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The two big deaths of Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode were still unexpected

We knew it’d be bloody ... we didn’t know it’d be that bloody

game of thrones season 8 episode 5 HBO
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

The Battle of King’s Landing, or “The Last War” as Daenerys called it, promised a grand conclusion to at least a few of Game of Thrones’ grandest arcs. Many predicted Cersei’s fortified kingdom would provoke Dany into the most fiery of rages.

Somehow it was so much worse, and took two beloved characters down with it all.

[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5, “The Bells.”]

“Remember where we met, where they keep the dragon skulls, beneath the Red Keep?” Tyrion tells Jaime early on in episode 5, hoping to save his brother and sister’s lives, knowing full well Dany intends to scorch them to hell. “Keep following the stairways down, down as far as they’ll go. You’ll come out onto a beach at the foot of the keep. A dinghy will be waiting for you. If the winds are kind, you’ll make it to Pentos. Start a new life. Sail right past the iron Fleet and into a new life.”

Maybe in another life, under the eye of more merciful writers than George R.R. Martin and his showrunner guards David Benioff and D.B. Weiss the plan could have worked out. But this is Game of Thrones.

The Jaime-Cersei relationship blossomed before the events of Game of Thrones. The crippling of Bran Stark defined it. And for so many seasons, as Cersei radicalized into a queen willing to wipe anyone out to maintain the throne, and Jaime faltered from Kingslayer to Lannister turncoat (even if it was for the right reasons), the relationship came under question: would Jaime be the one to finally do his forbidden love in?

A prophecy imagined the possibility. For many seasons, fans speculated that an ominous decree by Maggy the Frog, shown in a flashback at the beginning of season 5, foresaw Cersei’s demise at the hand of her brother. While the emphasis of Maggy’s prophecy was on children, suggesting Cersei would only have and bury three (“Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds.”), a bit of the prophecy from Martin’s A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series, drove the real speculation.: “The valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale throat and choke the life from you,” Maggy said. Valonqar being the High Valyrian word for “little brother.”

The relationship’s real ending was less dramatic — at least as far as brother-sister murders are concerned. Jaime’s line from the top episode lingers through the chaos: “All the worst things she’s ever done, she’s done for her children.” He sees room for redemption, even after turning his back on his sister during her most sociopathic streak. Even after she sent Bronn to shoot him in the face with a crossbow.

With King’s Landing ablaze after Drogon’s fire-breathing attack, Jaime finds Cersei amidst the rubble, and shuttles the queen down to the cellars of the Red Keep.

“I want our baby to live.”

So it was true: Cersei was pregnant. And Maggy was right: Cersei will only have three children in the end.

“Please don’t let me die,” she begs Jaime.

jaime and cersei death in game of thrones season 8 HBO

There’s no twist here. The road to freedom laid out by Tyrion is blocked by massive amounts of stone. Jaime can’t save Cersei in the end. But in a twist for fans, who’ve lived and breathed prophecy theories for years, he doesn’t kill her either.

“Look me in the eye,” he asks her. In a way, his dream will come true. When Bronn asked him back in season 5 how he hoped to die, Jaime replied, “In the arms of the woman I love.”

Jaime’s season 8 path was a whiplash-inducing tailspin for dedicated viewers of the series. Episode 4 saw the knight finally consummate a flirtatious relationship with Brienne of Tarth only to walk out on her, drawn back to King’s Landing by Cersei’s gravitational pull. It’s emotional logic that’ll be litigated by fans as being “true” or not for years after Game of Thrones ends its run, but episode 5 makes the case for why Jaime may have felt stuck, absorbed: Jaime and Cersei are a violation of the rights and wrongs of the universe. There is a version of the story where they lived happily ever after away from “the game.” But vengeance played a role in their romance, and fueled Cersei’s life when her love for Jaime unraveled.

With the apocalypse basically setting in, there was no where else for Jaime to turn. There were loose ends. There was an unborn child. There were too many possibilities. There was a whiff of redemption. And if he was going to die — and he was going to die — no prophecy or throne-securing conspiracy or epic battle plan would keep him from understanding a little more about this unexplainable romance he’s found himself in. Jaime and Cersei are human, vicious in moments, intoxicated throughout, shattered in the end, but human.

As Jaime once told Brienne, “We don’t get to choose who we love.”

In the end, Cersei’s valonqar wrapped his hands around her pale throat ... and holds her as death collapses around them.

“Nothing else matters. Only us.”

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