Cersei: When will I wed the prince?
Maggy: Never. You will wed the king.
Cersei: I will be queen, though?
Maggy: Aye. Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.
These words, that determine Cersei Lannister’s mindset over 30 years later hold the key to understanding her character and actions. Inspite of her high birth, great beauty and seemingly limitless amounts of money, Cersei harbours a prickly victimhood complex, predisposed to cry ‘foul’ and rail against the unfairness of life. Being denied power or control due to her gender, she is determined to acquire both feverishly. Her portrayal of unfettered ambition is so nuanced that the Rolling Stone magazine ranked Cersei at No.6 on a list of the “Top 40 Game of Thrones Characters”, opining about her as a character who’d “rather die than give you control”.
Growing up as the prized only daughter of the mighty Lord Tywin, Cersei was doted on in every way. Yet all the extravagance and luxury could never quite hide her fury at witnessing her twin brother’s, Jaime, easy acceptance into their Father’s world while she was turned away. She lauds herself as the most capable of the Lannister children, with one reckless, irresponsible brother and another reviled for his very existence. Yet her father chose to treat her differently, neither delegating responsibility nor duties because she was a woman.
To her delight, Lord Tywin later made Cersei the centrepiece in his ambitions for Lannister power. He brusquely refused numerous marriage proposals for her hand, preferring to wait for the day that he could arrange a union with the crown prince, Rhaegar Targaryen. Unfortunately for Cersei, Tywin’s pride and the entire Realm, King Aerys pointedly chose to decline, culminating, eventually, in the collapse of his dynasty and death.
When Robert’s Rebellion had run its bloody course, Lord Tywin saw his ambitions fulfilled, for Cersei was to wed the new King and cement Lannister influence. For Cersei, however, the young King proved a testing disappointment. She was merely a pawn in The Game of Thrones, an expensive ‘brood mare’, fit only to perpetuate the Royal Bloodline while her husband cavorted and roused. While the position of Queen came with no mean advantages, she mattered little at home, less in court and was wholly irrelevant aside from her marriage in the politics of Westeros.
However, Cersei refused to accept the position that Life had ‘cruelly’ condemned her to. She took her vengeance on her father, her husband and the expectations of the Realm by bringing forth her three golden-haired children, each one a progeny of her twin brother, Jaime. Her own inside-joke, as it were, also became her obsession; for the fear of being uncovered imperiled her children’s life and perceived birthright. This was inspired in so small part to the desire for controlling events, through them. Never again would she be subjected to marry another without her leave. In Cersei’s eyes, she was fighting the cause of women, excluded from governance, by being a centre of power in herself.
In her perspective, her incestuous relationship with her brother was not worth condemnation, as the Targaryens had done the same for centuries, with the easy acceptance of Westeros. When Ned Starks confronts Cersei about the truth, she blithely counters with her own contemptuous judgement – That he was a hypocrite. The origins of their begetting would not make her love them any less, and her desire to protect them is innate. Her life merely revolved around their protection, pivoting around the Crown Prince (and chief twat), Joffrey. Her desire to secure the throne for her oldest son led to King Robert’s death, Ned Stark’s arrest and the chain of events that have caused the fictional land of Westeros to resemble Syria of today.
When Lord Tywin intended for Cersei to marry once again and leave the realm to its new Queen Margarey, Cersei balked and defied her father.Her shock at this betrayal by the person she strove to impress the most (and expected to share power with) shattered the illusion that she was important. Her terror at being powerless to control her own destiny was expertly portrayed by Lena Headey when she realised that once more, she was merely a pawn in the games for power, rather than the Queen.
The Queen – for that’s who she is. Queen to King Robert, Queen Mother to King Joffrey and Queen Mother to King Tommen. She strives to retain her position with conspiracies and secrets, using her beauty and wiles to shield herself from being replaced. Her constant plots and schemes led to a War (with a little help from Eddard Stark), strained the great southern Alliance and finally resulted in her humiliating Walk of Atonement. The galling moment of knowing that she was the object of derision and mockery rather than fear and reverence was a version of Karmic justice that probably only happens in fictional worlds.
The resilience of Cersei’s character has been touched upon, but it is this event which could (should?) have broken her. From her marriage to King Robert to the death of all her children, she has endured endless dangers, tragedies and reverses. Here, her power and person was ridiculed and taunted, shamed and scorned. Lady Olenna Tyrell witheringly sneers to her face that Cersei cannot be Queen when she enjoys neither the support of the nobles or when the common folk mock and parody her.
So Cersei chooses violence, when all else fails. Her ability to act irrationally and without thought for the consequence is a prized asset when none else are forthcoming. Brilliantly encapsulated in the below scene, when cornered, Cersei lashes out decisively. At the end of Season 6 of GOT, she puts all her enemies in Kings Landing to the sword, only pausing to ensure that her son, the King, Tommen was safe. Ironically, her success with the former pushed her son off the edge (so to speak!).
The War of Five Kings has ended and Queen Cersei rules. Through suffering, terror and more than the one humiliation, all that was denied to her for being a Woman is finally hers. In the course of her bloody ambition, she has buried her father, husband and three children. Yet she alone, reigns. Even her coronation attire is chosen carefully, as she mirrors Lord Tywin Lannister, thus proving that she was the rightful heir to the future of House Lannister all along.
The ending of Season 6, however, showed us that the threat of a Westeros under Cersei’s pitiless rule was itself bound to collapse with the coming of a new Queen – and her newly appointed Hand, a fellow Lannister, with his own grievances to redress.