WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones' latest episode, "The Bells."
For all her years of planning, scheming, and ruthlessly getting the better of everyone who crossed her throughout Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) went out with a whimper, literally, after her forces proved to be no match whatsoever for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)'s dragon. In the end, Cersei and her brother and love Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) were crushed by rubble beneath the Red Keep.
Cersei's plan to withstand the firestorm seemed uncharacteristically weak and uninspired. She put far too much stock into the super-scorpions that were nestled atop the castle walls, as well as the Iron Fleet, to do away with Dany's final dragon. When those defenses failed, that was that: Drogon leveled every one of those devices and the ships, and Cersei's kingdom was toast. There was nothing she could do about it.
Or was there?
After Daenerys and the dragon began to raze King's Landing, Cersei's chances of survival, let alone victory, grew ever slimmer, and yet she still hesitated to surrender. Perhaps the reason she waited to run was that she believed she still had one trick up her red velvet sleeve: wildfire.
Wildfire had saved Cersei before, of course. It was deployed against the naval forces of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) during the Battle of the Blackwater and made the difference in saving her kingdom from seizure — or at least reducing the storming forces enough for Tywin (Charles Dance) and the Tyrells to show up and overcome them. Cersei could also specifically credit her reign to that green boom juice, after she used it to destroy her foes in the Faith Militant and the Tyrells in the Sept of Baelor.
So, Cersei would most certainly (1) know how useful wildfire could be and (2) not be above using it to her advantage. Indeed, just before she gave up and attempted to flee, a few barrels scattered throughout the city began to explode in such a way that it became clear she had them planted just so that she could wreak havoc herself if it came down to that.
So, why didn't she use the wildfire to get the upper hand earlier on in the game?
It's clear the wildfire was meant for something during the battle, but we can only speculate as to what.
She most likely meant to deploy her remaining stores of wildfire to disrupt an invasion if and when the castle walls were breached by Dany's troops. If so, she had a chance to do so because Daenerys' decision to break mad and "burn them all" didn't happen until well after her men had gotten inside the gates and forced a surrender. A wildfire explosion somewhere in between might've still done something to interfere with the ground invasion and bought her some time. However, it still wouldn't have saved her from the dragon or the fire-resistant Daenerys herself, so even if it could have evened the playing field on-foot, her self-serving nature might have taken over and made her realize there was no point to it (even it would be a little unlike Cersei not to give 'em hell no matter what).
When Dany burns the city and bits of the wildfire can be seen, is that by any chance because Cersei booby trapped the city as is her wont?— Moniza Hossain (@moniza_hossain) May 13, 2019
On the other hand, Cersei may have meant to reserve her wildfire surprise for the occasion that Daenerys was on the verge of defeating her as a kind of "if I can't have it, no one will" maneuver. She hated the people of King's Landing, so flaying them to undermine the incoming queen would've been just dandy by her. If that were the case, however, Daenerys' decision to set the place ablaze herself made that plan moot. She was happy to accept her crown as the queen of ashes anyway by then.
Cersei was hoping that Dany wouldn't attack KingsLanding directly but only kill her in Red Keep. She would then burn whole of city using wildfire.— ROMIDE (@romide60) May 13, 2019
In either case, Drogon's fiery pillaging ultimately upended any usefulness of Cersei's wildfire, so when it began to erupt around the city in the queen's final hour, it was more of an afterthought than an effectual method of fighting off enemy forces. The sight of the wildfire barrels exploding without any impact pretty much sealed the deal that Cersei had lost ... and as she once put it, "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." So, die she did.
I think that was kind of the point. Wildfire was something that Cersei had relied upon over and over to save herself (this time as a trap for the invading troops?) and it was barely a blip as Drogon leveled the place. Kind of like her last hopes flickering out.— The Intercept is a cop (@kevinsmurray) May 13, 2019
The Battle of the Bells (that's what we're calling this now, right?) might've gone a bit differently if Cersei had exploded her wildfire earlier on, but since she was up against someone who turned into an even madder queen than herself, it still wouldn't have made much of a difference. You really can't fight fire with fire, especially when one party to the fracas is the Unburnt.
The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9/8c on HBO.