Spoilers for Game of Thrones episodes one to three of season eight ahead. Hear me out: I don't think Cersei should die on Game of Thrones.
I can hear Game of Thrones fans readying their spears already. Yes, I know: Cersei Lannister is alllllmost as hated at this point as her son Joffrey, and fans enjoyed his death scene more than any other thus far. Yes, the GoT creators are under pressure to give us an epic, satisfying conclusion, and what better way to do that than kill the Mad Queen? YES, there's already a huge prophecy about how she'll die, and it's influenced just about every action in Cersei's life. Fans might riot if Jaime or Tyrion (or her unborn baby) don't somehow end up choking the life out of her as payback for the many, many people she's killed. Yes, there's also a theory that Arya might kill Cersei. I know all this. So hear me out.
It's not that I don't think Cersei will die—that's being telegraphed pretty clearly, in my opinion—it's that I actually believe that the more complex, nuanced ending would be to leave her alive. The show has been surprisingly feminist in its ultimate narrative arcs. After many seasons of controversial rape or near-rape that garnered a lot of pushback from fans and critics alike, the female characters who are still alive so far—Cersei, Brienne, Sansa, Arya, Dany to name some big ones—are now taking positions of power. They've gone through hell, and they're not letting any dude mansplain them out of what's rightfully theirs (see also Dany's irritated instead of grossed-out reaction to learning Jon is her nephew, and thus a candidate for the Iron Throne).
And I've gone on record before as saying Cersei is not a fully un-empathetic character. Her dad was abusive, and her whole life was one, long, unsuccessful effort to get him to appreciate her (boy, if he could only see her now). Her brother-lover definitely raped her that one time and then eventually left her to be a potentially single mom. Her other, hated brother killed her dad and then sided with the younger, hotter Dragon Queen that's currently coming for Cersei's title.
Furthermore, I'm not even sure Cersei had the Iron Throne as her ultimate goal—she was supportive of Tommen and Joffrey, and she deferred to her dad's quest for power. It's been family, not self, for Cersei throughout her life. And that yearning to protect her family has brought her nothing but terrible decisions and horrible grief. Who she is now is nothing but a twisted, warped version of a protective mom—all the way up to being a pregnant queen fighting for her throne.
Cersei has tried to wriggle out of her own doomed prophecy many times, first by trying to save her kids, then by seizing power and getting pregnant. What a twist it would be—a more appropriate end for her complex character—for her to avoid the prophecy's pronouncement on her fate (at least through the last episode) by having her remain alive, yet still in agony over what she did of her own free will.
There's a couple ways this could happen: Cersei could be imprisoned like she did with poor Ellaria Sand and her poisoned daughter. She could be exiled, powerless and alone until the end of time. Jaime or Tyrion could strangle her juuuuust to the point of death, then change their minds. Any combination of these could be true—plus she could have a miscarriage, leaving the prophecy intact and giving her more grief and suffering than the quick release of death. There's plenty of ways she could suffer and survive.
Some fans agree that Cersei might be exiled or somehow have it be unclear what her fate is. This Redditor explains,
Death is not the best punishment for Cersei. The only thing she ever cared about is her family and her power. Cersei losing her father, children, Jaime, and all her power is the best justice for her. The best ending for Cersei’s character arc is to make her live alone and powerless for the rest of her life.
And the actress who plays Cersei, Lena Headey, also admits that she's rooting for Cersei (maybe the only person). "Someone has to!" she laughed:
She's also said in the past that she likes Cersei and that she has some real humanity to her:
The thing that gave her humanity was her kids. They’re gone now. Her father is gone. [Her brother] Tyrion is gone. There’s no one to tell her she can’t, she’s stupid, she’s just a woman. I think when Jaime looks anything other than happy [at the end of season 7], she has a ‘f— you’ moment.
So, I'm not alone in detecting some hints of beautiful, tragic humanity in Cersei. So what better way to explore her as a full, human character than to give her a long, healthy life for her to reflect on her decisions?
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