Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season will be a scant six episodes long, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed at Austin’s SXSW festival on Sunday. Season seven, which kicks off July 13, will run for just seven episodes—and feature another in a long line of musical guests: Ed Sheeran.
The pair had been trying to get Sheeran on the HBO epic for years, they said, as a special surprise for superfan Maisie Williams, who plays the indomitable Arya Stark. She and fellow Stark sister Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa, moderated the panel together, taking turns quizzing their “fun uncles” in what became a lighthearted retrospective of fond memories from the show.
Benioff and Weiss praised the young Brits for avoiding “becoming Biebers” in the face of worldwide fame—and joked again and again about how much they relished writing their characters’ supposed deaths. “We both wanted to kill Sansa so badly,” quipped Weiss.
Only the tiniest tidbits of what to expect in Season 7 escaped the infamously spoiler-phobic creators—Tyrion gets the season’s “best line of dialogue,” apparently—though they admitted the occasional leak is inevitable. “Just look at what’s happening now, even the CIA can’t keep information private,” said Benioff. “What hope do we have?”
Practical jokes became a running theme, as the writers recalled their best efforts to break Kit Harington’s famously immovable pout. They once wrote a scene for his character Jon Snow in which the former Lord Commander’s entire face melted off, along with that precious head of hair. They reasoned with him that “HBO felt he was too Disney, too Harry Potter” with his clean looks, laughed Weiss, recalling Harington’s stoic attempt to hide his heartbreak.
Years ago, poor Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, suffered an attempt by Alfie Allen (aka Theon Greyjoy) to convince him an on-set beheading was real. The idea was to conjure an authentic look of horror on the boy’s face as Allen screamed: “Oh my god, call the medic!”—but all they got (and later scrapped) was a concerned look from the boy to his mother.
And Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, once tricked Benioff and Weiss into thinking he’d shaved his head between seasons. He even sent them a picture of himself with his head completely bald, prompting groans about having to scramble to find him the perfect Prince Charming wig. (The photo was years old, it turned out, and Coster-Waldau’s blond locks safe.)
Past regrets came up too, as the pair confessed to the “most embarrassing” scene they ever wrote for the show: a largely pointless scene in the pilot in which the Stark boys and Theon are shirtless and shaving in a washroom. The moment was added simply for continuity’s sake, they said, since the pilot and second episode were filmed so far apart and the young men’s faces and beards had already changed considerably due to age.
And as far as proudest moments go, Turner said season five’s infamous Ramsay Bolton rape scene is hers. That controversial scene, as she said, sparked discussion about “the taboo of rape” and ended up turning her “into a bit of an activist” as well—a declaration that brought applause throughout the ballroom.
Benioff and Weiss say they’ve outlined the show’s story up to the final episode of season eight—and are definitely not planning more Thrones after that themselves. While talk of spinoffs and prequels have been tossed around the internet, both men agreed they’d rather see HBO “get new blood in.”