Warning: spoilers for Game of Thrones ahead.
For eight seasons, Game of Thrones illustrated the diverging paths of Jaime and Cersei Lannister with an attention to detail the series hasn’t always afforded some of its other characters. Jaime begins the story as a man who thinks nothing of shoving a 10-year-old boy out of a window to protect Cersei. His motivation is his all-consuming love for his twin. There is the world, and then there is them. Likewise, Cersei takes for granted that her brother will be by her side no matter how many heinous things she does. Where she chooses power, he would choose love.
If the characters had remained static, locked in their season-one mentalities throughout all eight seasons, then their deaths in “The Bells” would ring true. After all, they’re both hateful, right? And all Jaime ever wanted to do was die in the arms of the woman he loved. But despite the many (many) callbacks to the beginning of the story, this is the end of the tale, and watching them die together buried under the rubble of King’s Landing is an empty, meaningless, and, most annoying of all, nonsensical way for them to go out.
Let’s begin with Jaime. The Kingslayer’s redemption arc is perhaps the show’s finest achievement, or at least it was until “The Last of the Starks” and “The Bells” decided to devolve the character back about four seasons. From losing his hand to defying Cersei to send Brienne on a quest to find and protect Sansa from his sister’s wrath to his decision to walk away from his twin when he realizes she’s lied and has no intention of sending her army to help fight the dead in the North, Jaime has been on a hero’s journey that hinges on his ability to extract himself from his toxic relationship with Cersei. In order to embrace the honor that Brienne sees in him, that he exemplifies by saving her life in the bear pit or fighting by her side against the Night King’s army, he has to denounce his sister and her thirst for power. And he succeeds. As he tells Bran when they meet again, he’s not the man he once was. He would no longer kill a child to protect his sister, and he understands that some things go beyond houses and vows.
And yet just moments after sleeping with Brienne and discovering that his sister has sent Bronn North to murder him, Jaime hears that Cersei has done yet another heinous thing, and he rides South to die in her arms because . . . of reasons? Because deep down people never change and his entire redemption arc is built around him trying on a life with Brienne for size, leaving her devastated, then dying beneath King’s Landing as if he hasn’t earned a better, more satisfying end to his long and winding journey. The show can hand wave and drop a “the things we do for love” as an explanation, but that doesn’t make his sudden return to Cersei, not to stop her, but to rescue her, any less of an eye-roll moment.
But Jaime’s not the only character who deserves so much better. Cersei does, too. Yes, Cersei. Look, this woman has single-handedly made herself one of the most vicious villains in the entire series. Granted, the show always holds back from truly letting the character indulge in her dark side the way that the A Song of Ice and Fire series does, but she’s still the same person who blows up the Sept of Baelor, sits by and does nothing as the North fights an army of the dead, and uses the entire population of King’s Landing as her own personal human shield. Make no mistake, while Daenerys is riding that dragon, the blood of all those innocents is on the hands of the queen who has never cared who lived or died aside from her and maybe her children.
The show tries to make us believe that everything Cersei does is to protect her incestuous brood. They’ve paid quite a lot of lip service to this idea over the past two seasons in particular, no doubt to set up the moment when she’s sobbing about wanting her unborn baby to live. But that’s an oversimplification of who this character is. Loving one’s children doesn’t make a person’s willingness to murder innocents more palatable. Cersei has never been afraid to bring down hell around her, so when Daenerys brings death knocking on her door, it’s a shame she doesn’t stand stronger. Instead, the woman who set all of this in motion by ordering the execution of Missandei just one episode before crumbles in her brother’s arms and waits for rocks to literally fall on her head. That’s no death for a villain who went toe to toe with the dragon queen.
Perhaps the biggest failing of the scene is that it expects us to care about either death in the wake of twin character assassinations. But a beautiful score and talented actors can’t plug in the gaping holes in this scene’s logic, nor can it retroactively make us care about Cersei and Jaime’s romantic relationship. Their love story isn’t some grand, operatic arc; it’s always been a recipe for mutually assured destruction. And, hey, Game of Thrones gets them there in the end. They die as their season one selves lived, it’s just too bad that this is season eight and the Lannister twins’ anticlimactic throwback death is just another empty moment lost in the sea of spectacle without substance that is the back half of the final season.
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