The voice-over said it all, just after the lights went down but before the live pipe organist performed: “Welcome to the beginning of the end.”
Tonight’s premiere of the six-episode final season of Game of Thrones felt weightier even by the usual standards of HBO. For one thing, Richard Plepler, the network’s longtime boss, was in attendance at Radio City Music Hall, despite having surrendered his CEO role. But he was in the audience and didn’t preside over any of the onstage and skipped the Ziegfeld Ballroom after-party.
Casey Bloys, HBO’s head of programming, gave Plepler two shoutouts, noting his key role in getting the show made, including the decision to commission expensive reshoots of the pilot episode.
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“Richard knew this was a bet on David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and that was a very good bet,” Bloys said. The legacy of the show, he added, is that when future show runners pitch out-of-the-box ideas, “We don’t say ‘We don’t know how to do that.’ We say, ‘Here are five different ways to do that.’”
A decade-plus and armfuls of Emmys later — including three for Outstanding Drama Series — he added, “It’s hard to overstate the importance of this show to HBO.”
Weiss and Benioff also emphatically thanked Plepler during their turn to speak. They also shouted out former programming exec Carolyn Strauss, who is an executive producer on the show.
“Its a sad night because it’s the last time so many from the Game of Thrones family will be together,” Benioff said.
“It’s possible no one will have this experience again,” Weiss said.
AT&T, which is remaking HBO along with the rest of WarnerMedia, was not mentioned during the opening remarks. But WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey arrived early, carrying and munching from a box of popcorn.
Asked by Deadline what he looked forward to most, he answered straightforwardly, “Seeing the first episode of Game of Thrones.”
Disarmingly traveling without an entourage, Stankey said he expected to have the premiere episode whet his appetite for the rest of the season. ““Once I’ve seen the first one I will binge the rest,” he said, “but I like the spectacle”
Many questions swirl around the start of Season 8, which promises some of the longest battle scenes in history as a coalition of unlikely allies battles the Night King and his undead army, which have breached the Wall and are heading south. Standing in their way are the forces of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister, who have an uneasy alliance in an effort to save civilization.
The screening left attendees’ tongues wagging, with its climactic shot serving as a quintessential cliffhanger. (No spoilers here.) As guests made their way up Sixth Avenue toward the Ziegfeld, the former movie palace converted a couple of years ago into a somewhat anodyne event space, the buzz about the show was palpable. The party guest list included the show’s cast, all cheered as they exited limos on 54th Street, Stankey, WarnerMedia entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, HBO host John Oliver and Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian. A notable comedy contingent at the bash included Dave Chappelle, Michelle Wolf and Keegan-Michael Key.
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