It’s safe to say that the Battle of Winterfell was a huge shock for most fans. Many of us expected the Night King to win the battle, and he decidedly did not. Instead, there was one clear winner: Queen Cersei.
No, I did not mean to say “Arya Stark, First of Her Name, Queen of My Heart.” I mean that, in the bigger picture, Cersei Lannister really did win the Battle of Winterfell. Her strategy, as baldly stated to Jaime at the end of last season, was to sit back and watch the armies of the Night King and the Targaryens deplete each other, banking on the Targaryens to win but sustain heavy casualties. And isn’t it crazy how the Targaryens won, but sustained heavy casualties? Who could have guessed?
I admit, I was astonished. Cersei may be my favorite character, but she shares a common trait with many other psychopaths: she’s not as smart as she thinks she is. We, as an audience, are just not used to her making good choices.
So, how long can Cersei’s winning streak last? If we take her history into account, not long. If we take the fact that there are only three episodes left in the series into account, the time grows even shorter. Here are some plays she and the other major characters might make in the final round of the game of thrones.
There May Be Another Siege of King’s Landing
Given some of the clues in the trailer for episode four, and given some of Cersei’s past decisions, it seems like a pretty safe bet that she’ll keep her forces at King’s Landing and hunker down in the Red Keep rather than sending her forces to attack the North. If she had her troops ride out, she could press her advantage while the enemy troops are at their weakest, but it would be a risk, and that’s not her m.o. She’s more of a “sit tight behind strong walls with several barrels of wine and leave the fighting to everyone else” person. She’s impossible to lure out, because she’s a nihilist — there’s nothing left that she cares about enough to risk her own life.
Plus, the Red Keep is stocked with plenty of wildfyre and poison, leaving Cersei with the power to kill herself and as many other people as she pleases should she face inevitable defeat. It wouldn’t be like her to leave that behind. So we can assume the capitol will be the site of the final show-down.
The People Will Turn on Cersei
The people of King’s Landing, who for the most part are very poor, have always hated Cersei. At more than one point in the series, they have rioted in the streets when she was passing. Not to mention, she blew up the Sept, the Westerosi equivalent of a nation’s largest cathedral, and all the people in it: beloved nobles and religious figures as well as, we might assume, many other city-dwellers. The people resent Cersei’s rule, and if they get the chance to do something about it, they will.
This is where Daenerys really has a chance to shine. We’ve seen from the outset that she has a remarkable talent for gaining a people’s respect and adoration very quickly, and we’ve seen her lead more than one slave rebellion. If anyone can get a people to turn on their Queen, it’s Daenerys. The may be wary of her at first, since her father Aerys II, “The Mad King,” was just as bad as Cersei, but if Dany plays her cards right — and if she listens to Tyrion — she might just be able to turn the citizens of King’s Landing into a weapon.
Blackwater Bay May See Combat Again
Remember the Battle of the Blackwater, from all the way back in season two? No? The big naval battle where Stannis sailed his fleet to King’s Landing, attempting to stage a coup and capture the throne from his nephew Joffrey? No? The one with the wildfyre and Tyrion’s face getting axed? Okay, yeah, now you remember. Well, we think that’s a prime location for some full-circle dramatic moments. Naval combat is a certainty with both Euron and Yara Greyjoy in the mix, and the Blackwater is perfectly positioned as the battleground.
The key players will all be there and together again: Bronn, Tyrion, and Davos. In the second season, Bronn had to choose between his loyalty to himself and his loyalty to Tyrion; this season, he has been given an explicit opportunity to do so again. And as for Davos, you may not recall, but he had several sons, and almost all of them died in the Blackwater when Tyrion’s wildfyre went off. I think there’s a good chance he’ll fight on those waters again, and he might even die there, joining his sons in their resting place.
Cersei Could Get Her Elephants
I know, it’s a longshot. But hear me out. In a previous season, we saw Cersei use the Tyrell gold captured at Highgarden to pay back the Crown’s astronomical debts to the Iron Bank of Braavos. Pleased with her fulfillment of this seemingly impossible task, the Bank’s representative offered her a further loan should she need it. The Iron Bank originally planned to back Dany as the safer investment, but Cersei convinced them that would be foolish: Dany has absolutely zero history of paying her debts, and in fact, we’ve never seen her pay for anything at all on the show. Her most famous transaction involved burning the salesman alive and then freeing the slave army she had promised to buy from him. So it would be perfectly reasonable for the Iron Bank to stand behind Cersei.
That means mercenaries, and a great deal of resources to go with them. It could mean ships adequate for the transport of elephants. It may be a pipe dream, but I just really want this for her, you know?
Arya Stark Will Kill Cersei Lannister
This has nothing to do with Melisandre’s “brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes” prophecy. Walder Frey had green eyes, so that’s already fulfilled. Arya is going to kill Cersei because it makes sense. She knows the Red Keep well, is silent and sneaky, can wear others’ faces, and is a trained assassin with Cersei at the top of her kill list. There’s still a slight chance it could be Jaime, but our money’s on Arya.
The Throne Won’t Go to Dany or Jon
This one looks ahead a few episodes, but we’re willing to state our firm believe that there’s a 0% chance both Dany and Jon will live through the series. Theories abound that Dany is destined to follow the same path to madness that her father pursued, given her short temper, short-sighted ruling style, and intense inbreeding (the ever-hilarious Film Theorists once made a video on just how inbred she is, and it’s worth a look). Most people think that Jon will be the one forced to kill her, but that theory stems from the prophecy of Azor Ahai, and since it appears to have related to the defeat of the Night King, it looks like that one didn’t pan out. Some people think Tyrion will betray Dany, but we don’t buy that. We think, instead, that there’s a possibility that Jaime could be forced to do it, reprising his role as “Kingslayer” to a mad Targaryen. It would be a poetic repetition of the past, which is something this show is fond of doing, and it would be an effective conclusion to Jaime’s character arc.
With Dany’s death looking likely, Jon is left as the strongest contender for the throne, but we think he’ll refuse it. Jon may appear to be a natural leader, but it’s clear that the job makes him miserable, and he will be heartbroken to lose Dany. We think he’ll endorse our primary candidate for the Iron Throne: Tyrion. Tyrion is, first off, the only sane person left who actually wants the job. He’s been Hand to two different monarchs, and though he has had some setbacks with Dany, overall he has enjoyed his positions of power and used them to do good. Varys wants him on the throne, and we think Jon and Sansa would also be glad to vouch for him. He’s kind but not blinded by idealism, practical but not cruel.
From a literary standpoint, he’s a sure bet: he fits the bill for Machiavelli’s ideal Renaissance ruler, and his character arc mimics Henry V’s from Shakespeare’s plays, a young lord indulging in vice and thereby getting to know the common people before rising to the occasion in battle and showing that he is intelligent and honorable. And it would be a satisfying inversion of a standard fantasy trope: that of outward beauty reflecting inward worthiness. We’ve already seen the reverse of this with Joffrey, so it would be especially nice to see Tyrion — whom, ridiculously, the people of Westeros do NOT consider beautiful, Peter Dinklage’s killer looks aside — prove his ultimate worthiness.
Are we wildly incorrect? We don’t know, but we can’t wait to find out this week!