Cersei Lannister is admired by many Game of Thrones fans, not for niceties, a sprightly demeanor or likeability, but instead for her sheer brutality and sense of conviction. In short, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms takes no shit — from anyone. Her disillusionment and tendency toward violence peaked at the end of Season 6, when she ignited wildfire to blow the Great Sept of Baelor into a million tiny pieces, along with everyone inside. As the dust settled, it appeared there was no limit to her blood-thirsty quest for power.
Warning: Spoilers for the Game of Thrones here on out.
But the finale of Game of Thrones Season 7 did something unexpected: It showed Cersei in a surprisingly conciliatory mood. Yes, that mood was obscured by her approach, but it doesn't hide the fact that, for a woman so quick to carry out the ultimate punishment, her words were exposed as only words by her two brothers, Jaime and Tyrion Lannister. Both were treated with (admittedly warped) compassion and spared from a similar fate to those who challenged her in the past. But is this simply familial loyalty? Or is there more going on in Cersei's psyche?
Sparing Jaime In The Name Of Love
Letting Jaime go with his head attached to the rest of his body isn't particularly surprising. Cersei has made clear that he is the only thing left that she really cares for, and with the recent revelation of her pregnancy, killing the person closest to her would be an act of Mad King proportions. But thanks to a trademark foreboding score from Ramin Djawadi and exceptional acting from Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, when the zombified Mountain pulls his sword and Cersei gives the nod, it looks like game over for Jaime.
Face peppered with heartbreak, Jaime takes a final gamble on his sister's love for him, telling her "I don't believe you" before walking away. The Mountain follows, but doesn't strike, having received word from Cersei before not to harm him. He's left to roam free as the snow falls on King's Landing, but it's unlikely this is a moment Jaime will forget. His patience was severely tested when Cersei's actions at the Sept led to Tommen's suicide, and Cersei's decision to scheme with Euron Greyjoy to double-cross Daenerys by recruiting 20,000 mercenaries from the Golden Company was not well received.
It's clear Cersei idolized her late father, Tywin, and as a result she has digested his mannerisms and worldview. But her actions with Jaime prove that, as she clings on to power, she's presenting a facade. Her facade, the threat of violence, is the only way she knows how to try and get her way, even when it's the one person she loves at the end of the sword. Those same actions, though, may've cost her the relationship she most values, leaving her alone.
Allowing Tyrion To Return To Her Enemies
The same can't be said for her behavior with Tyrion, who murdered the very man Cersei idolized, their father. After escaping imprisonment, he not only absconded from his duty to House Lannister, but actively joined the other side by supporting Daenerys. There's no doubt Cersei wanted him dead. After Jon's pledge of loyalty to Dany appeared to ruin negotiations, Tyrion made the decision to talk to his sister in the knowledge that there was every chance he was passing his own death sentence.
That will've been running through Tyrion's mind as Cersei started their conversation by explaining all the reasons for her hatred of him through gritted teeth, blaming Tyrion for wanting to destroy House Lannister and for the death of two of her children:
"Do you have any idea what you did when you fired that crossbow? You left us open, you laid us bare for the vultures and the vultures came and tore us apart. You may not have killed Joffrey but you killed Myrcella, you killed Tommen. No one would've touched them if father was here, no one would've dared."
In an act of surrender, Tyrion — who has battled all his life to receive approval from his sister — calls Cersei's bluff. Here's a man already hated, who actively winds her up, goading her: "You love your family, and I have destroyed it. I will always been a threat, so put an end to me," he exclaims while admitting he has thought about murdering her, too. But as the Mountain braces for bloodshed, she can't give the call. Her cards are on the table: She still loves Tyrion, family is of more value to her than pride, and in a rare change of view she accepts Tyrion's peace offering of wine. Then she lets him walk back to Daenerys having agreed to a new set of terms.
Why? After everything Tyrion has done, why does Cersei allow him to walk back to her enemy unscathed? From the "I choose violence" of Game of Thrones Season 6 to not responding to Tyrion's provocation, Cersei has clearly had a change of perspective. As well as loving her brother more than she lets on, she seems to be growing tired of conflict. Now pregnant, she's beginning to wish for a quieter life with her family — she says herself Euron has the right idea to leave with those who matter. Death after death has made her reevaluate life, and the quest for power no longer has the same appeal.
Clearly, Cersei won't completely abandon her wicked side; she made the threats in the first place. As she struggled with her own inner battle, she has chosen her stance on The Great War between living and dead. Although making a pledge to go North and fight off the White Walkers, Cersei is hatching a plan to take full control of Westeros, for good. But as the threat increases now the Wall has been breached, her tunnel vision toward domination and her vehement sense of pride ("No one walks away from me I told you") could be the very thing that gets her killed — by Jaime or by someone else.
Was Cersei right to threaten Jaime and let Tyrion go?