George R.R. Martin is still in the thick of writing The Winds of Winter, inching steadily closer to completion.
Following a few months of silence on the status of the novel — the sixth in a seven-book series collectively known as A Song of Ice and Fire — the acclaimed author finally provided a promising update. Martin admits that his writing pace has slowed since June and July, but it’s picking back up in recent days. While Martin didn’t indicate when he would actually be finished, The Winds of Winter is tentatively due to be completed at some point in 2021.
Martin did reveal the sixth installment is a “big big book.” He says he tries not to think about that too much in order to remain focused on writing as much as he can. In the summer, Martin hinted the next book would spend plenty of time with Arya Stark and Samwell Tarly, among several others. His latest blog update offers more information about the characters he’s been focused on.
“Of late I have been spending a lot of time with the Lannisters. Cersei and Tyrion in particular. I’ve also paid a visit to Dorne, and dropped in to Oldtown a time or three. In addition to turning out new chapters, I’ve been revising some old ones (some very old)… including, yes, some stuff I read at cons ages ago, or even posted online as samples. I tweak stuff constantly, and sometimes go beyond tweaking, moving things around, combining chapters, breaking chapters in two, reordering stuff.”
Spending a lot of time with Cersei Lannister isn't a huge surprise. She’s still a major player in the books and her position in King’s Landing is the source of a lot of turmoil.
In Game of Thrones, Cersei’s Season 8 arc was disappointing. She didn’t do much of anything save for standing at windows with a glass of wine in her hand. (She also complained about not having those damn elephants.)
Gone was the manipulative and cunning woman who schemed and obtained revenge and power on behalf of her family. When Daenerys Targaryen burned King’s Landing to the ground, Cersei met her demise in an entirely unsatisfying way by being crushed to death by rocks. The Winds of Winter could rectify her final days and death by changing her storyline in a few crucial ways that include Dorne and the reveal of a very unexpected valonqar.
The queen’s gambit
In the books, Cersei’s story left off with her walk of atonement through King’s Landing, naked, bald, and embarrassed. This was the result of her imprisonment by the High Sparrow, the leader of a militant religious group called the Faith of the Seven, as punishment for her many sins. This act was surely meant to demean and vilify her, but it reignited her hatred, resentment, and thirst for power. Shortly after Cersei’s return to the Red Keep, her uncle Kevan and Grand Maester Pycelle had been killed at Varys’ request to keep Cersei in power — an act that would keep the realm mired in chaos.
In previously released preview chapters from The Winds of Winter, Cersei had regained her power as queen regent, though she still needed to stand trial in front of the High Sparrow and the Faith. It was a trial by combat she fully intended to win with the help of Qyburn’s sinister experimentation on the presumed-to-be-dead Gregor Clegane. This is where Cersei’s story will likely divert from her arc in Game of Thrones. On the show, Cersei blew up the Great Sept of Baelor with wildfire, killing the High Sparrow, Margaery, and several others in one cruel act.
However, that probably won’t be the case in The Winds of Winter, since the wildfire had already been moved. Also, Cersei refuses to pay her debts to the Iron Bank in the books, which has made her a lot of enemies in the process. She lives in her own world sometimes, consumed with thoughts of the valonqar prophecy, which foresees that she will die at the hands of a little brother (she suspects Tyrion will kill her).
She also entrusted Taena Merryweather, her royal companion, with information about the valonqar prophecy and her plots against Margaery and the Tyrells. It was ultimately Taena who sold Cersei out to the high council regarding the Sparrows’ accusations of sin before hightailing it out of King’s Landing for good. And yet, Cersei still wishes for Taena’s return upon proving her innocence.
Taena may be working for either the Martells of Dorne, the Tyrells, or Varys himself. Either way, her presence in Cersei’s life seemed to call her rule into question and advance her paranoia. All this to say that Cersei is not exactly in a position to make the most informed decisions. Her need for companionship has led her down a path to trust someone with information that could lead to her and her family’s downfall. The pieces are already in place.
Down the rabbit hole
In 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, the Red Queen is banished to the Outland, stripped of her power, and left without any show of kindness. Of course, the Red Queen isn’t always interpreted to be a one-dimensional villain and the same can be said of Cersei. However, the chess pieces are all in place for the queen regent to be a pawn in her own game.
One possible scenario sees the Sand Snakes (Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters) will arrive in King’s Landing from Dorne and pretend to ally with Cersei, at least for a short while. In place of King Doran, they’ll request for one of the daughters to sit on Cersei’s small council. We know the Dornish have a much larger role to play in the books. They already know of Cersei’s plot to kill Trystane Martell, the Prince of Dorne, on his way to visit King’s Landing. Their arrival could very well be a ruse to get back at the queen, though Cersei is not yet aware that her plans have been foiled.
Should events unfold in this manner, Cersei might realize she’s no longer safe in King’s Landing. In addition to the Dornish’s potential revenge, the Faith of the Seven is gaining power and Cersei doesn’t have much sympathy amongst the city’s people anyway. Instead of sticking around and ruling from the towers of the Red Keep, Cersei could return to the Lannisters’ home in Casterly Rock. Kevan is gone and she could more easily rule Westeros from there. Of course, it would break centuries of tradition, but it’s not so much a self-exile as it is protection for her and her remaining children.
However, Cersei’s potential return to her childhood home could be the very thing that leads to her demise. The valonqar prophecy has yet to play out, but Cersei grows more paranoid about it every day. What’s important to remember here is that Tyrion is across the sea in Mereen and busy attempting to ally with Daenerys, making it less likely that he’ll kill his sister anytime soon.
While Tyrion has threatened Cersei, the queen’s arrival in Casterly Rock puts her in the path of Edmund Tully, the younger brother of Catelyn Stark. His sister’s death was the result of Walder Frey’s scheming with Tywin Lannister, who wanted to ensure the Starks did not gain power against their rule. Edmund, upon finding out the truth, could avenge his sister by killing Cersei in cold blood and fulfilling the valonqar prophecy once and for all. The prophecy doesn’t necessarily imply that Cersei will die at the hands of her little brother, so Edmund’s involvement tracks.
Whatever The Winds of Winter has in store for Cersei’s fate, her storyline and death will likely be immensely more satisfying than it was on the show.