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I’ll say this right off the bat—I’m biased. Cersei Lannister has been my favourite part of Game of Thrones since the beginning: I wasn’t there for the dragons; I wasn’t there for the Night King; I was there for that complicated, wealthy, high-born family of lions. All of them—but especially Cersei.
Cersei spoke to me right from the start. I’m in my 40s and a cosplayer, with pretty good cheekbones, so right away there was a feeling of kinship. She wasn’t 20, and her clothes begged me to find out if my embroidery game was equal to the task. And she was prickly, and imperious, with a cutting wit…oh yes, she was someone I could relate to. I don’t condone all the choices she made throughout the series (and I’m talking show, not book)—but I understand them.
I’m a mom (just one child, and the father is not blood related to me in any way). I’d die for my daughter. No matter what she does, she’ll still be my world. No way am I suggesting that to be a mom means you blow up septs and sleep with your brother. You do, however, put your child before everything and everyone else. You want to destroy anyone who hurts them. You (hopefully) don’t do that, but you want to.
Even at the beginning there was a sadness to Cersei; hiding behind the bitchiness and glamour. She was a woman trying to exist in a man’s world beyond the value of her face, reproductive organs, and dowry. She was desperate for her father to see her beyond those things, but Tywin was blind and stubborn. Sold into marriage, she still might have had a chance of being happy. But Robert’s heart was buried with Lyanna Stark, and young, starry-eyed Cersei never stood a chance of making her husband love her. Who knows—a few kind words from her husband, and Cersei may have stopped sneaking off with her brother altogether. But in short order, she realised the marriage of her dreams was impossible.
After Robert’s death, her thoughts of freedom were curtailed by her father’s immediate plans to marry her off again. The thought of Ser Loras had to have been doubly awful. Not only would she be shackled to another man she couldn’t love (though really, Loras would probably have left her alone once the business of heirs was seen to), her fertility was debated like that of a cow in the marketplace. I can’t imagine that Lady Olenna’s speculation that Cersei was too old to give Loras children didn’t reach Cersei’s ears.
Cersei loved Jaime. The twins had been together all their lives, and his love for her was unwavering. When King Robert would disgust her with his drinking and his gross behaviour, Cersei would turn to her Adonis of a brother for affection and solace, and the children they made together. Beautiful, blond children—the one portion of her life that could truly be hers. I don’t think that even her greatest detractors would argue that Cersei was a loving mother. Even when Joffrey was at his worst, she knew what he was, and loved him anyway. There’s a lot of that in their family, really—Jaime knows exactly what Cersei is, and he loves her anyway. No matter how he tries to stop, he keeps on loving her. I’m sure there were plenty of times when Cersei would have loved her children less if she could have done. We don’t have a choice in these things.
A few words about Jaime—I’ve always loved him, even when he was a bit of a jerk. Jaime has always been the man of simple needs in that family. Put another way—in a family of Slytherins, Jaime is a Gryffindor with some Hufflepuff tendencies. Jaime didn’t want to rule—he was content to stay in the Kings’ Guard, because it kept him near the love of his life, and the children he couldn’t claim. When asked how he would want to die, he didn’t hesitate—“in the arms of the woman I love” (and he got his wish). He had no real ambitions beyond killing the bad guy when he was supposed to, and her. A heart like that is rare, especially when everyone around you thrives on scheming.
We all know about that prophecy that told young Cersei she would outlive her three children. Maybe she believed it, maybe not. Joffrey might have been a terrible person, but he was her baby—her first love. And he was the first of her children to die—the first time for her to feel the greatest, deepest, most primal hurt that a mother can feel. I think on some level, Joffrey was the child she felt she deserved to have had. She knew he was a monster, but she also knew that she was too, and that helped her defend his faults, even when they shocked her. She lost Princess Marcella twice—the first time, when Tyrion shipped her off to Dorne, and the second—when Jaime brought Marcella’s body home. And Marcella was an innocent, sweet girl. She was happy to tell Uncle Jaime she knew he was her father, and she was killed for no good reason. To take revenge by killing an innocent girl because a grown man wouldn’t focus on winning a fight for which he volunteered and got himself killed is one of the lowest things anyone can do. To make it even worse, this was done to Cersei by another mother. Later, Cersei took poetic revenge on Ellaria Sand and the daughter who willingly helped her kill Marcella. Again—I don’t condone this, but damned if I don’t understand it. I think Marcella was also a kind of metaphor for the parts of Cersei’s own soul that were still decent and kind. It’s a double hurt—with Marcella gone, Cersei lost the mirror through which she could see herself as someone who could create something good.
She had Tommen for the longest, and Tommen was a good boy. She hadn’t raised him to be strong like Joffrey, but she didn’t think she’d have to. Her plan was to rule through him, and everything would be fine. She would finally have power, and the men in her life would have to take her seriously. But Tommen betrayed her, and more than once. When Tommen abandoned her for Margaery, she was left stifled by her daughter-in-law. Margaery was anything but gracious in her victory. And Cersei was prepared to not hold that against him, since what can a mother do to sway her teenage son from his new-found delights of the marriage bed?
When Tommen’s weakness left her to endure the humiliation of the Walk of Shame, I raged on her behalf. I knew she was incapable of acknowledging that kind of anger and disappointment at one of her children. That’s how mama-lions are. We don’t want the cubs to see us hurting. We know it hurts them, and we know that we can take it. I built a second Cersei cosplay, involving a beige unitard and a bunch of painted-on mud and garbage. I walked through New York Comic Con with people shouting “shame!” at me. She needed the support, lord knows she wasn’t getting it from her son, and I had to do something. Don’t laugh—the cosplayer shows their love sartorially, and this made me feel a little better.
As if all this were not enough, Tommen killed himself, thwarting her plan to save him when she blew up the Sept. Her grief over his loss was almost overshadowed by her anger at his betrayal. He didn’t love her enough to stay alive when his wife was dead. With her children gone, so died the last of Cersei’s hope for herself. Gone was her pretense to even care about being a good person. When Cersei, black-clad and stone-faced, finally assumed the Iron Throne, she was a woman dead inside, and it was the saddest thing I ever saw.
The cosplayer in me has to put in a couple of words about the change in Cersei’s wardrobe after her coronation, and those words are “penis envy”. For the first time in her life, she doesn’t have to dress to suit some man. The dresses remained dark and severe, with shorter skirts and more pronounced shoulders. The jewelry became almost like armour, and she never grew her hair back out after the Walk of Shame. In almost every way, she rejects the obvious femininity that has kept her down her whole life. She’s calling the shots now, and no one who looks at her is going to be allowed to forget it.
These last two seasons have done their best, it seems, to force Cersei into the role of a one-dimensional, moustache-twirling villain. Even Jaime decides he can take no more, and he leaves her, even though she’s pregnant. I hope in-show Cersei didn’t feel half the humiliation in between seasons 7 and 8 that I did on her behalf. With the pregnancy out of the closet, rumours swirled throughout the fandom as much as the streets of King’s Landing. Is she really pregnant? What if it’s menopause instead (certainly possible, but a decidedly unflattering supposition for a woman only in her early 40s)? What if she was pregnant, but there was an off-screen miscarriage she hadn’t told anyone about?
Thank the Seven that bit of rage at the showrunners was avoided; that the pregnancy was real. Cersei was alone now, and friendless. Qyburn and the Mountain made good seconds, but she was lonely. She spent most of this last season at the window in the tower, staring out over her city. It’s all she has left. She did what she had to do, though—Euron Greyjoy may have been a poor substitute for her handsome brother, but she needed a public baby daddy, and he’ll do. Unlike Jaime, Cersei had known other lovers than her sibling. Her time with Robert Baratheon certainly got her used to enduring the touch of someone repellent. I hope she found this greasy, boasting pirate even a little bit pleasurable. From the tears that threatened to fall as he left her bedroom, I doubt it.
Jaime has gone north to help fight the army of the dead. He also unexpectedly wound up first knighting Brienne of Tarth, and then later, taking her virginity. The death of a perfectly good bro-ship? Maybe. From Brienne’s point of view, she had pined for Jaime for a long time, and he lost his hand defending her virginity, so it made sense for him to take it. For Jaime, who had never been with anybody but Cersei, drunken sex with Brienne was a backwards consummation devoutly to be wished. It was a statement to himself that he was truly over his sister. But when he sobered up, it was time for Brienne’s heartbreak, because Jaime was going home. He tried to fight it, he tried to change, he tried not to love Cersei. He was unsuccessful. Even though his sister is hateful, he knew her to be his destiny.
When Jaime finally made his way back to King’s Landing, the city was under attack. The Lannister troops have tried to surrender, but Queen Daenerys was having none of that (and sorry, guys, but I saw that coming at least two years ago). They murdered her best friend last week (mercifully chopping her head off, as opposed to burning her alive). She was going to conquer them, even if nothing remained for her to rule but ashes. Cersei remained in the Red Keep, certain it would protect her as it always has done. She had fought all her life for this, to be the one in charge, and even though it was lonely and empty, she didn’t want to give it up. Finally, when forced to flee from the tower, stripped of her last two henchmen, she and Jaime reunited at last. They staggered toward each other, across the great map on the floor of the Seven Kingdoms. I exhaled.
It was beautiful and heartbreaking—her emotions flooded back into her face, and we practically saw her heart start to beat again. Jaime led her down into the temporary safety of the crypt, planning to whisk her off to Pentos. Tyrion hasn’t had the best ideas lately. The exit was blocked, hope was lost, and the dragon was coming. The Red Keep, her family’s prize and fortress, ultimately betrayed her, with its inability to keep her safe from the onslaught.
Lots of people had lots of ideas on how Cersei ought to die. Certainly she wasn’t going to survive the series. Many thought Arya should kill her, or that Jaime should kill her and die in the process, in a Romeo/Juliet scenario that would not have been inappropriate. People clung to the idea of the prophecy, even though half the prophecy-type things on this show turn out to be red herrings. What happens instead was, to me, an act of mercy. I also happen to think this is very typical of George R. R. Martin, who enjoys thwarting his readers of the scenarios they think they should be getting. No one had the satisfaction of personally killing Cersei. For all the evil Cersei had done in her life, everyone believed that she deserved to be punished, and they felt cheated. But she was punished. The showrunners even made sure she wept before the end. She was going to die, and her unborn baby with her, and it was her last hope of being able to love anything ever again. But Jaime took her in his arms. As he had been saying to her their whole lives, he reminded her there is “nothing in the world but us”. He held her close, as the building crumbled and my tears fell.
Cersei, though some may say differently, was not born a monster. She was made one over years of emotional abuse, anxiety, depression, and narcissism that she learned at her father’s knee. She coped with these things the only way she knew how. She did horrible things. In fact, I think she deliberately did many of those horrible things to keep herself dead inside, because that was the only way the hurt from her lost children would be bearable. Everyone saw her as a monster and she knew it, so why let them down? Should Jaime have killed her? I think that no matter what, he was going to love her. What was important was that they were together, as they had been their whole lives. And remember, I’m biased. I would rather she die in the arms of the only person in the world who loved her.