I love villains.
That is to say, I love complex, fictitious villains. I think it’s important to start with that. No one lives their lives purely black or white; we all fall in the moral gray ground between the two, and so do heroes and villains. That’s why we get annoyed with good guys like Jack Shepard on Lost – they’re not gray. They don’t falter like real humans do.
Villains set the stage, they drop the anchor, they force our heroes into action. They make us want to root for the hero. Luke Skywalker doesn’t save the galaxy without Darth Vader. Harry Potter doesn’t become the Boy Who Lived without Voldemort. Yes, Harry and Luke would have probably had happy, normal lives without those antagonists, but then you wouldn’t know or care one lick about their stories.
Cersei Lannister wasn’t always my favorite Game of Thrones character, but her slow rise to the throne has me hooked. I love everything about her.
The best villains are multi-dimensional. They aren’t just a cesspool of evil. They have layers, they have reasons. Good and evil are boring; the middle ground is where we find the complex, inner struggles that every human goes through – that every human can relate to.
The Lannister children’s mother died when they were young. Cersei was raised by men, around men, next to a twin brother and was effectively told that, although she spent her entire life around men, she could never have what they had because she was a woman.
That is relatable. That is a real struggle that many women face everyday. And although you may condemn everything that Cersei has done in her ascent to power, I can empathize with that. I can find the human condition in that struggle to gain autonomy and respect in a world that works really hard not to give it to you.
Out of her, Jaime, and Tyrion, Cersei is the most like their father, the one who wants power most and the one who can’t have it. She can’t be the head of an army and she can’t carry on the family name (although she comes as close as she can get, amirite?) She was inundated with Lannister pride her entire life and yet, it wasn’t her pride. It was never hers to have or command.
What would Tywin Lannister have done if someone had told him no?
It is rare to find complex, autonomous female characters on television. Game of Thrones has many. I can find the human in Cersei and yet she’s blowing up every one that I love in a single episode. One minute you hate her for her part in Bran’s paralysis (but like Luke and Harry, sets Bran’s ultimate journey in motion) and the next you feel a twinge of pity for her when her husband slaps her across the face. She’s shamed naked in the streets with bloodied feet and tears streaming down her cheeks, making your stomach church, and then sipping her wine as half the casts signs off ten episodes later. She keeps her friends close and kills her enemies. She’s effective. She takes action.
Because it feels good.
The scene where Cersei stands on her balcony sipping wine while the sept is engulfed in flames in front of her may be my favorite GOT scene ever. Women are rarely allowed to revel in power or to want things that make them feel good unabashedly, and that’s why Cersei is so damn compelling. You may hate her, but you can see how layer upon layer has piled up, how she got to this point, how this – a seat on the Iron Throne – was always in her sights.
I am not shying away from the fact that I am looking at Cersei through the lens of a female viewer, rooting for female empowerment. Cersei is empowering as hell. It’s fun to watch a woman go after what she wants purely because she wants it, not because of anyone or anything else. Men get to do that; men get to want blindly. Cersei flips that norm on its head. She doesn’t want nor need sympathy or love. She wants power.
Even Sansa gave her props in the premiere and she has more reason to hate Cersei than Literally. Anyone.
I’m not advocating for women to go blow up a Sept full of their enemies, but it has been awesome to see a female character not give a damn what anyone thinks of her. Cersei is an extreme but I admire her for being unapologetic. More women should be unapologetic about the way they live.
I read an article recently that criticized the TV version of Cersei, saying that the writers had weakened her characters by making her less thirsty for power and more devoted to her children, but I disagree. Everything about Cersei is power hungry. Yes, she told us that her children were the most important thing in the world to her, but her cavalier attitude towards Tommen’s death, her baby boy, says otherwise. To sit on the Iron Throne is all she’s ever wanted.
And there she sits.
None of this is to mean that I root for Cersei. I didn’t want her to kill off half the cast, but that she did was raw and badass. I’m halfway certain she’s not going to make it to the end of the season and when she gets her comeuppance, I will cheer along with the rest of you.
But I will be sad to see her go.