“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
These words were spoken by a woman who, from the moment we first met her, made it known that she not only knows how to play the game, but she plays it well. Cersei Lannister is arguably one of the most powerful women in Westros. She betrayed her husband, King Robert Baratheon, on many occasions, was mother to one of the most hated characters in Game of Thrones, and even conspired to kill her youngest brother. Her list of sins may be as extensive as Tyrion’s if not longer. Season Four saw the end of two of the most villainous characters in a world where there are no clear heroes and people survive only by being morally gray. Is Cersei next to take the stage while White Walkers and winter waits for their turn?
She can’t be that bad, can she? There are still reasons for what she does.
Growing up with her twin brother, Jaime, she couldn’t understand why she was treated differently from him. His life was about armor and fighting with swords while she wore dresses and was taught how to dance. They were both the same age and both Lannisters with golden hair. As children, they were difficult to tell apart. It seemed to her that the directions they took in life were decided only by what was between their legs.
Cersei felt so close to her twin brother, Jaime. It was easy to let things happen when you’ve spent time with someone since the time you were born. He understood her more than anyone else could claim. When their play became sexual, they knew that incest was frowned upon outside the Targaryen tradition of keeping the bloodline of Kings pure.
Their mother died giving birth to Tyrion. A daughter’s love for her mother can prove to be strong. Cersei’s mother was the one Lannister that could understand what it was like to be a woman in one of the most powerful houses.
She was taken from her and for what? Another boy.
The birth of this monster of a boy with a swollen head led to Cersei losing someone she truly loved. She could not forgive that.
As she grew older, she was groomed for what all women of noble birth are groomed for: marriage to powerful man for the “good of their families or the realm” under the demands of another powerful man, her father. After Robert Baratheon took the Iron Throne, he took Cersei as his queen. In Westros, noble marriages are normally a political tool rather than a contract of love. However, early in their marriage, Cersei found that she loved Robert and even blessed him with a trueborn son that was the spitting image of his father. He was destined to be King some day and would forever unite the houses of Baratheon and Lannister, but it seemed the gods had other plans in mind. Their prince died of a fever at a young age.
Robert struggled with letting go of Lyanna Stark after her death and he would call Cersei by her name when he bedded her. She caught herself falling in love with someone that was not capable of showing it back. The forbidden love that Jaime had for her seemed more real than what she had with her husband.
Cersei had thoughts of suicide when before her hero saved her. He had hair of gold and carried the Baratheon name. She named him Joffrey. Even as a baby, he was terrible child, but in her arms he was calm. She not only felt wanted by him, but needed as well. Cersei now had a purpose that she was willing to fulfill. It was a love that she didn’t need to be ashamed of having. She soon had two more children with Jaime. Motherhood felt like her calling in life. Robert rarely touched her anymore. He had his whores.
“Seventeen years is a long time” Cersei said when referring to their marriage. It was quite tiring, especially when Robert would not listen to his closest advisors or even Cersei. He was uncontrollable. When Ned Stark threatened to tell the King the truth about Jaime and her children, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The plan to have two of Robert’s pastimes work against him was already in place. Wine was easily accessible, dulling his senses so that a boar could solve her problem for her.
Cersei had hoped that Joffrey would be the King that could see the reason in her decision-making and that he would be good King under her guidance. She would teach him how to rule the Seven Kingdoms in a way that Robert was quickly failing at. When Ned Stark’s head was removed from his body, her doubts set in. The madness in her own son proved to overpower her guiding hands. Joffrey was already slipping out of her control.
Soon, Tyrion returned to King’s Landing like a bad omen and the pin of the Hand of the King was his weapon. He orchestrated the agreement to ship off Cersei’s only daughter, Myrcella, to sworn enemies of the Lannisters, the Martells of Dorne. Once again, this monster that plagued her family since the day he was born had ripped another person she loved from her. She vowed that she would make him know what it would be like to lose someone he loved.
Emotionally abandoned by her husband until his death, physically separated by her twin brother by the Starks, and seeing her daughter depart into the hands of her enemy, Cersei had little to cling to except the hopes that her eldest son would learn from her and that Tyrion would feel her wrath. Wine helped. It numbed the senses as she tried desperately to carry on.
When Cersei learned of Tyrion’s whore, she knew this was her chance to make him feel a loved one threatened. The whore was beatened, but Tyrion must have been stronger than she had given him credit or the amount of wine he drank numbed him more than she felt. Her life couldn’t continue while he lived. His life was nearly ended on the battle for Blackwater Bay, but she claimed that she did not give the order.
Sansa may not have been the ideal match that Cersei had in mind, but the pretty little idiot was not nearly the threat that Margery Tyrell was. It was clear what she was after when she flocked from one dead King to the young King. Margery also quickly showed what kind of power she had when she was able to control Joffrey in ways that Cersei couldn’t even imagine possible. She could not trust her, especially when her former husband’s body wasn’t even cold.
Tywin also moved into King’s Landing claiming the title of Hand of the King, but more importantly, as the patriarch of the House Lannister. He quickly arranged for the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa. Cersei couldn’t think of a better punishment before she learnt of her father’s plans for her. She thought she was done being a sold off under her father’s wishes. All the power she once had, seemed to be slipping from her fingers.
When King Joffery died at his own wedding, many people saw the end of an era and others saw a power vacuum open up. Very few saw a mother holding her eldest son as his life emptied from his eyes. It was his darkest hour and what power she had was useless to save him. Any time in Cersei’s life when she lost someone she loved, that monster was there. Tyrion was holding the goblet that took her son from her. He’s lived for far too long as it is. He definitely had to die.
Her father didn’t seem to care that Joffrey’s lifeless body laid beside him as he groomed Tommen for the throne. If that wasn’t enough, Jaime pawed at her in the temple. As always, when life seemed to go her way, everything was screwed up again. She was a sideshow for the gods.
When Cersei failed to find someone to kill Tyrion before the trial and he demanded a trial by combat, she knew who to place all her chips on: Gregor Clegane, the Mountain. She finally saw justice during the battle between the Red Viper and the Mountain when she not only saw one of her family’s sworn enemies snuffed out, but it was the verdict of the gods that Tyrion was guilty. Maybe things were finally going her way.
It was a short-lived feeling because her father reminded her of the arrangement to marry Loras Tyrell. He still had power over her, but regardless of any of her objections to that or what was being done about her only son, he still forced his will upon her. He said he did everything for their family, but that was his one weakness. Cersei knew how to hurt him like she’s been hurt by him throughout her life. She revealed the truth about the rumours that have been circulating the last few years: his twins were sleeping together. His lineage was a lie and he had no legacy to leave behind: Tyrion would be put to death and Jaime has sworn never to marry. The Lannister name would soon be dead.
After telling her father the truth and putting him in his place, she threw herself onto Jaime. Her life may be screwed-up but it was her life and she’s now in control of it. Her secrets and her shame was the power that everyone had over it. Perhaps, she finally realized what Tyrion realized long ago: “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used against you.”
I’ve never been a big fan of Cersei Lannister and I probably never will be, but if you take a look at her life, you may begin to understand who she is. Even in A Song of Ice and Fire, among the different viewpoint characters, she is not one of them until A Feast for Crows. Readers didn’t get to hear her side of things until then. As a viewer of the television show Game of Thrones, it is not as easy to get “inside the head” of any of the characters. Being of noble birth, Cersei had the privilege of learning to read and write. She allowed herself very few outlets and her life was exhausting. While she never mentioned ever keeping a diary, what if she did? It would be the perfect way to hear her side of things.
I invite you in the coming weeks to peer through the pages of her diary and read her unfiltered words on this website. Be careful, though. If she catches you, she may strangle you in your sleep.