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‘Game of Thrones’ season 7 gets launch date

"Game of Thrones," with Emilia Clarke, launches its

"Game of Thrones," with Emilia Clarke, launches its seventh season in July. Credit: HBO / Keith Bernstein

“Game of Thrones” will return for its seventh — and dare we say, much-anticipated — season on July 16, HBO announced Thursday.

A summer launch was expected — fans had even speculated about July — but choosing this particular date is certainly unorthodox. HBO normally launches “GoT” seasons in April, but production delays necessitated a later launch this year. HBO also recently secured a promotional tie-in between Major League Baseball and “Game of Thrones.”

Therefore, the clue was there for all to see: The MLB All-Star Game will fall on July 11, which provides ample opportunity to promote the “GoT” return during the game. (As part of that cross-promotion, Mets ace Noah Syndergaard even taped a walk-on cameo for a seventh-season episode.)

Not that it needs all that much promotion: “GoT” fans, a deliriously obsessive lot, won’t require a reminder during the All-Star Game to tune in to the shortened seventh season (just seven episodes).

MLB did not specify how “GoT” would be promoted by baseball, but there are expected to be “collectibles,” ticket packages, theme nights and so-called co-branded merchandise, probably for sale in stadiums. (Other than the Syndergaard taping, it’s unclear whether any other Mets or Yankees are participating in the “GoT” promotion.)

HBO announced the return date of “GoT” in a novel fashion, too, by directing fans to the show’s Facebook page, where a “live” event revealed streams of flame directed at a massive block of ice. When the block of ice melted, the launch date was revealed.

Even with a shortened seventh season, “GoT” is about to move even further beyond the ample source material provided by George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and possibly arrive before Martin’s next volume, “The Winds of Winter,” is published. An eighth and final season is also expected to comprise only six or seven episodes.

After that, speculation has filled the void. HBO has indicated that it is exploring the possibility of a prequel. Martin himself has voiced support for either a spinoff or prequel too, telling EW last spring, “The most natural follow-up would be an adaptation of my ‘Dunk and Egg’ stories. Each of the novellas could easily be done as a two-hour stand-alone movie for television; that would probably be the ideal way to do them, rather than as an ongoing weekly series. ‘The Hedge Knight’ and its sequels are lighter than ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ more in the realm of action/adventure.”

The “Dunk and Egg” stories are set about a hundred years before the events of “Ice and Fire,” covering the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall — who would become a member of the Kingsguard — and his squire, “Egg,” who would one day become Aegon V Targaryen of House Targaryen.

Meanwhile, there’s still a seventh season to get through, and that subject has consumed fans, who devour every cast member interview for clues, including a recent interview with Jim Broadbent, who months ago was confirmed as a seventh-season regular. He told website ScreenCrush Tuesday, “I’m a maester, an archmaester. I’m an old professor character,” adding that “I did five episodes [and] did sort of one major scene in each episode” with the character Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West).

Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss will appear during as “GoT” panel session this Sunday at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin. More clues then? Or more blocks of ice?

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