'Game of Thrones': Inside the Lavish Final Season Premiere

For a few New York minutes, Manhattan played the role of Westeros to honor the final season of 'Thrones.' The Hollywood Reporter walks through what went down at the HBO drama's final world premiere.
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO
Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage 'Game Of Thrones' New York premiere.

In author George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series on which HBO's Game of Thrones is based, the stories of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) are planned to conclude in a seventh and final entry called "A Dream of Spring." Who knows if the book will ever arrive (fans have awaited book six since Thrones' first season ended in 2011), but if it never does, at least there's this: the end of creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss' television adaptation is finally, officially, just a few weeks away. 

Benioff, Weiss and various members of the Game of Thrones family descended upon New York City on Wednesday night for one last star-studded celebration of the history-making series, airing its final season premiere on April 14, culminating in the May 19 series finale. Unlike the name of Martin's hopeful final novel, there was no need to dream of spring, as sunshine and warm weather arrived in full force for the occasion; a happy contrast to the winds of winter plaguing Westeros, brought on by the arrival of the Night King and his army of White Walkers. Of course, weather didn't matter much for the men and women who walked the translucent-tented red carpet outside of New York's Radio City Music Hall: Peter Dinklage ("Tyrion Lannister"), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau ("Jaime Lannister") and Sophie Turner ("Sansa Stark"), among countless others.

So, how did they all feel about bringing this massive adventure to an end? Perhaps no one summarized it better than Emilia Clarke ("Daenerys Targaryen"), who told The Hollywood Reporter: "This is bonkers. I feel great, and weird, and strange."

"I have to be honest; I'm slightly overwhelmed at the moment," agreed Isaac Hempstead Wright, who plays the all-seeing Bran Stark. "I'm usually pretty good at these events! We've done so many, that we've gotten used to doing the press lines. But this? This one is something else. There must be something in the air."

There was certainly something in the air: a massive replica of the Iron Throne, towering over Rockefeller Center — a much deadlier totem than the Christmas tree that lights up the area in December. "Winter is here," as they say. The grandeur of the Manhattan spectacle wasn't lost on the cast, either.

"I was driving over in the car, looking out the window on my way over here, arriving in the middle of the madness," said Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth, Jon Snow's loyal lieutenant. "I thought to myself: New York really is the capital of the world. It's the wonderful, diverse melting pot of madness. It's gorgeous, this town. Where else should we have the closing of the book than here in the Big Apple?"

Aside from the nearby throne, the red carpet was relatively free of Westerosi ornaments, at least compared to previous premiere events. But no ornaments were necessary, as the carpet itself transformed into a living, breathing monument to one of the most beloved dramas in television history, thanks to the various cast members on hand, including several long since deceased figures: Jack Gleeson ("Joffrey Baratheon"), Jason Momoa ("Khal Drogo"), Pedro Pascal ("The Red Viper") and Sean Bean ("Lord Eddard Stark"), to name a few.

"As a fan of the show, it's amazing," actor Joe Dempsie ("Gendry") said, acknowledging the various departed cast members in attendance. "The remarkable thing about a show like Game of Thrones and the size of this cast is that there are some people you never meet. You're often ships in the night. Like, I never met Mark Addy until yesterday. I was like, 'Where the hell have you been, pops?'"

Addy, of course, played the roaring Robert Baratheon, the king who died in season one after injuries sustained during a boar hunt — injuries spurred on by the conspiratorial machinations of his own wife, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). As one of the most prominent actors originally associated with the series, Addy couldn't help but look on at the drama's evolution with tremendous pride.

"This is something we started eleven years ago — because, of course, we shot the pilot the year before we shot season one proper," he said. "It's been a long journey, and it's amazing to feel like you're part of a family. [HBO has] really been gracious, allowing us guys who died off early to be a part of this, and to be respected as part of the creative team. It's remarkable."

Almost exactly eight full years since its April 17, 2011 series premiere, the Game of Thrones cast and crew members were understandably nostalgic as they reflected on the finality of their work. The jewel in HBO's crown, Game of Thrones has earned 47 Emmy Awards victories, a staggering number that is sure to increase significantly following its final season. The legacy of Game of Thrones speaks for itself without any need for further validation. All the same, the extended Thrones family members were more than happy to validate.

"It's quite hard to understate the legacy of Game of Thrones," said Hempstead Wright. "It's literally changed the face of television forever."

"It raised the bar to a phenomenal height," added Charles Dance, whose vicious Tywin Lannister died in season four. "I hope it provokes other production companies to maintain that level. HBO has spent money in the right way on this show. Every successive season, they said they were going to make it bigger and better. The bar has gone up and up and up. It's fantastic."

For his part, Cunningham's assessment was much the same as Dance's own words: "When people have talked about the magnificent television that's come up over the years, from The Wire to Breaking Bad to Mad Men [and beyond], each of them raised the bar a little bit as far as what's achievable, what's good, what's clever, what's unpatronizing. I would like to think that if we have a legacy at all, it's that we pushed the bar up a little higher. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, somebody will push that bar even higher."

Following two hours of red carpet arrivals, the action moved indoors to the historic Radio City Music Hall. Ahead of a series of speeches, the lights darkened, followed by the disembodied voices of Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams in character as Sansa and Arya Stark, warning the audience about the ramifications of spoiling the events of the premiere. A sample of their banter:

Sansa: "Welcome to the beginning of the end. You will find safety here within the walls of Winterfell — unless you choose to violate our simple rules. No photos..."

Arya: "Let me cut his throat."

Sansa: "Whose throat?"

Arya: "The stupid one with the haircut, tapping on his phone." 

Sansa: "We haven't warned them yet!'

Arya: "That's the perfect time to kill someone!"

Following the Stark sisters' series of threats, HBO's president of programming Casey Bloys and creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss took the stage for two separate speeches, beginning with Bloys before moving onto the dynamic duo of Benioff and Weiss. All three thanked their various partners behind the scenes and in front of the camera for their contributions to the success of Thrones, with highlights from the speeches including:

• Multiple shout-outs and huge applause for outgoing HBO CEO Richard Plepler. Said Bloys: "Richard greenlit the most expensive pilot in the history of HBO, and then he greenlit the most expensive pilot reshoots in the history of HBO — because Richard knew the show was not about incest and dragons, it was about family and power and who sits on the throne. More important than that, he knew this was a bet on David Benioff and Dan Weiss." Added Weiss: "I don't know why you said yes. In hindsight, it seems like it may have been a foolhardy decision. But on behalf of everyone who worked on this show and everyone who watches it, thank you. We're all here because of the choice you made."

• Praise for Westeros mastermind George R.R. Martin, who was in attendance at the final season premiere. ("I don't think it should be the final season, but here we are," Martin told THR on the red carpet, a laughing jab at how Benioff and Weiss outpaced his own writing.) Speaking to the audience, Weiss said of Martin: "Making a television show is a team effort, but Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were born in a single, brilliant, ruthless mind. George, thank you for letting us take your children into our care. Sorry we didn't treat them better."

• Bloys on how Thrones will have forever transformed HBO's television slate moving forward: "One of the great legacies of this show will be the institutional knowledge we've gained from doing it. Now, any creator who walks in our door and says, 'I have this insane idea, and this is what I want to do,' we don't say, 'Oh, we don't know how to do that.' We'll say, 'Here are five different ways you can do that.' That's really, really meaningful for us."

After the speeches, Benioff and Weiss introduced the full cast of Game of Thrones on stage, and not just the active actors, but all of the since departed players who were in attendance. With speeches wrapped and the cast taking leave of the stage after an extended ovation, the first hour of the final Game of Thrones season finally screened for the audience — and that's more or less the only thing one can say about the final season premiere without running the risk of spoiling the story, and therefore getting killed by Arya Stark.

Of course, the final season's stakes are already clear: Jon Snow, Daenerys, Tyrion and their allies were last seen heading toward Winterfell in order to unite an army of the living against the terrifying forces of the dead. Band together or die; an easy enough premise on paper, but a much harder one in practice, given the interpersonal tensions between members of the alliance. How those tensions play out, and how far the White Walkers have advanced since knocking down the Wall in season seven, will have to wait to be revealed on premiere night. 

Story details aside, here's one thing that's safe to reveal: the reaction from the audience. Admittedly, given their connection to the series, the crowd was primed for a warm reception, but warm doesn't exactly cover it: their laughter, shock and horror was as loud and resounding as one would hope given the gravity of the event. If it's indicative of the wider audience response still to come, expect some chills when the wintery premiere hits HBO on April 14.

With the first of six final Game of Thrones episodes officially in the books for this select crowd of viewers, guests hurried off to celebrate in style at the lavish afterparty, hosted at the Ziegfeld Ballroom a short walk away from Radio City Music Hall. Beyond the Thrones cast, celebrities in attendance included HBO staples John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Anthony Carrigan (Barry), comedians Kevin Nealon and Keegan-Michael Key, Anthrax lead guitarist Scott Ian, and others.

For the afterparty, the Ziegfeld was coated in unflinching shades of red, designed to evoke feelings of dragon fire. A DJ provided music with a replica of the Iron Throne nearby, glowing red against a blazing backdrop, as though set ablaze by one of Daenerys' dragons. Artwork inspired by the series adorned a hallway leading into the party, with contributions from the likes of Robert Ball, Lena Danya, Victo Ngai, Magdalena Kaczan and Laurent Durieux. Attendees could watch over the crowded main floor from a loft space, which included activities such as makeup and photo stations.

The army of the living won't have much time for calorie consumption in the final season, but the afterparty included a feast worthy of George R.R. Martin's own delectable prose. Main courses included a chilled farro salad, spring vegetable chopped salad, short rib bolognese, spring orecchiette, lemon-roasted branzino, pan-roasted chicken medallions, za'atar-crusted lamb loin, mushroom "Rockefeller," pommes croquette and an artisanal bread basket. There were passed appetizers as well (the miniature Cuban sandwiches were a standout) in addition to several desserts, including a fruit skewer and a cookies-and-cream cup. The event's special beverage of choice: "Frost and Fire," a cocktail made from Johnnie Walker Black Label, sweet vermouth, spicy bitters and soda.

The only complaint on the food front: as with past premiere parties, there were no lemon cakes on hand, Sansa Stark's personal favorite pastry. It was a notably rude affront to the future Queen in the North — and no, that's not a spoiler; it's just a dream … and dreams are all we have this spring, at least until the May 19 finale.

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage.