Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Entertainment Weekly’s Game of Thrones cover story reveals the first photo of the final season, with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) embracing in the snow. The issue looks back on showrunners David Benioff’s and DB Weiss’s original end game for the show, which would have been totally different had they gotten their way.

Back in 2012, George R.R. Martin, who wrote the novels the series is based on, told the showrunners his plans for how GoT would end, including an epic final battle. The show cost about $5 million per episode at the time, and Benioff told Entertainment Weekly, “We have a very generous budget from HBO, but we know what’s coming down the line, and ultimately, it’s not generous enough.”

The showrunners came up with the idea that the final season could be six hours long, released in theaters as three movies, like The Lord of the Rings. That seemed to be the only way for them to get the budget they wanted. HBO nixed the plan, as the network wasn’t out to make movies, and wanted to focus on their subscribers instead. It all worked out in the end, with a deal to spend two years on a shortened season 8 (only six episodes), with the budget shooting up to more than $15 million per episode. “They put their money where their mouths are—literally stuffed their mouth full of million-dollar bills, which don’t exist anymore,” Weiss said.

And as for what goes down in the final season? “It’s about all of these disparate characters coming together to face a common enemy, dealing with their own past, and defining the person they want to be in the face of certain death,” co-executive producer Bryan Cogman said. “It’s an incredibly emotional, haunting, bittersweet final season, and I think it honors very much what George set out to do—which is flipping this kind of story on its head.”