WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the Season 7 finale of Game of Thrones, which aired tonight on HBO.
The Wall has withstood eight millennia, assaults by wildlings and centuries of neglect, but as we saw in the Season 7 finale of Game of Thrones, it's no match for the Night King and his undead dragon.
Deep down, fans have known since 2011, when they first gazed upon the 700-foot-tall structure of ice and magic in the second episode, that the Wall would eventually fall. Like the promise of winter, its collapse was only a matter of time. It was Chekhov's gun on a grand scale, introduced early in the drama as the Seven Kingdoms' best defense against the threats of the Free Folk and, far more worrying, the White Walkers (or, to the minds of most Westerosi, "grumkins and snarks"); it had to falter. It was simply a matter of when and how, and who would be responsible.
The answers to the latter two questions emerged last week in "Beyond the Wall," when the Night King killed, and then resurrected, Daenerys' dragon Viserion. Forget fan theories about Bran's "mark" negating the wall's magical wards, or the Night King's army simply walking around it on a frozen Shivering Sea. In tonight's episode, "The Dragon and the Wolf," the Night King takes the most direct, and perhaps most crowd-pleasing, approach, melting part of the Wall with dragon fire.
We're left to wonder how the Night King planned to circumvent the Wall before Dany brought her dragons North to save Jon Snow's suicide squad (perhaps that's where the frozen sea depicted in the opening credits would've come into play). However, the more pressing question is what the destruction of the Wall, and the arrival of the army of the dead, means to the final season of Game of Thrones.
Over the course of the past seven seasons, we've seen the White Walkers and wights evolve from the stuff of nursery tales to the catalyst for Mance Rayder's attack on the Wall to an existential crisis for Westeros, far greater than the invading armies of Daenerys Targaryen. In "The Dragon and the Wolf," the army of the dead proves to be what Jon Snow had long hoped: the kind of "outside universal threat" that U.S. President Ronald Reagan imagined in 1987 as unifying the world toward a common goal, although he was talking about an alien invasion of Earth. Mind you, the White Walkers and their undead hordes are utterly alien to the people of the Seven Kingdoms, at least those outside of the North, old yarns sprang to horrifying life. Kind of like dragons.