Warning; if you haven’t read up to A Feast for Crows in G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, this will spoil at least one plot point for you, though by no means the whole book. Best beware.
Let’s make this clear right off the bat: I don’t like Cersei Lannister.
Hell, when I first read the books I flat out hated her. She constantly made excuses for her inbred shithead of a son, she persecuted Tyrion for things that were completely out of his control, she slept around and was a total hypocrite while she did it, and as for when she got her own POV…
…more on that in a while.
(Oddly enough, though, the incest didn’t really bother me. This is perhaps what comes of being obsessed with Greek mythology from the age of about six.)
That was nearly two years ago now. I no longer hate Cersei. I’ll never like her, but I don’t even love to hate her anymore. If anything I feel two emotions towards her.
The first, more generous one is pity, mixed with guilt. I hate what happened to Cersei, the things that made her into the woman she is by the start of A Game Of Thrones. I hate the system that marginalized her, the customs that trapped her and the double standards that allowed Robert to neglect and abuse her. I hate that Cersei’s restrictions and experiences hurt and damaged her so deeply…
…although, let’s be fair, Cersei wasn’t exactly a well-adjusted individual even before the years of marital rape licence. Witness her physical abuse of baby Tyrion, plus the fact that she started ‘experimenting’ with Jaime when they were nine. (Westermarck Effect, Martin?) Oh, and she might have murdered one of her close friends when she was ten – by shoving her into a well -for reasons we’ll get to later.
Yeah. Cersei’s a psycho, I’m not going to argue that she isn’t. It’s increasingly clear where Joffrey got it from.
I still pity her. In some ways she reminds me of Erik in The Phantom of the Opera: ‘He had a heart that could have held the entire empire of the world; and, in the end, he had to content himself with a cellar.’ If Cersei had been allowed to do more than just look pretty, marry and bear children, if she could’ve won her own glory, if she’d even been born a boy as she claims she should have been –
-actually I don’t know how much better that would have been for Westeros in the long run. I like, on my more optimistic days, to think that no one is born evil, but I don’t think Cersei was ever really quite right in the head. But at least the options would have been available to her, and just maybe she wouldn’t have become so royally screwed up and completely lacking in the morals department. Cersei is an awful, horrible person, but quite a bit of that is down to the world that surrounds her and not just herself.
And when it comes to Tyrion…we, as a modern audience, like to think we’ve grown past blaming babies for killing their mothers while being born, or shunning people who’re different from us. We really haven’t managed to achieve that second one, and Westeros hasn’t even begun. Not many people in-universe like Tyrion. We, the audience, particularly demonize it in Cersei because she’s his sister and brothers and sisters are supposed to love each other no matter what, dammit. Never mind that she’s taking the example of her father, who despises his younger son, or that she’s simply saying what the rest of Westeros thinks anyway. We don’t have to like the way Cersei treats Tyrion – I still don’t – but we can understand why she does it.
Other than because she’s an awful, horrible person.
Besides, Tyrion has lost some of his enchantment for me anyway.
As for the guilt – it’s so automatic to call Cersei a slutty whore. There are people who can discuss this far better and more convincingly than I ever could, so I’ll just say this: it scares me how easy it was for me to condemn her, if only at first, for using her body and beauty to achieve her goals, one of the few ways she can. As has already been argued by those far more intelligent than myself, self-misogyny is instilled in the women of Westeros just as much as it is in our society today, and Cersei is at least as a good a he-man woman hater as the most sexist of the men in these books.
Like I said, awful horrible person.
So, yes, I pity her. I feel guilty about how I hated her. I do not feel guilty about the other emotion I feel towards her, whatsoever.
Because Cersei Lannister irritates me so much in ‘A Feast For Crows.’ So much.
And this was Martin’s intention, of course. As with so many other fantasy tropes that he uses, Cersei is a near perfect deconstruction of ‘the power behind the throne’. Martin shows us what happens when someone who desires power gets it, and has absolutely no concept of how to use it properly. Cersei is so smug, so self-assured, so convinced she was born to rule, that she essentially shoots herself in both feet.
It’s fun, in a schadenfreudish kind of way, to watch her dig her own grave – and yet it is also incredibly, immensely, frustratingly annoying, in a way that Martin probably didn’t intend.
(To step away from my argument for a moment; I know a lot of people really like Littlefinger, despite the fact that he’s as bankrupt of human decency as Cersei and was basically responsible for nearly everything that goes wrong in Westeros since this story began. I’m part of that group. I love Littlefinger, because he has played the whole system. He started as the lowest of the low, at least in terms of nobility, and he’s ended up Lord of Harrenhal, Lord of the Vale, and training Sansa up to be both a chessmaster and a replacement for his lost Catelyn. Petyr is ruthless, Petyr is manipulative, and Petyr is clever. It is a guilty pleasure to watch him work.
Cersei, meanwhile, is…I won’t call her stupid because she really isn’t, but she is not nearly as clever as she thinks she is. And it shows.
Oh god, it shows.)
You know, I would have just accepted that Cersei is an exceptionally bad queen with no grasp of PR, which is hardly surprising – but then Martin dropped a particular bombshell on us.
Reaching back into the mists of time, it seems that ten year old Cersei once demanded a certain fortune teller foretell her future, even when the woman insisted she wouldn’t like it. Surprise surprise, she didn’t. Cersei then spent the next twenty something years, plus however long it is the books take up to AFFC, plagued by the knowledge that her three children will all be crowned and all die before her, a younger and more beautiful queen will shove her off the throne, and once she’s lost everything Tyrion is going to strangle her to death.
That groaning sound you heard? That’s me closing the book and hitting myself in the forehead with it. And AFFC is a pretty big book, so it left a mark.
I…am undecided about prophecies in stories; they’re troublesome beasties, and often lead to troublesome plots. Either there are people trying to achieve their pre-written fates because destiny says so, or, more commonly, there are people trying to avert their destiny because no one decides my fate but me, dammit, and generally ballsing it up.
Like Voldemort and the whole ‘Create-your-own nemesis thing’ schtick. Or the most messed up of family trees that is ‘Oedipus Rex’.
Then there are prophecies that seem to be just stuck into the plot because ‘Ooo, let’s have a prophecy to back us up, foreshadowing’. For visual reference I direct your attention to The Phantom Menace, where the prophecy of ‘The One Who Will Bring Balance To The Force’ is trotted out, despite the fact that none of the Jedi in the original trilogy ever mentioned this prophecy. Here’s the thing, Lucas; we already know Anakin is going to fall to the dark side. Even people who have never even seen the original trilogy know this. We didn’t need a ‘Chosen One That’ll Be Corrupted’ plot point, that never really goes anywhere anyway.
G.R.R. Martin? I love you, I really do, but this goes for you too.
Now, I freely admit, there have been some good prophecies in A Song of Ice and Fire. I particularly like Daenerys’s, as well as the ambiguous motivations for Rhaegar’s ‘abduction’ of Lyanna. But this prophecy, we did not need. This prophecy was one too many. This prophecy was unnecessary, and frankly just a cliché. What does learning about this oh so important prophecy tell us about Cersei?
That she’s paranoid as all get out, that she’s determined to control her own fate, that she wants to grab as much power as she can get, that she regards her children as her route to power and fail safes to make sure she stays alive as long as possible, wow, what a great mother, not.
All of which we already knew.
What else? Remember Melara? Cersei’s closest childhood friend? (Although the ‘close’ bit is honestly debateable.) It’s possible that Cersei killed her for hearing the prophecy, since two can keep a secret if one of them is dead, but also possibly because Melara wanted to marry Jaime and Jaime is Cersei’s, bitch!
Which we already knew, rinse and repeat.
Again, Martin, we didn’t need this prophecy. We already knew that Cersei is paranoid, ruthless and determined to control her own life and the lives of her children down to the last detail, whatever the cost, and doesn’t want to let anyone else play with her toys. This extra plot point of yours just managed to raise her from the sublimely incompetent to the obsessively ridiculous. Now not only is Cersei an incestuous misogynist manipulative power seeker, but she’s also trying to stop a prophecy from being fulfilled dun dun dun.
Even though she’s probably misinterpreting it and thus fulfilling it anyway, oh the irony it hurts.
Let’s run with this for a moment. Martin, you’ve shown that Cersei already had plenty of strong, if admittedly petty, reasons to despise Tyrion – but now it turns out that she also hates him because, shock horror, he’s going to kill her someday!
So if you’re so very sure about that, Cersei honey, kill him.
I’m serious, it’s not that difficult. Arrange for him to have an ‘accident’ or something. Tywin’s not going to be too concerned, as long as you’re not obvious about it. I know it’s kin-slaying and a crime in the eyes of the gods but, lady, you’ve been shagging your twin brother since you were fifteen. (Or actually since before you hit puberty; you were ‘experimenting’, after all.) And, once again, it’s strongly hinted that you murdered your best/maybe friend when you were ten. I think it’s a little late to worry about transgressions against gods and nature.
But no, even though she’s utterly convinced he’s out to end her, Cersei doesn’t try to have Tyrion offed at any point of the thirteen years she was queen. Why? I don’t know. Nor does she exercise the Lannister cunning and behave at least neutrally towards him, so that he might actually not want to kill her. Instead she just antagonizes him incessantly, leading him to be more likely to fulfill the stupid ‘prophecy’.
That’s just one example of what this stinking revelation on Martin’s part essentially boils down to: Cersei doesn’t think things through. It’s been pointed out long before now that every aspect of the ‘prophecy’ is open to alternate interpretation. Much as I am loath to admit it, the ‘prophecy’ did at least get Cersei’s children all being crowned right – if only technically on Myrcella’s part – but nowhere did it say that they’d all die before her. The ‘younger and more beautiful queen’ could be anybody, not just Margaery. The Valonqar, a deliberately ambiguous phrase, could mean ‘your younger brother is going to kill you’ – but it could also just as easily mean ‘any younger sibling in the world’, since the language valonqar is from has gender neutral nouns.
Why, yes, I have looked these theories up.
(By the by, this whole valonqar misinterpretation is just…why the F@*K did Maggy the Frog choose to use a word from another, pretty much dead language, right at the end of her fortune telling bit? Other than to screw with little Cersei, which I actually don’t blame her for, that girl was a brat, but still.)
So, this whole character secret shows us that Cersei doesn’t think things through. To the maximum.
WHICH WE ALREADY KNEW.
I mean, for heaven’s sake: she had three inbred children with her twin brother – after seeing exactly what inbreeding did to the Targaryens! She put the eldest one on the throne and never once tried to rein in the little prick! She ordered the death of her husband’s newest bastard, turning the people against her! She didn’t anticipate that the people of King’s Landing would grow to hate her and her son, and might well have escaped being lynched in the riot in the second book! I’ve probably missed out a whole load of other examples! Up until the fourth book, that is, as AFFC might as well be subtitled Cersei Lannister does not think things through!
So imagine, if you will, Cersei’s plot line without her constant fretting over the prophecy. Without, in fact, any prophecy at all:
She’s incredibly paranoid about Tyrion, but she’s thought he’s a monstrous mother-killing imp all her life, plus she believes he killed her son and her father and possibly will kill her next – which is understandable enough without adding in the ‘prophecy’.
She’s determined to protect Tommen at the expense of alienating practically everyone, for three reasons: 1), she loves him, naturally, but more importantly 2), he’s her way to power, and 3), if anything happens to him she’s basically screwed – which is understandable enough without adding in the ‘prophecy.’
And, the major one: she wants to get rid of Margaery because she’s afraid that the younger woman will replace her – which is understandable enough, without adding in the ‘prophecy.’
First of all, it’s highly likely that Cersei got at least some idea of Renly and the Tyrells’ attempts to get Robert interested in Margaery in the first place. She’s paranoid enough, and she’s got enough spies at court. If it’d succeeded, at best Robert would be lavishing attention on his latest mistress, as well as potentially fathering another noble born bastard that could cause trouble later on. At the worst, he could risk Tywin’s anger by annulling their marriage and setting Cersei, if not her children, aside. Cersei isn’t exactly the smartest woman in Westeros but, like I said, she’s not stupid. Margaery was probably already in her black book even before she married both of her precious sons.
Then she’d see the way Margaery was so popular with the masses, remember what happened the last time the mob got annoyed with her and finally think ‘Oh shit, I need to do something or the Tyrells are going to send me back to Casterly Rock and replace me with someone the city actually likes, who, yes, just so happens to be prettier than me, and Tommen will be toast and so will my chance at power. Also my looks are going and I’m feeling rather insecure about that, aaaa, Margaery must suffer to make me feel better.’
So she’d try to become popular but be really bad at it. As I said, no grasp of PR. So she’d decide to get rid of Margaery because she’s the city’s sweet heart and because her family is a threat and Cersei believes they freed Tyrion.
This is enough motivation without also turning Cersei into Snow White’s evil stepmother.
That is what I couldn’t escape while reading Cersei’s story arc in AFFC. The fairest of them all. Well, that and Oedipus.
Yes, Martin, the ‘prophecy’ does show what a complete mess Cersei is, how obsessed she is with keeping her looks, how she connects her looks and her children with power, her insecurities and fears. I will give you that. I will also acknowledge that at least it is not mentioned in every other paragraph, so that I am at liberty to forget about it for a time as I watch Cersei fail in a most epic fashion at politics.
But the very fact of its existence means I must repeat: EVIL. STEPMOTHER.
You had something good, Martin. You had this really complex, corrupt, rather tragic villain. And she is still all of those things but, George, when you merely mentioned the p word yet again…you lost me.