You gotta hand it to Cersei Lannister. Between last year’s season finale and this year’s, Cersei went from rock bottom to the top of the heap.
She ended last season having endured a traumatic naked “walk of shame” through the streets of King’s Landing after being beaten and starved for an extended period of time… and given a terrible haircut.
This season, Cersei (literally) put all of her enemies on blast and ascended the Iron Throne. Granted, it didn’t come without unwanted sacrifices, but when all of your children are dead, your secrets exposed, and you have nothing else to lose except your brother/lover… It’s good to be the queen.
Cersei took lemons and made so much damn lemonade that even Beyoncé would have to tip her weave to her. Because, aside from being a murderous brother-fucker, Cersei Lannister is admirable as hell.
Now, calm your tits for a second. I’m still firmly Team Tyrion and don’t like how Cersei has treated her little brother, but I do feel a great degree of sympathy for her and admiration for how she’s played the hand she was dealt. It doesn’t excuse some of her more reprehensible actions (which are numerous), but her personal history colors her motivations and makes her a figure far more worthy of empathy than surface appearances indicate.
Like a Motherless Child
Cersei’s mother, Joanna Lannister, died giving birth to her younger brother Tyrion, which may have accounted for (but doesn’t excuse) Cersei’s disdain for him. Losing her mother when she was only four years-old may have played a role in her developing into the person she is today. Because, let’s face it, the words “nurturing” don’t exactly spring to mind when you think of her father, Tywin Lannister.
However, in the case of nature vs. nurture, Jaime (Cersei’s twin brother / lover / babydaddy) is arguably a slightly more moral figure — apart from banging his sister and shoving little Bran Stark out a window — and Tyrion is by far the kindest of the three siblings. All lacked a maternal figure growing up, unless the Lannister kids had some awesome Mary Poppins nanny figure growing up at Casterly Rock that George R. R. Martin isn’t telling us about.
Applying a little fact to fiction, a study published via the National Institutes of Health shows that children who are separated from their mothers at an early age are more prone to aggressive behavior. An article published in the New York Times over 20 years ago cites the damage to a child’s self-esteem, ability to trust, and relate to others brought on by maternal separation. Women, in particular, suffer due to a lack of a maternal bond in ways that heighten their inability to trust and inform their own positions in maternal relationships. Cersei’s paranoia and inability to trust anyone but her twin brother are a compelling case for the impact that losing a mother at a young age has on a child, as well as her relationships with her own children.
Although Jaime and Tyrion display similar defects, Cersei’s are far more pronounced. And there’s likely a good reason for that….
Shattered Expectations: The Red Vadge of the Discouraged
Cersei has something that both Jaime and Tyrion don’t: a vagina.
In the medieval-style world of Game of Thrones, women aren’t always viewed as the de facto choice for a ruler. Rather, they’re often a bartering chip used to unite kingdoms — betrothed and married off to whomever may broker the most strategic alliance.
In the books, young Cersei has quite a bit in common with Arya Stark. She attempts to learn to swordfight and doesn’t shy away from martial pursuits. She is also a willing student of her father’s in terms of political strategy. Cersei possesses a higher aptitude than her twin brother, but isn’t afforded the same opportunities because she doesn’t have a dong.
Because in King’s Landing, a woman’s designated role is to be married off like a piece of cattle to provide wealth for your family, and then pump out heirs to the throne to continue a dynasty.
It had to have stuck in Cersei’s craw that she was an intelligent female, yet wasn’t given agency to create her own destiny. Her father passed around her hand in marriage like it was bean dip, promising her first to Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys’s big brother and he of the R + L = J equation). Then, when Rhaegar died, she was betrothed to Robert Baratheon.
Which brings me to my next reason for why Cersei isn’t so bad…
Robert Baratheon: A Big Drunk Douche
Nearly every bad thing that happened to the Starks — or to all of Westeros, for that matter — can be traced back to Robert Baratheon. Robert wasn’t always a big, fat drunk — but he was always a douche.
Robert Baratheon was the type of douche who wasn’t merely content to do douchey things on his own. Nope. Robert needed to drag everyone else into his business. In fact, Robert’s Rebellion — the event that was the proverbial domino that kicked off everything that happened on Game of Thrones — came to pass for one key reason: Robert was thinking with his dick.
Robert wanted to marry Lyanna Stark who was “kidnapped” by Rhaegar Targaryen.
In reality, Lyanna went willingly with Rhaegar and bore him a son, Jon Snow.
It never occurred to Robert that Lyanna wasn’t that into him. Instead, he dragged his buddies (including his best friend and Lyanna’s brother, Ned Stark) and all of Westeros into a war to get her back. Robert wasn’t being noble or chivalrous. He was fixated on a woman who didn’t reciprocate his feelings and got a bunch of people killed for no real reason other than that. Robert’s Rebellion wasn’t to free Westeros from a mad tyrant. Robert just wanted to get Lyanna Stark back from Rhaegar Targaryen, who happened to be the son of The Mad King Aerys.
And although Lyanna died during the war, Robert never let her memory go — even after he married Cersei Lannister.
And he called Cersei “Lyanna” on their wedding night. That’s gotta sting.
To be fair, Cersei banged Jaime on her wedding day, but she may have been willing to give up her creepy, incestuous relationship with her brother if there was hope for a loving marriage with Robert.
That never happened. Robert still clung to the memory of Lyanna. With time, he’d forgotten what she’d looked like, but remembered he had wanted her more than anything. In a telling exchange between Robert and Cersei, she shows a rare side of herself. In that instant, you can feel how hopeful she once was and how 17 years with Robert beat it out of her.
It’s also got to suck to come in runner-up not once, but TWICE to Lyanna Stark. Not just with Rhaegar, but also with Robert, a man who was A.) a serial philanderer who fathered no less than 16 bastard children; B.) a raging alcoholic; C.) an abusive husband and D.) an absentee “parent” to the kids he assumed were his own. Robert’s fondness for drinking and whoring repeatedly humiliated Cersei since it was common knowledge that there were a horde of bastard Baratheons running around King’s Landing.
At the very least, Cersei could harness the power of The Inner Snicker knowing that her three children weren’t fathered by Robert, either… So take that, Robert! (Which somehow packs less of a punch when you realize that the father of Cersei’s children was also their uncle.)
Nevertheless, the repeated levels of abuse, humiliation, and feelings of inadequacy in her marriage had to take a toll on Cersei. It wasn’t like she existed in a society where women could just pack their shit and leave a bad relationship. No one can condone her having an affair with her brother, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who who would be mad at Cersei for seeking diversions outside of her marriage. And maybe killing her asshole husband, for that matter.
When Life Hands You Lemons… Blow Shit Up
Despite the many less-than-stellar things that Cersei endured, she always finds a way to deal with difficult situations. She doesn’t always handle them in the most constructive ways, but she handles them — even if she causes many of her own problems.
Her actions throughout the course of the series came to a boiling point in Seasons 5 and 6 of Game of Thrones.
As a parent, Cersei loved her children and wanted to protect them, but came up short. In addition to being a petulant inbred shit, her eldest son Joffrey was a coward in battle, a sadistic boyfriend/husband, and personally responsible for the death of Ned Stark. Alternating between coddling her kids and controlling their every move towards the Iron Throne, Cersei’s parenting skills were sorely lacking. Then again, she learned a lot from Tywin.
When Joffrey was poisoned, she vowed revenge — and her younger son Tommen took the throne. Tommen was naive and easier to control, a fact seized upon by Margaery Tyrell — another female noble who was passed around like a collection plate. Margaery was initially married to Joffrey, who died before Joffrey “sealed the deal.” After he kicked the bucket, Margaery used The Power of Pussy to bend Tommen to her will.
Cersei’s machinations against her daughter-in-law, Margaery Tyrell, brought a religious cult to power in such a way that cost her dearly. Cersei gave the High Sparrow and his followers unlimited power in an attempt to bring Margaery down… and brought herself down in the process.
After her daughter Myrcella (another sweet, simple kid) died via poisoning, Cersei’s paranoia and grief informed her desperate actions. When she was finally freed from prison after having to do a harrowing penance walk through the city streets, a broken Cersei vowed revenge, choosing violence.
She maneuvered to blow up the Sept where she was supposed to be put on trial, taking out all of her enemies in one fell swoop. Although she carefully planned to ensure her remaining child was not present for The Big Bang, a grief-stricken Tommen belly flopped out an open window when he learned that his wife Margaery was among the casualties.
But when shit falls apart, sometimes you have to find the fun.
Apart from Tommen (who offed himself anyway), Cersei made sure one other person was spared from the blast: Septa Unella — the devotee of the High Sparrow who took particular pleasure beating and tormenting Cersei during her imprisonment. She locked Unella in the dungeon, wine-boarded her, and sicced her undead zombie bodyguard on the evil nun. As FrankenMountain had his way with the evil nun, Cersei even taunted her with the same words Unella said to her: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Come on. Like you wouldn’t want to do that shit to your worst enemy, too?
Prior to this moment of epic revenge, Cersei delivered a speech to Septa Unella that demonstrated that she had zero fucks left to give.
And the woman who has zero fucks left to give is a most dangerous one, at that.
And can we talk about that dress, though… Now THAT is how you dress when you are exacting revenge on your mortal enemies.
It’s also the dress Cersei wore when she finally took the throne and was crowned queen. It was a hollow victory for Cersei who lost nearly everything and everyone who meant something to her. The one thing she has left in this world to cling to (besides an impeccable sense of style and the crown) is her brother-lover, Jaime. And Jaime may just have to take her out if she proves to be the Mad Queen he fears she is, too far gone and broken by a series of events throughout the course of her life.
Nevertheless, Cersei Lannister is a figure worthy of understanding for the way she is, and, to a certain degree, admiration. Some situations were beyond her control. Others were made worse by her ambitions and jealousy. And yet, she found ways to turn the odds in her favor, taking out those who opposed her.
Love her or hate her, you still have to respect her.