Earlier this fall a rumor about the final season of Game of Thrones started spreading through the fandom. No, this wasn’t another behind-the-scenes spoiler or tantalizing bit of casting news.
The source of this rumor came from HBO president Casey Bloys himself who said that in order to preserve the surprise of the Season 8 series finale and prevent the whole Kit and caboodle from leaking online, the show will film multiple alternate endings to George R.R. Martin’s saga. But according to a new interview with star Emilia Clarke, precautions are going even further than that. Not even the actors, she says, will know how it all will end.
Now, there was reason enough to doubt this multiple endings story from Bloys in the first place. Putting aside the fact that HBO, Game of Thrones, and its stars have a habit of fudging the truth in order to, as they see it, protect the fandom from knowing too much about the story, there are a few other doubtful elements at play here. Financially, shooting several entirely different endings for a big-budget fantasy of this scope seems extreme. Sure, there is precedent for HBO spending some extra time and money to dupe inquisitive fans. Thrones star Kit Harington claimed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that the show once spent 15 hours shooting three fake scenes in order to foil the drone-heavy spies circling the production. But while shots of Emilia Clarke and Harington monkeying around with some foam dragon heads on the beach may have fooled some fans, it didn’t hoodwink the most devoted Thrones production reporters. Susan Miller, of the fan site Watchers on the Wall, pointed out to Vulture that her team wasn’t taken in for a second.
So given that those relatively inexpensive gambits didn’t fool spoiler hunters last year and the spoilers that did leak out didn’t impact either ratings or the enthusiasm of the Thrones fan base (the show was more popular than ever), then what is the value of actually shooting multiple costly endings? On the other hand, claiming you’re shooting multiple endings, does have its advantages. Clarke told The Telegraph that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have “written a number of different endings” and that “none of the cast know what the actual ending is. If there’s ever a leak of any kind, don’t believe it because it’s probably not true.” In other words, just by saying this, Clarke has empowered the cast and crew to cry “fake news” at whatever leaks there may be.
But the notion that not even the cast knows how it all will end is even a little harder to believe. Weiss and Benioff told Vanity Fair way back in 2014 that George R.R. Martin had let them in on how A Song of Ice and Fire would all wrap up. Even as the HBO show shot past Martin’s novels, Weiss and Benioff wrote their version of the story with that ending mind. Benioff said:
Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with him [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be. If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character.
If the cast truly doesn’t know the ending, that would mean that over the course of four years Weiss and Benioff never once—even over late-night Guinnesses in Belfast—gave the actors hints about their ultimate fate. If that’s the case, our hats off to Weiss and Benioff for their admirable restraint. But once again, Clarke and her co-stars simply saying they don’t know how it all will end has its uses. The actors can deploy this comment any of the millions of times between now and the finale when fans or the media grill them for details or even the sense of an ending. At Comic-Con in 2015, before the return of Jon Snow was made official, the cast was able to keep mum by claiming they hadn’t received the Season 6 scripts yet. So brace yourselves for an oft-repeated “I wish I could tell you, but I don’t know myself,” response from the cast whenever someone asks them about the series finale.