After heaping a great deal of much-deserved praise on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Alyssa Rosenberg writes:
I’m not sure, however, how the show’s investment in making Cersei Lannister a more sympathetic character is going to pay off. Whether it’s the addition of a child she bore Robert who died, or her question to Robert, in a moment of contemplation of their marriage “Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time? Ever a moment?” the show has invested heavily in the idea that she’s tough but not without some tenderness. I genuinely don’t know how that will govern audiences’ reactions to events that I assume are still to follow, but for now, I’m trusting David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. So far, they’ve proved themselves masterful players in their own game.
I’ve actually been really impressed with the portrayal of Cersei so far. They’ve created the illusion of tenderness while still hinting only subtly at her true nature. She’s much less hot-headed than her brother or son, and even just a tiny bit kind – at least in her voice, the sense of calm she adopts. She even seems reasonable at times – for instance, calling into question Robert’s decision to cast aside Eddard as Hand.
But all I see in Cersei – in each of her actions, each of her words – is threat. The warmth is a mirage. When she asks Robert “Was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time? Ever a moment?” I get the sense that she is simply tying up a loose end, reassuring herself that she can kill the king without remorse or second-guessing. “Everyone who is not us is the enemy,” she tells Joffrey. It becomes very clear that Robert is not “us”. She just had to be sure. I suppose I see it this way because I know how quick she is to kill, but I’m glad she isn’t quite so obvious to first-time viewers. I want her to be a mystery, not wear her viciousness on her sleeve.
I admit, I always pictured Cersei as more impulsive, emotional, out-of-control. But HBO’s Cersei is strong and collected (for now), and plays her deadly game quietly. Maybe audiences will be surprised when she turns out to be such an awful, bloodthirsty woman, but that’s not for lack of clues. The execution of Sansa’s direwolf is the first of those clues, but there are others. I mean, you have to wonder at some point how her first child died. “The seed is strong,” Jon Arryn says, because each of Robert’s bastards has dark hair. But obviously none of his children do, because they aren’t his children. Except that first child.
So how did he die?
Maybe audiences are missing all of this – it’s hard to know since I’ve read the books and I’m sure I perceive it all much differently, but to me Cersei is quite terrifying wearing this mask of warmth and humanity. Whatever sympathy is created for her character, it will soon be shattered. The realization will be all the more powerful for it.
Sidenote: watching last night’s episode, all I could think to myself at the end was “Catelyn! This is all Catelyn’s fault!” Which is basically what I was thinking as I read the books. How could she be so abominably stupid? How could she seize Tyrion while her husband and daughters remained in King’s Landing – especially knowing how dangerous the Lannisters could be?
Of course, Eddard is nearly as deserving of exasperation. He should have fled the moment he lost the King’s favor. He should have gathered his men and his girls and hit the bloody road and not stopped until he was north of the Trident. But he didn’t.