Thrones, which earned a Golden Globe nomination for best TV series, drama, this week for its seventh season, is currently in the midst of production on its final season, which is expected to last through August of 2018. It’s a long wait for fans of the juggernaut HBO fantasy franchise, but the participants themselves are well and fully entrenched in the final war for the heart of Westeros.
Will the White Walkers win the day following their breach of the Wall, or does humanity still stand a chance? Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Turner, who plays Winterfell’s current commander Sansa Stark, certainly won’t spill the beans on what lies ahead as the award-winning series begins the process of wrapping up its eight-season arc — except to say the mood among the cast and crew at least lives up to author George R.R. Martin’s long-ago promise of a “bittersweet” ending.
Read on for Turner’s tease of the final six episodes of Game of Thrones, her thoughts on Sansa’s current place in the story arc considering the ending of season seven, and more.
You’re in the midst of the final season of Game of Thrones, and as such, you know so much more about where the story is headed than the audience — which is always the case, but this time, the secret you’re holding on to is the ending of the series. Is that a powerful feeling?
Yeah, I feel very, very powerful. (Laughs.) It’s exciting. Shooting these scenes, knowing how it ends now, finally, after years and years of being kept in anticipation. We’re shooting all of our final scenes. It’s getting incredibly emotional. It’s very real now.
Did you ever let yourself imagine what it would feel like once you finally reached the end of the line of Game of Thrones?
We’ve imagined it for so long. There’s also an ambiguity every season when we would get the scripts: “Is this the season where we die?” To have made it this far is pretty unbelievable, considering the amount of deaths there have been. All of us have always had discussions about theories about what we think is going to happen — who’s going to die, who’s going to end up ruling. Now, we know. It almost feels like another one of our theories. It doesn’t even feel like it’s what’s actually happening. It’s very satisfying.
What was the mood like as everyone started coming back to set to start working on the final season?
It was very, very bittersweet. The first day of the actors coming in and that kind of production starting, the day where we had the final read-through for the final script, it was really bittersweet. It was hard. At the end of the very last script, they read aloud, “End of Game of Thrones.” As soon as they read that out, pretty much everyone burst into tears. There was a standing ovation for [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss]. We were all clapping and cheering. It was amazing. It was the first time every single castmember had been there and sat through all of the scripts for season eight — obviously not castmembers who had died in the earlier seasons, but …
Which would be incredible.
It would be incredible, but I’m sure they have better things to do now!
I don’t know about that! If they had the invitation …
I would hope so. (Laughs.) Maybe for the wrap party, we’ll invite everybody who has ever died on the show. That would be great.
Looking back on the year of Thrones that just passed, there’s a feeling that season seven was the first half of a two-part season. Did it feel that way for you, filming the season?
Definitely. It definitely felt that way. And it was probably even sadder because we didn’t know what was going to happen in the end. We were filming the final push, but we didn’t know who was going to die and who was going to live. The bittersweetness started there. Also, the anxiety of, “What the fuck are we going to do when this whole thing finishes?” (Laughs.) The panic started there. Probably since season five I started personally feeling like it was all winding down. All of the sudden, we started hanging out a lot more often and realizing we shouldn’t really take this for granted. We’re having more dinner parties and making the most of it more now.
Is that the hardest part about bringing the show in for a landing — not saying goodbye to Sansa and the world you have created, but saying goodbye to the people who created the world, from the actors to the camera operators and makeup artists and beyond?
Yeah, that’s the hardest, especially the people who are behind the scenes that we don’t necessarily see at the premieres and all of the press events. That’s going to be the hardest. The final scene we shoot on set could be the final time we ever work together. It’s really difficult and we’re all getting emotional now, thinking about it. The girl who’s done my hair since season one is like an older sister to me. The camera operator is like a father figure to me. It’s going to be very hard. We really are like one big family. We’ve maintained that family throughout every season. We haven’t switched up too many people, really. We haven’t changed much in departments and department heads. It’s been very consistent. It’s like we’re living in a bubble and there’s nobody from the outside who has really come in. So, it’s going to be very strange. It’s been my entire life, really.
The first scene in Game of Thrones takes place beyond the Wall, giving a glimpse into the world of the White Walkers. But the series then proceeds to focus more on the human struggles and the power plays for the Iron Throne. In this past season, and moving into the endgame of the show, Game of Thrones has brought the fantastical side of the series more into the spotlight. Have you felt a sense of Game of Thrones becoming increasingly more epic as you reach the end of the story?
It’s definitely more epic this season, for sure. It grows and grows and grows. There are bigger and more fantastical elements, which have always been underlying throughout, but this time, it’s really emerging and there are very big roles this season. But we still very much managed to maintain those human relationships and stories that bring it back to reality and keep it resonating with the audience. The thing with Game of Thrones and the reason why I believe it works so well is we have these fantastic elements, which are balanced so perfectly with the real human elements — the character-driven plot points and things like that, where you get that escapism, but it’s also very personal. It’s really key to keep that going. The greater the fantastical elements become, and the more epic it becomes with the fighting and everything, the greater the character-driven storylines become as well, and the more epic they become. There are more relationships formed this season than any other, and more people meeting and more conspiracies and plotting and forming of alliances. We have had to parallel the two, just to ensure we keep that balance just right. It’s a special, magic recipe.
You mentioned the “escapism” of Game of Thrones, which is truly one of the biggest shows on Earth. But it’s also successful because of its realistic depictions of character struggles and quests for power — and in that way, it has a very modern feeling, especially in our current political climate. Do you feel those themes and that side of Game of Thrones is more relevant now than ever?
I do feel like that. I really do. In Game of Thrones, you see the behind-the-scenes of all these power-hungry people. You see their inner workings and why they’re vying for power, to be the powerful person who gets to do whatever the fuck they say and can be sadistic and can thrive in that power. In this day and age, even in comparison to eight years ago, you can kind of see the people who were maybe more manipulative behind the scenes being outed now. It’s out in the open, and it feels like we’re almost getting an inside look at the people who are really in politics and in power — much like the way Game of Thrones gives you that. So, yeah, I do feel like it’s pretty relevant to today. There’s a theme of the manipulators and the power-hungry people all being outed now, and the crazy and disgusting things they do to get power and what they do with that power. Game of Thrones, because it’s a TV show and we can allow people access to the people behind the throne, definitely parallels the modern day for sure. I can see a few Trumps on Thrones, for sure.
At the end of season seven, Sansa made the decision to kill Littlefinger. How did her arc last year inform what’s next for Sansa? In other words, what did the events of season seven reveal about this character and her ambitions moving forward, ultimately?
It’s funny. For the first time, at the end of season seven, we’re seeing Sansa at a place of comfort and satisfaction. She now has eliminated all of the bad from her life and away from Winterfell. She’s there with her family. They might not be the same people they were in the beginning, but they’re still her family. They’re still people she can trust. She’s now only surrounded by people she trusts. For the first time, we’re seeing her very satisfied and happy — but you wonder, what’s next for Sansa? What’s going to motivate her? Is it just about keeping Winterfell as it is in this currently good place? Is it the rising threat of the undead? It’s a very strange place for her. Where do her motivations lie now? Now that she’s run out of people to manipulate, I wonder if she feels a little bit lost!
Beloved shows have come and gone, and more often than not, there’s at least a vocal minority of fans who are unhappy with the ending. Is there something freeing in knowing some people will be inevitably disappointed with how Game of Thrones ends, even if you find the ending satisfying?
Absolutely. It almost puts all of our minds to rest, just knowing the ending and being happy with that, no matter if anyone likes it or not. There have been so many theories and so many discussions with what people think is going to happen — where they would like things to go, and who they would like to see in power, and who they want to see die. Finally, just knowing. And for the people, when they watch it, I hope there’s going to be some satisfaction in that it’s come to an end and that’s how it goes. There will be some people who are disappointed, I’m sure, because they will want certain people to end up in certain places. But at this point, I’m just happy with whatever David and Dan choose to do with the story. I’ve trusted them for the past nine or 10 years of my life with this. However they decide to end it is fine by me.
How did you feel personally when you finished that final table read?
I’m getting goosebumps now thinking about it. It was a shock to the system. We actually realized, reading that “end of Game of Thrones“ line, that that was it. When you’re in it, you don’t really see an end point. It’s just an ongoing thing you’re living with. It was a real shock. It was really sad, but there was an immense amount of pride, too. We realized we had done it. We had created this amazing thing, and that’s it now. It was just a feeling of pride. I was proud of David and Dan, and I was looking around at all of the other castmembers around the table, nodding at them, and saying: “Well done. We’ve done it.” It was the craziest feeling. It’s the biggest project we’ll ever do. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it. Saying goodbye to it means putting parts of our hearts and souls behind. But we also know we’ve given it everything that we’ve got.