Cersei Ascendant: Is Cersei Lannister soon to die, or will she become a major player once more?




A smart Game of Thrones-savvy friend of mine predicts Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) will die this season. Another friend relegates this once pivotal character to the sidelines, declaring most people don’t care what happens to Cersei these days. Increasingly, in Game of Thrones forums there are conversations about how Cersei’s time will end — especially if/when her champion is defeated in the upcoming trial by combat, mentioned recently in Season 6, Episode 6 “Blood of My Blood.”

I would make an opposite case: that Cersei may well rise. She may be essential to the full development of the show and make it not only through this season but also to the show’s final one.

Why such divergent takes on this once pivotal character?

Cersei’s humiliating Walk of Atonement in the Season 5 Final, “Mother’s Mercy”


What happened to Cersei Lannister? Once the big baddie of HBO’s hit show, she was the murderous, twincestuous, thrice-cuckolding queen, ordering Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) shoved out a window, causing the death of King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), enabling the monstrously sadistic rule of her son, Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson). Yet Cersei’s story-driving antagonism has dimmed with each season, as she has transitioned from powerful Queen to influential Queen Regent to sidelined mother. Season 5 finds her powerless, imprisoned, then forced to walk naked and ridiculed through King’s Landing for all to see. Unable to stop two children from being murdered, unable to keep the Faith Militant from usurping her power, now in Season 6 and humbled beyond recognition, Cersei has been playing a very weak hand.

At this point, one could imagine that Cersei Lannister has become less relevant than other key characters. Show favorites dating back with Cersei to Season 1, Episode 1, “Winter is Coming,” Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) have risen and fallen numerous times. Yet they have all improved their lots greatly overall. Even Jon, back from the dead and feeling pretty low, has advanced greatly. He has the only direwolf at anyone’s side; he has the great Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw; devoted to him are the sorceress Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the wise military advisor Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham), the Night’s Watch, thousands of Wildlings and the powerful giant, Mag the Mighty (Neil Fingleton). Other premiere characters have “leveled up” as well: Sansa (Sophie Turner) is now the default leader of the Stark family; Arya (Maisie WIlliams) is a trained assassin, Bran is the super-powerful Three-Eyed Raven.

Conversely, Cersei has only lost power over time. The best of what she can currently claim is to be able to converse once again with her twin brother, Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and once again enjoy the protection of the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), neither of whom is fully his former self. None of this enables the fallen queen to do much more than avoid having to sleep in the dungeon.

Secondary characters seem to be stealing Cersei’s thunder on other key fronts: Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) has vaulted to the position of “Cersei 2.0.” She is now queen of King’s Landing, adored by the masses and with increased control over Cersei’s second son, King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). Not only undercut by a “newer model,” Cersei is overshadowed by an older one, the wiser, more cunning version represented by Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), who successfully plotted and watched executed Joffrey’s assassination without so much as chipping a nail. And while Cersei has shed tears, her own brother (lover/children-daddy) Jamie has greatly surpassed her on the suffered and grown wiser and more likable front. (Jamie has “leveled up” emotionally - no longer functioning as an antagonist on the show.)

It’s not surprising that, given Cersei’s current lack of impact, her long downward spiral and her marginalization on so many fronts, some viewers might no longer see her as much of a factor. With diminished expectations for a character brought so low, it’s easy to see Game of Thrones bringing her character arc to a close.

On the other hand, it’s also easy to see a pendulum that long swings one way, could soon swing the other. Will Cersei rise again?

The Mountain, a.k.a. Gregor Clegane, appears to be back from the dead to continue serving the once powerful queen.


Will Cersei become the predominant force at King’s Landing once more, or is her character drawing to a close, like so many important characters before her? [RIP Starks: Eddard (Sean Bean), Robb (Richard Madden), Catelyn (Michelle Fairley). RIP Baratheons - Stannis (Stephen Dillane), Robert, Renly (Gethin Anthony), Joffrey, etc.]

It’s hard to declare anything “must” happen on Game of Thrones, which has done an excellent job shocking viewers through the years, especially with the sudden exit of seemingly key characters. Still, perhaps one can find some interesting clues. The largest tea leaves worth inspecting are wrapped around the show’s title itself. “Game of Thrones” refers to the battle for control of the Iron Throne of King’s Landing. That throne is what Ned Stark helped Robert Baratheon obtain. It’s what Cersei wrestled from Robert for herself and her son. It’s what Stannis Baratheon tried to win while Tyrion successfully defended. Its conquest has driven Daenerys to gather resources season after season.

In competition with the foundational question of who will win the Iron Throne is the show’s “War for the Dawn” concept: in which the White Walkers and their undead hoards will battle to destroy all of humanity. As it’s hard to see this potentially apocalyptic event taking a back seat to squabbles over who sits on the Iron Throne, some fans feel the Game of Thrones will ultimately prove to be a red herring. In their minds, before the show reaches its series’ final conflict, the War for the Dawn will sideline the Game entirely.

I suspect the series will neither make the fight for Iron Throne a red herring (that could make much of the story feel a waste of time, as well as undermine the show’s title concept), nor will the final season’s climax make the War for the Dawn secondary (as it’s literally a bigger story). It seems more likely that the two dramatic questions (Who will win the Iron Throne? Who will win the War for the Dawn?) will be combined. Postulating how the series might do this I’ll leave for another time, but what is key here is that the Game for the Iron Throne seems likely to continue to the final season of the show, and if that is the case, Cersei should be part of it.

The creators of the show have always played “the long game” with unusually skilled precision. Even from Episode 1, the audience finds themselves playing catch-up on multiple levels of past history. With such an expanse of story, one might ask: why does the series premiere start where it does? Season 1, Episode 1 could show us the fall of the Mad King or take us to the Battle of the Trident, or introduce us to characters we don’t meet until later, like Margaery and Olenna Tyrell. It reveals what it does for good reason; it knows where and with whom to start because it knows where and with whom its story ends. In Episode 1, we meet Starks, Baratheons/Lannisters and Targaryens. The choice to open with the characters it does could imply that the answer to the foundational question — “Who will win the Game of Thrones?” — can be found within this first cast of featured contenders. Of this original group, only one antagonist/baddie remains — and that’s Cersei. Within this group, only one original, power-hungry Defender of the Iron Throne remains — and that’s Cersei as well. Keeping these story/character threads alive, right up to the climax of the series, could well be something Game of Thrones is driven to do.

The reclusive witch, Maggy, a.k.a Maggy the Frog, fortells young Cersei’s future in Season 5, Episode 1


If the Game of Thrones is on a trajectory to merge with the War for the Dawn, we can speculate that at least one character in Westeros might align with the White Walkers. But what would make a person do something so drastic? One would have to be in a pretty desperate spot. Could Cersei be the best candidate not only for home team antagonist but also for this terrible alignment as well?

Within the cast of game players we meet in Episode 1, Season 1, three major characters currently have prophecies directly attributed to them. Jon Snow is now believed by Melisandre to be “The Prince Who Was Promised” (RIP Stannis). This “Prince” is the warrior who will take up a flaming sword to combat the forces of darkness in the War for the Dawn. Daenerys Targaryen (a.k.a"Daenerys Stormborn, the first of her name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and of the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons) has long been a serious contender for the same role of fabled “Prince” savior (in the books, the High Valyrian word for “Prince” is gender-neutral). Add to this, Daenerys seems to fit the gender neutral interpretation of “The Stallion Who Mounts The World” prophecy, which says a Dothraki ruler will become ruler of all the people of the world.

But of our original contenders, is there a potential antagonist with prophecy attributed to them in the HBO series? The answer is, again, Cersei Lannister.

This is what we hear prophesied directly to young Cersei in Season 5, Episode 1, “The Wars To Come”:

— Cersei will not marry a prince, but a king. (Check. RIP Robert)

— This king will have 20 children, and she will have 3. (Check. RIP up to 19 of Robert’s 20. RIP 2 out of Cersei’s 3.)

— While Cersei is queen, another will come, “younger, more beautiful, to cast you down, and take all you hold dear.” (Check? Margaery could be the “younger, more beautiful” one mentioned. Then again, with a longer timeframe, so could Daenerys, Sansa Stark and others.)

— “Gold will be their crowns, gold their shrouds.” We know that Cersei’s children will be royals, but they will all die — prematurely and, it’s implied, before Cersei.

The books also imply that once Cersei’s children are gone, her valonqar (High Valerian for “little brother”) will choke her to death, but as HBO has ignored this part of the prophecy, we may choose to do the same for now.

Jaime and Cersei discuss the witch’s prophecy in Season 6, Episode 1

Cersei has already lost much, but there’s still more for her to lose. Perhaps losing “all she holds dear” is what the character needs to align her against our protagonists in the War for the Dawn. Regardless, it’s worth postulating that the show’s creators might not have bothered giving Cersei her own supernatural prophecy and such a long downward trajectory, let alone all the complex character development we’ve seen this season as she finally softens and appears more vulnerable, if she wasn’t destined to rise again and prove key to the show’s final climax — in the fight for the Iron Throne, the War for the Dawn or both.

Ultimately, anything can happen on Game of Thrones. Valar Morghulis. All men — and women — must die. And some of them even come back.

UPDATE: June 27, 2016

Re: my “smart Game of Thrones-savvy friend” who argued that Cersei would die before the end of Season 6, while I took the stance she was due for a major power boost: his position went up in wildfire with the Sept of Baelor, in the Season 6’s finale “Winds of Winter.” The collateral damage was impressive.

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