Tag Archives: game of thrones

Cersei Lannister: Unfairly Treated by Audiences Everywhere

5 Jun

I’ve been increasingly bothered by my male friends’ reactions to several female characters on TV recently, most notably: Marnie from Girls, Cersei from Game of Thrones, and Betty from Mad Men. Their extreme dislike of these characters is often coupled with their adoration bordering on idealization for male characters in the show, flawed though those characters might be. This phenomena immediately reminded me of the oft noted fact that female politicians and business leaders are demonized in ways that their male counterparts are not.

There seems to be a link between political vilification of women and character vilification– and I think it’s connected to power. Consider, for example, the beautiful “ice queen” and mother of the king, Cersei, from Game of Thrones.

This picture was taken from a top ten most evil characters list. For real. She ranks ABOVE her son who tortured two strippers and his queen to be.

George R.R. Martin apparently treats Cersei much more harshly in the novels, and the TV show really tries to humanize her. I’ve heard (I haven’t yet read the books) that we don’t get her back-story  until book 4, whereas in the TV show Cersei constantly talks about her past. The TV show depicts Cersei as bitter about the limited role women can play in the period. Cersei laments that she was not born a boy, noting that her gender created a gulf between her and other male Lannisters. Because she is female, Cersei was “sold like a horse at auction” to a drunk who hits her, cheats on her, and humiliates her publicly and often.

Though her father, a hard and calculating man, was quite harsh with her, Cersei displays a loyalty for her family that is briefly disrupted in her assassination attempt of her brother, Tyrion– and arguably, this can be seen as an attempt to protect her son. In a show where family members often become enemies when the throne is up for grabs, this is unique.

Despite this rich back story the creator of the show, George Benioff, noted in “‘Game of Thrones’ Queen: Lena Heady Lights it up in a Dark Role,” that most actresses saw Cersei as wholly evil. It took actress Lena Heady to finally humanize her on screen:

“We had seen a number of excellent actresses, but everyone had interpreted the character as an emotionless ice queen. Lena took her in a different, stranger and more interesting direction. In her hands, Cersei embodies endless contradictions. The queen can seem both ruthless and fragile, often in the same scene. She can exhibit extreme cruelty but also utter devotion to her own children.”

Though the HBO series tries to show a nuanced, complex character by introducing Cersei’s back story early and by casting Heady, most viewers insist on seeing Cersei as a ruthless, evil woman. This could be because she is partially responsible for the crippling of the young Bran Stark, who saw Cersei in bed with her brother, Jamie. Still, Jamie does the actual pushing-Bran-out-the-window act– not Cersei. So why does she catch all the blame?

Now I’m not saying that Cersei is a saint– she is sleeping with her brother and cheating on him occasionally with other male family members. But let’s explore this further. Why is everyone so concerned with her sex life? Her husband cheats on her ALL THE TIME, in front of her face, and has, like, a million children with various strippers.

Yet I’ve heard time and time again that it’s acceptable because he is the king, and that’s what kings do. Or, even better, because “Robert is a warrior, not a king. So it’s understandable that he’s a terrible ruler.”

Are we seeing the double standard here yet? Because Robert is the king, he is allowed to sleep around and treat his queen like crap. But if the queen finds solace in the arms of someone else, someone who is there for her when she is scared or in pain, she’s evil. Makes perfect sense. And I don’t think it’s just our culturally constructed hatred of incest– this is issue is absolutely gendered.

***Side Note: This is just further evidence for my theory that “historical” or “period” dramas force us to operate in their outdated morality systems rather than emphasizing how far we’ve come as a society or emphasizing that the morality system is wrong. But that’s for another post.***

I’ve also heard people compare Cersei to Catelyn Stark, a woman who was arranged to marry Ned Stark and learned to love him. In a world where arranged marriages are expected, people just have to make the best of it! But somehow, that responsibility is entirely on Cersei rather than Robert, and this argument doesn’t take into account that Ned is a much less brutal and nasty man than Robert. Moreover, the argument is just plain medieval— Cersei has no obligation to be faithful to Robert, and hating her for not doing so is ridiculous.

It seems that Cersei’s sexuality is highly connected with viewers’ dislike of her character. It also seems as though her desire for power and security through spying and secrecy is looked down upon in ways that Tyrion’s games are not. Moreover, Cersei is “crazy” whereas Joffrey is just in-bred and stupid. Double standard, anyone?

This ends my post on Cersei’s character, but I’ll be exploring Marnie from Girls next week, and hopefully Betty Draper from Mad Men after that.

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