Apr 14 2011 5:00pm

The Women in Game of Thrones: Cersei Lannister

Cersei LannisterBeware: This post has as many spoilers as Cersei has men thinking she's gorgeous...

Cersei Lannister from George R.R. Martin's A Game Of Thrones is a strong, beautiful, powerful woman who will do anything to—well, she'll do anything.

This Sunday, HBO premieres its Game Of Thrones miniseries, and Cersei's actions and motivations inspire much of the plot. Her diabolicalness is legend (for readers of the books, at least), and it's not until the fourth book in the series, A Feast For Crows, that we actually get events told from her point of view.

His lord father had come first, escorting the queen. She was as beautiful as men said. A jeweled tiara gleamed amidst her long golden hair, its emeralds a perfect match for her eyes. His father helped her up the steps to the dais and led her to her seat, but the queen never so much as looked at him. Even at fourteen, Jon could see through her smile.

On the HBO series, the rehabilitation of Cersei Lannister begins prior to her introduction. As I watch the preview for House Lannister, put together by HBO, it is mostly about how poor Cersei was wounded on her wedding night and so behaves badly. How poor Cersei would do anything to keep the family together.


Her marriage was arranged, much like everyone’s marriage in Game of Thrones. The woman Robert Baratheon was supposed to marry, Lyanna Stark, is dead at the end of the war. Robert loved her, that much is clear from the moment he appears on the page, but she certainly is no threat to Cersei. Yet, that is one of the reasons presented for a lifetime of Cersei’s misdeeds.

Closer to the truth, in my opinion, is that she is a politically astute, power-consolidating, power-wielding female in a world that doesn’t leave her many acceptable options. Yes, she may be married to a man she has grown to despise, but that is certainly no obstacle for her. She believes she would run the kingdom better than Robert Baratheon, and she may indeed by right about that. There is no doubt that Robert has become fat, lazy and less...attentive to matters than is good for the realm. There is also no doubt that a lifetime of Lannisters has done much to contribute to his current state.

Cataloging her misdeeds starts (in the book) with killing the former hand of the King, which precipates the need to travel to Winterfell where Robert plans to recruit Ned Stark to fill the role. She also has a hand in injuring a young child who sees too much, attempted murder when the child doesn’t have the good sense to die of said injuries, having a beloved Stark pet killed, and oh yeah, about that incest thing…

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground” (A Game of Thrones, 408)

A Game of Thrones turns part murder mystery as Ned tries to find out what happened to his predecessor, and also why the Lannisters tried to kill one of his sons. He gets his answers but, as usual, Cersei Lannister has set events in motion so that even when she loses, she ends up winning.

But…do you really know Cersei Lannister? For a major player in A Game of Thrones, readers do not get to see her from her own perspective. Everything we know about her comes through the eyes of other characters. Readers are initially led to distrust Cersei, which grows quickly to dislike, if not outright hate. The redeeming factors, if you choose to take her explanations at face value, don’t come until more than midway through the book. So, I understand why the Cersei Lannister lobby is doing some preemptive redemption before the series starts for people who may not have read the books. That is both probably a necessity, and a shame.


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a longtime lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum

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Megan Frampton
1. MFrampton
I've only read the first three books, so haven't hit the parts where Cersei actually has her own point-of-view. I cannot believe Martin will be able to make her likeable, but then again, I am all for Tyrion now, and Jaime (no spoilers!). I really admire her for her single-minded focus on getting what she wants, but I would never, ever want to know her. She would eff you up just to do it, if she wanted to. Scary woman.
Robin Bradford
2. RobinBradford
Someone on the other side (lol, the Tor side) suggested she would have been a great character on The Wire. I had to laugh at that because, yeah, she would have been. She's actually the one character I have never changed my mind about. She was a bitch in 1996, and I still think she's a bitch. A successful one, but nonetheless......
Regina Thorne
3. reginathorn
Robin, excellent look at Cersei (to whom I have become strangely more sympathetic because she's being played by Lena Headey!)

One thing though (since we're dealing in spoilers this is a pretty big one so I'm putting it into white text):tCersei and the Lannisters aren't responsible for Jon Arryn's death at all. Catelyn's manipulated into believing this and causes Ned to believe it too, but in fact we learn at the end of Storm of Swords that Littlefinger and Lysa Arryn murdered Lysa's husband by poison, and cleverly framed the Lannisters knowing that Cat and Ned would instantly believe that twist. The whole dagger thing was another instance of Littlefinger's master class in manipulating Catelyn Stark. Yet another instance of the Starks (and the readers') prejudices leading them astray.
Robin Bradford
4. RobinBradford
@reginathorn I didn't incorporate anything that happened outside of the four corners of Game of Thrones. So it's only what you know (or think you know, or are led to believe) within the bounds of that book. Otherwise, some of these would have been very different.

That said, I think you hit on my point exactly. We're led to feel this way about Cersei from the beginning of the book. The term "reliable narrator" has never been more appropriate than here! It's funny, I never even thought about the fact that Cersei, for all her presence in the book, is always seen through someone else's eyes/viewpoint.

I still can't get on the Cersei rehab train, though.
Regina Thorne
5. reginathorn
Aaah, I got you, Robin. The thing I mentioned was one of the biggest "OH MY GOD!" moments in the series for me (though it was a much subtler moment than others in that book.)

I don't think Cersei is being rehabbed so much as provided with some extra depth. I'm frankly kind of appalled at some fans turning her into a feminist heroine because of her being thwarted in her desires because of her gender, because ultimately, yes, she is more than a little bit evil. But I do like that the series is providing her (and Jaime) with more complexity from the beginning because it just makes for more compelling TV. (I didn't, for example, approve of Stringer Bell's actions on "The Wire" but he sure was a fascinating guy!)
Robin Bradford
6. RobinBradford
@reginathorn That's a good point that I hadn't thought of. Cersei is pretty two dimensionally evil in Game of Thrones. She doesn't get three dimensionally evil until later. :-) You do have to humanize her more than she appears in the book if you want the character to have any depth at all in the first season. Very good point.
Team Cersei
7. Team Cersei
I know that Cersei's evil but I can't help but to love her. She's my favorite character from the whole book. I know she's evil but I'm always more fascinated and endeared to the evil characters. Especially the 'evil' women. To me, she is a feminist hero. Cersei doesn't really have all the means to be in a good spot in her world and she does whatever she has to do to get there. And the incest thing with jaime, I don't really see it as all that bad. When I judge thing about characters, I look at there world and judge it from their viewpoint. Back then, incest was not nearly as big of a deal as it is to us. Plus, I actually think that Jaime loved her and Cersei probraly held some love for him as well.

Quite frankly, I can't stand any of the Starks. Especially Jon (even if he isn't a techinal Stark) They're all way to "good" and loyal that it leaves them weak and just a bunch of Mary Sues to me.
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