A Matter of Perspective: A Defense of Cersei Lannister

After last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, “First of His Name”, I can finally write an article I’ve been wanting to for a while—a defense of Cersei Lannister. From the very beginning, viewers (and readers) have been explicitly instructed to despise Cersei. Starting with an ice-cold glance upon her arrival at Winterfell in the pilot episode, and then her ordered killing of Sansa’s direwolf, Lady, in the second episode, Cersei did little to gather a supportive following from the audience. But I would argue that her forced execution of Lady is actually the worst thing she does in the series. And now that show-watchers know that Jon Arryn was not murdered by Cersei, or any Lannister for that matter, but rather by Littlefinger and Lysa Arryn, I can prove that all of this fighting was the result of two other women—sisters—who with their sheer incompetence, ruined Westeros.

Those two sisters are Lysa Arryn and Catelyn Stark. Lysa killed her husband, the Hand of the King, and told Catelyn that the Lannisters did it. Catelyn, despite full awareness of her sister’s lunacy, blindly provides the spark of war when she captures Tyrion Lannister. From there, the dominos fall quickly, starting with Jaime’s attack on Ned in King’s Landing and ending with Ned’s head being held above the Sept of Baelor by the human embodiment of filth that is Janos Slynt. And yet, despite that the cause of all of this madness starts with the two Tully sisters, it is Cersei that comes off horribly. Cersei did not kill Ned, she merely played the game of thrones better than him. She didn’t want him to die, and smartly offered him the option to join the Night’s Watch, thus ensuring no northern backlash would result. Cersei almost singlehandedly prevented war, had it not been for Joffrey and his sadistic, bloodthirsty urges. Had Ned taken the black, Robb never raises his banners or goes to war, he never spurns Walder Frey, and he never hears the Lannister’s regards. Furthermore, Winterfell doesn’t burn, Maester Luwin and the rest of Winterfell’s inhabitants don’t die, and Theon can still enjoy a lunchtime sausage without being emasculated. It’s easy to digress into what-ifs, and I fear I might be doing that right now, but coming back to Cersei—had she successfully abolished Ned to the Wall, she’d be the woman who diffused the ticking time-bomb that is Westeros.

There is a theme that follows Cersei—the only two things in the world that she wants are considered “wrong” by society: power and her brother. Cersei must live every day of her life surrounded by men who get whatever they want, while she is denied the only things she wants.

Cersei is a tragic hero. She is also a product of her environment. In a world governed and created by men, women have little hierarchical reach. Credit is due to George R.R. Martin here, as despite creating a world ruled by men, he often makes women the more competent characters: Brienne, Cersei, Arya, Daenerys, Ygritte, Margaery, Olenna. But it’s a sardonic type of power granted to these women (excluding Daenerys and Ygritte, who live in societies more open to female empowerment), and it shapes Cersei into the standoffish, internalized woman that she is. Also take into account how close Cersei is to power, without actually being able to wield it. It’s like being permanently cold while everybody around you is running on the beach, feeling the warmth. Look at the world from her point of view. She’s the oldest child of Tywin Lannister, the most powerful man in the seven kingdoms. Her father is Hand of the King, but the biggest role she’ll ever have is being the girl who gets to hold the king’s hand. All of that faux-power is not nearly enough to quench her thirst, and rather than respect her for desiring power, we hate her. And at the same time, we love or respect other power-cravers such as Tywin, Tyrion, Littlefinger or Varys.

Further proving her status as a tragic hero, Cersei is prohibited from publically embracing the man she loves. You can’t choose the person you love, and Cersei happens to love her twin brother, but this is deemed unnatural. Our society rightfully considers incest an abomination, but in Martin’s fantasy world, it wasn’t always looked down upon. The preceding royal family, the Targaryens, thought it customary to wed brother and sister. This serves as just another metaphorical slap in the face for Cersei, as she’s so close to what she desires, but in reality couldn’t be further away. Additionally, she resents Jaime to a degree because she considers the two of them to be mirror images of each other, with just a few different parts in different places. But it’s these different parts that drive a fork in their roads almost immediately after birth. Where Jaime is fitted for armor, Cersei is fitted for dresses. Where Jaime learns sword-fighting, Cersei learns needlework. Cersei wholeheartedly believes that if she were born a man, she’d have everything she wants. Jaime’s permanently-content attitude irks Cersei because she’ll never be content with her status.

Who is the real villian here?

Her tragicness continues with her forced marriage to Robert Baratheon—an abusive man she rightfully hates. It’s this hate that repeatedly drives her into the arms of Jaime, although she admits she did initially love Robert when they were first arranged together. But when Robert drunkenly yelled out Lyanna Stark’s name while consummating their marriage, she realized her love would never be reciprocated. She was right, and Robert not only failed to love his wife, he beat her, raped her, and whored himself out right in front of her. Yes, she organized the plot to kill Robert. But fans opt to see this purely as regicide rather than as a beaten and abused woman killing her tormenter. It’s just another example of the power of perspective; since we’re instructed to dislike Cersei from the beginning, we vilify her when in reality she’s a victim. It’s sad too, because there are far too few instances where characters triumph over their tormentors in this series, and Cersei did just that. Only nobody sees it that way.

In the beginning of the book series, we don’t get to see either Cersei or Jaime’s points of views. This leads to immediate hatred aimed at both of them. But then, in the third book, A Storm of Swords, we start reading from Jaime’s point of view, and almost immediately, we start to hate him less, and by the end of the book, Jaime is a fan-favorite. This doesn’t happen to Cersei. And it’s a shame, because what makes Martin’s work so great is that he toys with our minds, turning the man who pushed a boy out of a window into a man we root for. Cersei never gets that treatment. Once again, in typical Cersei fashion, she’s deprived of something she deserves.

A note about this article: it was written after Game of Thrones 4.05 “First of His Name” and for the sake of show-watching fans, no events that occur after this episode were discussed. Please keep comments spoiler free. Thank you.

Joe Brosnan is an editor and writer for Criminal Element who graduated from Marist College. He spends his time obsessing equally over the Game of Thrones series and the New York Giants, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.


  1. courtney

    So pushing Bran out the window was less horrible than ordering Lady be killed?

  2. Joe Brosnan

    @courtney: Cersei didn’t push Bran out the window, Jaime did.

  3. Brittany

    It’s really disappointing that you felt the need to throw Catelyn and Lysa under the bus in order to make Cersei look better. “Everyone hates Cersei but look, these women are way worse!”

  4. Onetwo

    I love Cersei, she has her reasons for her actions, and she is treated unfairly by other characters. No wonder she seeks power, when she is brought up to be used as a political tool with nothing to say for herself. I wouldn’t say she’s a hero though, her actions are too egocentrical..
    Please don’t blame Catelyn for the war though, in her entire storyline she only ever did what she thoght to be the truly right things to do. Her son was almost killed, it was only natural that she wanted jusice. Futhermore, she had no idea that Lysa was so mentally unstable before she got there, already with Tyrion in tow..

  5. MaryJanice Davidson

    Nope, nope, nope! I liked your article a lot, though I disagree completely. And I think it’s great that you tackled a controversial stance for a controversial character, but Cersei neither needs nor deserves our sympathy. (Book spoilers ahead!)


    She killed her best friend when they were just children. She sexually and physically abused Tyrion when he was a baby and she was eight (Oberyn tells Tyrion that he saw Cersei “twist your cock until you screamed” when he was a newborn). At those points in her life, she wasn’t enduring Robert (I agree that as a husband, at best he could only be endured). She grew up rich, never missed a meal, went to bed every night warm and safe right up to her wedding night. Granted, Robert was a drunken asshat, but Cersei was a monster long before she married one.

    A not-nearly-complete list of her awfulness: she raised a monster by turning a blind eye to ALL his character flaws. We can’t blame Robert for Joffrey; he had next to nothing to do with the little psycho. That’s all on Cersei.

    Speaking of Joffrey: cheating on the king is punishable by death. It’s treason. Not only did she pass off incest babies as the king’s, she took every care (opinion is divided if she had an abortion or killed the baby right after birth) to eliminate Robert’s children by her, threatened to have one of his bastard daughters killed if she was brought to King’s Landing, and turned a blind eye to Joffrey’s bastard-slaughtering campaign. Yes, we can’t choose whom we love, but most of the time we can absolutely choose who we have sex with. Cersei chose Jamie again and again and again.

    Power games: she can’t resist them. (“Seize him. Cut his throat. Wait! I’ve changed my mind. Let him go…power is power.”) Kidnapping and having Tyrion’s whore beaten…and screwing it up because she had the wrong whore beaten. (I could write an entire rebuttal on how stupid she is, but I’m too busy with the rebuttal on how awful she is.) Remember: this is a girl who physically and sexually abused a newborn when she was 8, and killed her best friend when she was 10. She was always playing power games, long before Robert came along, long before any of the reasons you cited as proof she’s just a misunderstood l’il cutie.

    Her refusal to honor debets to the Iron Bank lead to a country-wide economic crisis. With one act, she dooms Westeros to what could be a decades-long economic depresssion. Worse, far worse for someone who is supposed to rule, she’s got no knowledge of history, leading to the disastrous decision of reinstalling the Faith Militant, a huge factor in her downfall.

    Her great love for Jamie? It only lasted as long as she saw him as an extension of herself. The minute he wasn’t perfect (minus a hand), her love died. Before that, though, she was cheating on him, on the great love of her life (who, by the way, has never been with anyone but Cersei). I’m not talking about Robert; she had no choice but to have sex with the king her husband. She didn’t have to have sex ith Lancel, with the Kettleblack, with anyone who she could get to do her dirty work. But she did. Because awww, poor Cersei’s so misunderstood.

    When she’s not playing power games, she’s lying. When she’s not lying, she’s arranging the beating and torture of the innocent: Alayaya is just one example from the above paragraph. Far worse, she handed her maid and Falyse Stokeworth over to Qyburn to be tortured to death for the crime of no crime. NO crime.

    She then framed Margaery for adultery (punishable by death, Cersei of all people should know the penalties for cheating on the king!) and, as of the end of A Dance with Dragons, Margarery was going to be tried for same. Cersei’s downfall (at the end of Feast for Crows, as well as Dance w/Dragons) is deeply satisfying, but more than that, she’s 100% in a mess of her own making. Not a victim. Never a victim.

    She isn’t a terrible ruler because she was born into a bad family and bad things happened to her. She’s a terrible ruler because she’s an awful, awful person and, frankly, not especially bright.

    Poor Cersei? Nope: poor Westeros!

  6. w

    I don’t like Cathlyn, but she didn’t start the war. The seeds of the war were Cercei’s bastards by Jaime. The truth would have come out one way or another and there would have been war sooner or later.

    Cercei was just another pawn in the GOT, like Ned and Catelyn and Lisa and Tyrion etc. The idea for Ned to take the black came from Varys, that to capture him when he made his move came from Littlefinger, who was the one who negotiated with Slyn.

    She’s no more or less a hero than any other characters and GRRM doesn’t instruct anyone to hate her anymore than any other character.

  7. MotherofMadness

    This response is strictly for the TV show Cersei whom I’ve loved since the very beginning. And this is just an extention or an echo to the above article.
    Lets Analyze:
    [b]1.[/b]As proud as she is because of her Lannister status her abusive husband literally insults her in front of all of Winterfell by visiting Lyana’s grave upon arrival, annoying her as well as misbehaving at the night of the feast groping women openly for all to see causing further shame to her.
    [b]2[/b]. Pushing Bran out of the window was not her doing it happened so suddenly and in the next episode in her scene with Catelyn you can clearly see how bad she felt about her whole mishap/tragedy, even though many argue that she was just faking it and doing offering condolences expected of her but from the scene you can tell how awful she feels about the whole thing.
    [b]3.[/b] Many argue that her ordering the killing of Lady was the worst thing she did. I beg to differ. She was already aware of how firecely protective the direwolves were of the Stark children causing her own son, the prince to nearly have his arm ripped off. What mother would take such a chance of allowing the other wolf to travel with them to protect the Starks? like she says herself to Ned “forcing you to kill the beast was extreme, though sometimes we go to extremes where our children are concerned!”
    [b]4[/b]- The Business with Ned – Ned offers her an out but she’s brave not to run and face the music. In all fairness she offers Ned an out to “return the coutesy” and this is even before deciding to send him off to the wall in exile. All he had to do was swear fealty to her son and she would allow him and his men to go back home and lead comfortable lives- something she offers him earlier when he first confronts her about the incest in the gardens. “Time to go home”
    [b]5[/b]. She knows how cunning Tyrion is and with his threats to Joffrey it would not be total madness to believe he plotted it with his wife especially after Sansa’s escape. Even though she manipulated the trial but she did it in a way which she actually believed the events that took place till Joffrey’s death. Even if they were imagined.
    [b]6[/b]. Asking Pycelle to feed the leftovers to the dogs instead of the poorest in the city like ordered by Margeary…well what can I say? She must really care for the poor under fed dogs!? 😉
    Love you Lena Headey- want to see you nail this role till the end of the series!

  8. Hi

    Cersei is my favorite character and you make one very accurate point: she is held to a different standard by readers and viewers than male characters, just as she’s held to an impossible standard within the story. If she were a man, people would love her brilliance. She’s not evil; she’s playing the game and better than the rest. We just don’t want her to win because she’s never interested in being loved. But as Tyrion says in the books, some people will do everything rather than face truth. We hate her for being a women actually capable of power, because we hate women with power as a culture.

  9. Zach

    MaryJanice Davidson brings up a great points about Cersei’s ineptitude and evilness. Let me add some more. Spoilers through book and season 5!

    Cersei killed Robert by encouraging him to get as drunk as possible, using extra strong wine. It is later revealed by Varys that if the boar had not killed Robert, a stray arrow would have. Also, Cersei’s downfall in the books is entirely her fault. She uses the excuse of “being a woman” to explain why people treat her poorly. While there is some truth to that, it is more because she is inept as a leader. There’s a reason people respect the Queen of Thorns, but not Cersei Lannister. She attempts to rule by fear and threat, where Margaery Tyrell succeeds in getting the support of the small folk by being kind and seeing to their needs. Cersei sees them as nothing more than “bleeting sheep” (she says this several times in the books).

    If you are a theorycrafter, you will have noted that it is possible many of her “triumphs” have been orchestrated by others. Ridding herself of debt by arming the faith militant ends up imprisoning her. Allowing Loras Tyrell to go to end the Dragonstone siege wipes out half of her most veteren force, which she sees as a necessary evil for taking out Loras (who may actually be perfectly fine, biding his time for a return). This in particular actually weakens her position against the Tyrells. She sees Margaery as her greatest threat, when really it is herself that is her downfall. It has also not been mentioned how awful she was to Jamie. She manipulated him many times. It is revealed through her POVs that she actually wanted Rhaegar more than Jamie. There are several more examples in the text, and it is often humorous upon a second read to see how each of her decisions plays into her downfall.

  10. Zach

    And to top it all off, Cersei picks up drinking heavily, something she despised in Robert, and gains a weight. She blames the washerwoman for “shrinking her clothes”, and punishes them for it, when really it is her fault. And that’s what it really boils down to that makes Cersei so irredeemable: she blames everyone but herself for her problems.

  11. Reg


    Tragic Heros are characters who people who start out likable. Then these characters bring about their own fall through a tragic flaw. The drama of the story comes from watching how this hero falls as a result of their own actions and how far they fall before the story reaches its conclusion. And through it all, we still see several traits that make the character worth following even in their darkest moments. (Walter White from Breaking Bad)

    Cersei doesn’t qualify because she’s not a heroine in any sense of the word. Period. She’s not even likable despite the show’s attempts to whitewash her and make her more sympathetic when compared to the books.

    Therefore, when the woman brings about her own downfall, its not tragic. Its not tragic because there’s no reason to feel sorry for her or to relate to her. And that’s not surprising considering how irredeemably evil she is in a series that paints itself as having a grey-grey morality scheme. Even her love for Jamie and her kids is really just an extension of her narcissism and blatant selfishness.

  12. Lily Chimes

    I really liked this article. Perhaps it makes me an awful person, but I always sort of liked Circei, despite the fact that she certainly isn’t a good person. She has gone through more pain than many of the other women in the series (books and TV), and she is strong and resourceful. I’m not defending the awful things she’s done, but the arguments against her in this thread seem primarily based on emotion as opposed to logic. For example, children are generally rather cruel, so can Circei really be blamed for hurting Tirian when he was a baby? After all, she was very young and could hardly be expected to be tought much about wrong and right by her father. Also, she saw Tirian as the reason her mother died. One cannot choose who you love, and although I feel it is genetically a very bad idea to have children with your siblings, is there a good purely logical reason why a brother and sister should not be together if they do not have children and find they truly don’t want anyone else? I know this is a contravertial opinion, but so was supporting homosexuality a decade or two ago. Circei may be terrible, but she certainly does deserve some pity, if not admiration.

  13. ydzlnl

    I think everyone here is missing a point: this article is about show!cersei not at all about book!cersei. The show as we can see did not explicitly reveal Cersei’s sexual abusement of Tyrion or her murdering of Robert’s child. Show!Cersei actually tries to scold Geoffery for passing too much killing and actually (kind-of) repents in the newest season after seeing her daughter’s death. She recognizes, as I quote, she is a “monster” and admits her mistake.

    Also, it’s very surprising to me that how many people are hating her for incest, since they are two consenting adults and adultery is always quite easily if not completely tolerated in so many other shows. She does love Jaime; even if her love based on her super ego, she still loves him more than anyone else she ever encounters. She always recalls Jaime even when she is having sex with someone else; not that it’s totally fine, but it does show Jaime values more. And in the show, she explicitly expresses her interest in Jaime when he returned without a hand. The show also tries very hard to create a sense that Jaime and Cersei truly get one another and care for their family.

    That being said, Cersei is definitely not a misunderstood hero. She is possibly one of the most villainous characters in the show (and in the book). She would never be liked even as a male character, because she is incompetent and too proud to realize any of her flaws. She did kill her friend and she did treat others horribly. However, in the show, she is much more likable and maybe going toward the more sympathizable side as she faces a series of horrible incidents (although they are caused by herself). I love Cersei as a show character so much (I guess I really don’t have any moral :P). She is very savvy yet very irrational, very arrogant yet also somewhat approachable. I really wish people can care about her more, because her storyline is so interesting but everyone is too hyped up about the Starks’ reunion now );

  14. Alina

    I am a show-watching fan and i fell in love to Cersei from the first her appearance. No matter what she did i kept admiring her. For me she is the most sexually attractive female character there. If i was living there in the GoT universe i.d want to be her faithful knight or lady-knight like Brienne.
    Yes, she lost all her kids as it was predicted and she knew that will happen. Probably she knew Tommen would suicide after he would seen that Margaery died. But by this time he already betrayed her, his mother, who loved him with all her heart three times. So i think he got just what he deserved.
    And at the 6.10 i was so happy to see her at the Iron Throne.
    I know it won.t last long, i know she will be killed by Jaime, or maybe Littlefinger, or who knows, by Arya or Daenerys. But this is her reward, her place, the REAL POWER finally.
    I still can.t believe this and still feel this happiness, two days after the episode come out…
    Cersei, the first of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
    Long may she reign!

  15. M.R.

    I love your article so much! I totally agree with you. Cersei is my favourite character in the whole show. Everybody simply hates her but that’s just because they want to. You pointed out all the facts why Cersei does not deserve that.

Comments are closed.

The owner of this website has made a commitment to accessibility and inclusion, please report any problems that you encounter using the contact form on this website. This site uses the WP ADA Compliance Check plugin to enhance accessibility.