Winter is coming.
At least, “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss hope it is, because they can’t start filming the penultimate season until there’s snow on the ground, or at least a hint of Jack Frost in the air. Because of that, production of the show has been pushed back from its usual start date of July.
Naturally, its release is pushed back along with it.
Instead of appearing on HBO in spring, as it usually does, the show won’t return until midsummer.
For the uninitiated, in the “Game of Thrones” universe, seasons aren’t normal lengths. Summer can last for 10 years, as can winter. Since the first episode, winter has been en route but hadn’t quite arrived until last season.
Casey Bloys, president of HBO programming, said in a press release, “Now that winter has arrived on ‘Game of Thrones,’ executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss felt that the story lines of the next season would be better served by starting production a little later than usual, when the weather is changing. Instead of the show’s traditional spring debut, we’re moving the debut to summer to accommodate the shooting schedule.”
There’s a strange irony here – fans waited six years for winter to finally arrive in Westeros, and now they have to wait for it to arrive in Northern Ireland, Spain and Iceland before they can view any more episodes.
The company also announced that this season will be truncated. Instead of the usual 10 episodes, season 7 will only contain seven episodes. (One can’t help but wonder if that number of episodes has any significance, given that, much like in the Bible, seven is a major theme of the show, what with the seven-faced god and the seven kingdoms.)
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean season 7 will contain less actual running time. The season 6 finale boasted a running time of 69 minutes, so these episodes – which will likely contain more large-scale battles than previous seasons – could stretch a bit longer than normal.
Benioff and Weiss have previously told Entertainment Weekly they hope the entire show’s running time will be around 73 hours. There aren’t any confirmed details regarding the eighth season, which is thought to be its last – so how long each episode will be is purely guesswork at this point.
What we do know is that “Game of Thrones” won’t be eligible for the Emmys next year. As Variety noted, a show’s episodes must have aired by May 31 to be considered for the Emmys, so a summer release date automatically disqualifies it.
It might be a blow to HBO – 23 of the network’s 94 recent nods came from “Game of Thrones” – but it’s not exactly a blow to the show, which is far from underground. Its finale was watched by 8.9 million people. Add in the streaming numbers (which are still growing) and the show’s audience extends well beyond 23 million, which prompted Time to call it “the last consensus show on TV,” comparing it with the likes of “M*A*S*H,” “Cheers” and “Friends.”
While the natural reaction for many might be disappointment, some critics have pointed out a shorter season – and more time for the showrunners to work on it – might prove beneficial.
Season 6 was the first truly original season. The books upon which the television series is based remain incomplete, so Benioff and Weiss’ version was forced to part ways from George R. R. Martin’s. Critical reaction to the season was generally favorable, but the Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber pointed out that it felt a little thin in places.
For this reason, he thinks a shorter season could be a plus. He wrote:
“Martin, up to this point, had done the legwork for Benioff and Weiss; it takes him so long to write each installment in part because he has to figure out how to move the extremely complicated narrative along without resorting to shortcuts. And in addition to no longer having the simple and inexorable logic of Martin’s plot to build upon, Benioff and Weiss also have to create dialogue and setting details from scratch for nearly every single scene.
“Logic would dictate that tackling this challenge would take more time, and therefore would mean that Benioff and Weiss could create fewer episodes in a year.”
A simpler but no less true point was brought up by Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, who noted that the show’s production value has increased with each season. A longer season might allow them to focus on those larger set pieces. After all, the shooting of the instantly famous Battle of the Bastards scene was far from a picnic.
Anyway, couldn’t we all use a little dose of winter during the dog days of summer next year?