The Rise of the Mad Queen – Discussing Cersei’s Character Arc in Game of Thrones


Mad Queen Cersei

Queenly Cersei

I have made two articles criticising terrible character arcs in season 7 of Game of Thrones, but today is the day that you will hear me praise a character in this show. For I actually found a  well written character in this accursed season who actually knew a characterisation that was… interesting. This character is of course the one everyone loves to hate (to the point of hating the actress): Cersei Fookin’ Lannister.

There is so much to hate about this character. Whether it’s the incest, the spiteful behaviour, using sex to get her way, spoiling and defending Joffrey, hating innocent Tyrion or roasting nobles alive in a religious tower; every person you meet will have a reason to hate this woman. Except for those people who are actively rooting for House Lannister because Dany is a foreign invader, but those guys are just weird.

She Wants Unlimited Powah!

Cersei’s character arc is one of slowly going insane while she obsessively tries to grasp unto more power. That’s what happens in the book and… it’s what happens in the show. Granted, it’s not done in the same way, but both media make it very clear that this character, while starting off as semi-competent person hating her position in life, becomes more evil as the story goes along.

Cersei starts the show as a bitter woman in an unhappy marriage with the king. This actually puts her in a very powerful position as she has a lot of symbolic power, strengthened by the fact that she belongs to the most powerful house in the Seven Kingdoms ruled by a man feared for being thoroughly ruthless. But she herself has no actual power. She has to rely on her husband, father or brother to back up her power. If all of them suddenly decided to tell her to go fuck herself (which she probably has on a number of occasions) she’d be jolly well screwed.

This is pretty normal for a woman in a medieval setting, but in season 1 she demonstrates that she can scheme and that she has certain weapons at her disposal. She uses sex to try and charm men into giving her what she wants. This results in her having her brother Jaime as an asset, the strongest fighter in King’s Landing and a battle commander with an army. She has spies that are loyal to her, demonstrated when one tells her about Shae. And finally she does have some knowledge of money and accounting, though it’s more that she realises that she can use money to get her way.

And it is through these weapons and unique set of skills that she slowly crawls her way to more power. She becomes queen regent after Robert’s death, meaning she can lead the Small Council while Joffrey is killing a few puppies. This gets undone by Tywin and Tyrion, but it seems she’s gotten such a love for the taste of power that she continuously tries to get more, which she effectively does at the end of season 6 by killing her uncle, the entire house Tyrell save Olenna, other nobles and essentially every clergy in King’s Landing. Of course, this event also shows how far she’s fallen at this point and what she’s willing to do to get power.

Cersei in season 1 wasn’t actually interested in killing people. She didn’t want Brandon dead. She wanted to scare him into not revealing what he saw. She didn’t want Eddard Stark dead, as a “tame wolf is more useful to her than a dead one.” She’s the one cautioning Jaime and Joffrey against rashly killing people without looking at the consequences. This doesn’t mean she’s opposed to killing, but it shows she’s smart enought to plan and scheme around it if necessary.

When You Play the Game of Thrones You Either Win or Die… Or Get Plot Armour

Satisfied Cersei

Satisfied Cersei

But the thing about Cersei is that she’s impatient, spiteful, prideful and thinks she’s more important and intelligent than she really is. As a result she feels she’s owed respect, fear and obedience from her servants and she’s annoyed to no end that everyone and their mother don’t take her seriously. This, along with the fact that people including her own uncle are openly scheming against or opposing her, results in her just killing them all in order to become queen of the seven kingdoms. Where she was once smart enough not to kill without need she was very gleeful about letting the Mountain kill a Sparrow, which actually ends up biting her in the ass when Tommen gets manipulated into forbidding the trial by combat. This is one of the many reasons why she blows up the sept with wildfire, an act that in Jaime’s article I state is very akin to what the mad king wanted to do during Robert’s Rebellion. This terrorist bombing results in her last child Tommen killing himself. Did you forget about the children?

Tyrion states that Cersei has two redeeming qualities: she loves her children and she has wonderful cheekbones. Throughout the show Cersei demonstrates that she does indeed love Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen. She’s absolutely devastated when Joffrey dies and tries to kill Tyrion over it. It’s absolutely fucked up, but it does demonstrate that she mourns the death of her child. She loses her other children, though each time she seems less upset over it. Myrcella’s death shocks her as well and she does end up getting her revenge for it this season, but she wasn’t as angry and devastated as she was with Joffrey. And finally with Tommen she doesn’t betray any emotion anymore. We’re left to wonder if she really is mourning him. Especially when it’s because of her he did a leap of faith off the red keep, though of course she blames Tyrion for it.

This season she ends up getting pregnant with a fourth child from Jaime. This is actually a bit problematic, as the Maggy the frog prophecy stated she’d only get three. Granted, the show already smudged that up by stating she got a child from Robert that died very quickly after birth, but this might actually be a hint of foreshadowing that this child will either die before Cersei gives birth to it or shortly after it gets spawned into this crapsack world. Whatever the case, she still seems to cling to the concept of being a mother and making sure her child survives, so it could be that she slowly changed from loving her children to making sure she has a legacy. Making sure the child has everything it needs to survive and continue the house. Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Tywin with Teats

Banker Cersei

Banker Cersei

Oh yes, this is the aspect of Cersei’s character arc this season I find most interesting. Tycho Nestoris (the money lender from the Iron Bank) makes it a point to state several times that Cersei is like her father. This is definitely a nod to the books where Cersei considers herself Tywin with teats, but he’s actually right. Tywin Lannister had a reputation of being a dangerous man, one you don’t cross. He’s cunning, intelligent, knows how to lead and is more than happy to betray allies and forge alliances to make sure his House survives. To create his legacy. One that his daughter is now continuing.

Cersei: Tywin's Daughter

Tywin pulling a Cersei! Wait…

While Cersei is in no way as good at playing the game as Tywin was she definitely shows the same traits this season: she makes an unholy alliance with Euron Greyjoy to get his fleet, a magical super fleet that can travel around Westeros in the span of seconds. She manages to pay back her loan to the Iron Bank in what Tycho dubs as being the first time someone managed to pay back an entire debt of such a high sum in one go, stating that certain people will be upset they can’t make any interests on it. She then makes a fake peace with Dany and Jon in order to get them to waste their forces against the undead army so that Cersei can use her own army (strengthened by the Golden Company she hires with a NEW loan from the Iron Bank) to finish off all her enemies in one fell swoop. It’s actually pretty good scheming, something she’s been doing since season 1.

The reason why these events are so interesting is because that’s what Tywin did in season 2 and 3. He made an unholy alliance with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey in order to kill Robb Stark. He used the Iron Bank as an asset in the war of the Five Kings, in order to defeat all his enemies. Those are the same debts (along with previous accumulated debt from Robert) Cersei managed to pay back this season. He made peace with house Tyrell, though a scene between him and Littlefinger suggested that he might end up punishing them after all. Though granted, he ended up profitting a lot from bringing the Tyrells into the royal fold, so he may have changed his mind on that.

Cersei definitely proved herself to be her father’s daughter this season. Maybe she wasn’t lying or trying to appeal to him that she was the only one actually listening to his lectures. While Tyrion is definitely a schemer and a player he’s also far more moral. He tries to prevent unnecessary loss of life and tries to steer Dany into a more moral path as queen. Cersei is the one who displays the same ruthless efficiency her father did, though this might also serve as foreshadowing.

You see, Tywin died because he underestimated Tyrion and thought he could manipulate the “spiteful little creature, full of lust, envy and low cunning.” Cersei thought she could manipulate Jaime, but he ended up being so disgusted by her “let the undead kill Dany and Jon” plan that he deserts her, which she clearly didn’t expect. So who knows, maybe he really might be the one that ends up killing her, even though the volonquar part of the prophecy doesn’t appear in the show.

So at the end of season 7 we are looking at a character who not only changed as a person and became darker for it, but also shows that she’s become a better schemer and manipulator than she started off as in season 1. D&D did a good job here demonstrating the slow change over the seasons into what culminated as a female Tywin Lannister, though also presented in a way that we see this Tywin the way his enemies saw him instead of the strangely charismatic person Charles Dance portrayed. I kind of like that and if it’s done intentionally I definitely say it’s a job well done.

Although it will be oh so satisfying to see her die before the end of the next season. If she dies. She seems to be wearing a lot of plot armour, so maybe she might be one of the few people to actually survive. Regardless, I definitely look forward to seeing how her character journey gets resolved in the next season.

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Game of Thrones is created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, belongs to HBO and was inspired by the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin.

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