Game of Thrones' House Lannister will go down as some of the most dastardly, complex characters in television history. As the HBO drama enters its eighth and final season, these Lords of the Westerlands are one of three Great Houses still in contention for the Iron Throne, alongside the Starks and Targaryens.
While the other houses have gotten to this point through a combination of some well-intentioned choices and forming strong alliances rather than strong-arming their allies into place, the Lannisters have never been above using all manner of dirty tricks, intimidation and cruelty to achieve their goals, something that has been a tradition of theirs since well before the events of the show.
Pre-Game of Thrones
This Great House has ruled over the Westerlands of Westeros for thousands of years, content to squirrel away riches and mostly keep to themselves until Robert's Rebellion forced the Lannisters to take sides in the civil war.
The uprising against "Mad" King Aerys, 17 years before the start of the series, saw Houses Baratheon, Stark, Tully, and several other smaller clans wage war against the Targaryens. House Lannister chose to stay out of the conflict for a long while, neither joining the rebellion nor aiding the house to which they had pledged their loyalty. Eventually, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), head of House Lannister, could see which way the wind was blowing and the lions threw in with the rebellion. Tywin's eldest son, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), played a critical role in the siege of King's Landing by killing the Mad King himself, earning him the nickname "Kingslayer." Never ones to miss an opportunity to align with the most powerful House, the Lannisters then formed an alliance with House Baratheon by marrying Tywin's daughter Cersei (Lena Headey) to King Robert (Mark Addy).
Seasons 1: Tywin Lannister
The marriage between Cersei and Robert was not exactly paradise. Cersei tried at first to make it work, but Robert was too hung up on his lost love, Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi), to give his marriage a chance. Robert was under the impression that Lyanna was kidnapped and killed by Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding) during Robert's Rebellion, though we later found out that she actually eloped with Rhaegar and bore his child; she died in childbirth but not before asking her older brother, Ned (Sean Bean), to raise the child as his own for fear that Robert would have the child killed.
Anyway, trapped in a political marriage, Robert fathered bastards all around King's Landing through his affairs, leaving Cersei to continue her incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Jaime, which is what spawned Robert's three "heirs." At the start of the series, following the death of Robert's right-hand man Jon Arryn (John Standing), the twins travel with Robert to Winterfell in the North so that Robert can ask Ned to take over as Hand of the King.
While there, Ned's young son Brandon (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) spies Jaime and Cersei trying for child #4 and Jaime pushes the boy out the window of a tall tower. Bran survives the fall but is crippled; later, an assassin tries to kill Bran and his mother suspects the Lannisters.
When Ned leaves Winterfell for King's Landing, he takes his two daughters with him. The older one, Sansa (Sophie Turner) is betrothed to Cersei and Robert's son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), who is even crueler than his biological parents, Cersei and Jaime, but all Sansa can see at that point is that she's going to marry the future king of Westeros.
While visiting her husband in King's Landing, Ned's wife Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) investigates her son's would-be assassin and is told by childhood friend Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) that the knife the assassin carried belongs to younger Lannister sibling Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). As luck would have it, she runs into Tyrion at an inn on her way back to Winterfell and takes him prisoner. Ned continues investigates the mysterious circumstances surrounding Jon Arryn's death in King's Landing. But his snooping gets him thrown in a cell and, after Robert dies, Cersei has Joffrey sworn in as king. Joffrey really flexes his new power by having remaining Stark allies in the city executed, including Ned. The eldest Stark, Robb (Richard Madden), is now head of House Stark and he begins marching an army south to avenge his father.
Meanwhile, Tywin Lannister sends his bannermen to the Riverlands to wage war over his imprisoned son, though Tyrion manages to save himself by requesting a trial by combat in the Eyrie, which a sellsword named Bronn (Jerome Flynn) wins on Tyrion's behalf. But Tywin still feels the Starks must be punished, so Jaime joins the army and they face off with Robb's northern forces, with the Northmen capturing Jaime.
With Jaime imprisoned, Tywin sends Tyrion to King's Landing to be Joffrey's Hand of the King, since Cersei seems unable to control her impetuous son. Cersei is livid that her father doesn't trust her to handle things, but she doesn't outright defy his orders because she has other things to worry about — namely, that there are now several major players vying for the Iron Throne.
Seasons 2-4: Joffrey lives his best (and everyone else's worst) life
With the War of the Five Kings going full force, Cersei orders her alchemists to produce as much wildfire to defend the city from would-be invaders, which comes into play when Robert's middle brother Stannis (Stephen Dillane) invades King's Landing with his fleet of ships. Stannis' troops almost get the better of the Lannisters, despite Tyrion leading a fierce fight. But when Tywin's troops arrive to help at the last minute, the capital city remains under Lannister control.
With Tywin in the city, Tyrion is replaced as Hand of the King. He brings his mistress, a prostitute named Shae (Sibil Kekilli), with him to the castle, in defiance of his father's orders, though Tywin has bigger things to worry about at the moment. He sees an alliance with House Tyrell as more advantageous for King Joffrey, so he urges the king to wed Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer); Sansa Stark is shuffled on to Tyrion to keep her from marrying Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), which matriarch Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) is plotting. Tywin demands that Tyrion get Sansa pregnant as soon as possible, but he refuses to sleep with or rape a teenage girl.
Meanwhile, Catelyn Stark has released Jaime to use as a bargaining chip to get her daughters back from the Lannisters. Jaime's guard is Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). When the two of them come upon some House Bolton soldiers, they are forced to work together to defend themselves against the cruel Boltons, but Jaime still ends up losing his right hand to Bolton's man-at-arms Locke (Noah Taylor). The pair eventually get free and make their way back to King's Landing where Jaime rejoins the Kingsguard despite having lost his sword hand. But even with Jaime returned, the Lannisters have no plans to release Sansa and they don't want anyone to find out that they don't actually have Arya (Maisie Williams), who escaped during the chaos following her father's execution.
The Lannisters then orchestrate one of the biggest power moves of the show: The Red Wedding. Though the Lannisters are not present for the bloody event, their song plays ominously and their regards are conveyed. But maybe they shouldn't celebrate death at a wedding so soon...
When it comes time for Joffrey to marry Margaery, Joffrey turns the wedding into a chance to ridicule Uncle Tyrion — right up until Joffrey drops dead at the feast. Tyrion is Cersei's top suspect and she has him arrested immediately, while Sansa flees the city in the ensuing chaos.
Joffrey's younger brother, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), is installed as king and eventually weds Margaery, while Tyrion goes on trial for Joffrey's murder. He once again asks for a trial by combat but this one does not go Tyrion's way. After the combat loss, Tywin has no choice but to sentence his younger son to death — not that Tywin cares that much, something he makes known to Tyrion when Tyrion stops to see his father after Jaime helps him escape.
On his way out of King's Landing, Tyrion confronts Tywin, who finally confesses to never having loved Tyrion and wanting him dead since he killed his mother in childbirth. Oh and this father of the year also slept with Shae, something that sends Tyrion into such a rage that he kills her before also killing his father. After their talk, Tyrion shoots Tywin through the heart with a fatal arrow and is smuggled out of the city.
Seasons 5-6: Cersei takes over, Tyrion defects
Having made it safely to Essos, Tyrion manages to get an audience with Daenerys and decides to join her side.
Back at King's Landing, Cersei is finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to her power. She re-establishes the Faith Militant, made up of a fanatical arm of the Faith of the Seven called the Sparrows, to help her keep threats at bay and subjects in line. But it backfires on her when her cousin, and recent convert, Lancel (Eugene Simon) tells the Sparrows of his affair with his aunt and they imprison her.
Cersei is released only after she performs a humiliating walk of atonement, but the Sparrows have managed to win King Tommen over to their side with the help of Queen Margaery. Tommen and Margaery side with the Faith Millitant to spare Margaery the humiliating walk. Tommen orders his uncle (who is actually his bio dad, but Tommen doesn't know that) to fight a resurgent House Tully at the Riverlands. Jaime gets Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) to surrender by threatening Tully's wife and infant son, and it keeps Jaime away while the Sparrows put Cersei and Loras Tyrell on trial for their parts in the plot.
But Cersei still manages to outfox everyone, using wildfire to blow up the Great Sept of Baelor during Loras' trial, which kills most of the Sparrows plus Loras, Margaery and dozens of others. Upon hearing about his wife's death, King Tommen commits suicide and Cersei assumes the Iron Throne.
Season 7: Jaime defects as well
Jaime begins to question Cersei's merciless quest for power. He stays loyal to her for a while, but he is clearly very concerned about where she is headed, particularly after the Lannister army is decimated by Daenerys' army of Dothraki and her dragons. Jaime realizes how great a threat Daenerys poses and he meets with Tyrion in secret to discuss a truce. They also see a lot of merit in joining Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys to defeat the Night King.
Cersei eventually agrees to help defeat the Night King, but she's lying. Cersei has no intention of helping the Starks and Targaryens fight the army of the dead; instead, she wants to let them handle the threat from beyond the Wall and then the Lannister army can easily defeat whatever is left of them.
Jaime can't believe she would be so careless and stubborn, reminding Cersei that the army of the dead will only get larger if it is not defeated altogether. But Cersei says she has hired the Golden Company, an elite band of mercenaries that Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) is ferrying to King's Landing from Essos. Jaime is completely blindsided by this and finally leaves Cersei, setting off for the north to help the Starks, Targaryens and his brother.
What will happen when the eighth and final season premieres? Can anyone take out Cersei? She certainly seems to have the smarts and the stamina to outlast everyone. Could one of her brothers actually go through with it? Or will they be too busy helping to defeat the Night King and the army of the dead to worry about Cersei? We'll find out on April 14; in the meantime, get caught up or revisit your favorite Game of Thrones episodes via DIRECTV.