'Game of Thrones': Why Cersei's Secret Plan Doesn't Make Any Sense

cersei lannister game of thrones
This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere episode, "Winterfell." Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers and explainers.

Never one to back down from a fight, Cersei Lannister has a plan -- one that may or may not involve elephants. We don't know the specifics of her plan, at least after her scenes in the Season 8 premiere episode, but it required the queen to deliver slightly mournful, pouty lines like, "I wanted those elephants." But even more than lumbering beasts with floppy ears, Cersei wants total political and military power, the type that will allow her to rule Westeros in the aftermath of the inevitable conflict with the White Walkers. Clearly, she's playing to win.

Still, it's understandable if you watched the episode and are still asking yourself how exactly she's going to achieve her lofty goals of world domination. Cersei doesn't have strong allies or loyal friends in the region; as many of Game of Thrones's most compelling (and most despicable) villains have bitten the dust, the series' showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have mostly refused to introduce new competitors for the Iron Throne, preferring to keep the final few episodes focussed on the larger conflict with the Night King and the unceasing jockeying for influence amongst the (mostly good) heroes now stationed in the North. Cersei remains the potential spoiler for a picture-perfect happy ending.

She does have the Golden Company, an elite mercenary organization from Essos led by captain Harry Strickland played by German actor Marc Rissmann of The Man in the High Castle. These soldiers are also referred to as "sellswords" because, like Bronn back in the day, they "sell" their "swords" to the highest bidder. But the Golden Company is well-known for never breaking a contract, a detail Davos brought up back in Season 4 when he attempted to convince Stannis to pay for their services. (Reliability counts for a lot when running a small business!) Ever the tactical traditionalist, Stannis refused to enlist the Golden Company, but their appearance was teased last season when Cersei told her brother Jaime she was taking out a loan from the Iron Bank to buy the group's assistance. She's not the first military leader in history to economically over-leverage herself in pursuit of victory.

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In the Season 8 premiere episode, "Winterfell," the Golden Company finally arrived, ushered in with the assistance of Iron Islands king/scoundrel Euron Greyjoy. Despite the lack of elephants, which couldn't make the journey across the Narrow Sea, the organization should provide Cersei with some serious firepower. But will it be enough? Right now, her larger plan is to put her two most imposing rivals in conflict and hope they kill each other -- or at least do enough damage that she can sweep in and take control after the dust (or ice?) settles. The Night King, along with his massive undead army, is headed for an epic battle with Daenerys, Jon Snow, and their horny dragons. Cersei's thinking appears to be that she can sit this one out and then declare victory.

The only problem with that plan is it's mostly nonsensical. The side that wins the battle between fire and ice, which could still end in some version of a stalemate, will likely still emerge with at least one very large winged creature capable of breathing fire, an atomic bomb-like symbol of mutually assured destruction. (The show has often shown a fondness for World War II parallels.) Will the Golden Company really be enough to take them on? And is Cersei making the moves necessary to protect her interests? Besides the business with the Golden Company, Cersei's main tactical manuevers in this episode were having sex with Euron, a marginal figure in the larger world of the show, and sending Bronn to assassinate her brothers with a crossbow, a sign that she's perhaps not looking at the bigger picture. Her strategy is short-sighted and probably doomed.

On a deeper level, what does Cersei Lannister even want? That's a question that Benioff and Weiss seem to be having some trouble answering, judging from the confused ambiguity the Cersei scenes in Sunday's episode. We know from last season that Tyrion is convinced his sister is pregnant, possibly with Jaime's child, which is why he tells Sansa that he believes Cersei will send troops north because she believes she has something worth fighting for (and Sansa makes fun of him for being so gullible). The season premiere again showed Cersei drinking wine, which some interpret as a sign that she's had a miscarriage or that the pregnancy is just a ruse. But she also has a brief exchange with the loathsome Euron, who pats her belly and says he's "going to put a prince in your belly," which illicits a range of emotions as she sips her post-coital wine. In a recent interview in Entertainment Weekly, Lena Headley described her own reluctance about seeing Cersei sleeping with Euron, saying, "I kept saying, ‘She wouldn’t, she wouldn’t, that she would keep fighting.'"

The character feels adrift, disconnected from the major conflicts of the series, and not necessarily in a purposeful way. If there's a larger storytelling problem with the Cersei section of "Winterfell," it's that she's not playing off a worthy adversary like Jaime or drawing up a diabolical plot with an equal like her dearly departed father Tywin. Over eight seasons, Headey has given one of the best performances on the show, a study of what the pursuit of power can do to an individual, but it can't help but feel like the series is failing her and her character down the stretch. There's always the possibility that she has another card, like an army of elephants or another explosion of wildfire hidden up her long, dark sleeves. It's beginning to feel like she's holding nothing.

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.