Macall B. Polay/HBO
James Hibberd
May 23, 2017 AT 10:47 AM EDT

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was shocked when he read the Game of Thrones season 7 scripts: “I’m like, ‘Already? Now?! What?!'”

The Jaime Lannister actor (and other members of the HBO hit’s cast) say fans should similarly brace themselves: The upcoming season is an intense and fast ride. The pace of the series, they say, has noticeably ramped up from previous years. In fact, season 7 doesn’t play quite like any other season of the show.

“I feel like I’d been lulled into a different pace,” Coster-Waldau says. “Everything happened quicker than I’m used to … a lot of things that normally take a season now take one episode.”

Agrees Jon Snow actor Kit Harington: “This season is really different than any other season because it’s accelerating toward the end, a lot of stuff collides and happens much much quicker than you’re used to seeing on Thrones … it’s so different than what everybody is used to. It’s quite exciting.”

Now, fans are probably thinking the fast pace is because there are fewer episodes — seven this year instead of the customary 10 (and then there’s an eighth-and-final season still to come). But that’s actually not the case, the show’s writers say. “Things are moving faster because in the world of these characters the war that they’ve been waiting for is upon them,” showrunner Dan Weiss explains. “The conflicts that have been building the past six years are upon them and those facts give them a sense of urgency that makes [the characters] move faster.”

Put another way: Between Daenerys and her army sailing toward Westeros, the Night King and his army of the dead descending from the North and the Starks aggressively retaking Winterfell … there are multiple storm-of-swords battle fronts all coming together at the same time.

“For a long time we’ve been talking about ‘the wars to come,'” showrunner David Benioff says. “Well, that war is pretty much here. So it’s really about trying to find a way to make the storytelling work without feeling like we’re rushing it — you still want to give characters their due, and pretty much all the characters that are now left are all important characters. Even the ones who might have started out as relatively minor characters have become significant in their own right.”

Adds co-executive producer Bryan Cogman: “There are White Walkers and dragons and once they start to come together the story has to go where it goes.”

And where does the story go, exactly? Well, Monday’s dragon war photo gives you some idea. And, previously, actor Iain Glen, who plays Ser Jorah, claimed the season 7 scripts were the best ones yet.

 

For ongoing Game of Thrones coverage, follow @jameshibberd for the latest  (non-fake and spoiler free); subscribe to our GoT newsletter for breaking news alerts, and check out our GoT podcast.

Game of Thrones returns July 16.

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