It’s the first official news about Game of Thrones season 7: The next outing of the international fantasy sensation has lined up four acclaimed directors to tackle the 2017 season — including a founding Thrones veteran who’s returning to the show after directing major Hollywood films.
The first thing savvy Thrones fans will notice about this list is the number of names. In recent years, Thrones has employed five directors to helm two episodes each. HBO has not yet publicly confirmed the plan by Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss to reduce next season to seven episodes. But given that there are fewer directors on board for season 7, viewers can take that as a sign that things will be different next year.
Here are the directors signed on for season 7:
— Alan Taylor: An Emmy-winning veteran of The Sopranos, Taylor helped pioneer the visual storytelling style of the show when he helmed the pivotal ninth and 10th episodes of season 1, particularly “Baelor” (the episode where Ned Stark was executed). The Thrones producers were so impressed they gave Taylor four episodes to helm in season 2 — including the premiere and the finale. Then Marvel snatched him up for Thor: The Dark World followed by Taylor reuniting with Emilia Clarke to direct her big-screen role in Terminator: Genisys. Now he’s back on Thrones for the first time since 2012.
— Jeremy Podeswa: The Canadian director and Boardwalk Empire veteran scored an Emmy nomination for directing the show’s most controversial hour, season 5’s darkly tense “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.” This year he directed the propulsive season premiere as well as Jon Snow’s riveting resurrection episode, “Home.”
— Mark Mylod: A four-time director on the show, the British veteran of Showtime’s Shameless and HBO’s Entourage took on this season’s uniquely textured re-introduction of the The Hound in “The Broken Man,” as well as Arya’s exciting chase sequence in “No One.”
— Matt Shakman: A newcomer to the series. Shakman is best known for his work on FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a comedy loved by Benioff and Weiss (the showrunners even wrote an episode, “Flowers for Charlie,” although it’s not one of the 39 episodes Shakman has directed). Shakman has also helmed episodes of AMC’s Mad Men, CBS’ The Good Wife and FX’s Fargo.
There are a few notable GoT veterans sitting out next year, such as Miguel Sapochnik — the director of this season’s hugely impressive “Battle of the Bastards” and Sunday’s explosive finale. Also: The Red Wedding helmer David Nutter, who won an Emmy for directing season 5’s finale, “Mother’s Mercy.” But perhaps they’ll return for the eighth (and presumed final) season?
Benioff and Weiss tell EW that the events in the season 6 finale — particularly Daenerys setting sail for Westeros — represent the beginning of the end for the series, which is expected to have only about 13 more episodes spread across two seasons.
“Once she gets on those ships and crosses West, that’s when the clock on the end game starts ticking,” Weiss says. “The question has been: When is she going to get back across the Narrow Sea? When is she going to take back her homeland? It’s been a long time for her, and it’s been something that’s such an imperative for people watching. You know she’s not going to go there for a beach vacation.”
Quips Benioff: “Beach vacations are way better in Essos.”
“She summers in Essos,” concedes Weiss. “But when she gets back to Westeros, it’s on. Her return is the first domino.”
In another item of behind-the-camera Thrones news, the showrunners are welcoming back costume designer Michele Clapton for season 7. The Emmy winner was in charge of the show’s costume department for the first five seasons, spent some time away from the show in season 6, then returned with some Twitter-exploding work in the final two episodes of the season — such as Cersei Lannister’s funeral-black battle dress.
“We were thrilled to have Michele Clapton back for both the ninth and 10th episodes of this season, and for season 7 and beyond,” Benioff and Weiss said in a statement. “From the beginning, her brilliantly groundbreaking work has been so central to the look and feel of the show. Cersei’s costumes for the season 6 finale are the best we’ve ever had and we can’t wait to see what the incredibly talented Michele comes up with next year.”
READ ON “Winds of Winter” finale coverage: Here’s star Natalie Dormer revealing her feelings about her character’s tragic end. Here’s star Lena Headey with her thoughts on those huge game-changing twists (she doesn’t think she’ll last long!). And star Emilia Clarke making her bold season 7 predictions (she agrees with Headey). Plus there’s our ultra deep-dive recap with our opinions on the finale. Our breakdown of that Tower of Joy reveal. Maisie Williams reveals who Arya should kill next. And our Game of Thrones Weekly podcast (new episode posted below):