Cersei Lannister is one of the most powerful individuals in all of Westeros. However her life has been fraught with disaster and heartbreak, a good deal of it of her own making. As one of the major players on the Westerosi political scene, Cersei (Lena Headey) has shaped the fate of the continent, and as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms heading into Season 8 of Game of Thrones, her word is law.
In patriarchal Westeros, Cersei was never really meant to be so powerful. Through cunning and ruthlessness she fought her way to the top. Her actions aren't to be admired, but her drive and guile place her among the most capable of the surviving characters.
A Lannister is Born
Cersei is the only daughter of Lord Tywin Lannister and Lady Joanna Lannister, and as such was born into one of the Great Houses of Westeros. While Cersei never suffered from physical want in her childhood, the death of her mother during the birth of her brother Tyrion and her father's absence due to his duties as Hand of the King gave her plenty of grief growing up.
At some point in her youth Cersei entered an incestuous relationship with Jaime that would be a defining point in her life. Though the Targaryens practice incest as a rule, outside of the royal family the practice was still considered abominable by the Faith of the Seven, the major religious order of Westeros.
Thus Cersei learned at a young age how to hide her feelings and keep her secrets close. Due to her father's position as Hand of the King, it was assumed that Cersei might one day wed Prince Rhaegar Targaryen as he had no sister to marry. However, a fateful trip into the woods one day would foretell even an even greater and more terrible future for Cersei.
The event that would shape Cersei's outlook and reactions in her adulthood almost more than her relationship with Jaime happened when she was 15. She visited a woods witch named Maggy the Frog and demanded her fortune be told. In response, the witch told her that she would not marry a prince, but a king. She was told the king would have 20 children, but she would only have 3. The witch also prophesied that her three children would wear golden crowns and golden shrouds and that Cersei would be queen, but that a younger and more beautiful queen would cast her down.
This fortune instilled a deep fear in Cersei that would develop into her need to protect her children at all costs. Some of the most terrible sins she's committed are a result of her fear of this prophecy. As of Season 8, almost all of what was foretold has come to pass, meaning the Cersei wasn't entirely irrational to heed the words of the witch closely.
Just Can’t Wait To Be Queen
The Mad King Aerys Targaryen would inspire rebellion amongst the Seven Kingdoms in Cersei's late teens. House Baratheon, House Arryn, House Tully, and eventually House Lannister would rise up and smash the Targaryens and their allies in response to the alleged kidnapping of Lyanna Stark by Rhaegar Targaryen and Aerys Targaryen's execution of House Stark's patriarch when he demanded her return.
After the conclusion of the Westerosi civil war, Robert Baratheon became King of the Seven Kingdoms. As thanks for Tywin Lannister's last-minute assistance in taking King's Landing, Robert took Cersei as his wife, and she moved to King's Landing to take her seat as queen consort.
Robert and Cersei had one son who died during infancy. Her other three children, Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen were secretly Jaime's, though as far as Robert and the Kingdom were concerned they were legitimate.
Playing the Game
After Robert's death and Joffrey's ascent to the throne, Cersei has issues controlling the new king. Joffrey gives no indication he's suited for rule, and as rumors of Joffrey's incestuous lineage get out, Cersei finds herself caught up in another civil war as the North, the Iron Islands, and both Stannis and Renly Baratheon all rise up in defiance of the Iron Throne.
Cersei tries to play members of the court against each other to both protect and control her son Joffrey. However, Joffrey's brutality and lack of tact make this hard. She is constantly at odds with her brother Tyrion as he takes the role of acting Hand of the King while their father Tywin is campaigning against the rebelling houses. Things are complicated by Tyrion sending her daughter Myrcella to the Kingdom of Dorne for safekeeping, which further embitters her against him.
After the Battle of Blackwater, Margaery Tyrell becomes Cersei's rival for Joffrey's affection, and the two bicker, fight, and plot as Cersei tries to remain Queen Regent. She loses Joffrey's favor and is almost cast aside as just another lady of the court when Joffrey is assassinated at a feast commemorating his marriage to Margaery.
As she's always blamed Tyrion for their mother's death, she is quick to lay Joffrey's murder at his feet, especially as it seems Joffrey pointed to Tyrion right before he died. However, Tyrion escapes imprisonment and kills Tywin. This leaves Cersei with very few remaining allies.
It’s All Coming Together...Or Is It?
While her brother Jaime has managed to return to King's Landing at this point, their relationship is strained. Things are further complicated by the fact that Margaery Tyrell marries their younger son Tommen, the newly crowned king, and continues to push Cersei out of the spotlight.
In an attempt to undermine House Tyrell's influence in court, Cersei empowers the Faith to root out corruption and sin in the capital. This hits close to home for Margaery when Cersei arranges to have her brother Loras arrested for homosexuality. Before Tywin's death, he arranged for Cersei to marry Loras, which she never took kindly to...probably also influenced her decision.
However, this plan backfires when Cersei's own transgressions are brought to light. Her sexual relationship with her cousin Lancel, whom she used as a spy when Jaime was captured, is brought to light after he joins the Sparrows, the very same militant branch of the Faith that Cersei so thoughtfully empowered.
Cersei is arrested and eventually she is forced to walk through King's Landing "as the gods made her" to atone for her transgressions. Even after that she is still set to go to trial, but this allows her to return to the Red Keep.
The Prophecy Comes To Pass
Jaime returns from Dorne where he traveled to bring Myrcella back to King's Landing. However, she's been killed as revenge for the death of Oberyn Martell at Tyrion's trial. Jaime once more leaves King's Landing. This time to deal with the Lannister siege of Riverrun, and Cersei is left alone again. The court has turned against her, and eventually the High Sparrow summons her with a squad of soldiers led by Lancel. Tommen becomes more religious and bends to the will of the Sparrows. Cersei's trial date is announced, but unbeknownst to the players of King's Landing, Cersei has one more trick up her sleeve.
The Sept of Baelor, where her trial is to be held, had its sublevels filled with highly combustible wildfire by the Mad King Aerys in a fit of paranoia. As the court convenes to begin her trial, Cersei simply stays in the Red Keep. Her agents have left candles to burn amongst the wildfire and it explodes killing Margaery, and Loras Tyrell, all the Sparrows, and Kevan Lannister, a vocal opponent of Cersei.
King Tommen, distraught at the death of his wife Margaery and the destruiction of the place of worship for his newfound religion, leaps from a window and commits suicide. With her three children dead, Cersei claims the crown and becomes Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
Cersei Stands Alone
We start Season 8 with Cersei playing the game even with the Great War arriving. Daenerys Targaryen has crossed the sea from Essos and waged war upon the Iron Throne. Westeros remains splintered, and although Daenerys is trying to negotiate a truce so that the combined forces of the Targaryens and the Iron Throne can turn their attention to the threat of the White Walkers in the north, Cersei continues to weave intrigue.
Cersei is pregnant once again with her brother's child, but her conniving has pushed Jaime away. Cersei is indifferent to the fate of Westeros, and although she has publicly agreed to back Daenerys in the fight against the White Walkers, she intends to simply let the Targaryen forces take care of the threat and take out whoever or whatever is left after the battle.
Cersei is now one of the most dangerous people in the Seven Kingdoms. She has power and will hold onto it no matter the cost. With the remaining armies loyal to her and the Golden Company mercenaries set to arrive in Westeros at her command, her actions in the last season of Game of Thrones may lead to the successful destruction of the White Walker threat or the eradication of humanity on the continent of Westeros.
Long Live the Queen
Cersei Lannister is by no means a good person. Over the span of her time on Game of Thrones, she's been in an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, aided her psychopathic son Joffrey in accomplishing some of the most unsavory acts the series has ever seen, and has killed a shamefully high amount of people. She pays lip service to the family legacy, but she's always looking out for herself and hers, expertly playing the role of a villain you love to hate.
Except people don't hate her. Despite all the negativity exuding from Cersei, fans love to see her succeed. It's easy to root for the good guy, but sometimes you want to see the villains win, too. But so many see her as more of a survivor than a villain, as actress Lena Headey has explained herself.
“I don’t play her as a villain,” she explained in a previous interview with Mashable. “I just play a woman who is a survivor and will do exactly what a man would do — which is, you know, murder somebody when you’re in a war.”
Cersei will do anything for self-preservation, even slaying anyone that stands in her way. But while she's done all the same kinds of awful things the rest of her Game of Thrones compatriots have done (at least she hasn't fed anyone their own sons in a pie), she sees herself persecuted for her misdeeds. Cersei is aware that there's a series of double standards she's consistently dealing with due to her gender, and viewers see this as well.
But despite wanting to support her despite her misdeeds, there's some evil glee in watching her plans come together. Like a Bond villain's dastardly plans working out somehow or seeing Tom finally catch Jerry, there's a kind of joy in seeing what happens when Cersei gets her way, everyone else be damned. The woman has a mind like a steel trap, and you never know what’s going to come out of it. There’s one thing you can be sure of, though – she’s going to make sure she gets hers, even if she has to die trying. And that’s the kind of behavior viewers love to root for week after week – whether it’s wrong or not.
What will Cersei do now that she's alone and pregnant, with Jaime off to fight alongside her longtime nemeses in a war that will devastate Westeros? Well, she'll probably start with a glass of wine. After that, it's anyone's guess. Tune into the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones on DIRECTV to find out.