Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister: A Review
As readers of my previous reviews will know, I am not a tremendous fan of the character of Daenerys Targaryen. I find her to be an entitled, arrogant snot who has to date shown no real aptitude at the art of ruling, although the show especially has gone overboard to make everyone the character encounters bow down in worship to her sheer excellence. Despite this, many fans claim to like her because she is somehow a “strong female character”. I find this claim very frustrating, because the Game of Thrones universe is rife with these characters, but Daenerys most certainly is not one of them. Even more frustrating, though, are the numerous fans who share this compliment with the character of Cersei Lannister; for as much as I have difficulty with understanding the fan-base for the Mother of Dragons, I am truly mystified for the one that is out there for the Queen Regent.
The problem with Cersei is not that the character is stupid, for she actually isn’t. Cersei’s weakness, as noted by her father Tywin, is that while capable in her own way she is not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. She is cleaver to an extent, having on many occasions one upped her various rivals, but only to a point. Her great weakness is an inability to comprehend the long-term fallout of her actions, and see beyond what is immediately in front of her. As a result Cersei often acts impulsively, in a way that prioritizes short-term victories at the cost of eroding her overall position. This is an advantage in its own perverse way; for quite often we have witnessed Cersei take her opponents off guard by the sheer brazenness of her actions but far too often her triumphs tend to be pyric in nature.
Probably the best example of this can be taken from the most recent finale of Game of Thrones, where Cersei (who has been isolated from power all season and largely kept to the margins of the affairs of King’s Landing since her rather dramatic fall in the previous season) manages to retake control of the capital and seize the throne itself in her own right. Utilizing a large cache of wildfire hidden beneath the Great Sept of Baelor by the old Mad King, Cersei takes advantage of her upcoming trial by the Faith Militant to pull of the Westerosi equivalent of CIA drone strike against her enemies who are all in attendance. In one fiery explosion, she successfully eliminates the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant, Queen Margery Tyrell and her brother Loras and their father Mace, and her uncle Kevan who had assumed the regency and effective control of the kingdom (or at least the Lannister controlled portions of it) after her imprisonment by the Faith at the end of last season. The devastating effectiveness of this cannot be denied; Cersei manages to eliminate not only the better part of her enemies but also (following the suicide of her son Tommen upon the realization that his wife had perished in the destruction of the Sept) clear a path to the Iron Throne itself; in the final moments she has herself declared Cersei Lannister, the first of her name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men.
It also cannot be denied why Cersei was able to pull off such a feat; none of her enemies suspected such a move because they likely assumed even she would balk at the long-term implications. True, Cersei now sits upon the Iron Throne, but in the process of doing so she has forever alienated herself from the Faith (and if the last season should have established anything it is that the power of Westeros’s church should not be discounted), killed a popular champion of the capital’s poor and downtrodden masses, and not only destroyed the Lannisters’ alliance with House Tyrell (one of the strongest remaining military forces in the kingdom) but driven them to join the open rebellion of House Martell of Dorne. Pyric does not even begin to describe this triumph; Cersei may sit on the throne but she finds herself facing enemies on all sides with nothing to support her claim beyond whatever battered remnants of the Lannister host remain at her disposal. She may not even be able to count upon that, as her latest move may even have achieved the seemingly impossible task of alienating her from her most loyal of allies, her twin brother/lover Jamie. While we do not see a face to face confrontation between the two over her actions, his reaction upon his return to the capital and witnessing Cersei’s coronation is that of numbed disbelief and one can only imagine how well he will take the news of her role in Tommen’s suicide.
Cersei’s great weakness is not so much her lack of comprehension of the long-term implication of her actions as it is her sheer obliviousness as to the fact that this is a weakness for her; this is in stark contrast to other characters who show more comprehension of their flaws, such as Littlefinger who knows his lowly birth will always be something held against him by Westeros’ greater lords or her brother Jamie who knows his reputation as the Kingslayer will make him eternally viewed as untrustworthy and deceitful, and are thus able to compensate for them. In her mind, she sees herself as a strategic genius, a conception that is self-confirmed by every small victory she achieves, and she is seemingly mystified when event spiral out of her control seemingly out of nowhere. Early in season two, she has a confrontation with Littlefinger which culminates in her ordering her guards to seize him and hold a dagger to his throat, which she gloatingly proclaims as proof that she holds the power and not him. In essence, however, this scene very explicitly demonstrates that Cersei has a fundamental misconception of what power actually is.
Yes, in that moment Cersei certainly could have slit Lord Baelish’s throat and he could have done little to stop her; this again being an example of how Cersei’s impulsive and unpredictable nature can indeed grant her a temporary advantage over many of her opponents by simply be willing to do what they would never anticipate. However, what she fails to comprehend is that Littlefinger’s power does not come from his own personal being or the ability to have guards slice open the throat of his enemies’ but instead comes from his intrigues and wealth and influence, all of which are very much uncharged by Cersei’s little display of violence which she foolishly assumes neutralizes him as a threat but instead very likely only put Lord Baelish on his guard for his future interactions with her.
To Cersei, power seems to be personal. By killing most of the Tyrells in her destruction of the Sept, she forgets that what makes them powerful is their vast lands and mighty armies, both of which are very much untouched by her revenge and are still at the disposal of the Lady Olenna, the family matriarch, to retaliate against her. By killing the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant, she seems unaware that the true power of the Faith is the devotion it is held in by the commoners of the kingdom who doubtlessly see her actions as base sacrilege. She is adept enough at attacking the individual, and indeed skilled at manipulating base personal emotions (whether it is by goading her husband’s ego or toying with the infatuation of her cousin Lancel) but the broader picture escapes her and that is her downfall every time.
At present the future does not look promising for the new Queen of Kings’ Landing. To the north she faces a newly restored House Stark that is allied, at least for now, with the as yet barely touched strength of the Eyrie. To the west, the Riverlands fester in revolt (a situation that likely will only be made worse given the poetically deserving fall of her last real ally, House Frey). To the south, the Tyrells and Martells have openly thrown their lot in with the forces conspiring for a Targaryen restoration. The capital itself is in ruins, and her only remaining allies are schemers and henchmen such as Qyburn whose loyalty is highly questionable. Daenerys may actually land upon the shores of Westeros with her mighty army of eunuch warriors, wild horsemen, and fire breathing dragons only to find the entire kingdom willing to surrender to her without a fight. It would be a somewhat anticlimactic ending, but it would stand as a testament to how utterly devastating Cersei’s rule has proved to be.
Enjoy this review? Check out my other Game of Thrones character reviews of Daenerys Targaryen, Sansa Stark, The High Sparrow, Petyr Baelish, Varys, and Hodor. Also my character comparison of Joffrey vs Ramsey