So there’s nothing I can say about this sequence that Headey, showrunner David Benioff, and author George R.R. Martin do not say more insightfully in our interviews linked at the end of the recap (Martin’s chapter on this sequence in A Dance with Dragons was absolutely amazing and hugely suspenseful).
But I’ll give it a shot: Cersei is a character who does not deserve our sympathy. She would kill anybody to—not just survive—but to simply get what she wants. Her rule since Joffrey’s death was a platform of paranoia and self-destruction, and her selfishness is setting up her own son, the king, for certain ruin. And yet … how can you not feel for somebody being so utterly and completely abused and humiliated? Stripped, shorn, marched naked through the streets, the insults. Director David Nutter frames the scene from Cersei’s perspective, doing his best to put us in her position. It’s like the anxiety dream of finding yourself naked in front of a group of people, yet amped to an extreme.
Today we use terms like “walk of shame” and “slut shaming” to describe comparatively mild everyday situations—a semi-awkward walk home, a sarcastic tweet. Thrones once again brings the medieval version of a modern idea and shows us the full horror of how humanity treats the powerless (in Cersei’s case, it’s somebody who has lost her power to somebody more powerful). As Martin explains, this sequence was not some fiction writer’s fantasy; the penance walk was a real thing.
The big question here, and it’s a really thorny (Thrones-y?) one, is this: Does Cersei deserve this punishment? Headey has a firm opinion on this subject, as you’ll read in her interview. It might depend on how you answer two questions: Do you believe a murderer deserves to die for killing others? And then do you believe that what Cersei suffered—being imprisoned, starved, beaten, and the Walk—is a fate that’s actually worse than simply being executed?
And yet, even trying to break this “deserve it” question down into a logic problem, it feels like the emotional impact of what we’re seeing spills beyond those parameters. Game of Thrones isn’t simple. This show has prompted more outraged and analytical headlines than any TV series I can remember, particularly this season. Some point to these stories and say, “Look, Thrones is doing something really wrong.” I see all the debate and wonder if any piece of popular art that generates so much passionate discussion isn’t inherently doing something right. Many will disagree with that, as is, I suppose, part of the point.
Cersei walks. It’s a very long way. She’s followed by a woman ringing a bell chanting, “Shame.” The crowd gets increasingly hostile. Headey’s performance in this sequence is riveting.
NEXT: Jon dies at the end