Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, up through its finale, "The Dragon and the Wolf," below
Game of Thrones has had its ups and downs over the last few seasons. I've always been quick to call it out for its failings, like I did after Season 7, Episode 6, "Beyond the Wall," mangled Westeros's rules of time and space beyond recognition. I criticize Game of Thrones because I love it, which also makes it a joy for me to point out that the Season 7 finale, "The Dragon and the Wolf," made up for all its shortcomings so far.
Everything just happened: Cersei, Jon, Jaime, Tyrion, and nearly every other character on the show came face to face; Jaime and Cersei finally split for good; Sansa, Arya, and Bran joined forces and took out Littlefinger; the Wall fell; and Bran and Sam pooled their knowledge and realized that Jon is a trueborn Targaryen--real name Aegon Targaryen, in fact.
(OK, so we didn't get our Cleganebowl; at least the dog-faced brothers came face to face at last, and it's definitely coming next season.)
"The Dragon and the Wolf" may have been Game of Thrones' single most important episode ever, and it knocked every scene out of the park. A lot of that was thanks to pacing: Just look how much time they spent on that big pow-wow between all the major players, and the subsequent meetings, like Tyrion's reunion with Cersei. There's a scene, seasons and years in the making, that needed room to breathe. And it had it.
Cersei's immediate reaction to seeing the undead with her own eyes was real, not feigned. That must have been the most terror she'd felt since holding the choking, purple Joffrey in her arms. But her longer-term reflex rang even truer: The Cersei who fans have come to know would never throw in with her enemies, cede an iota of power, or back off a single inch. She's shown that countless times, and this was the Sept of Baelor all over again (R.I.P. the Tyrells). A Cersei who's appeared to see reason is the most dangerous Cersei of all, as our Stark and Targaryen friends will doubtless learn next season.
In the North, Sansa and Arya turned out to be playing Littlefinger for real, and Bran dropped the knowledge that made it possible, as some predicted would happen. Watching the expression on Littlefinger's face change as Sansa called him out for his crimes--all his crimes, thanks to Bran's ability to peer through the veil all the way back to Season 1--was one of the most satisfying things ever seen on this show. Sansa learned well, and she'll take Baelish's lessons with her into the future--without him.
The big Jon reveal was one fans have awaited for decades, ever since the first book, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. Over 20 years ago, the most eagle-eyed readers picked up on clues that Jon might not be who he seemed--that Lyanna Stark died in a "bed of blood," and other hints. Throughout the subsequent books, and then the last six seasons of the show, the theory grew firmer and firmer in many fans' minds.
The currently published books aren't yet at the point of that reveal, but the show passed the books a long time ago. The most devoted Game of Thrones fans waited long enough, and the Season 7 finale delivered a pulse-racing one-two punch: Yes, Jon is a Targaryen, and yes, he's a legitimate heir. He belongs on the Iron Throne at least as much as--if not more than--Daenerys does.
Even the simple sight of Rhaegar and Lyanna on-screen together, likely the happiest they'd ever be, was a huge moment for Game of Thrones fans. And the show gave it the time it deserved. That's not even mentioning the action immediately following--and, in case you're not aware, getting weird with immediate family members is the most Targaryen thing there is, next to "fire and blood." Jon and Dany may not know it yet, but Game of Thrones Season 7 left them exactly where they're supposed to be.
And then, the Wall came crumbling down. It's fair to wonder what the Night King's plan was before he got himself a dragon, which is just one of the lingering concerns we'll cover another time. He has one now, and he used it to answer another decades-old question: What could possibly bring down that mighty Wall? If you answered "undead dragon fire" at any point throughout the series, give yourself a mighty pat on the back, then go and have a good cry. You've earned it.
Game of Thrones has six episodes left. The Season 7 finale didn't tie as neat a bow on it as some viewers might have predicted--Cersei's still alive, and she's not backing down, so humanity's forces aren't quite united against the rapidly approaching threat. That just leaves more action, drama, and intrigue for Game of Thrones' final season, which--it pains the books-lover in me greatly to say--can't come soon enough.