[SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major spoilers from “The Bells,” the fifth episode of the final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Do not read any further if you haven’t seen the episode. You have been warned.]
In her final moments, I shed a tear for Cersei Lannister.
The baddest, blondest mother of “Game of Thrones” met her inevitable fate in Sunday’s penultimate episode of the HBO drama, and she did so in the only place she could find some semblance of peace — the arms of her twin brother/paramour, Jaime.Game of Thrones, 'The Bells': the best reaction memes to season 8, episode 5
As her kingdom crumbled around the once mighty Lannisters, Cersei tearfully plead for mercy and an out-of-reach future for their unborn child that the Kingslayer couldn’t deliver. It was a monumental moment for the future of the Seven Kingdoms that tees up next week’s series finale, and one that was all but destined to happen as the show entered its endgame.
But it was also emotionally resonate and rather sad, even for two figures first introduced to us as a conniving pair of incestuous opportunists who got caught in the act and pushed a little boy out a tower window to protect their secret.
Since then, that fateful push has been trumped again and again by one terrible deed after another, a ever-steepening moral bankruptcy neither Lannister denied. But in their final moments, I felt sympathy for the siblings – especially Cersei (played by the outstanding Lena Headey).RECAP: 'Game of Thrones' recap: Of pale horses and the Cleganebowl
For so many viewers, this season has seemingly been a waiting game until Cersei Lannister got what was coming to her.
I am not here to defend – and cannot defend – her actions because they are indefensible. If the moral code of Westeros (or any world for that matter) is that bad people deserve to die, then Cersei certainly fits that bill. But she wouldn’t be alone on Westeros’ guillotine and many viewers seem to have forgotten that – or are willing to turn a blind eye to the crimes of others.
A few hours before Sunday’s episode, Vanity Fair writer and “Game of Thrones” expert Joanna Robinson tweeted, “When people root hard for Cersei’s death I feel like they’re watching a different show than the one I’m watching.”
I have never retweeted faster. It’s a bell I’ve been ringing to anyone who will listen for weeks – and it’s rarely met with anything but fire and fury.
By the tenor of the conversation, it would seem dragonfire was too good for Cersei. She needed to die painfully, publicly and pitiless.
But answer me this: how has Cersei’s pursuit for the power she believed she was owed any different than Daenerys’ scorched earth strategy or any other person on this show?
As the mother of the world’s worst teenager (remember Joffrey?) and a sinister presence from the first moment she stepped into Winterfell with a side eye for every Stark in the land, we were told Cersei was where we should direct our hate. As the show progressed, we saw her shed her hesitations to ruthlessness in the fight to hold onto the throne. But we also learned why the steely woman put up her walls and then fortified them no matter how steep the cost.
I won’t drudge up the darkness of Cersei’s life and what led her to Kings Landing, but Headey brilliantly sold every nuanced ounce of the anguish, villainy, pain and resilience it took to keep her standing.
She was a fiercely protective mother who watched all of her children be ripped away from her. If anyone knows the cold touch of darkness, it’s her.
And yet, it was Cersei’s head that so many wanted on a spike when “Game of Thrones” comes to an end next week.
No one can excuse her deplorable acts, but Cersei has not been given the same benefit of willful forgiveness we, the audience, have bestowed upon so many of her fellow characters.
Arya has murdered people and we still root for her to check names off her naughty list. Tyrion killed his girlfriend and even Jaime was given a fleeting shot at redemption with Brienne in Winterfell.
Up until this week, most viewers had forgiven Daenerys for everything and everyone she has torched in her warpath to the Iron Throne. But as Cersei’s story as the big bad in the castle came to an end on Sunday, Daenerys blew past the point of forgiveness as she laid waste to the innocent people of Kings Landing – an act of genocide that far outweighs anything Cersei ever did.
As we entered into this week’s battle, “Game of Thrones” had already laid the groundwork for a final story of two mad queens locking horns while the men on the sidelines tried to figure out how to deal with them. It’s an unfortunate endpoint for a show that has evidently never learned its lesson in how to treat its female characters.
But as the audience, we can give these women the rightful discourse and treatment they deserve, starting with a willingness to think more deeply about who Cersei was and why we cast such unwavering villainy on her.
We owe it to her to understand the duality of Cersei as both a ruthless and stubborn queen with a deadly grip on her power, and a resourceful and heartbroken woman who learned that no one is going to protect you from the darkness of life but you.