Game of Thrones has always been known for its brutal episode 9’s. Since we only have six episodes this season, episode five “The Bells” is this year’s equivalent, and it was by far the most brutal and tragic one yet. But where does this leave us going into the final episode next week?
As always, spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones below.
One of the most critical moments in this week’s ending is the death of Cersei and Jaime. In a way, we all knew this was coming. If Cersei didn’t die during this episode, then she was probably going to make it to the end, and on some level, we just knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was how she was going to die, and particularly at the hands of whom, that we finally got answers to this episode. In classic Game of Thrones fashion, it was unexpected.
After Jaime left Winterfell last week, he made no secret of the fact that he was going to save Cersei. There was speculation that his trip could take a turn; that once he reached her something would occur that would make him carry out her death himself in a clear moment of tragedy.
Ultimately, the moment was tragic, but not because a brother turned on her, as the “valonqar” prophecy from the books hinted. Instead, its because Jaime remained by her side until the very end. Cersei and Jaime died in each other’s arms, crushed by rocks as Dany burned King’s Landing to the ground—an ending for two of the show’s most prominent characters that was both unsettling and unpredicted.
As much as it would or would not have been poetic for Cersei to die at the hands of her brother/lover or even due to a surprise attack from Arya, Cersei isn’t the Night King. She is a nuanced villain, with desires, fears, and emotions that we’ve watched play out over seven years, no matter how warped it all was. Her death in this episode may have felt a little underwhelming in some aspects, especially after such a build-up of her cruelty over the years, but for a character who’s remained consistent overall, it seems clear now that she would die the way she started the show: keeping close to her Jaime, her child and herself.
Inevitably, it was her time, but it makes sense that when the moment finally came, it wasn’t the cheer fest that was the end of “The Long Night” a few weeks ago.
For Jaime, it’s a little more puzzling of an end. In earlier seasons of the show, he seemed to be headed toward a more honorable route, or at least the potential to do so. This, of course, severely reverted backward during season five. But then during this season alone, he had left Cersei, arrived at Winterfell to fight the dead, had his moment with Brienne, and then left for Cersei, reverting to his old ways yet again. This time for the last time.
What the show says with his death here is that while Jaime had the capacity for change, he never fully did. Parts of his redemption arc seemed real. He may no longer have been the guy who would throw a boy out of a window, but he was also not the changed man we suspected he might be when he finally reached his end. He was still willing to do whatever it takes for Cersei.
Some of his final words to Cersei are “Nothing else matters. Only us.”
If these words sound familiar, it is because they are similar to what he tells Cersei in season one when she fears Bran will wake up and expose their relationship and what they did to him. The narrative came full circle with both Jaime and Cersei, quite literally. To them, nothing else mattered, even as the world fell to pieces around them.
This then brings us to Arya, who gave up her revenge plot to kill Cersei about midway through the episode. At the very end, we see her looking at the dust, the bodies and the carnage around her, upset and angry. She sees one white horse standing in the distance and rides away as the episode cuts to black.
Riding out on a white horse could literally foreshadow Arya rescuing Westeros in the next episode, newly motivated not by revenge but by justice. As she stood and absorbed the destruction around her, there were some clear Ned Stark vibes. No matter what she’s been through, like Sansa and like Jon, she is a Stark through and through. Arya already saved everyone once this season, maybe she will do it again. Clearly, she’s not planning to stand by and let Daenerys get away with what’s been done at King’s Landing.
We didn’t check back in with Dany after her episode-long massacre, but we didn’t need to to see that she is the queen of the ashes now. The vision she saw in season two we now know was not snow, but dust and ashes—King’s Landing destroyed at her hands. It’s a fate she long ago said she’d resist but is nonetheless the fate she got in a swift episode 9 twist that felt as disappointing and saddening as it felt unearned.
We may have lost Queen Cersei in this episode, but we also lost Queen Daenerys too, in more ways than one. In addition to the complete mishandling of her character and rushed nature of her arc, with only one episode left in the entire series immediately following what she has just done, it’s evident she hasn’t gotten much time left in Westeros either.