Macall B. Polay/HBO
James Hibberd
May 26, 2017 AT 09:26 AM EDT

At first, this headline sounds like it couldn’t possibly be true.

How can the stars of Game of Thrones get more screen time in season 7 when there are fewer episodes (seven instead of 10)?

Even Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) was initially a tad perplexed when she received her scripts.

“When I first read this season I thought: ‘Damn, I gotta learn some lines!’” Clarke marveled. “We’re actually filming longer now. I don’t know how that’s happening.”

Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) was similarly struck by his character’s increased visibility this year. “I’ve worked more days this season than I have in quite some time,” he told EW.

There are few factors that explain this seemingly impossible screen time vs. episode count paradox.

As showrunner Dan Weiss puts it, “You kill a couple dozen characters, the people who are left by default need to carry more dramatic weight.” Season 6 saw the departure of several main performers — including Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), who often anchored their own stand-alone scenes. So now, as Kit Harington (Jon Snow) put it, “Everyone gets a bigger slice of the pie.”

Second, characters are coming together more than ever before. So instead episodes potentially spending a relatively brief amount of time with up to eight different main characters in separate locations, having fan favorites meet in Westeros means they sometimes share scenes and are therefore around more often. “As the worlds start to converge the characters who haven’t met each other before start to meet each other and there are more main characters together in each other’s storylines than ever before,” Weiss said. “Every since Tyrion crossed the Narrow Sea and met Dany that’s been the general direction. And having them on set together is a real privilege for us.” 

Combine those factors with the fact that Thrones spent just as many months shooting seven episodes as they usually spend to make 10 (in an effort to make the season as awesome as possible), and you have a cast working harder than ever plus getting more screen time even though the season has fewer hours. That all makes sense, right?

“These storylines are going to cross and it’s going to be so exciting to watch I think,” said Carice van Houten (Melisandre). “War has really started. We all know there’s no escape. How are we going to run away from what’s coming? Everyone is going to get trapped. The heat is on.”

RELATED: We reunited the Starks for this week’s cover. Read more here!

For more GoT scoop, EW has published its annual Game of Thrones preview issue behind the scenes in Westeros and offering five collectible covers. Get your copy here and check out our gallery of exclusive photos.

Also this week, HBO unveiled the trailer for season 7; see Darren Franich’s deep-dive analysis of every shot. (The trailer has now surpassed 61 million views in just 24 hours).

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 debuts July 16 on HBO.

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