I love Game of Thrones. I love Arya and Brienne and Daenerys and Ygritte and that Wilding woman who lived for one episode before turning into a Wight. And Diana Rigg should receive a lifetime achievement award for her performance as Lady Tyrell.
You know who I don’t love? Cersei Lannister. But do you know for whom I have the most sympathy? You got it – Cersei Lannister.
Bear with me.
People who watch Game of Thrones, feminists especially, love talking about the aforementioned women because they have managed to be independent bad-asses within the patriarchal world. And although Westeros isn’t real, it is based on the very real world of Medieval Europe. And unfortunately, of all the female characters, the one most likely to have really existed in Medieval Europe is Cersei.
But no one really talks about Cersei from a feminist viewpoint because lets face it, Cersei isn’t an example of a woman overcoming patriarchy. She is an example of a woman being broken and then driven bat-shit crazy by patriarchy.
Which is why I think we need to talk about her, and maybe give her some sympathy.
Cersei never had a chance to overcome patriarchy because she was controlled by a father of tyrannical bearing, who married her off to Robert Baratheon – who by all accounts was NOT a good husband. Now, I am not going to get into Cersei’s relationship with Jamie, as that is a conversation for a WHOLE other article, and I am not sure where to begin. But the point is Cersei was bartered away as part of politics, and was going to be bartered away AGAIN after Geoffry was killed.
Which is why Cersei would kill to stay Queen. She knew what was in store for her otherwise – another experience as a broodmare, although she never actually brooded (is that a word?) any of Robert’s children. But no doubt that didn’t make the marital rape she experienced at the hands of Robert any better. When she tried to be an ally to her father, to give herself another role, his response was that she isn’t as smart as she thinks – and then later informed by her father her that she is going to marry Loras Tyrell, whether she likes it or not. So, for Cersei, the only option was Queen. She saw the writing on the wall.
Am I approving of her actions towards Sansa and Margaery? Of course not. But I believe her actions towards these women were not born of her own hatred of women, but of her reality that unless she is queen, she is literally nothing. She is completely at the mercy of patriarchy. She was not given weapons to train with, like Ygritte, Arya and Brienne, and she did not have a father who loved her or men that supported her rise to power, like (ultimately) Sansa and Daenerys.
And the reason I believe she did not hate women as a whole (more than she hates everyone else) is because of the two people who she seemed to love fully and selflessly: her dead mother and her now dead daughter, Myrcella.
Her mother is dead, but all we ever hear is Cersei’s rage about her death. Even after all these years, Cersei is still (unreasonably) angry at Tryion because her mother died giving birth to him. Even after the death of her father and sons, she doesn’t continually bring up their deaths. No, the death that hit her hardest was that of one of two females in her life, her mother, one which depraved her of growing up with female love and support.
Up until the death of Myrcella, however. I do believe that Cersei loved Myrcella differently than her sons. Her sons were a way to keep herself in power. She loved them but didn’t seem to have the same affection she had for Myrcella. When Tyrion sends Myrcella to live in Dorn, bethrothed to the king’s son, the rage and anger she feels is directly related to the fact that Marcella has been sold off – just like she was. This could be a good power play for the Lannisters, but all Cersei sees is the selling off of her daughter. And that is when she utters some of the most important words in Game of Thrones, in a discussion with Oberyn Martell:
“everywhere they hurt little girls.”
The line is so revealing in how Cersei and other females have experienced their world, one based upon our own realities.
Cersei knows what could be in store for Myrcella (although, unlike her own arranged marriage, it seems the prince of Dorn is a decent fellow), she knows how the world treats girls, and is horrified Myrcella has been sold, and she demands Jamie go and rescue her – especially after the Sand Snakes send her Myrcella’s necklace as a threat. And Cersei is right to be concerned, because in the end, Myrcella is brutally murdered.
And that scene is heartbreaking. As Cersei watches the ship sail closer, we see the only genuine smile from her in the entire series – one never shown towards her sons, or even Jamie. It is a smile she has saved for her beloved daughter, the only source of true female companionship in her life. But then, as she sees Jamie’s face, the smile fades, and the moment of grief she experiences is one of the saddest moments on Game of Thrones.
Myrcella was her last female relationship, the one relationship that was wholly hers, in which she wouldn’t be used in a power play, in which there could just be pure love. I believe that Myrcella’s death is what finally made Cersei lose it and kill everyone. I believe she just said “fuck it” and blew up the entire town. I mean, what did they ever do for her besides throw shit are her as she was forced to walk naked through the town square?
Am I approving of Cersei’s actions? No. She made terrible decisions and was hateful in many instances, and completely lacked empathy in many instances. But do I see her as an ultimate victim of patriarchy, with many of her decisions and lack of empathy molded and motivated by patriarchal men? Absolutely. Nothing about Cersei is heroic. Lacking the self-inspection of Sansa, the combat skills of Arya and Brienne, and the leadership skills of Daenerys, Cersei became embittered and finally broken by patriarchy, so she struck back so that society could never hurt her again.
If anyone in Game of Thrones reflects the horrors and outcomes of patriarchy, it is Cersei Lannister.