Four years ago, George R.R. Martin made a prediction about a sequence in Sunday’s season finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones: “It’s going to be a controversial scene when it comes out,” the author said. “[With observers asking]: ‘Is it misogynistic or feminist?'”
Martin was referring to Sunday’s grueling Walk of Shame, where scheming Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) received a more visceral form of comeuppance than viewers could have expected when she was stripped nude and paraded through the streets, pelted by an obscene, jeering mob. The scene was most specifically based on the punishment of Jane Shore, one King Edward IV’s mistresses, who in the 15th century was forced to endure a penance walk through London (though unlike Cersei she still had a layer of clothing on).
“It was a punishment directed at women to break their pride,” said Martin, who frequently draws from real-life historical events for his epic A Song of Ice and Fire saga. “And Cersei is defined by her pride.”
Longwood University’s Dr. Larissa Tracy said that being forced to march entirely naked through the streets did occur in 13th century France. Such public humiliation was considered appropriate for adulterers, where a couple was roped together naked and marched through the streets.
For showrunner David Benioff, the sequence is one of the most crucial in Cersei’s storyline and is designed to challenge fans’ entrenched feelings about the typically villainous character. “One of the things I find interesting watching Lena is this character has always been an antagonist,” Benioff said. “We all love Tyrion—and and she’s tried to kill Tyrion. Watching this scene flips it all because she’s being so horrifically abused you start to feel for her. It’s almost impossible not to feel for her because she’s a human and being tormented. So what we hope is, by the last shot, is you’re almost rooting for her, in a way, and hope she gets her revenge on those who have mistreated her. That’s what it felt like to me when The Mountain picks her up and you see that glint in her eye.”
Benioff continued: “I find that fascinating and also true with Jaime Lannister—one of the first times we meet him, he’s throwing a kid out a window. He’s willing to choke his cousin to death to escape from prison. He’s basically completely amoral. Yet then everything shifts [in season 3] when he’s in the bathtub in Brienne and he starts talking about the truth of why he killed the Mad King. Cersei is a much trickier character she’s got more fury in her than Jaime. She’s a complicated woman. But I never saw her as a villain so much as somebody who’s just neurotically protective of her children and somebody who’s been just so abused in her relationships with men—whether it’s her father or her husband. She’s someone who’s furious at the role she’s forced to play and has a lot of anger.”
The showrunners tapped acclaimed director David Nutter (who filmed Thrones‘ Red Wedding episode, among others) for the hour. Nutter framed the sequence to try and put viewers’ into Cersei’s perspective. “What’s really impressive about what [director] David Nutter did with the scene is you feel what it would be like for this to happen to you,” Benioff said. “Obviously you, the viewer, are not standing in the street being pelted with shit and tomatoes and eggs and everything else, but he’s letting you feel what that might be like. A lot of the shots are first person. You feel quite viscerally the horror of that moment. And once you’ve been inside a character’s skin, it’s very hard to loath them.”
In both Martin’s novel and in the series, Cersei is stripped nude for her walk. To pull off the scene on the show, Lena Headey and a body double were used to create the illusion that Cersei was fully naked for the scene. “They’re trying to shame her,” Benioff noted. “They’re trying to humiliate her as much as they possible can. It’s supposed to be like a scene from a nightmare. And the nightmare is you’re walking naked in front of a city of people. Walking and wearing underwear wouldn’t be as much of a nightmare.”
Here’s our interview with Headey about the sequence and more coverage:
EW’s mega-coverage of the Thrones season finale: