Each week throughout Game of Thrones’ sixth season, a handful of Vox's writers have gathered to discuss the latest episode — and now we’re doing the same with the finale. Before you dig in, check out our recap of Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. First up in our analysis of "The Winds of Winter" is culture writer Alex Abad-Santos.
Alex Abad-Santos: At the end of Game of Thrones’ season six finale, "The Winds of Winter," Daenerys Targaryen cuts an imposing figure. She has her army. She has her fleet of ships. She has her dragons. Dany can taste the cold, dry metal of the Iron Throne.
But my money isn’t on her. It’s on Cersei.
Cersei has two pivotal experiences in the finale. The first is that she gets rid of the only woman in Westeros who knows what she is capable of. The last look on Margaery Tyrell’s face says it all — she knows she's been outplayed, outsmarted. She knows she underestimated Cersei.
The second, and more important, turning point is that Cersei loses her nephew-child Tommen, and with him any semblance of humanity. In a very ride-or-die moment, Tommen just virgin-suicides himself out of a window after finding out his wife, the High Sparrow, and a bunch of other important people had just involuntarily attended a wildfire barbecue.
Tommen was the model of an inconsequential Game of Thrones character, but to Cersei he was the only thing keeping her human. And now (or rather, a year or so from now, when season seven starts), we’ll see what a merciless Cersei means for Westeros.
I don’t totally believe that Cersei is a pure sociopath, though I could be convinced: In keeping with that prophecy she heard so many years ago, Joffrey, Myrcella, and now Tommen are dead. They’re her excuse for revenge, and revenge thrills her to the bone. Cersei sees avenging their deaths as love; everyone else sees it as opportunity for Cersei to let go and be her true self.
What I’m more certain of is that "The Winds of Winter" marked the end of Cersei’s humanity. Tommen, Joffrey, and to some extent Myrcella were the only thing keeping Cersei in check and preventing her from going "full Cersei" on her enemies. She is a cunning, intelligent woman, and when her children were alive, she knew full well that her actions could result in repercussions against them. There was always this sense that she was holding back, because it'd be in their best interests. Whether that counts as love depends on how you read Cersei.
But now she has nothing left except for Jaime. And with no one else who she’s directly responsible for, there’s no telling what she’s capable of or the lengths she will go to (in battle or as a ruler) to see her will be done. The look on Jaime’s face when he returns to King’s Landing — a mixture of shock and fear — signals that he knows hell is coming.
It’s fitting that all this happens in the same episode where Dany says goodbye to her Bae of Dragons, Daario. Dany knows Daario will make her vulnerable, and there’s a painful symmetry between Dany and Cersei. Dany talks about her weaknesses, that it’s impossible to act in your own best interests when you have someone else to think about. Cersei has just lived through it.
And now this finale has all but set up a clash of these queens in season seven.