“Nothing Else Matters”: The Tragic Ending to Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s Story
The final episodes of Game of Thrones presented the downfall of the Lannister legacy — and managed to do so in a much more emotionally impactful way than we could have ever imagined
Game of Thrones always knew how to break the hearts of its viewers. Scenes like the Red Wedding, Shireen’s Sacrifice and Jorah’s Death in the battle of Winterfell to name a few, all resonated heavily on our emotions and stuck with us for a lot of time. I never would have imagined though, that the writers will manage to make a good contender for the title of the most heartbreaking scene in the show, at least for me, from the death scene of no other than Cersei Lannister.
Most people would consider Cersei to be a villain of sorts. Speaking in the most superficial terms possible- Cersei Lannister is perhaps the endgame villain of the entire show. I’m sure many people dreamed of many scenarios for her death scene- perhaps one of the Starks taking vengeance for all the hardships she inflicted on them, Jaime Lannister killing her only to reveal he is Arya Stark wearing his face or maybe Daenerys Targaryen roasting her with one of her dragons. The writers of the show however decided to go in a completely different route, and make her death scene rather sympathetic — and one of the saddest moments of the entire show. She dies in the arms of Jaime helplessly while the Red Keep collapsing around them. I’m sure the fact it was paired with Jaime’s death surely helped it be as sad, since Jaime have become a fan favourite for many people throughout the years. However I do think there’s a deeper reason to that — the fact this scene is a tragic ending to the rather unconventional and unique love story of Jaime & Cersei Lannister.
Cersei and Jaime’s death, in a way, symbolises much more than what initially meets the eye. Their father Tywin always considered his son Jaime as his proud heir, even though Cersei was a much better Tywin than he did (and even then not quite exactly, but we’ll get to that). Ever since plotting Robert’s untimely death by a “hunting accident” back in season 1 she gradually built her empire and tried to secure the power of house Lannister by all means necessary- and she did so quite successfully. She managed to turn every tragedy to her own benefit, until reaching the status of the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms herself.
She was almost always one step ahead of every one of her rivals, being able to triumph every situation. Yet she still didn’t have what it took to fill in Tywin’s shoes, no matter how much she wanted to. She wasn’t quite as calculated as him, and was often overconfident in herself. One of her advantages was that people always underestimated how far she’ll go to get what she wants- which ironically enough was the exact same reason she met her demise as well. She miscalculated her risks upon provoking Daenerys time and time again- peaked by executing Missandei in front of her, and ultimately underestimated how far she would go to get what she wants. Daenerys had been through enough to be completely pushed through the edge at that point to a degree Cersei could have never anticipated — resulting in Cersei’s symbolic death by her entire empire crumbling on top of her head, being unable to control the consequences of her actions. In a way, it mirrors how Tywin crushed the Targaryen dynasty in his sacking of King’s Landing, the event that ended Robert’s Rebellion and the centuries-long Targaryen reign. Everything Tywin, and later Cersei, managed to build ever since, crushing everyone standing in their way and often inflicting chaos in the realm for the sole purpose of securing the Lannister legacy, came tumbling upon his children by a vindictive Targaryen survivor.
As many times before in the show, Ramin Djawadi’s masterful score surely helps elevating this episode to whole new level. When Cersei and Jaime first meet again in “the Bells”, the music that plays mirrors the music that played back in the Season 7 finale “the Dragon and the Wolf”, when Jaime decided he finally departs from her toxic grasp to go and help fight the War for for the Living up North. As many people know, the Piano was incorporated in the show’s soundtrack only twice- during Cersei’s trial in the Season 6 finale and during the Night King montage in “the Long Night”- both of the times to indicate some sort of danger. During Cersei’s trial, the piano was used to introduce us to Cersei’s new theme as she rises to power as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. In “the Bells”, however, the piano makes a return- this time with a much more familiar theme. As Cersei and Jaime are reaching a dead end during their attempt at escaping the destruction of King’s Landing, the piano starts to play a melancholic rendition of House Lannister’s theme- the Rains of Castamere — and that’s the part that personally starts to play on my emotional strings every single time. This beautiful rendition, in combination with the masterful acting presented by Lena Headey in this scene, is mainly what makes it so heartbreaking in my book. Cersei, that during the show’s entire run used to demonstrate power and strength is now scared and helpless, while Jaime is still trying to comfort her and face their deaths with honour — both of them knowing how it is going to end. “I want our baby to live” she cries desperately— such a human emotion coming from someone as cold as Cersei Lannister might seem at times. As the music reaches its climax the emotions keeps boiling inside the viewers mind, all the while the entire room starting to collapse around the couple, dying in each other’s arms, together just as they came into this world — a tragic ending of two of the most fascinating characters on the show.
Giving Cersei and Jaime such a death scene is surely another interesting way the writers decided to shift the paradigm and to break tropes relating to the genre- and catch the viewers completely off guard. The “big villain” will not die in some blaze of glory of one of our heroes, in a huge “fuck yeah!” moment- but in a sympathetic scenario that will even make you feel bad for her. As much as many people probably wanted this to happen for a long time, the show refused to give us satisfaction in watching Cersei die. It perhaps managed to do the exact opposite effect.
Lena Headey herself, noted that first upon reading the script it felt a rather anti-climatic ending to her character- with all possible options for deaths in the Game of Thrones universe, her seemed at first as a little too ordinary. However she claimed after actually filming the scene, and after a thorough conversation with her co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, she learned to appreciate the poetic sense of their characters’ conclusion much more. “The more we talked about it, the more it seemed like the perfect end for her,” she told Entertainment Weekly in an interview. “They came into the world together and now they leave together.” On a separate interview Nikolaj addressed his feelings towards his character’s conclusion too- “I thought it was perfect for him to end in the arms of Cersei” he said.
The way I see it, Jaime returning to Cersei in episode 4 after he finishes upholding his promise to help the North fight the Army of the Dead, remains true to his nature throughout the entire show and wholly completes his character arc that started back when he pushed Bran through the window in the very first episode of the show. Circling back to that event, all the events following it came as a result of an act for Cersei. Ever since the beginning of the show it was established that he loves Cersei- genuinely loves her. He joined the Kingsguard, forsaking any chance of family to be near Cersei. He pushed Bran out the window to protect Cersei. He killed his cousins in captivity to go back to Cersei, etc. It was very well founded throughout the series that he would do anything for Cersei- and that’s what he did up until the very end. The things we do for love.
During Jaime and Bronn’s travels in Dorne in season 5, Bronn asks Jaime how he’d like to leave this world- to this he replies “in the arms of the woman I love”. It is clear that it was a moment of foreshadowing, and that his death was meant to be this way, just as he came to this world. It’s important to note that honour was a key theme in Jaime’s story throughout the show. Catelyn Stark once called him “a man without honor” in one of the most memorable dialogues of the show during season 2, and ever since then it seemed like Jaime did a lot of self reflecting and took actions to prove everyone wrong about that. And just as Brienne presented it in the White Book of Knights in the series finale- he managed to keep his honour until the very end and died nobly and with dignity while trying to protect his Queen. His queen, his lover- and his unborn future child. Jaime’s story and entire character were formed when he kills his King, yet he dies protecting his Queen.
While I don’t like to use the term “character development” and certainly not “redemption arc”- Jaime’s personality surely progressed throughout the series. He started as a very arrogant man, almost completely careless for the innocent and otherwise- or at least thats how he wanted to be perceived. Ever since losing his right arm he needed to redefine himself, since his combat skills were everything that made him what he is. He was labeled as a Kingslayer only because he saved an entire city from destruction (yet we shouldn’t forget that saving his father and Lannister army was also a key factor when he decided to kill the Mad King) and was considered a man that would never be true to his word. That’s exactly why he sent Brienne to find the Stark girls, which eventually resulted in a last minute rescue of Sansa from Ramsay’s evil grip in the beginning of season 6. He even managed to depart from Cersei for a brief time, when he decided to uphold is promise to join the fight in the North. He surely cared about Brienne too. But none of these things ever changed how he felt about Cersei. He always loved her, and everything he did he did for her.
His relationship with Cersei wasn’t nearly nice and colourful, to be sure. It was a rather destructive and toxic relationship. In the second episode of season 8, while Tyrion and Jaime are catching up in Winterfell, Jaime tells Tyrion regarding Cersei’s false promise to join the battle in the North “She’s always been good at using the truth to tell lies. I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. She’s fooled me more than anybody”, to which Tyrion replies “She never fooled you. You always knew exactly what she was, and you loved her anyway”. I think this is a very important line in understanding their relationship since Jaime, even after his so-called “redemption arc”, still loved Cersei more than anything, despite being fully aware of her sometimes evil methods. Brienne on the other hand, symbolised the exact opposite- purity and honour, to a degree. Even after their union in Winterfell, once Jaime found out the danger that awaits Cersei in King’s Landing he realised he is still not free of her grasp- and his attraction to her still wins over everything else. “No one walks away from me” she told him when he left her in the ending of season 7. Once he heard she and his future child are in grave danger- he had to leave everything and go try to save her. “The things we do for love” is the sentence that described Jaime’s dedication to Cersei more than any other. No matter how honourable he became- he’ll do whatever it takes to be reunited with her- and that’s how it’s always been.
Returning to season 8 episode 5, and to the the musical side in particular, the music that plays during the credits of this episode is a combination of Cersei’s queen theme and the familiar Rains of Castamere music- very reminiscent of the music during her coronation scene in the season 6 finale, but much more melancholic, climatic and dramatic. In my view this music during the credits symbolises the ending of Cersei’s reign as a queen, and in a way the ending of House Lannister and the Lannister legacy as we know it. The next episode opens with another heartbreaking scene in which Tyrion finds the bodies of Cersei and Jaime under the wreckage, while a melancholic violin rendition of the Rains of Castamere playing in the background. Knowing it’s the last time this Lannister theme plays in the show makes it even more depressing. Tyrion Lannister is perhaps still alive- but the entire Lannister legacy started centuries ago and peaking with Tywin and Cersei actions throughout the show’s run is now in shambles — destroyed for ever. What we thought would feel as a great victory moment for the viewers, turned out to feel exactly the opposite. And I think this is exactly what the writers intended when giving these two character such a tragic death. The arc comes to it’s full closure only in a later scene, when Brienne is closing the White Book, now filled with Jaime Lannister’s heroic acts to be echoed throughout history.