a subscription-based cable network to keep a title going – especially while fighting off streaming rivals like Netflix and struggling to find new Sunday night drama heirs. HBO’s recently launched period drama Vinyl, despite being renewed for a second season, didn’t pop in the ratings charts, while the upcoming sci-fi series Westworld has been beset by production delays.

“[Ending Thrones] will be a tough one for me – partly as an executive and partly as a fan,” Lombardo says. “A show that resonates this way and works on all levels, it’s painful to imagine it ending. At the same time, David and Dan have a big responsibility and I respect that enormously. If we just keep going then we’re doing what the [broadcast] networks have done – and nobody wants to do that.”

Since Thrones is also evolving past the story in George R.R. Martin’s novels this season, there’s no longer even fan expectations that the show will follow a certain path. This is a sprawling fantasy tale without a singular quest – there’s not a magic ring of power being carried to Mount Doom – so the producers could presumably drag the tale out beyond what they and Martin consider the most ideal path. But Benioff and Weiss have long sought to end Thrones on the most epic possible note, and the show’s notoriously grueling production pace has also become an exhausting factor. “We wanted to end while we’re still ambulatory and going strong,” Benioff says. “We love the show too much.”

Game of Thrones returns for its sixth season on April 24.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

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