The cast of Game of Thrones opens up about the long-awaited final season

GoT2HBO CanadaIt has all led to this moment. After years of fighting their individual crusades in the seven corners of Westeros and Essos, the key players of Game of Thrones finally gather to battle one common enemy: the Night King. “There’s a really interesting sense of equality in this season, because everyone is in equal amounts of peril,” says Hannah Murray, who portrays wildling Gilly. “Those hierarchies that used to mean a lot, mean a lot less now.”

Everyone brings to the table not
 just their strengths, but their collective emotional baggage. “All of these characters have come so far since we first met them,” says John Bradley, whose character Samwell Tarly returned from the Citadel at the end of last season in possession of information that could alter the course of Westeros’s history. “The congestion of character story, character psychology, hopes, fears, aims, pain, battle scars and experience is now concentrated. That’s going to create friction and that’s going to create drama.”

GoT1HBO CanadaFor fans who have dedicated years to George R.R. Martin’s fantastical universe, seeing all their favourite characters 
face one another is the kind of wish fulfillment one could only dream of. “It feels climactic,” says Bradley. “Like the final act in a play where all the characters are suddenly on stage all at once. You know that there’s momentum building. There’s a claustrophobia to it.”

Their fictitious world may be in great peril, but for those who have spent nearly a decade bringing these characters to 
life on screen, gathering one last time has been a combination of thrilling and exhausting. “The fact is it took twice 
as long to shoot these six episodes 
than a normal season,” says Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays one-handed Kingslayer Jaime Lannister. “That’s to
 do with the scale of what we did. It was unprecedented for television and even for most movies, the amount of people involved in the shoots and the amount of characters involved. Shooting scenes with that many people takes a lot of time.”

GoT3HBO CanadaBut even the time-consuming nature of filming can’t take away from the excitement of bringing this pop-culture phenomenon to its deserved spectacular end. “It was tougher for the crew than for us actors,” says Coster-Waldau. “At one point, the crew had [worked] 50-plus nights in one go and they were still smiling. Everyone in front or behind the camera loved working on the show, and everyone was so determined to finish it the right way. This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but the end is in sight and we really want to deliver.”

The eighth and final season is guaranteed to top anything viewers have seen in previous years, impressing even the cast’s most seasoned actors. “These sets that they built and the set pieces that we were part of, the likelihood of us being involved with something like this again... it’s not going to happen,” says Coster-Waldau. “There were quite a few of those in this final season that just took your breath away.”

The series that was shot in locations around the world, from Croatia to Spain to Iceland, rarely brought its entire
 cast together for anything other than premieres and press junkets, but for the first time in series history, everyone gathered in Belfast for a table read
 of the final script. “There were a few actors that hadn’t read the script,” recalls Rory McCann, who plays Sandor “the Hound” Clegane. “Kit [Harington] was sight-reading and you could see his face going, ‘Noooooo.’ It’s emotional. I remember we stood up for 10 minutes just clapping, looking at [exec producers] David [Benioff] and Dan [D.B. Weiss] going, ‘Wow.’ My hair is on end just thinking about it.”

GoT4HBO CanadaNo matter how satisfying the final episodes end up being creatively, Coster-Waldau recalls his final day of shooting taking him by surprise. “It really was the perfect way [to end the experience],” he says. “It was a beautiful day in Northern Ireland, it was great crew and great scenes. I’d seen quite a few of these farewell speeches by this point and I was like, ‘Why are people getting so emotional? It’s ridiculous.’ Then, they give you this beautiful framed bit of storyboard—mine was of when my hand is chopped off. On the back, they write some nice words and suddenly I felt some wet stuff on my face. I was like, ‘God. Err... I must be coming down with a cold.’”

The end comes with some pressure to deliver, as well. “I’ll tell you the bit that really affected me,” says Bradley. “At the end of the script, it says, ‘End of episode one.’ ‘End of episode two.’ But at the end of the final episode, it said, ‘End of Game of Thrones.’ You just think, ‘Oh my God, it’s the actual end.’ No matter what comes after with prequels and spinoffs, the core show is over. That was a real kick up the a** to do this well. We’re starting the end of the journey now, that we began nine years ago, and people have been waiting.”