HBO has finally confirmed every Game of Thrones fan's worst nightmare - season 8 won't air until 2019. It's disappointing, sure, but not entirely unexpected. The rumor for some time has been that the final season of HBO's juggernaut program would take longer to film, even with season 8 having less episodes than previous seasons, and there still remains no firm date for exactly when in 2019 the series will return.
Expectations are very high for Game of Thrones' final season, what with the series being arguably the most popular television show in the world and last season ending on an insanely climactic beat as The Night King and his army of the dead came crashing through The Wall. Moreover, with the show having now completely outpaced the plot of the novels on which it's based, the conclusion to Game of Thrones will become a preview (as well as a huge spoiler) for how George R.R. Martin's 20+ years in the making A Song of Ice and Fire series will also end. To meet these exceedingly high expectations, Game of Thrones season 8 must be monumental, and to achieve that, it's going to need to be their biggest, boldest, most mind-blowing season to date. To even attempt something of this scope and scale requires time - lots of time, it turns out.
The reason why Game of Thrones isn't returning until 2019 is one of logistics more than anything else, with the six episodes of season 8 being allotted more time for filming than any previous season of the series. Season 8 is scheduled to film through summer 2018, making it the longest production stretch for any season and almost double that of previous years. This is the case for a number of reasons but the biggest is that, like season 7 before it, season 8 needs to film during the winter months to properly depict the winter which has finally come to Westeros. If you'll recall, last season snow began to fall as far south as King's Landing and in season 8 the winter storm is only going to intensify before any hope of spring arrives.
On top of that, filming can no longer happen at the pace it did in previous years because characters' stories are no longer as isolated as they once were. Previously, Game of Thrones would operate with two units - one in Northern Ireland or Iceland and another somewhere warmer, like Croatia or Spain. With two crews filming simultaneously, more footage was able to be filmed in less time. But that was only possible when characters like Daenerys or Jon were far and removed from the rest of the action. As we saw in season 7, many of these once far-flung characters are becoming heavily involved in each others' storylines, meaning more actors are sharing scenes and therefore there's less need for separate locations or multiple crews.
Additionally, the six episodes which will comprise Game of Thrones season 8 will be bigger in scale and longer in length. With only six episodes in which to wrap up the show's massive story, each episode is rumored to be longer than the usual 50-60 minute runtime (though not quite feature length) and include more large-scale set pieces. This means more extras, larger crews, more effects work, and just a larger production all around. This is war, after all, and one that includes zombie armies and dragons to boot. Both time and money is necessary to pull off such feats (fortunately, Game of Thrones has an abundance of both).
It's easy to categorize HBO's decision to hold the premiere of their hottest, most popular show until next year as a greedy one, and to be fair, it is at least little. With the added time, HBO can continue to promote the series' return while hooking subscribers for another year and hopefully turning them on to other series (Westworld, for instance, will return this Spring). But the real reason is more mundane, with the longer schedule, single film unit, and larger scale episodes simply requiring additional time. Let's just hope that when they say 2019, HBO means spring or early summer, not fall or - gasp! - winter.