9:45am PT by Josh Wigler
'Game of Thrones' Star on the Final Season: "It's Going to Hit Hard"
[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season seven of HBO's Game of Thrones.]
Winter is coming, and so is the end.
The final six episodes of HBO's Game of Thrones are currently in production and are not expected to arrive until 2019. For many, the wait for new episodes is an agonizing experience, with so many questions still hanging in the balance and so much uncertainty in the air, as the White Walkers march through the Wall and toward Winterfell — their full impact still more than a year away from making itself known.
For those viewers, it's worth heeding some words of wisdom from Isaac Hempstead Wright, the young actor who plays the green-seeing Bran Stark: "When it comes to a conclusion, this is the end. Nothing more is coming, and the certainty of it being over will definitely bother people."
Hempstead Wright and the rest of the Game of Thrones cast are in the thick of filming the shortened final season of the series, one that star Sophie Turner promises will leave fans with bittersweet memories of the years spent in Westeros. For his part, Hempstead Wright echoes those sentiments, noting that he and his fellow cast and crew members are taking time now to savor each and every moment before Game of Thrones reaches the finish line — something he anticipates won't be fully appreciated until after the credits roll on the final episode.
Here's what the longtime Game of Thrones star revealed to The Hollywood Reporter about the emotionality of the final season, his anticipation of the fan reaction, his thoughts on some of the critiques leveled at season seven's penultimate episode and more.
You're in the midst of filming the final season of Game of Thrones, but while you were shooting season seven, did it already feel like you were in the home stretch?
Definitely. I think the fact that we were only doing seven episodes, in terms of the actual content and how far we were able to get the story to progress in that season, made us think: "This is definitely only part one." By the end of it, we were nowhere near resolution, but we're definitely on the downward descent into what this conclusion must be. I think the fact that these characters are all so much closer together now really added to the feeling that we were at the beginning of the finale.
Season seven featured only seven episodes, as opposed to the standard 10. The final season will be even shorter. What do you think is the benefit of these shorter seasons?
It's so critical that they didn't decide to just stretch this out for another ten episodes to make more money from it. The people making Game of Thrones are acutely aware of how they want this story to go. It's not like they don't have a big plan and need to bide their time with a few extra episodes. They know exactly how they want this to end. I think even from season five, they knew where the story was going. Therefore, we were able to really concentrate on the storyline far more than we had in previous seasons. In previous seasons, there were so many different organs in this living, breathing thing that is Game of Thrones that are existing all over the place, and season seven meant we could get rid of the deadwood in the story — not that there is any deadwood in the story, but we could focus on what was important now in telling the ending. After season seven, clearly Littlefinger [Aidan Gillen] isn't going to be in the story anymore, and this storyline here has been concluded...but there's also the fact that we spent just as much time and just as much money on fewer episodes. Naturally, we were able to give far more attention. I think it ends up being more fast-paced. When you're heading into a finale, you don't want to have any unnecessary episodes. You want to be going, "God, we didn't have enough episodes! I want to know where it's going next!"
The penultimate episode of season seven took some heat in terms of the practicalities of travel — the speed with which ravens and dragons could fly between Dragonstone and the realm beyond the Wall, for instance. Game of Thrones is the biggest show on TV at the moment. Do you think those kinds of criticisms were fair, or do you think they're overblown due to the show's popularity?
Naturally, when anything is coming toward its finale, especially something as consistently brilliant as Game of Thrones, naturally people are concerned about whether we can do this justice: "Are they going to fuck this up at the last minute?" Obviously, people will hold us to a higher standard: "That didn't make sense!" Definitely more than other seasons. We step up so much now that it's easier to find something that contradicts what was done earlier, seven seasons in. It's fair enough that people are very antsy and concentrated on us making season seven absolutely perfect. Perhaps some things get read into too much. I find people getting obsessed with some little details that aren't really relevant at all. I suppose Game of Thrones is its own worst enemy, then, because there are moments where these tiny details reveal so much about the plot and the future. But in general, I don't think there were any glaring plot holes. I think it was a pretty incredible season.
Is there a freedom to knowing that no matter what, even if you find the ending of this series satisfying, there will be some people who are inevitably disappointed — that an element of displeasure is simply unavoidable, given the size of the fan base?
We're all so confident in the way this story goes and the message it gives and how the whole story arc works. Season seven was a marvel in terms of epic, fast-paced, exciting storytelling. As long as we can reconcile with ourselves that we're happy with how it ends, it won't matter what anyone else thinks, really. As long as we feel we've done the story justice, and have done justice to George's universe and David and Dan's vision, then that's really all we can hope for. It won't go the way some people want. It will be too happy for some people, or too sad, or too whatever. That's the nature of an ending. Midway through a season, there's always the idea that this is going to continue and somewhere along the way we'll make up for it all. When it comes to a conclusion, this is the end. Nothing more is coming, and the certainty of it being over will definitely bother people. But overall, I think we're going to smash it. (Laughs)
Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven, with the power to trip through the past. Have you felt a kinship with his abilities, the further along you have progressed with Game of Thrones? For instance, you began this show at Winterfell alongside Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner — and through season seven, at least, you're back to where it all started.
Definitely. And especially because I was aware of how the Three-Eyed Raven operates, I've really tried to be conscious of that nostalgia whenever I had a scene in Winterfell and by the godswood. I'll be very present in that scene, but midway through, all the other things that have happened here that have involved my character — even the things that haven't involved my character but were significant parts of the story unfolding in Winterfell's courtyard, like Ned Stark cleaning his sword, or when Maester Luwin is killed, or Ramsay's tyrannical reign over Winterfell. I was very acutely aware of what an important place it was to be back here, not just for my character, but the whole story. Winterfell has been such an important center of things. It was very fun to get back to that set — but it is a very cold and muddy set, and our holding area between takes is typically under a shipping container or a tent, so I wasn't thrilled on that front.
You were absent from the show during season five. Does that give you any insight into what it might feel like when Game of Thrones fully ends?
I still don't think I know what it's going to feel like, because that whole season, I knew I was going to be coming back. It was interesting to watch it unfold without knowing what was happening. That was bizarre. But that's not going to happen now that I've made it to season eight. It's not like I'll be dying on the show while it goes on for another three seasons, watching all my pals while I'm not there. It means that when we're done, we're done. I found it mildly reassuring that it was going on, even though I wasn't there. That whole world is still happening without me. It's sad I'm not a part of it, but oh well. When it actually finishes, it's going to hit hard. We won't experience it for a while, because we still have a lot of filming to do, and then there will be the whole whirlwind of the press, which will happen for a long time. I think it will be when we get to this time in 2019, when we're usually expecting the phone call organizing flights for the next season, that it will be very sad and it will be very real: This doesn't exist anymore. That's going to be an interesting transitional period. There will be so many glamorous [events] and all of these fireworks as we celebrate the ending of the show — and then all of the sudden, it will be nothing. And it will be sad.
What are your thoughts on the imminent ending of Game of Thrones? Let us know in the comments section, and keep following THR.com/GameOfThrones for full coverage of the fantasy series.