Lena Headey: "It's maybe the first time that Cersei has been at peace."

Spoiler warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 5.

The queen is dead.

Cersei Lannister perished in the penultimate episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, crushed in the Red Keep’s cellar as the structure collapsed under the bombardment Daenerys’ dragon attack. The ruthless and uncompromising survivalist died while embracing her brother and lover Jaime Lannister, crushed by the collapse of a building that was the symbol of her power. Cersei managed to outwit her enemies time and time again on the acclaimed drama series. Yet each brutal maneuver that bought her a bit more time or power also cost her allies until the queen was alone and overrun.

Actress Lena Headey spoke to EW about the character’s final moments. Many members of the show’s cast have improved over the years, but Headey has been winning raves from critics from the very start — since the early episodes of season 1 Headey has perfectly delivered Cersei’s uniquely toxic mix of pride, vindictiveness, impatience, cunning, and spite. Given Cersei’s long list of murderous sins, the character by all rights should be considered GoT’s outright villain. Yet thanks to the show’s textured writing and Headey’s delivery, Cersei has never been anything less than a fully realized character.

“She starts off in this final season trapped in a web of her own making, as is usual with Cersei,” Headey says. “She’s desperately unhappy and everything that’s happened becomes more real than it ever has for her. She starts to lose control of the situation. She’s destroyed every good alliance, connection, love in her life — she was always destined to be alone. And until the very, very last minute, she is, as ever, in denial of what’s actually happening.”

Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

As Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) attacks King’s Landing, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) abandons his friend and newfound lover Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) to return to his twin sister in her hour of greatest emotional need. He kills Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbeck) and tries to lead her to safety through a secret passage. When they discover the passage is blocked, he comforts Cersei as they wait for the inevitable.

Headey says her reaction that final scene was “mixed” at first. “I wanted her to have some big piece or fight with somebody,” she says.

But then the actress talked over the scene with Coster-Waldau and came around to appreciating Cersei’s final moments. “The more we talked about it the more it seemed like the perfect end for her,” Headey says. “They came into the world together and now they leave together.”

“I think the important thing is that Jaime had a chance at freedom [with Brienne] and finally liberated himself from Cersei, which I think the audience will be thrilled about,” Headey adds. “I think the biggest surprise is he came back for her. Cersei realizes just how she loves him and just how much he loves her. It’s the most authentic connection she’s ever had. Ultimately they belong together.”

In that last moment, staring at her brother, waiting for the end, Headey says, “It’s maybe the first time that Cersei has been at peace.”

When filming those last scenes, Headey says she was surprised by Coster-Waldau’s sentimentality. “I told Nikolaj, ‘I’ve never seen you so sweet and sentimental.’ And he’s all, ‘What’s happening to me?’ We kept cuddling going ‘I love you.’ It was weird. There’s a sense of loss that nothing like this will ever happen again. There was a great sense of grief and an enormous amount of gratitude going on.”

Otherwise, Headey recalls her last day on set as “walking up and down the stairs 20,000 times” to the cellar, and “a lot of crying.” Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss gave her and Coster-Waldau “these lovely frames and lovely messages” (though, in terms of props from the show, the actress says she’s “still coveting Ser Donto’s fool’s hat from season 3”).

Asked about her favorite Cersei scenes across her long list of standout moments, Headey chose a few. “I had a lot of great ones — that one with Mark Addy [Robert Baratheon] back in the first season,” she says. “Those early scenes with Tyrion where you saw their relationship develop. The stuff with Sophie early on. Everything that shaped these characters. The scene where she tells her father that her and Jaime were lovers. We had some great stuff. I love the juicy dark emotional moments.”

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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