Perhaps no character this side of the Narrow Sea has seen her fortunes change so rapidly on Game of Thrones as Cersei Lannister. Which is all the more impressive since she has, technically speaking, been in the same location the whole series: a gilded cage that’s nestled next to a seat of power. However, it wasn’t until recent seasons that this took the shape of genuine control, and even some fairly cunning game moves after a series of tactical errors that nearly cost her everything.
Indeed, the woman who inadvertently coined the name of the television series—“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die”—has struggled mightily at the game, and gone from long-suffering and put-upon wife of a raging fool to chief architect of his death, and then a helpless check on her son. Her shortsightedness even eventually led this queen mother to invite the wolves in Sparrow clothing into her orbit in a desperate bid to hang onto her fleeting power. The result was a patriarchal and insidiously misogynistic shaming in the streets, and what appeared to be a complete defeat.
Yet now here she sits, broken over the loss of her children, somewhat beaten over the fear of a bleak future, but not defeated. Never defeated. In fact, she has kept herself adjacent to the Iron Throne’s gravity, or at the center of it, the whole series. And now she is wielding it as the series’ ultimate Big Bad. Aye, if I had to wager, she should even outlive the Night King on that count. She is the last living member of Game of Thrones’ ensemble who still wants to play that damned game. Which will make her dangerous until the very end. So just what will that end look like?
The War of Two Queens, Uninterrupted
While the fierce Daenerys Targaryen has decided to put a momentary halt on hostilities as she joins the dashing Jon Snow to fight the White Walkers to the North, Cersei has no such intention of relenting this kind of power. Oh sure, she claimed she would send her remaining forces to the realm’s defense against an Army of the Dead, but Cersei is obviously not honoring that pledge. Other than her more kind-hearted twin and lover, none of her forces are leaving King’s Landing.
And can you fully blame her? Daenerys barbecued a third of her army in season 7, why should she team with Dany before getting the rest smoked? While the White Walkers are an existential threat, one doesn’t need to go to Game of Thrones’ medieval inspiration to seek out leaders who ignore forces of nature in favor of short-term advantage. And for Cersei, that advantage will come in the guise of replenishing her forces by buying a new army of sellswords from the Golden Company. Will it be enough to break Daenerys and the North’s unified power, complete with two dragons?
… Probably not, but that’s why she is gaining a big advantage by dooming Winterfell to what is sure to be an apocalyptic battle that’s deprived of its promised forces. Personally, I can imagine a scenario where right after Jon and Dany’s armies (barely) survive the Night King’s onslaught, and Winterfell lies in ruins, Cersei and her army march on their shattered forces. She could even enjoy a sweeping victory if the Night King can take out Dany’s other two dragons.
However, I do not think this will be how it ultimately plays out. We know there will be two major, separate battles in Game of Thrones Season 8 that will be parted by an episode (director Miguel Sapochnik, helmer of “The Battle of the Bastards,” is directing the third and fifth episodes of the six-episode season). While the first is almost certainly the long teased Battle for the Dawn at Winterfell—where else would the White Walkers be headed when they marched south of Eastwatch?—it will not be the only one. The other, I’d estimate, is a battle for the Iron Throne.
Game of Thrones isn’t Lord of the Rings, even with an existential threat like the White Walkers, the show benefits from being about the weaknesses of human integrity, and none of the living monarchs are weaker of integrity than Cersei Lannister. After Jon and Dany’s forces endure the Night King, they will be made to fight for the Iron Throne against a rested and formidable military might in King’s Landing. History will see echoes, with a Mad Queen sitting above a city she is ready to torch rather than surrender. And on the off-chance that the Night King defeats Winterfell, Cersei will take on the Dead and living alike, sipping from a chalice of wine and with a malevolent smile across her face.
An Unlikely Alliance?
Still, I cannot help but ponder whether there is a chance for unlikely alliances to be formed in the show’s final hours. While a season 8 about Jon and Dany versus the Night King, and then all the “good” characters versus Cersei, would be satisfying, is it a little too pat? Mayhaps. So who could actually team with Cersei Lannister in the final season?
One possibility (don’t laugh) is Jon Snow. Aye, the King in the North. I have mused in the past that Daenerys Targaryen is not going to take well the news that Jon is her nephew, and thus has a better claim on the Iron Throne. In such a context, she is actually going to as likely find her inner-fire. And if their combined might fails to thwart the Night King at Winterfell, Jon could hastily team with the only living army who can battle the White Walkers. He cares more about the survival of his species and all living beings than who gets a crown.
However, I find this highly unlikely. What could be more intriguing is if Tyrion winds up aligning himself with his sister again. Prior to his switching sides to Team Dany, Tyrion knew the Lannister line would live on through Cersei’s children (and he’s just arrogant enough to have believed he could convince Dany to spare these usurpers). Now Cersei is pregnant, or so she claims, with another child. That is the future of House Lannister, and Tyrion still has some reservations with how quick Dany is to burn her enemies, like the last two male heirs of House Tarly who hadn’t taken the Black. Consequently, he could potentially be persuaded for a shocking about-face.
I also find this unlikely given where House Lannister’s fate is almost certainly headed (read the section below this), but there needs to be some kind of “twist,” and this is just heartbreaking enough to be in keeping with George R.R. Martin’s desire to consume our endless tears.
Of course while considering Cersei Lannister’s fate, one must take into account the prophecy that has haunted her dreams since childhood. For it is her fear of a grim fortune, read by a witch camped outside of Lannisport, that has tormented Cersei for the rest of her days. And already, large portions of the prophecy—which were revealed in the season 5 cold open—have come to pass. For those who do not recall, here is Maggy the Frog’s vision for the woman would be queen:
Aye. Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear… Oh, aye [you will have children]. Six-and-ten for [the king], and three for you. Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds. And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.
Maggy’s prophecy somewhat explains many of Cersei’s poor decisions. While nothing Cersei did could prevent Robert Baratheon’s philandering and fathering of bastards, Cersei’s fear of Margaery supplanting her—as the prophecy spoke of “a younger and more beautiful queen”—caused her to grant the High Sparrow dangerous amounts of power, all in an effort to frame and destroy Margaery. In the process, Cersei nearly destroyed herself, and by subsequently reasserting control over the Sparrows, she drove her last remaining son to suicide.
So if Maggy’s visions are to be believed, most of these grim realizations have been made real by Cersei’s own hand, such as instigating the acrimony with Margaery and then the subsequent destruction of her future and sanity by sending the Sparrows after her. And yet… perhaps the queen Maggy spoke of was not the daughter of Highgarden, but rather that of the Targaryens. The thought obviously crossed Cersei’s mind by season 7 when she is sitting side by side with the Dragon Queen and sharing forced words about an Army of the Dead. Further if Daenerys is the queen who will cast her down, the valonqar—which is Valyrian for “little brother”—might also come to pass. Indeed, Maggy suggests, in so many words, that Cersei’s little brother, presumably Tyrion, will strangle her to death.
I have always been mixed about this added information that did not get introduced until the fourth novel and fifth season of the story. It gives Cersei some justification to be cruel and pernicious toward Tyrion, because she was already forewarned that he will be her death and ruin. However, what’s done is done, and the obvious irony could be that it probably isn’t Tyrion who’ll strangle Cersei to death. What if it were Jaime?
Aye, Cersei’s great love could also be the source of her great death. Jaime Lannister is also her younger brother, if only by a matter of minutes. As Cersei lamented to Ned Stark, she is the elder between the two twins, being born mere moments before Jaime. Ergo, if she were born a man, Casterly Rock and Tywin Lannister’s confidence would be hers, not Jaime’s. This also means Jaime could be the younger valonqar whose hand would end Cersei’s life. Theirs is a doomed romance, and history couldn’t have a more tragic echo if Jaime is forced to slaughter another mad monarch who is ordering the burning and destruction of King’s Landing. In her last breath, knowing that Jon or Dany, or whoever, will take her throne could be enough to cause her to try to burn the citizens with her. She’s already killed many residents via the Green Trial.
In such a context, Jaime could repeat himself and kill a monarch he swore to protect and love due to the needs of the people. And I imagine there would be no coming back for himself after that either.
The Night Queen
However, while I think Jaime strangling Cersei is her likely fate, part of me again is looking for a more delicious and less predictable end to the Lannister Queen. There is a poetic beauty to Cersei dying by Jaime’s golden hand; it has as much narrative elegance as the revelation that Jon is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son. Be that as it may, it isn’t necessarily the most original end for a horrible character to be killed, reluctantly or not, by their lover.
What might be more just is Cersei gets to be what she always wanted to be: queen forever. What if in an attempt to defeat Jon and/or Daenerys, Cersei welcomes the advances of the Night King and his forces, attempting to make a pact with the White Walkers? It sounds daft, but so was Cersei ceding royal authority to the High Sparrow in an effort to undermine Margaery. Cersei is not known for her wisest choices. Or perhaps it isn’t even a pact, but simply a failed escape after she is forced to kill Jaime—how is that for a twist?!
Pregnant or no, she could wind up against her will being turned into a White Walker, echoing a reversal of the Night’s King, a human male who took a White Walker woman as a lover in the Age of Heroes. In this context, Cersei may live forever but, once again, as subjugated as the queen of a royal king, and trapped in the land of eternal winter, far from her home, her children’s graves, or the sweet power she so covets. She wouldn’t even have wine.
It would be a cruel ending, but for a woman who allowed Joffrey to turn into a monster, and who would willingly burn thousands of her own subjects to keep her grip on power, there couldn’t be a more satisfyingly dark conclusion.
So there are some of our theories about what will happen to Queen Cersei Lannister, First of Her Name, in Game of Thrones Season 8. Agree or disagree with any of them?