clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Game of Thrones season 7 finale: the 3 game-changing twists, explained

The season concluded with a bang.

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Major spoilers follow for Game of Thrones’ season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf.”

Game of Thrones concluded its abbreviated seventh season with a supersize episode featuring a whole lot of talking, as what seemed like half of the series’ cast held a very lengthy series of negotations.

But with the end of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss capped off the season with a triple whammy of very big, long-in-the-making moments.

Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow finally decide to consummate their mutual attraction while on a boat sailing northward, confirming a long-anticipated romantic pairing of two of the series’ main characters.

At the same time, hundreds of miles away, Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly finally piece together the mystery of Jon’s parentage and realize that that he’s not only a Targaryen but a legitimate Targaryen named “Aegon.” That is: He’s not a bastard, and he has a claim to the Iron Throne according to Westeros’s inheritance laws. Also, this makes Dany his aunt — which is something Jon probably would have preferred to know before heading to her cabin.

Such personal concerns then paled, though, in the face of the true game changer of the season’s final moments: The Night King’s dragon-powered attack destroys part of the Wall, allowing the army of the dead to finally pour into the Seven Kingdoms.

This final image makes clear that Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season will heavily focus on the war against the White Walkers. And yet there will clearly be more human scheming too, as Cersei Lannister has decided to break her agreement with Jon and Dany, holding her army back from the North in hopes of maintaining her grip on the Iron Throne. So here’s a rundown of the biggest events from the finale.

Ice and fire came together (on a boat)…


Long before this season began, fans of both the TV series and George R.R. Martin’s books speculated that everything was building toward an eventual romantic pairing of Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen.

The book series is titled A Song of Ice and Fire, after all. That title seemed to promise an eventual clash between fire-breathing dragons and the icy White Walkers, but it also apparently foreshadowed the union of Dany and Jon, the characters that best represent fire and ice.

And after several episodes of not-exactly-subtle setup, it finally happened. Despite Jon’s previous protestations that there was “no time” for romantic concerns, he eventually concluded that there wasn’t much else to do on a long and boring boat trip to the North other than pay Dany a private visit. (Okay, he’s fallen in love with her.)

Could the ultimate ending of the series be Jon and Dany, married, as king and queen of Westeros? Or is that too pat and predictable a conclusion for Martin? There’s still one more season, after all, so perhaps their love will end tragically instead.

Plus, they’re about to learn one bit of information that could really complicate things.

…as we finally learned the full truth about Jon’s parentage


From season one, Jon Snow has been described to both the characters and viewers of Game of Thrones as Ned Stark’s bastard son. In truth, though, he’s neither a bastard nor Ned’s son.

When Bran huddles with Sam at Winterfell, he finally explicitly confirms what he saw in visions in the season six finale: that Jon is the son of Ned’s sister Lyanna Stark.

In the series’ history, Lyanna is a key figure in Robert’s Rebellion, the war that deposed the Targaryen dynasty and brought the Baratheons to the throne. It was Lyanna’s supposed kidnapping by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen — Dany’s older brother — that infuriated the Starks and Baratheons and started the war in the first place.

Now, though, Bran learns through another vision that Rhaegar didn’t kidnap Lyanna at all — rather, they were in love. What’s more, as Sam clarifies, they made that love official in a secret marriage ceremony. Then, they had a child together that Lyanna named “Aegon,” and before she died from complications of childbirth, she handed off the child to Ned.

Because the Targaryens lost the war — Robert Baratheon killed Rhaegar on the battlefield and took the throne for himself — this child’s existence was tremendously dangerous, presenting a threat to Robert’s rule. So Ned kept the baby’s identity a secret, renaming him Jon and passing him off as his own bastard son rather than his sister’s legitimately born and royal child.

In some ways, this revelation will likely bring Jon and Dany closer together. For instance, the confirmation that Jon has Targaryen heritage seems to set him up to ride Dany’s only remaining riderless dragon, Rhaegal. The books hint at some sort of magical connection between Targaryens and their dragons, and Rhaegal is named after Jon’s father Rhaegar, after all.

Yet it seems likely that the news will also introduce new tension between Jon and Dany.

For one, the revelation that their love affair is incestuous could be problematic. Though Targaryens have a long tradition of incest — Jon’s ancestor and namesake Aegon married not one but two of his sisters — it’s still considered taboo in much of the rest of Westeros, and in the North. Jon could well react with disgust at what he’s done, à la Oedipus.

Second, the showrunners have specifically chosen to emphasize that Jon is not only a Targaryen but a legitimate Targaryen and the heir to the Iron Throne. Indeed, according to Westeros’s succession laws, he has a better claim than Dany to the throne, since he’s the only surviving son of the last Targaryen king’s firstborn son.

Might Dany view Jon’s Targaryen heritage as a threat to her own rule? They’re getting along wonderfully right now, so it doesn’t seem like that would be a problem, so long as they just marry and unite their claims. But it’s unclear why the series would emphasize this plot point so late, if it wasn’t going to have a major impact. (What if Jon doesn’t want to marry his aunt?)

And indeed, the showrunners confirm as much in this week’s “Inside the Episode” segment. “It complicates everything on a political level, on a personal level, and it just makes everything that could have been so neat and kind of perfect for Jon and Dany — it really muddies the waters,” says showrunner David Benioff.

The White Walkers finally make it into the Seven Kingdoms


But for now, Jon and Dany will have bigger problems than their rival claims to the throne — because at long last, the White Walkers have breached the Wall in a spectacular attack.

We finally got a glimpse at the full force of the army of the dead, as many White Walkers and a seemingly endless mass of wight foot soldiers amassed north of Eastwatch, but seemed halted by the Wall itself.

Then the Night King made a dramatic airborne entrance on the back of his weapon of mass destruction: the reanimated dragon Viserion, breathing blue flame.

For many years, fans of the TV series and George R.R. Martin’s books have theorized about how the Wall might eventually fall. (The books introduced the idea that a magic horn could bring it down.) But it turns out the answer has been right in front of us for years now: a wall of magically reinforced ice is rather naturally vulnerable to an assault from magical dragon fire.

So Tormund Giantsbane and the Night’s Watch can only look on in horror as the Night King causes a major stretch of the wall to collapse and the army of the dead starts pouring through it — entering the North.

What’s next? Well, it’s notable that Jon, Dany, and their armies are still relatively far south — they’re sailing from King’s Landing to White Harbor, a port city on the southern border of the North, at season’s end.

Meanwhile, there’s a cluster of important characters — Sansa, Arya, Bran, Sam, and Gilly — currently at Winterfell, which is further north than White Harbor and a likely target for the next big White Walker attack.

With this twist, Game of Thrones would seem to be putting all its stock in the battle between humanity and the White Walkers. Except…

Cersei remains in the mix as a final antagonist


If you’d asked me last year for my predictions for Game of Thrones season 7, I’d have confidently wagered that we’d see Cersei Lannister at the very least lose her throne and probably get killed off entirely.

But no — against all odds, Cersei ends the season still in control of King’s Landing, and prepared to sabotage Jon and Dany’s attempts to unite all the Seven Kingdoms against the White Walkers (even though it loses her Jaime).

In the dramatic meeting at the Dragonpit, Cersei commits to Jon and Dany that she’ll send the Lannister army north to help them battle the White Walkers. But she later reveals to Jaime that she was lying. Instead, she’ll keep her army down south by her side and further bulk up its forces by sending Euron Greyjoy east, where he’ll use the Iron Bank’s line of credit to hire mercenaries. She’s happy to let Jon and Dany’s forces get torn apart by the army of the dead — it’s the North, not King’s Landing, that they’ll hit first, after all.

So though Jon and Dany have united, they’ll now have to face threats to their north and south simultaneously. Combined with the complications Jon’s own heritage could present for his alliance with Dany, it’s an intriguing twist suggesting the end of the series may not be as straightforward as we might expect.