This is not an exaggeration. These are not the whining words of a nerd who hated the year-plus wait between seasons six and seven of Game of Thrones. I have literally waited 20 years for Daenerys to get her Targaryen ass to Westeros and for the final battles of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy to begin.

I had a ritual every other week in 1997. My dad would pick me up from school, we’d get Tex-Mex, and then we’d spend a couple of hours in one of the many Fort Worth bookstores that no longer exist (including a Borders and two Barnes and Nobles). He’d haunt the history and gardening aisles and I’d lurk around the scifi and fantasy sections, nosing my way through every book on the shelf until selecting one to buy and read over the weekend. My favorites were books like Glen Cook’s Black Company series. Gritty fantasies rooted in history, but with some kind of romance (and the growth of major characters) at the center of the tale.

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In late 1997, fatigued by a recent Asimov binge, I was on the hunt for some hardcore fantasy. Not Robert Jordan, who I despised due to his fans at school, nor Terry Goodkind, who was seemed to be working out some sexual kinks that made wee me feel weird. Then I saw this cover (the tweet is not my own):

Look. I was a freshman in high school and this dude had Fabio hair, was wearing all black and riding a black horse in front of a castle, and had a motherfucking raven. He just needed to come to life and tell me he really got me and wanted to be my new sweet fantasy boyfriend. I glossed over the summary on the back, clutched this badass book to my chest, and sought out my dad to purchase it. I didn’t wait to get back to his house to read it; instead, I curled up in the front seat of his car devouring the book on the drive home.

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I continued devouring the series as Martin published new installments, even after tossing A Storm of Swords across the room in a fit of despair in 2000. But as anyone who’s read the books knows, the fifth and most recent entry in the series, A Dance With Dragons, came out in 2011, and the series’ epic plot still hasn’t begun to wrap up—at best, it’s only begun to begin approaching the inevitable climax.

The HBO show is finally about to give me the moments I’ve been waiting for since picking up that original book in 1997, and began wondering how a boy named Jon (he’s like 14 when A Game of Thrones begins!) and his sisters and brothers would stop the oncoming storm of zombie ice monsters while the rest of the world is embroiled in deadly politics.

This season, Daenerys is finally returning to Westeros with an army at her back. The White Walkers look like they’re ready to begin their attack in earnest. And the giant cast of characters, which is still spread out wildly in the books, has already begun to consolidate as the story approaches its climax.

Perhaps most importantly, this is also the first time in nearly two decades that I feel any measure of hope for the characters I fell in love with all those years ago. Last year, watching the very off-book sixth season of Game of Thrones, I saw two members of the Stark family reunite for the very first time since Bran and Rickon split up. I didn’t realize how much that would affect me until Jon and Sansa were hugging and I was pacing the carpet in front of the TV in some kind of rapturous awe.

And that was just two Starks. Rumors about the seventh season—which premieres July 16, this Sunday!—suggest we will get not only the reunion of the rest of the surviving Starks, but the chance for every major character to finally meet face to face. The TV series looks like it’s finally going to deliver what that first book promised back in 1997, and finally start bringing the story I love to a close.

I’ve been waiting 20 years. I’ve been waiting long enough.