Day 240: In defense of Cersei Lannister
What if we haven’t really given one of the most hated characters in Game of Thrones a chance? I’ve never rooted for her, but a part of me always wondering whether I should hate her as much as I do, and whether that’s by the creators’ design.
I’m going to make a case for why she’s not even really that … bad.
SPOILERS AHEAD. SERIOUSLY, HOW CAN I NOT?
A survivor of abuse, rape, and negligence
While Cersei seemingly had a privileged life, she was always seen by her father as a bargaining chip in his political affairs. After The War of the Usurper, Tywin arranged for Cersei to marry Robert Baratheon and become Queen of Westeros to finally bring stability to the realm.
Their marriage was far from harmonious.
When Robert wasn’t physically or sexually abusing her (yes, marital rape is a thing), he was off whoring and producing illegitimate children, further shaming Cersei.
Below is a famous example, and not even the honorable Ned Stark questions the morality of a husband striking his wife.
Let’s also not forget the times she’s been abused throughout the show, even by her own brother in the freaking Sept of Baelor or by the townsfolk of King’s Landing in that agonizing march of shame. (Warning: contains graphic images and sounds.)
She’s been through more in 20 years than Daenerys Targaryen endured with Khal Drogo, who is a terrible, terrible dude. Yet we treat her experiences as lesser because… she’s less inspiring, I suppose?
She is certainly vindictive, but not ruthless
Unlike some other characters (Joffrey, Ramsay, and perhaps Euron), Cersei is not malicious to other people out of purely sadistic reasons. In ever instance, Cersei acts either out of survival, righteousness, or vindication. The main target of her malice is Tyrion, who generally has the sympathies of the audience, thus further vilifying Cersei’s position.
Remember, in Cersei’s mind, Tyrion is the reason why her mother is dead. A rational person would realize that a newborn can’t be blamed for a mother’s death via childbirth, but Cersei’s thoughts were enabled by Tywin’s abuse of Tyrion as well. Coupled with Tyrion’s shameless, spoiled hedonistic behavior, it’s possible to see why Cersei felt contempt for him as they grew up.
Let’s talk about her most violent act of all: blowing up the Sept of Baelor. The High Sparrow, the Faith Militant, most of the Tyrells and her Uncle Kevan were all obstacles in her quest for power and redemption.
Destroying the Sept of Baelor was not just a cunning move, it was a damn fulfilling one. If some crazy right wing cult you once supported turned around and arrested you, starved and abused you in a dark cell, and paraded you naked and bloodied through the streets, you’d be dreaming of wildfire too.
We only really hate her because …
She supported her eldest son (like any mother would). Joffrey was a shit, and she knew it. He was also his ticket to ensuring her position. Supporting and defending him made sense from a maternal and survival standpoint. Even so, she still put him in check when she could.
She’s horrible to Tyrion, whom we all love. As the smartest and funniest character in the entire show, hating Tyrion would only relegate Cersei as a villain. She openly mocks him, punishes his escorts violently, and even tries to have him killed during his most heroic defense against Stannis’ invasion.
We empathize with Tyrion’s story more from a third-party view, but if we lived among the citizens of Westeros, we’d probably regard him as a little drunken monster who had reason to kill the king.
Perspective is everything.
She sleeps with her twin brother, which we find morally intolerable. Now, let me be clear — I do not condone incestuous relationships, and I’m think coupling is incestuous until it extends out to at least a fifth cousin or something. That said, my perspective belongs to a specific cultural context.
Most cultures have some kind of “incest taboo” to prevent birth anomalies and make family genealogies a bit more comprehensible. The world of Game of Thrones doesn’t have such scruples, considering the common practice of marrying siblings among the Targaryens or even the recommendation that Robin Arryn marry his first cousin Sansa Stark.
Still, it seems that people generally frown upon Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, and producing Joffrey from it only adds insult to injury. Can we at least forgive them for creating Myrcella and Tommen?
She embodies many loathsome character archetypes
Cersei is beautiful, rich, and powerful. Unless she’s with her children, she conducts herself in ways that audiences don’t often enjoy. In short, she’s a Mean Girl, which is parodied here with Jimmy Kimmel.
In sum, I think Cersei is a villain by association — she’s often aligned with people we certainly hate (Joffrey, the Boltons, the Mountain, and now Euron Greyjoy). All it takes is a little shift of perspective to see that perhaps she’s just playing the game like everyone else.
As an aristocrat and a monarch, she acts with the cunning needed to survive in a world full of opportunists and liars. In contrast, the Starks operated with honor and integrity, which simply isn’t “the game.”
We often root for characters who act with honor and grace, but in Game of Thrones, those qualities may end up costing your life.
As we’ve learned from Bronn at The Vale: