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In Game of Thrones season 6, what is the significance of Qyburn's 'little birds'

murdering Pycelle?

Making him perish in the wildfire would have been less complicated.

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    Similar question on another SE site: movies.stackexchange.com/questions/56106/… – Rand al'Thor Jul 7 '16 at 12:49
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    If Pycelle was allowed at the trial, and figured out what was going on, the High Sparrow may have actually believed him over Maergry... – Skooba Jul 7 '16 at 13:14
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    Pycelle, being a Maester, was probably just as aware of the rumors or the existence of Wildfyre as Qyburn, so if he was on site, noted or was alerted to Cersei's and Tommen's absence, there was a possibility that he would have put together those factors and alerted people to the actual danger. Margery knew something was off, but couldn't figure out what the tangible threat was. If she could, they would have evacuated. – PoloHoleSet Jul 7 '16 at 14:49
  • For what it's worth, it mirrors a scene which occurred in the epilogue chapter of A Dance With Dragons. – Möoz Jul 7 '16 at 21:26
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    Editors: Please don't edit ASOIAF related content into this question, as this did not happen in the books. – Möoz Jul 7 '16 at 22:59
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There's nothing explicit spelling it out that I'm aware of and no giveaway line, but killing Pycelle and not letting him go to the sept is perfectly in character for the methodical, calculating Qyburn we've seen up until now. Doing it the particular way he did fits a new side to his character that appears to be emerging and is suggested by other scenes.


There's one clear difference between Pycelle and those who were at the sept: Pycelle was the only also in a high position in King's Landing when "mad king" Aerys originally ordered those caches of wildfire to be placed.

He's very likely to know something about the caches, and therefore might pose a risk to Qyburn and Cersei's plan. Qyburn is generally methodical, cautious and measured. It's in character for him to ensure that a risk was dealt with.

What sort of risk could Pycelle pose? It doesn't require much imagination, especially considering that Qyburn's plan relied on children who might make mistakes. Pycelle's the only person likely to see the significance of, for example, a child being spotted running into a certain tunnel, a faint whiff of something few would recognise as wildfire, certain noises echoing from an improbable position below the sept.

Pycelle's also the only character likely to notice his enemy Qyburn's absence from the trial (in fact, he's been the only character at court other than Cersei who has seemed to pay any particular attention to Qyburn at all - certainly the only one who has shown any signs of recognising Qyburn as dangerous). As viewers, it's also easy for us to imagine how Pycelle might have responded to Margaery's concerns: "And that madman Qyburn is missing too. Wait... madmen... the Sept... This sept might not be safe! There's a certain... ahem... vulnerability to this building... dating back to King Aerys... That devil Qyburn, it wouldn't surprise me... I can explain later... We must leave!".


There's also a possible element of simple sadism. Cersei took personal care of a particular individual who had particularly angered her personally, and so did Qyburn. Having the two characters mirror each other like this, with Cersei relishing the sadism and Qyburn claiming to do it reluctantly, helps the producers frame this as jointly Cersei and Qyburn's work, giving us a glimpse of what their reign will be like, making it all the more chilling when we see them side by side in the throne room at the end.


As for why with children - as discussed further here, he seems to be training them to be more than just the 'little birds' Varys used. Both him and Cersei seem to be proactive in finding and eliminating dissenters (see, for example, the early scene where Clegane kills someone for mocking Cersei). When Qyburn smirks next to Cersei in the throne room, it's more chilling still knowing he has a network of murderous child-spies, like a Gestapo to Cersei's tyrant.

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    I think your second and third points are much more relevant than the first. Just like Cersei took revenge on someone who treated her poorly, Qyburn took revenge on Pycelle while also extending the power of his network of "little birds". Nothing about the scene made me think that it had anything to do with Pycelle's possible knowledge of the wildfire. Qyburn merely preferred to have his revenge more personally. – Son of a Sailor Jul 7 '16 at 14:41
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    FYI - "feint" = a fake or deceptive movement, "faint" = weak or insubstantial. – PoloHoleSet Jul 7 '16 at 14:52
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    Wasn't Aerys' wildfire caches a secret? In the books at least, only Jaime and the pyromancers know, and he hunts down and kills them all. At the very least, I don't think Pycelle would have told Aerys to open the gates to Tywin knowing it would mean his own death. – TenthJustice Jul 7 '16 at 17:26
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    @TLP "Marge" is a common shorthand for Margaery, like GRRM for George RR Martin. And how does my answer "contradict" the books for a scene that happens completely differently to the books? The wildfire is less secret in the show (Tyrion knows the whole plot, Pycelle seemed to know a little in season 2), the sept scene hasn't happened (yet?), and Pycelle's death is completely different. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 7 '16 at 17:30
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    Fair point, I thought I'd already introduced her name in full but looks like I deleted it in one of my edits. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 7 '16 at 17:57
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This scene comes from the books, and it is Varys who does the killing. No doubt the writers and producers for the tv-show thought it was a great scene to include. (Which it is)

As for your question about "Why this method?", the answer is, most likely, because of artistic reasons mentioned above. Any in-world reasons would be speculation, and most likely include some of the things that user568458 describes in his answer. Personally I would assume it is part of Cersei's coup de grace after Tommen's death. She killed everyone else, why not Pycelle? Although since Pycelle has always been on her side (and the Lannister's side), it makes less sense.

In the books it was, like I said, Varys who did the killing. Varys first bludgeoned Pycelle to death, and then shot ser Kevan Lannister with a crossbow. He used a crossbow as an homage to his brother (Tywin) who died that way. As for why he finished him with the children, who knows. Most likely just to demonstrate to the reader that they actually exist, and they are the "little birds" he has been talking about since book 1. I assume the crossbow and children as backup also has something to do with Kevan being armed and possibly dangerous.

Varys was already in two places at once in the season finale, so he could not very well be in yet another place. His motive would be to pave the way for Aegon by removing strong leaders who could oppose Aegon's claim.

The scene makes a lot more sense in the books, where it shows us what happened to Varys, who had been gone since Tyrion's escape from King's Landing. And the connotation that Varys is supporting someone other than Daenerys includes a hint towards the Blackfyre theories, which are largely ignored in the tv-show. But that is an answer for another question.

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    It doesn't come from the books though, in the books it's done by a different character in a different way for (seemingly) different reasons. The books and TV show diverged. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 7 '16 at 17:45
  • Well, no, that is wrong. The scene does in fact come from the books. Even down to some of the quotes. I think that is pretty important to consider, when considering "why" that method of killing was used. – TLP Jul 7 '16 at 17:56
  • We clearly have different defintions of "comes from" then! "Inspired by", certainly. Good point about Pycelle being generally on Cersei's side and Lannister loyalist (maybe Cersei wanted him spared and Qyburn acted on his own steam?), but (IIRC) haven't Cersei and Pycelle been in conflict this and last season? I seem to remember (last season?) her bluntly dismissing him and his objections to Qyburn and calling him something like 'filthy old goat', and this season Pycelle joining Kevan and Mace in trying to prevent Cersei joining small council meetings. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 7 '16 at 18:03
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    While there are some parallels to the scene in the books, it's not associated with a wildfire plot where these characters might have been killed instead (and Kevan was indeed) – Random832 Jul 7 '16 at 23:15
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    "She killed everyone else, why not Pycelle?", I think you are discounting the possibility that Cersei had nothing to do with it and this was Qyburn working on his own initiative. Qyburn was thrown out of the maesters and Pycelle was still a maester. That is reason enough for Qyburn to want to kill him. And the ultimate revenge would be to use the body of a maester for more of the experiments that got Qyburn thrown out of the maesters in the first place... – Matt Burland Jul 8 '16 at 13:55
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As @TLP suggests, Pycelle is murdered in the books by Varys, and the showrunners' motivation seems to be having some parallel of that. However, they got it very wrong in my opinion.

  • First, as OP suggests - Pycelle could have just been allowed to proceed to the Sept. In the scene where he gets up from whoring and gazes at the mirror, it's pretty obvious that's where he is going. Despite @user568458's suggestion - Pycelle would not have spotted any children at the sept itself, and if anything - his being approached by a little bird is more suspicious an act.
  • Pycelle would not have believed the king is passing him a message using one of Qyburn's children operatives.
  • Pycelle would not have believed he has been invited by the king to some basement or dungeon of the Red Keep, on short notice and when they should both be elsewhere. Edit: Especially with no kingsguard to be seen anywhere around.
  • Pycelle has been loyal to house Lannister. True, he took orders from Kevan rather than from Cersei, but I hardly think that would fault him in Cersei's view more than, well, Kevan himself; probably less. He wasn't doing anything he had not done before (i.e. taking orders from Tywin). Plus, it doesn't look like he actively acted against her, as opposed to failing to let her know about small council meetings.
  • Those kids would not have gone on a murderous stabbing spree for Qyburn. I mean, ok, he gave them sweets and they went sneaking around for him. But - murdering a well-known figure in the court? For some candy plums? No way.
  • Wasn't that "basement" the same room Gregor was rushed to for urgent medical treatment after the duel in season 4? From that and the urgency and concern in Pycelle's voice and manner when he first shuffles in, I took it that he was told the king needed some kind of emergency treatment (something Pycelle would rush to do because he knew Cersei wanted Qyburn to take over these maester's duties). Seems more likely than receiving a random message in, randomly, the emergency medical room. – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 8 '16 at 8:59
  • @user568458: You know, the king is supposed to have a King's Guard, which guards him (and maybe royal family members at time). Actually, Tommen does have such a guard. They would not let Qyburn take him anywhere. Of course, they would also resist Ser Strong trying to come get him. Anyway, Pycelle would not believe some suspicious child giving him a message directing him to Qyburn's lab to see the king, with no Kingsguard to be seen anywhere. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jul 8 '16 at 16:14

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