Monday, March 31, 2014

When Women Play the Game: Cersei Lannister Baratheon

Cersei Lannister by Elia Fernández
Cersei Lannister models the Targaryens and could quite possibly be a descendent, as the Targaryens had many bastard offspring.  It’s never directly stated, but it’s perhaps hinted at throughout the books that Cersei is a descendant of the Targaryens, which explains a lot about her.  Cersei is someone we love to hate, but secretly love to sympathize with.  She is on the surface a terrible person, but the more we find out about her, the more we come to realize how insanely broken she is, mostly because of societal and paternal expectations.  First, I’ll delve into that aspect; then I’ll go into her actions derived from her self-harming personality.


Cersei & Jaime by Algesiras
“Though it had always been their custom to wed brother to sister and cousin to cousin, young blood runs hot, and it was not unknown for the men of the House to seek their pleasures amongst the daughters (and even the wives) of their subjects, the smallfolk who lived in the villages bellows the Dragonmount, tillers of the land and fishers of the sea.”  Before King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysane, a lord could bed any maiden within his domain upon her wedding night.  This definitely derives from ancient Celtic and Norse traditions.  Because of this, many children were born of the dragonseed (The Princess and the Queen, or the Blacks and the Greens).  Could Cersei and Jaime be tow-headed descendants of Targaryens?  It would explain much about their personalities, especially Cersei’s.

Jaime notes how Cersei likes that she looks exactly like him, and when he ages and becomes thin and gaunt, he knows she’d hate it.  It seems, then, that she’s more in love with herself than Jaime.  He is herself made flesh.  He’s what she wants to be, and he has the power to be king, but he doesn’t want that power.  He only wants her.  They are two parts that make a whole, a mirror of each other.  Cersei admits her incestuous relationship with Jaime to Ned Stark, which condemns Ned to death, just as Jon Arryn had done.

“Since we were children together. And why not? The Targaryens wed brother to sister for three hundred years, to keep the bloodlines pure. And Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We are one person in two bodies. We shared a womb together. He came into this world holding my foot, our old maester said. When he is in me, I feel... whole.” The ghost of a smile flitted over her lips.
(A Game of Thrones, Eddard, Chapter 45)

Even further, Jaime, like his sister, believes that they could be together because the Targaryens did it, though he is willing to do it openly with no blood being spilled.

Perhaps Stannis Baratheon and the Starks had done him a kindness. They had spread their tale of incest all over the Seven Kingdoms, so there was nothing left to hide. Why shouldn’t I marry Cersei openly and share her bed every night? The dragons always married their sisters. Septons, lords, and smallfolk had turned a blind eye to the Targaryens for hundreds of years, let them do the same for House Lannister.
(A Storm of Swords, Jaime, Chapter 21)

Cersei by Lauren Oh!
Growing up, Cersei had a fascination of the Targaryens.  It is this fascination that led her to firstly become obsessed with Prince Rhaegar when her father vowed to her that she would marry Rhaegar.  Seeing Aurane Waters, Margaery’s cousin, she was painfully reminded of Rhaegar, as if he has been brought back from the dead, “a lean young man with grey-green eyes and long silver-gold hair” (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 12).  She yet dreams of Rhaegar and dwelled on his memory with great emotion.

The memory of the rejection still rankled, even after all these years. Many a night she had watched Prince Rhaegar in the hall, playing his silver-stringed harp with those long, elegant fingers of his. Had any man ever been so beautiful? He was more than a man, though. His blood was the blood of old Valyria, the blood of dragons and gods. When she was just a little girl, her father had promised her that she would marry Rhaegar. She could not have been more than six or seven. “Never speak of it, child,” he had told her, smiling his secret smile that only Cersei ever saw. “Not until His Grace agrees to the betrothal. It must remain our secret for now.” And so it had, though once she had drawn a picture of herself flying behind Rhaegar on a dragon, her arms wrapped tight about his chest. When Jaime had discovered it she told him it was Queen Alysanne and King Jaehaerys.
[H]er father had failed her, just as Jaime was failing her now.  Father found no better man. Instead he gave me Robert, and Maggy’s curse bloomed like some poisonous flower. If she had only married Rhaegar as the gods intended, he would never have looked twice at the wolf girl. Rhaegar would be our king today and I would be his queen, the mother of his sons.

She had never forgiven Robert for killing him.
(A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 24)

Rhaegar is a form of escapism for Cersei, so ingrained was he in her mind.  “The wrong man came back from the Trident, the queen would sometimes think as he was plowing her. In the first few years, when he mounted her more often, she would close her eyes and pretend that he was Rhaegar” (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 32).  Everything went wrong for Cersei in life, so she becomes bitter, and that bitterness takes control of her.  She hates being married to Robert Baratheon so much that she doesn’t refer to herself as Cersei Baratheon but remains Cersei Lannister.  Her decisions become based on that bitterness, having her jealousy, her thirst for power, and her need to prove herself to her father guide her.

Cersei by Martina Cecilia
Cersei resented her feminity when she blossomed because she was lesser in the eyes of her father, whom she thought was next to godliness.  Cersei certainly does not love her father but yearns for his respect and wants to be him and to show him that she is as good as any man, or even better. This was the start of her path of emotional and mental abuse upon her.

Men had been looking at her that way since her breasts began to bud. Because I was so beautiful, they said, but Jaime was beautiful as well, and they never looked at him that way. When she was small she would sometimes don her brother’s clothing as a lark. She was always startled by how differently men treated her when they thought that she was Jaime. Even Lord Tywin himself...
(A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 12)

When Cersei hit puberty and grew breasts, she hadn’t liked it but learned that men fawned over her with eagerness and unwavering loyalty.  She could no longer switch roles with Jaime.  She had to do ladylike things.  However, she could now use her femininity to her advantage in gaining power, much like Queen Elizabeth I did.  In her schemes, she took up Lancel Lannister as a lover first.  Then later, in order to bring down the Tyrell name, she brings Osney Kettleblack and his brothers into her bed...not all at once, though.  Her scheming eventually backfires, and all those in whom she used would later turn against her.  She is forced to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked and bald.  Like Elizabeth I shaves her head to rebirth and renew herself, Cersei is forced to do the same and accepts it.

Cersei does have a heart; for years, she lived for Jaime and her children.  With her affair over when both she and Jaime have changed apart from one another, she’s left with her children and an on/off relationship with Tyrion and later Jaime.  Her children are leaving her, and with that, her sanity is leaving.  While Jaime becomes more rational and kind, she becomes more irrational and cruel.  She can no longer trust anyone, but looks to Taena Merryweather, a complete stranger, to comfort her in bed and confide in.  This is wholly unwise and of course does not bear her any of the best options later when her integrity and humility is called into question.

Cersei & Tommen cuddle by pojypojy
Just like Catelyn Stark, Cersei is a mother lion.  She’s fiercely protective of her children and wants what’s best for them.  For Catelyn, that’s to live and have good marriages and long lives.  For Cersei, that’s to put her children in the most powerful positions so she might rule through them.  She remains fair and soft-hearted in her advice to Joffrey, attempting to temper his childish and violent rage.  But she had raised him to be the king she wanted him to be.  His is an extension of her own personality, a cruel and vindictive child, mad with murderous lust and a disrespect for the female gender.  Of course, he grew up with a father in Robert Baratheon, who beat Cersei, who took the beatings more than she should have to protect her children.  But Cersei was the one to raise him, to raise all the children.  However, she put all her weight in Joffrey, the heir to the Iron Throne.  Myrcella is a girl, and Tommen is far too kind and weak to be King.  She did not prepare them as she did Joffrey, who is a precursor to her own methods of ruling.

But when something terrible happens, she seeks vengeance without justice or fairness.  She’s brutal and unstoppable.  When Joffrey is murdered and Tyrion jokingly takes ownership despite not having done it, she imprisons him and tortures him.  As Tyrion nears his death sentence, Cersei thinks to herself: “I will be the one laughing, come dusk. My children will be safe, Tommen’s throne will be secure, and my twisted little valonqar will be short a head and rotting” (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 3).

After his escape and her father’s murder, she orders Tyrion’s head.  Nearly every dwarf anyone ran across was beheaded in hopes for a reward from the Queen Regent Cersei.  She enjoys her time as Queen Regent and core advisor to her sons, just as Blanche of Castile had done.  When she hears the news of her father’s death, she immediately thinks she is in charge of King’s Landing, as all the power he held over her no longer exists.  She no longer needs to marry someone she does not love, namely any Tyrell, especially Willas.

No one frightened her. She was a daughter of the Rock, a lion. There will be no more talk of forcing me to wed again. Casterly Rock was hers now, and all the power of House Lannister. No one would ever disregard her again. Even when Tommen had no further need of a regent, the Lady of Casterly Rock would remain a power in the land.
                (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 3)

Indeed she compares herself to her father on her way to meet his corpse from his steely voice in her orders to her lack of tears.  She tells herself that she is “the only true son he ever had.”  She is already preparing to take his place, to fill his shoes, and she feels worthy and capable of such a thing.  She does not, however, know how to grieve.   She wonders if he wept for his own father, or if she should weep for him like Catelyn did for Robb and tear her face to bloody ribbons.  Rather than react naturally, she stoically thinks of how her father would act and so how she must act.  Tywin Lannister has a more devastating effect on Cersei’s psyche, even after his death (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 3).  It’s already been broken by the death of her firstborn son, and she’s taken to drink as a bandage, much like her late sot of a husband Robert Baratheon.  She’s become paranoid (and rightfully so), especially of Tyrion, whom she sees as a monster, and she’s showing a bit of Lysa Tully in her, the woman of which she so harshly judged.    Her paranoia and powerlust becomes so great, that is consumes her and all she focuses on is contriving plots against the Tyrells, specifically Margaery.
"Greed" by kallielef

Like Blanche had gained support of the Church to keep the nobles in check, Cersei had given the Faith Militant the rights to take up arms once again, so they would side with her and begin to assist in governing the small towns and villages.  Blanche had been referred by Matthew Paris as “a woman in sex, but a man in counsels” (“Blanche of Castile.” Clark College, 2007), which is not far off from how Cersei considers herself.

Cersei craves power and wants to prove that women can rule and have ruled.  Her first POV chapter begins with her dreaming of being “on the Iron Throne, high above them all” (A Feast for Crows, Cersei, Chapter 3).  Tyrion tells Catelyn as much, when she accuses him of trying to murder Bran.  She begins her time as advisor by fairly adjudicating, but as her loved ones fall, she becomes more ruthless.  She undermines Tyrion in defending King's Landing for the Battle at Blackwater Bay, and sends her spies everywhere so she knows all.  Petyr Baelish also expected Cersei’s regency to go terribly and with great accuracy. 

Every man's a piece to start with, and every maid as well. Even some who think they are players. Cersei, for one. She thinks herself sly, but in truth she is utterly predictable. Her strength rests on her beauty, birth, and riches. Only the first of those is truly her own, and it will soon desert her. I pity her then. She wants power, but has no notion what to do with it when she gets it.
(A Storm of Swords, Sansa, Chapter 68)

She, too, becomes a shell, hellbent on power, like the Targaryens, and hellbent on vengeance, like Lady Stoneheart.  But she becomes mentally unstable and unhinged, like Lysa Tully.  Cersei is mad with power and consumed with fear and rage.  She is, by in large, a Targaryen, as she always wanted.  And it is her undoing.

“Blanche of Castile.” Clark College, 2007.

"Blanche of Castile, Queen of France."  Epistolae.

Martin, George R.R. "The Princess and the Queen, or the Blacks and the Greens." Dangerous Women, 2013.

Martin, George R.R. A Storm of Swords, Chapters 21, 68.

Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows, Chapters 3, 12, 24, 32.

Martin, George R.R. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 45.

Previously on When Women Play the Game...
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen
Catelyn Tully Stark
Arya Stark
Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell and Margaery Tyrell
The She-Bears 
Lysa Tully Arryn

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