This article contains major spoilers from last nights's Game of Thrones season five finale and is NSFW.
Okay, so that just happened.
Game of Thrones deals in so that just happened moments—swift deaths, shocking reveals, and gut-wrenching acts of sexual deviance—but Cersei Lannister's so-called "walk of atonement" is among the most shocking five minutes we've seen yet on the show.
We even saw this one coming. Earlier this year, Game of Thrones location photos revealed that creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would cull from George R.R. Martin's fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, to bring on the bare-naked punishment. The plan caused a stir—before the Thrones production team could roll cameras on Lena Headey's naked stroll, the Catholic Church of St Nicholas in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the show's King's Landing stand-in, nixed the idea. The idea of walking sacred ground in the nude was immoral.
Eventually, the city decided to allow the showrunners to shoot their racy scene, so long as Headey was not filmed nude inside a place of worship. Imagining what the writers would have done without this peak moment is near impossible; setup for the walk of atonement arrived in season five's seventh episode, "The Gift," when Cersei's "manipulation" of the Faith of the Seven's High Sparrow bit her in the ass. The king's mother thought she was sending her son's queen, Margaery Tyrell, to judgment day. Turns out, the High Sparrow was ready to purge King's Landing of all its depravity—incestuous, back-stabbing royalty included.
In A Dance with Dragons, Martin's fifth Thrones tome, the walk of atonement hardens the venomous political player. "They think that this will break my pride, that it will make an end to me," she says to herself as an entire city gazes upon her. "But they are wrong."
The filmed scene—Headey proceeding with scrubbed body and shaved head, as the source material demands—is graphic and anxiety-inducing. Having King's Landing angered citizens hurl food at your naked body is hard enough. Hearing someone chant "shame" as it happens... that's rough. Cersei isn't a nice person—lest we forget the past four seasons of diabolical behavior—but it's hard not to feel a little sympathetic for the manipulative matriarch.
After the atonement, Cersei is inducted into the King's Guard. Qyburn, resident mad scientist, and the resurrected Mountain are by her side. We can already picture Ms. Lannister in season six: angry, vicious, and retaliating. No shame.