There are so many things to keep track of in HBO's Game Of Thrones that it can often feel like you should be watching the show with an encyclopedia at your side — or maybe one of those snazzy clearboards Alice is prone to using on ABC's The Catch. Over two dozen main cast members (and that's not counting the dead ones); just as many "houses" and "sigils" and alliances and enmities; seven kingdoms and half a dozen Free Cities; dragons and ice zombies and magic and incest and murder galore. So while you re-watch old episodes and re-read George R.R. Martin's A Song Of Ice And Fire in preparation for GoT Season 6, you may be wondering: what's the ONE thing I need to be sure I know before the new season begins? Well, I can tell you that it involves Cersei Lannister and a certain prophecy.
Travel with me back in time to almost exactly one year ago — before Donald Trump, before Fuller House, before Leo won his Oscar — to the day of the Season 5 Game Of Thrones premiere. That episode opened with something unique in GoT history: a flashback. While showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss had largely eschewed that narrative device for four years, they decided to employ it for the first time to show us a scene from Cersei's past; a scene that would explain much about the character's motivations in the present.
When she was but a wee sociopath-in-training, a young Cersei went to visit a woods witch named Maggy. She demanded that the witch tell her her future, even though Maggy warned her she wouldn't like what she heard. In true Cersei fashion, she plunged ahead heedless of the consequences — and Maggy told her several very interesting tidbits. First, she wouldn't marry the prince to whom she was betrothed at the time, Rhaegar Targaryen; instead, she would marry future king Robert Baratheon. Second, while her husband would have 20 children, she would only have three. Thirdly, that she would remain queen until another younger and more beautiful woman took her place. And finally, that she would live to see all three of her children perish and be laid to rest beneath golden shrouds.
This explains a lot about Cersei's state of mind as an adult. This prophecy led directly to the Queen Mother's fierce protection of her children and equally fierce distrust of her sons' shared wife, Margaery Tyrell. But what's so important about that prophecy now, exactly? Why is it the one thing you need to know about before Season 6?
Interestingly, Maggy's prophecy is even more significant for what it didn't include. Book readers know that there was a key part of the prophecy — the final bit, following the part about the golden shrouds — that was left out of the show. So what did the woods witch leave for last? What could be even worse than the deaths of all of Cersei's children? Why, Cersei's own death, of course.
I know the Lannister queen would probably like to think that she'll live forever and rule all of Westeros with an iron fist — and probably Essos as well, while she's at it. But not according to Maggy:
And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.
In the books, it's unclear for quite a while what the word valonqar actually means; eventually, it's revealed that it is the High Valyrian word for "little brother." Therefore, the prophecy is also directly responsible for Cersei's lifelong hatred of her younger sibling, Tyrion. As satisfying as it would be to see Tyrion avenge himself on his hateful sister, there's a popular fan theory that, contrary to Cersei's assumption, the valonqar in question is actually Jaime. Although technically her twin, Cersei was born first, making Jaime her "little brother" by several minutes.
So why did Benioff & Weiss decide to cut out this crucial piece of the prophecy? Could it be that, now they're going off-road from Martin's source material, they decided to change Cersei's fate from the plan the author set out in A Feast For Crows? That's possible, I suppose. But I find it more likely that the bit about the valonqar was excised from the show because they knew that modern television watchers are increasingly savvy when it comes to major twists like this one. Years of theorizing about shows like Lost, Breaking Bad, and How To Get Away With Murder means that audiences today can often spot plot twists coming from a mile away if the showrunners aren't careful.
(Credit to the writers of Mr. Robot, who knew that viewers would be able to predict their Fight Club-esque twist and so didn't even try that hard to hide it — instead nesting a second, even more shocking twist inside of it like a Trojan horse.)
Obviously, hiding the shocking manner of Cersei's impending doom will only work on those GoT fans who haven't already read the books. But for that subset of the audience, there's no need to telegraph the twist any more than is strictly necessary; hence the redaction of Maggy's prophecy.
There's reason to suspect that Season 6 will be the year that finally sees Cersei's fortune come to fruition. "Her relationship with Jaime is at an all-time weird level," actress Lena Headey told Entertainment Weekly in an interview about the new season earlier this month. "It’s juicy, and it’s so f*cking dark." What on earth does an "all-time weird level" look like for an incestuous couple that has already seen attempted child murder and nonconsensual sex on their son's funeral bier? What could be "darker" than watching Jaime Lannister strangle the life out of his lover/sister Cersei with his cold, gold hand?
Not to mention the fact that, after the untimely demise of princess Myrcella in the Season 5 finale — who followed her older brother King Joffrey to an early grave — Cersei is one dead child closer to her own doom. If her last remaining offspring, lovable boy king Tommen, meets an unfortunate fate this season… well, Cersei should officially consider herself on notice.
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