We knew it would be a long time until the final six episodes of Game of Thrones aired. First, the start of filming was delayed by three months in order to take advantage of real winter in the outdoor locations. Then, we were told that both filming and post-production would take longer than usual due to the complex battles that close out the show. But it was still a disheartening moment for many when Sophie Turner revealed Game Of Thrones Season 8 would not air until 2019.
Speaking to Variety as part of the press junket for the show ahead of the Golden Globes nominations next week, Turner was asked if she was looking for to the final episodes arriving around the same time as the release of X-Men: Dark Phoenix in 2018. She gently corrected them.
Oh. So X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which will probably be one of the last X-Men films not produced by the MCU if the Disney-20th Century FOX deal goes through next week, will arrive first. Game of Thrones won't come until after, in 2019.
But while some wail and gnash their teeth, let us be realistic about this. Game of Thrones was never coming back until 2019. Simple math said so. And though 2019 *sounds* like forever and a year away, in fact, it's actually not that much longer a wait than we had for Season 7.
Let us consider:
Game of Thrones Season 7 sat out the 2017 Emmys this past fall by debuting in July. In doing so, it got a different, more important feather in its cap. With zero competition other than the occasional Sharknado, the ratings for the penultimate series were higher than they've ever been. This allowed HBO to boast that its flagship show has now holds an all time record in sustained audience growth, every year for seven years running.
But because of that, the final six episodes can't come back until after Season 7 has had their turn at the Emmys. Can you imagine Season 8 airing, and then going to the Emmys and it's all about the year before? Not only would it confuse viewers, but it would mean Season 8, which should be the show's victory lap, would become a deflated afterthought at the awards over a year later.
No one wants that.
That means Season 8 cannot start airing until at least the end of September 2018. But that's no good, either. October and November are a crush of Sunday night shows already. GoT may be a 8,000-pound gorilla that can sit anywhere it wants, but if HBO is gunning for a final run at "audience growth numbers every year all eight seasons" that's not going to get them there.
The show is not going to premiere in December either, when holidays will interrupt viewing. There's just no spot for Game of Thrones to air in 2018. The first open date for their final run to start doesn't come until the next year, in January of 2019.
Not only would starting their final run the first Sunday in January give them an open landscape with little competition on Sunday nights (with one big exception*), but it's also the most obvious marketing angle there is. "Winter 2019."
(*That big exception, by the way, would be Feb. 3, Super Bowl LII, but with a 9 p.m. start time, HBO could simply hope for a dull game and everyone switching over to see the penultimate episode anyway.)
If HBO was really concerned about the Super Bowl, they could put a one-week break in, and air the final two episodes on the Feb. 10 and Feb. 17. The Oscars aren't scheduled until Feb. 24, 2019, so that would work out perfectly.
HBO could also hold the series to premiere Feb. 10, 2019. But then they're running up against the Oscars and the premieres of spring shows competing with their finale. No one wants that.
So if the show is returning in January, that's only a 16-month wait between the end of Season 7 and the beginning of Season 8. That's a mere three months more than the wait between the end of Season 6 (June 2016) and the beginning of Season 7 (July 2017.) Is that really asking so much?
That's why my money's on Game of Thrones Season 8 arriving Jan. 6, 2019. We'll find out the truth sometime next year.