Cersei

cersei Spoilers below…

After heaping a great deal of much-deserved praise on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Alyssa Rosenberg writes:

I’m not sure, however, how the show’s investment in making Cersei Lannister a more sympathetic character is going to pay off. Whether it’s the addition of a child she bore Robert who died, or her question to Robert, in a moment of contemplation of their marriage “Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time? Ever a moment?” the show has invested heavily in the idea that she’s tough but not without some tenderness. I genuinely don’t know how that will govern audiences’ reactions to events that I assume are still to follow, but for now, I’m trusting David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. So far, they’ve proved themselves masterful players in their own game.

I’ve actually been really impressed with the portrayal of Cersei so far. They’ve created the illusion of tenderness while still hinting only subtly at her true nature. She’s much less hot-headed than her brother or son, and even just a tiny bit kind – at least in her voice, the sense of calm she adopts. She even seems reasonable at times – for instance, calling into question Robert’s decision to cast aside Eddard as Hand.

But all I see in Cersei – in each of her actions, each of her words – is threat. The warmth is a mirage. When she asks Robert “Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time? Ever a moment?” I get the sense that she is simply tying up a loose end, reassuring herself that she can kill the king without remorse or second-guessing. “Everyone who is not us is the enemy,” she tells Joffrey. It becomes very clear that Robert is not “us”. She just had to be sure. I suppose I see it this way because I know how quick she is to kill, but I’m glad she isn’t quite so obvious to first-time viewers. I want her to be a mystery, not wear her viciousness on her sleeve.

I admit, I always pictured Cersei as more impulsive, emotional, out-of-control. But HBO’s Cersei is strong and collected (for now), and plays her deadly game quietly. Maybe audiences will be surprised when she turns out to be such an awful, bloodthirsty woman, but that’s not for lack of clues. The execution of Sansa’s direwolf is the first of those clues, but there are others. I mean, you have to wonder at some point how her first child died. “The seed is strong,” Jon Arryn says, because each of Robert’s bastards has dark hair. But obviously none of his children do, because they aren’t his children. Except that first child.

So how did he die?

Maybe audiences are missing all of this – it’s hard to know since I’ve read the books and I’m sure I perceive it all much differently, but to me Cersei is quite terrifying wearing this mask of warmth and humanity. Whatever sympathy is created for her character, it will soon be shattered. The realization will be all the more powerful for it.

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Sidenote: watching last night’s episode, all I could think to myself at the end was “Catelyn! This is all Catelyn’s fault!” Which is basically what I was thinking as I read the books. How could she be so abominably stupid? How could she seize Tyrion while her husband and daughters remained in King’s Landing – especially knowing how dangerous the Lannisters could be?

Of course, Eddard is nearly as deserving of exasperation. He should have fled the moment he lost the King’s favor. He should have gathered his men and his girls and hit the bloody road and not stopped until he was north of the Trident. But he didn’t.

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29 thoughts on “Cersei

  1. Eddard is in deadly trouble with the Lannisters for two reasons:

    1. Catelyn’s idiocy.
    2. He’s poking his nose into things that Cersei can’t allow to come to light.

    Both of those can be traced directly to Littlefinger, whose deadliness he’s unable to understand.

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  2. I also considered the literary Cersei much more impulsive and emotionally flawed. The problem with this more thoughtful, more commanding Cersei is that it makes her most important contribution to the plot (thus far) — her incestuous relationship with Jaime — totally implausible. I could believe the written Cersei would do something so obtuse and self-indulgent, but do you really think the cinematic Cersei would do something so suicidally dangerous?

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    • I disagree. A more emotionally flawed, impulsive Cersei would be caught. She has to maintain a high level of control on every aspect of her life – and especially this secret. If anything, I find it more plausible this way.

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    • They make a point in the book that incest is a secret Lannister tradition, so it’s not necessarily impulsive – it’s part of the plan.
      I think the show has overplayed the lust aspect of Jamie and Cersei’s relationship. The sense I got from the book was the incest was to keep outsiders from polluting their bloodline.

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      • Oh I definitely think there’s passion to it as well (though you are also correct about purity, etc. “Everyone who is not us is the enemy” and so forth). But I think it is also largely about possession. I think Jaimie is more truly in love with Cersei than the other way around. But she likes to possess him.

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  3. > He should have fled the moment he lost the King’s
    > favor. He should have gathered his men and his
    > girls and hit the bloody road and not stopped until
    > he was north of the Trident.

    This was the part that didn’t ring true to me, in the original story. The guy is a king in his own right; and he’s got a very clear idea of what it means to be a law unto himself. He’s been through one revolution and while he didn’t like it very much, he can’t very well fail to see how this is turning out, and yet he does not gather his own forces and buckle in tight.

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      • That’s the excuse in the plotline.

        Me, I think this shows foolhardy loyalty to someone who demonstrably deserves it not, while failing to provide the basic protections to his men, wife, and children (not to mention his folk back home) to whom he owes an equal loyalty, if not more.

        Robert is self-destructive. Eddard neither does what is necessary to save Robert, nor what is necessary to save himself and his. Any way you slice it, that’s bad leadership.

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        • No doubt it’s bad leadership. He’s “just a soldier” as Cersei puts it. The Starks are not the smartest bunch, as is made obvious in the books/show time and time again. They are headstrong and honorable, but not nearly as clever as others. Eddard under-estimated the danger and his enemies brutality.

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          • I don’t think it’s that they’re not the smartest bunch as it is that they think the rest of the world, deep down, is as honorable as they are. They’re far too trusting of others even when those others show signs of deceitfulness (read: Littlefinger). Remember, it was Ned who soon figures out what Jon Arryn was investigating and Rob was a pretty good tactician, these are not characteristics of fools.

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            • Good point. I think it is that they cannot adapt to play the game. They are good governors, can inspire true loyalty, run brilliant military campaigns, but they cannot conspire and deceive.

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        • I agree but I think that’s the point of Eddard Stark. A Song of Ice and Fire is in may ways a deconstruction of conventional fantasy or medieval tropes, and Stark is a deconstruction of the loyal Right Hand of the King. His loyalty does no one any good, not Robert, not himself and not The Seven Kingdoms. But Stark can’t see that and his blindness dooms him.

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  4. The fundamental problem with the internet is that when people say ‘spoiler warning’ for Game of Thrones, they are not alerting people that may not yet have caught up to the current episode, but are in fact warning people that haven’t at all read the books. :)

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    • Sorry. All discussions of the books/episodes will contain spoilers for the entire series I’m afraid. It’s hard to get around it one way or another. Maybe I can do double-spoilers – have one section of the post cordoned off from the rest as a ‘beyond-the-episode’ discussion. Not sure we can do the same for the comments.

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  5. This was a great post E.D.

    I absolutely love GoT and will probably have to read the books rather than wait for another season.

    My favorite moment from Sunday night? When the Mountain went berserk. Love that back story and brotherly dynamic.

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  6. I think the idea that Catelyn was being stupid about Tyrion isn’t supportable from the text.
    She arrests him, yes, which ends up being a bad idea for a bunch of reasons, but most of them aren’t known to her at the time.

    Remember that at the time, she’s traveling alone, in secret, from King’s Landing with just one knight. She has just left the capitol believing that Tyrion is behind two attempts on her son’s life that are apparently related to the murder of her sister’s husband, and Tyrion waltzes into the inn and calls her out loudly and publicly. At that moment, she thinks she’s being at minimum threatened, if not about to be attacked.
    She knows it’s not ideal, but she grasps at straws and calls on loyalty to her family for help and figures at worst she has a hostage for a bargaining chip for her family that she knows is already in danger at King’s Landing.

    One of the things I like best about Martin’s writing in GoT is that we rarely know things that the characters don’t directly know. You see them make decisions based on partial evidence and guesses, some of which turn out disastrously and some turn out OK, and unrelated to whether or not they’re ‘good’ people or whatever.

    For Catelyn, based on what she thinks she knows, it was the only choice she had.

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    • I’d love to agree with you on Catelyn, Plinko, but I don’t. I don’t buy the threat very much, she was in home turf friendly to her and it wasn’t like Tyrion was travelling with any muscle either. We have seen multiple times in her story that Catelyn reacts with almost irrational emotional behavior when her family is involved. See for instance her release of Jaime Lannister in exchange for his promise (A Lannister’s promise, under duress no less!!) promise of the return of her young daughters. My own read is that Catelyn’s decision was very much an emotional overreaction that led to a lot of the debacle. I feel/felt for her but I still felt that she could be kind of dumb (and that emotionalism plus the built in Stark sense of Nobility is probably what led her eldest son to engineer his own murder by breaking his alliance with the Frey’s). But that is what makes so many of the characters in GoT fascinating; they’re human and flawed in very believable ways.

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