Who will win the Iron Throne? Will there even be a kingdom worth conquering if the White Walkers make it past The Wall? When the dust settles and winter finally ends, will anyone still be alive to enjoy the spoils of war?
These questions have long been on the minds of Game of Thrones fans, but purely as end-game theorizing. However, with season six looming, the final act of HBO’s Emmy-winning fantasy epic might be within reach.
Word began circulating this week that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are mulling two shortened final seasons of Thrones, though an HBO spokesperson stopped short of confirming the report: “Any conversations about the end of Game of Thrones and the number of episodes of future seasons is purely speculative.”
Even without an official ruling on the show’s future, multiple cast members tell The Hollywood Reporter that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel — assuming there’s any light at all, depending on how the story ends. John Bradley, who plays Night’s Watch steward Samwell Tarly, describes season six as a year of “redemption,” and one where “loose ends are tied up.”
“You get the sense that stories are coming to a conclusion,” he said.
Michael McElhatton, who plays the menacing Roose Bolton, backs that claim, and credits the looming end to the writers’ knack for ruthless storytelling.
“Definitely, yeah,” McElhatton said when asked if he feels Thrones is coming close to an end. “They can move so fast as writers. They can cut swathes of people, just killing people off. Suddenly, a person’s gone, and that journey’s over, and that journey’s over … with all these characters, [the writers] can move incredibly fast with the storytelling.”
Look no further than Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, for one of the most prolific killers on the show. Season six continues Arya’s path of darkness — quite literally, in fact, as she was blinded in the season five finale — and Williams says the path is leading toward a definitive, and potentially imminent, conclusion.
“We’re building up to a massive downhill sprint,” she said. “That’s what it feels like. We’re getting more riled up. At the end of this [season], people will obviously be waiting for the next season of the series, but it will feel like the end is in sight.”
Little is known about the story of season six, since it bypasses the publishing schedule of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire source material. In January, Martin revealed the sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, would not be released until after the upcoming season of Thrones, casting the entire story in shadows for both readers and viewers alike.
But even without knowing story points, Thrones has been driving toward an end game since the very beginning, evidenced in the actions of and interactions between characters. Kristofer Hivju, who plays the towering Tormund Giantsbane, says the inevitable end of Thrones will extend naturally from how the story has been paced: piece by piece in one long, consecutive game.
“In many TV shows, season six is the season where you really start rebooting the same conflicts over and over again,” he said, adding that Thrones breaks from the mold. “This is a big journey for all the characters. It’s one big story. We don’t have to redefine the essence of the show. We’re just continuing.”
“Even great shows find it hard to sustain over time,” added Bradley. “One of my favorite shows is Breaking Bad, but I do feel like with that last season, there’s a new starting point. I think season four wrapped up really nicely, and season five [felt] almost contrived to get to another season. I don’t think that’s going to happen here. Everybody’s through-line is so complete and direct.”
For what it’s worth, not every Thrones cast member feels the show needs to end soon. When asked if he feels Thrones needs to reach the end of the road in the near future, Theon Greyjoy actor Alfie Allen answered, “No. I want it to carry on forever.” He’s certainly not alone.
Game of Thrones premieres its sixth season on April 24. Keep up with all of THR‘s coverage of the show here.