'Game of Thrones': Why the Wait for the Final Season Isn't a Big Deal (Anymore)

Game of Thrones Still 9 Season 7 Episode 7 - Publicity - Embed 2017
Courtesy of HBO

On Sunday, HBO aired what could be the last new episode of Game of Thrones for a very long time.

Production on the fantasy drama's eighth season is slated to begin in October and run as late as August 2018, sources say. That could push the return of the abbreviated six-episode final run into 2019 with a more than 16-month gap between seasons. (HBO would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.)

"Our production people are trying to figure out a timeline for the shoot and how much time the special effects take," HBO programming president Casey Bloys tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The shooting is complicated enough — on different continents, with all the technical aspects — and the special effects are a whole other production period that we're trying to figure out. That is a big factor in all of this."

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have all six episodes mapped out and are working in tandem with the production team to determine a schedule that makes sense for the sweeping fantasy drama and its sprawling cast. The longer wait for season eight comes after the premium cable network pushed back the start of season seven — from its typical spring debut to mid-July — as the production needed to shoot in a colder climate, including for scenes that take place beyond the wall.

Game of Thrones is not alone in taking longer between seasons. HBO is also giving Westworld showrunners Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy extra time to map out their twisty futuristic drama's second season after multiple production delays. The series was originally eyed to bow in 2015 but didn't premiere until October 2016, as producers halted production to crack the creative for its first season. For season two — returning in 2018 — Joy and Nolan have said that they're using the extra time to write all the episodes before production even begins.

HBO also took extra time between seasons of The Sopranos. The David Chase drama wrapped season four in December 2002 and didn't return for season five until March 2004; season six bowed two years later. Then there's HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, which follows creator/star Larry David's lead. (Season six ended in November 2007 and didn't return for season seven until almost two years later, for example.) The same is true for Showtime's Episodes, which recently returned for its fifth and final season more than two years since it last aired.

Over at FX, Donald Glover's Emmy-nominated comedy Atlanta is on pause while the actor films Star Wars. The comedy, which signed off Nov. 1, 2016, will not return until 2018. Then there's anthology American Crime Story, whose O.J. Simpson-centered first season wrapped April 5, 2016, with a second season — Versace — due in 2018. Louis C.K.'s beloved FX comedy Louie is on a long-term hiatus until the writer-director-actor feels inspired to tell new stories. FX also gave Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley extra time after season two ended to craft the third run, with a year-and-a-half break between seasons. (The cabler also is waiting for Hawley to have an idea for season four of Fargo, as there is no return date — or a formal renewal — for the anthology.)

Amazon also announced Friday that critical favorite Fleabag would not return for season two until 2019 while star Phoebe Waller-Bridge films Star Wars and serves as showrunner on BBC America's 2018 drama Killing Eve.

This is all to say that while viewers have become accustomed to watching their favorite programming on a regular basis — Walking Dead launches in October and broadcast favorites like Grey's Anatomy return in September — viewing patterns are changing in the Peak TV era and a premiere date matters less and less.

"There's more flexibility," FX president of original programming Eric Schrier tells THR. "FX, HBO and others are in the art business as well as the commerce business. But it's art before commerce. Our business is based on doing high-quality programming and sometimes that takes longer to make than the traditional broadcast cycle — where a show has to return year over year because of ad dollars."

Of course there are disadvantages — like increased marketing budget needs — that come with such delays between seasons, but insiders note that the wait is typically worth it.

"As shows get bigger and more complicated, I have to follow the producers' lead and let go of, 'It'd be nice to have it every year,'" Bloys says. (Westworld, it's worth noting, scored a leading 22 Emmy nominations, a big payoff for the extra time.) "They have to do the best show they can do. With bigger shows like Westworld or Game of Thrones, sometimes if you want the big show and the big scope, it takes longer."