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I feel I must objectively examine the character of Cersei Lannister, because ever since I first got into the A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) franchise, I’ve hated her the most. Even when Joffrey was still alive in the show and he was the most popular character to hate, my hatred for him was outweighed by my hatred for Cersei. But as for all things in life, real or fiction, I consciously force myself to try to see all possible sides when it comes to any person or situation. Not to mention, it’s a fact that the best way to oppose something, deal with something, or even just ignore something, is to understand it. Whenever a person has negative feelings about anything, I believe, they must first understand it so that their feelings are derived from reason and logic, not raw emotion.
It is my belief that no one, real or fictional, is completely good nor completely evil. After all, we saw Luke Skywalker ruthlessly Force Choke two of Jabba the Hutt’s guards instead of just making them faint or something; and he’s your standard ‘good guy.’ Let’s take a look at Cersei’s good aspects (and yes, she has some).
- She loves her children. She would never harm a hair on their head.
- She is loyal to her family; even to the ones she hates, like Tyrion. I am certain that at any point in her childhood or adulthood, she could have either poisoned Tyrion or had one of the guards at Casterly Rock suffocate him in his sleep. The simple fact that Cersei despises him, is not afraid of committing murder, and Tyrion is still alive, is all testament that she is loyal to all her family.
Now, that is, admittedly, all I can list as far as Cersei’s good traits go. Unfortunately, with both of the good traits I listed, one must keep in mind that she has violated both of these things at some point, in some way. She may never harm her children, but she isn’t afraid to use them to her advantage, or to hurt the people they love, like how Tommen loves Margaery Tyrell. Also, of course there’s the time she framed Tyrion for ‘killing Joffrey,’ not bothering to actually verify his guilt or not. Although, with that latter incident, though, it was her love for her son versus her (nonexistent) love for her brother, and obviously her child would take priority over Tyrion in any situation.
Anyway, let’s list her evil traits, and hope this doesn’t take all day…
- She kills without remorse.
- Everyone she loves, including her children and Jaime, she loves in a possessive manner. She ‘loves’ them because they, in some sense, belong to her. And her love for Jaime is likely because he looks like her.
- She pathologically lies.
- She is unfaithful in her relationships.
- She never forgives wrongs, no matter who committed them and no matter how long ago it happened.
- The thing she wants most in the world is power. The highest power.
Case closed, right? 6 bad traits versus only 2 partially-good traits means she’s far more evil than good, right? Well, perhaps, but one shouldn’t assume that Cersei is mostly evil just because. There might be some legit, and powerful, things that made her the way she is.
Let’s start with the first major event of her life: Tyrion’s birth. Cersei was very little when Tyrion was born, and Tyrion’s birth killed her mother. Cersei was just a little girl, who knew close to nothing about the world at large when she lost her mother. One must notice that Cersei’s hatred of Tyrion is completely irrational, which is exactly what you’d expect of a child. She lost her mother before she was old enough to understand that sometimes childbirth kills certain women. Children aren’t the most sensible people. And I believe Cersei knows her hatred of Tyrion is irrational, but the emotions she felt when her mother died caught hold of her at a very young age, and for all human beings, such feelings don’t easily go away, even when you eventually know better.
Now for the second thing, which actually might be the most important: her encounter with Maggy the Frog. When Cersei was 10, Maggy, a witch, gave Cersei 3 predictions about her future. She predicted Cersei would ‘wed the king’, that Cersei would have 3 children, that she would outlive her children, and after all of this, the valonqar would come to end her life.
It was that very night, after meeting Maggy, that Cersei committed her first murder. The friend with her during this, Melara Hetherspoon, said that these prophecies might not come true if nobody speaks of them. Then, after leaving Maggy’s tent, Cersei threw Melara down a well, in order to make absolutely sure that Melara in fact didn’t ever speak of the prophecies.
What is the Valonqar? It means ‘little brother’ in High Valyrian. And who best fits the description of a ‘little brother’ who will come to end her life than the one who already killed a member of their family? Tyrion.
As predicted, Cersei wed the king, who ended up being Robert Baratheon. She admired Robert at first, but these feelings quickly diminished when he drunkenly called her ‘Lyanna’ on their wedding night, because he loved Lyanna Stark more. Over the years, Robert became fat, lazy, and unfaithful to Cersei, fathering 20 bastard children. Still, Cersei had her own children…
Her children, Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, were fathered by her twin brother Jaime. And, by the third novel, A Storm of Swords, her firstborn dies violently from poisoning. Tyrion is the one who gave Joffrey the cup that contained the poison. Part of the prophecy came true. By the end of the 6th season of the show, the other two have died.
Bit by bit, all of the things Maggy the Frog predicted have come true. By the end of Season 6 of the show, all but one of the predictions have come true. By now, Cersei knows deep down that they will all come true.
But there is more to Cersei’s character than just macabre prophecy. She is also a woman in a patriarchal society. Growing up, Jaime was taught how to rule and how to fight, while she was taught how to smile, be polite, and be a good future wife. She was like Arya Stark: born female, but had no interest in being reduced to childbearing and submission. Cersei wanted to be powerful like her father Tywin, the most feared man of their time, who was even more powerful than the kings of Westeros of his time.
Tywin was Cersei’s only parent growing up. He was more than just her father, and he was more than just a lord. He was obscenely wealthy, and immensely powerful. Everything he did, he did well. He protected his family, provided for his family, always went out of his way to teach his children about the importance of family, and quelled threats simply by having a reputation for being ruthless. Basically, this kind of person was Cersei’s greatest influence all throughout her life. Therefore…
Like her father, she dealt with threats to herself and to her family through violence. Like her father, she wanted to be feared because that was, from her perspective, the most effective way to keep people in line and to be safe.
So, given everything I’ve explained, would I say that Cersei is truly evil, or just misunderstood? My answer: both.
Understanding why someone, real or fictional, is evil doesn’t excuse the fact that they are. Cersei kills innocent people, tortures innocent people, she has started unnecessary wars, her capability to love is limited and conditional, she cheated on her husband with her own brother, and she cheated on her brother with other men. It doesn’t matter why a person is the way they are; anyone who kills the innocent for their own personal gain is still evil. That is the epitome of evil.
Cersei is terrified of losing everything she values, from her children to her own life, and most of what she does is driven by that fear. Being a woman while desiring the benefits of being a man doesn’t fuel her cruelty, it only delays it, which is a good thing. She would still be like her father whether or not she ever spoke to Maggy, or was born male. She still just wants power, she is still capable of being ruthless, and she is still utterly selfish.
We are what we choose to be. I was born to a mother who had 7 kids with 4 different men without staying in a relationship with any of them. I was born to a father who wanted nothing to do with any of his children, shamelessly admits he loves money more than any person (including his children), and other things too dark and personal to speak of publicly. I didn’t turn out like either of my parents, in any of the ways I just listed. Hell, I didn’t even lose my virginity until my 20s. I was raised by conservatives, and grew up to be a liberal. Why did I turn out differently? Because I am different. By nature, I’m not reckless like my mother, and I’m not heartless like my father. I never admired either of them. I never admired the people who adopted me when I was 10, and I didn’t turn out like them either. We are what we choose to be, and what we choose to be comes from our innermost core.
Cersei, at her innermost core, is evil. Understanding why doesn’t change that, any more than understanding that a rabid dog has rabies doesn’t change the fact that it’s dangerous. Cersei’s prophecies are inevitable, but the reason all of those things happen in the first place is because of the kind of person she is. All humans do stupid things when they’re afraid, but not everyone would do even half the things Cersei has done out of fear. We all fear death, but most people would rather die than cheat on their lover, or kill innocents.