The Writing On the Wall: The Breaking of Bonds in “No One”

Cersei Mountain Qyburn

A universal feeling no one ever wants to experience is that of disappointment. It can be a quiet feeling, a monstrous one, or something in between. Regardless of the veracity of the feeling, disappointment is fundamentally rooted in a loss of expectation, positivity, and hope. That feeling that can easily sink one’s stomach, heart, and mind into an experience of heartbreak is arguably worse than sheer anger. With anger, there is at least the heat of the passion to latch onto. With disappointment, there is just a sense of coldness and isolation.

That feeling of disappointment is compounded even further when the source of that negativity is someone we know and respect or even love. It can be an idol who inspires us but whose reality is less than inspirational. It could be someone we look up to but who does not share that respect towards us. It could, perhaps worst of all, someone who is a part of our family and an individual whom we are convinced will never abandon us, will never betray our side.

In “No One,” Game Of Thrones is committed to reveling  in the sheer disappointment its characters are facing at the hands of those in whom they had placed a significant degree of trust and faith in. Cersei (Lena Headey) finds herself reeling after she is confronted with disappointments that threaten to undermine a significant part of whom they are.

Cersei Mountain
The Walk of Shame, or the Mother’s Mercy as the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) so unashamedly calls it, breaks and isolates Cersei from the annals of power and authority within King’s Landing. She is broken at that moment but there are two degrees of hope she has at her disposal. One is the sheer, brute physical power Cersei has in the form of the zombified Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). The second is some political power through Tommen (Dean Charles-Chapman), her lone surviving child.

Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) once remarked that Cersei’s love for her children is her best trait, along with her cheekbones and that is arguably true. At a certain juncture, Cersei gave up on having any semblance of a real relationship with Robert (Mark Addy) and her children became her greatest source of joy and hope, even more so than Jaime. The dark prophecy from Maggy the Frog (Jodhi May) added a fervent nature to that love, adding a dark dimension to Cersei’s love for her children.

Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) death at his own wedding deals the first blow to that love. Myrcella’s (Nell Tiger Free) death leaves Cersei broken. Tommen by default becomes her last pillar of support, but the complications arise from the simple fact that Tommen was never educated in court realpolitik. He is, for all intents and purposes, a child being pulled apart in three different directions by rival royal families and a fanatical religious order.


Cersei’s confidence in the physical prowess of the Mountain is well-earned, established from the season four sequence where he is executing prisoners and reveling in the bloodshed he is unleashing. She chooses violence and he summarily breaks apart a member of the Faith Militant as easily as if was nothing more than a thinly crafted clay pot. That moment of triumph, however, is quickly revealed to be a major setback for her.

The Faith Militant recognizes that if the Mountain was allowed to compete as Cersei’s champion in her trial by combat, her win is inevitable. The High Sparrow, one can surmise, acts quickly upon that information to avoid the public display of triumph Cersei would achieve from that inevitability. When Cersei arrives in the Red Keep to hear Tommen’s address, one is not sure what she is expecting but certainly Tommen throwing her ace under the bus is not one of her expectations.

Cersei’s acute disappointment at Tommen outlawing the practice of trial by combat is layered and deep. She is disappointed that her chance at a surefire victory was taken away from her and now her future is cast in doubt. That disappointment, however, is deepened because her victory is taken away from her by her only remaining child. The writing for Cersei always emphasized her relationship with her children and that this throat punch lands as sharply as it does is due in large part to that consistency.

It is at this moment when Cersei’s disappointment transforms her into a fundamentally different individual, for the critical part of her that is tied to her children breaks. She at last accepts in her disappointment that the dark prophecy uttered by Maggy the Frog will come true. Tommen, even if he was not going to physically die at that given moment, died for Cersei. He had arguably fundamentally abandoned her and even more terribly in her mind, irrevocably condemned her to a terrible fate.

Valar Dohaeris,

Akash Of the Andals

20 responses

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    1. I really liked that scene. Since 2011 and ADWD fans were speculating about Cersei’s trial and who High Sparrow’s champion will be.

      To have HS outplay Cersei like that was such a great twist.

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    2. I read that scene somewhat differently. Although it is true that Cersei’s expectations of how that day would go were frustrated, what I saw in Lena’s face at the end was a more complex combination of feelings: rage at the High Sparrow for outmaneuvering her, and a sort of ironic pride in her son for finally growing a backbone in dealing with his mother. I think Tommen’s compliant nature – so unlike Joffrey’s petulant insistence on doing whatever he wanted – had always been a disappointment to her. Now, here he was at last behaving like what she saw as a proper Lannister (even if it had been due to the High Sparrow’s whisperings). It was all there in her smirk as she left the Throne Room. One of Lena’s finer moments of face acting.

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    3. Though I may be in the minority, I thought Tommen was a real despicable weenie for:

      (1) Effectively sentencing his own mother to lifelong servitude if not death, by outlawing trial by combat. Is there any doubt the “seven septons” selected by the High Sparrow for Cersei’s (sham) “trial” would be his stooges? And that they would find Cersei guilty of regicide, but innocent of incest, thus preserving Tommen’s legitimacy and cementing the HS’s control of the crown through his puppet Tommen and the royal baby he told Marg it was her holy duty to conceive? Meanwhile, Cersei would be completely neutralized; maybe tortured into submission like Loras; or eliminated entirely.

      (2) Not punching out the HS and cutting his throat. The HS paraded Tommen’s mama naked down Main Street! What kind of son lets a geezer get away with that?

      (3) Doing whatever the HS suggested he do. Tommen had already apologized to his mom for being weak and vowed to be strong with her help; and then he went ahead and betrayed her again? Spineless, perfidious twerp.

      (4) Failing to free Marg’s brother so a grateful Marg would resume happy times with him (Tommen). Then allowing Marge to be taken into custody, and not immediately going ballistic to free her.

      (5) Basically ceding to a barefoot hypocrite the power his family had worked so long and so hard to obtain.

      So when Cersei dismissed Jaime’s attempt to talk about Tommen’s death by telling him Tommen betrayed her and them, I thought: “Damn right.”

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    4. mau:
      Ten Bears,

      It’s clear from 7×07 that Clegenbowl will happen in some way.

      Looks that way, except…Sandor’s words to Gregor were ambiguous, i.e., “what’s coming for you”, not “who’s coming for you.”

      Also: is ZombieMountain really even Gregor anymore? He certainly retained Gregor’s flair for sadistic, over-the-top brutality (eg, ripping off the Faith Militant clown’s jaw and ripping out his spine; smashing that braggart’s head against a wall). Aside from that, he seems like an automaton.

      Leave it to my man Qyburn to make the perfect supersoldier out of a vicious psychopath.

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    5. Firannion,

      “…ironic pride in her son for finally growing a backbone in dealing with his mother. I think Tommen’s compliant nature – so unlike Joffrey’s petulant insistence on doing whatever he wanted – had always been a disappointment to her. Now, here he was at last behaving like what she saw as a proper Lannister (even if it had been due to the High Sparrow’s whispering).”

      Wait, what’d I miss??? When did the consummate invertebrate Tommen “finally grow” a backbone? When did he behave like what Cersei “saw as a proper Lannister”? Everything about Tommen made him the unLannister. Tywin must’ve been spinning in his grave.

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    6. Erica:
      I clearly heard Sandor say, “You know who’s coming for you…”

      Oh really? I hope so! I hope I heard wrong! I’m so sorry if my ears or my memory deceived me. I’ll have to go back and re-watch with amplified sound.

      (What was it that Davos said… something about nothing f*cking you harder than age?)

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    7. Everyone, except for Sansa, and possibly Varys, underestimated Cercei. Even the formidable QoT, who admitted this failure to Jamie.
      After she had made arrangements with the Pyromancer to defend KL, Tyrion stole the idea and took the credit (for all the good it did him). Tywin was also blind to what she was capable of, because she was a woman, and lied to himself and her about it. Certainly the High Sparrow didn’t know what he was up against. She learned from the men around her.
      I share Sansa’s conflicting feelings of hatred and admiration for Cercei. Respect for leaping all those hurdles, and getting around bad decisions, to gain the iron throne – the first of her gender. I don’t expect it will end well for her.

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    8. This episode absolutely crushed me. It was the one that saw Arya’s arc turn into a Marvel arc. Now after season 7, she has no arc. Just like S7 killed Jorah and Dany’s arc together and Tyrion’s and Cersei’s arc together. These were epic arcs that should’ve been solved in the final episodes of S8, but were deflated in passing in S7.

      I digress though. A great arc for Arya would’ve been her doing something very bad to join the Faceless Men i.e. her trading her soul to the devil for this power so she can get revenge. Murdering an innocent or w/e. A neat little twist would’ve been the waif and her becoming friends, they find some common ground, we learn a little about the Waif’s background which gives us empathy for her, then Arya turns around and murders her. Or Lady Crane. Whatever. That would’ve been story telling inline with the earlier seasons. Then when Arya met Nymeria, Nymeria could’ve walked away from her because she’s unrecognizable due to how much she’s changed, how bad she’s become! That would’ve been genius. It would’ve been a tragic arc. And now?? Now what’s left?? Absolutely nothing. The character is dead. She’s just a superhero on a team with a bunch of other superheroes. Disney might as well of bought HBO too.


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    9. Great analysis of Cersei’s psyche and her political acumen. Yes she has political acumen, not her sharpest tack but when you decide the crown is yours because the last three people who wore it were your children and your husband, well that works for me. There are more Cerseis running the world than say Jon Snows. We should respect that, if only to better to protect against them, the Cerseis that is.

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    10. Thanks for the essay, Akash. The topic of disappointment, of poor choices made, of good choices not made, is really one of the major themes of both books and show. You could have written a book on it yourself!

      Look at all of the disappointments which got the characters to where they now are:

      — Robert’s Rebellion? A choice made upon a lie.

      — Ed Stark? Not even the first choice to lead his own house. (Ouch!) The Mad King’s (and Robert’s) bad choices put poor ol’ dim Ed in positions he can’t possibly resolve.

      — Cersei chooses her incestuous love for Jaime over her duty to produce legitimate heirs for first-time King Robert.

      — Robert chooses “whoring, drinking and hunting” over ruling the lands and raising his heirs.

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    11. Ten Bears,

      think you are way too hard for him. his mother had turned him into a marshmallow. He was torn between obeying her, and protecting Margery, and later with the church. He knew what he should do, but was never taught how. In fact rather than disappointing Cercei, it is Tommen who is disappointed at all the adults in the room, hence his final step out into the air…

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    12. ash,

      Sorry. Allying yourself with the douchebag who paraded your mother naked down Main Street is a dealbreaker for me.

      Shame on you Tommen! Swing with Olly.

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