'Game of Thrones' Finale: Forecasting the Mad Queen's Fall

Cersei Lannister holds the throne, but for how long?
HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Winds of Winter."]

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

With those sharp-tongued season one words, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) set the tone for all the ensuing political maneuvering and murdering on Game of Thrones. But now that she's sitting on the throne, it appears there's some miserable middle ground after all.

Throughout her time on Thrones, the House Lannister lioness has clawed and roared at all enemies in her path, decimating any visible threat posed against her family. But despite all attempts at keeping her children safe, Cersei watched as all three died, one after another: Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), poisoned at his own royal wedding; Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free), poisoned in Dorne; and Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), poisoned by the words and actions of too many bad advisors — his own mother included.

In the wake of Cersei's wildfire assault on the Sept of Baelor, and in the wake of Tommen's subsequent suicide, Cersei now sits upon the throne she so desperately tried to protect for her children through all of these years — now completely childless, with very few friends and very many enemies. Yes, she won the game of thrones, but only for now, and only after the most precious people in her life died. And given the odds stacked against her, it's only a matter of time before she loses the great game for good.

There are thousands of different directions left for Game of Thrones as the HBO series enters its endgame, but for Cersei, there's only one outcome: defeat. It's only a matter of how she'll lose, and that's where the options become many.

The most obvious threat is the arrival of a new queen: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), sailing from Meereen toward Westeros at long last, bringing a bountiful army, critical alliances and three fire-breathing dragons with her. But perhaps Dany's greatest asset in a war against House Lannister is Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), the most reviled figure in Cersei's world. If season seven doesn't feature a final showdown between the Lannister siblings, then there truly is no justice.

A secondary threat is a second Lannister brother: Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Cersei's twin, lover, and the father of her deceased children. Two episodes before the finale, Jaime doubled down on his unending love for Cersei. But the look the twins exchanged in their final moments of the season spoke volumes: Jaime, a man who killed a king to save thousands of lives, was forced to confront the reality that the most important person in his life just followed in the Mad King's footsteps. In the face of further fire, the Kingslayer could become the Queenslayer.

In both the cases of Dany and Jaime, their roles in Cersei's eventual takedown would fulfill the conditions of Maggy the Frog's prophecy. The old witch told Cersei she would outlive her own children, that she would rule until a "younger and more beautiful" queen casts her down, and that she would ultimately die at the hands of the "valonqar," High Valyrian for "little brother." Jaime is Cersei's younger sibling by seconds.

Beyond those external threats, there are internal foes, including Cersei's inner circle. She's flanked by only two trusted allies at this point: Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and Gregor Clegane (Hafthor Bjornsson), two decidedly deadly individuals for very different reasons. Do they have Cersei's best interests at heart, ultimately? Qyburn's motives remain an unsettling mystery, while the Mountain does little more than follow Cersei's precise orders — a directive that typically ends in gruesome gore.

With that in mind, however, the truth becomes clear: when it comes to Cersei's downfall, all roads lead right back to Cersei and her call for violence. Her destructive actions have brought her to this point, and are bound to bury her in the end, whether it's because she instigates someone into action, or because she enacts a plan that backfires in literally explosive fashion. 

"I choose violence," Cersei said earlier in season six, three words that echo throughout the character's arc — and words that will undoubtedly be with her when her time on Thrones inevitably ends.

Watch the video for more on the season finale's highlights:

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