Tony Black counts down to season 7 of Game of Thrones…
There’s an argument that for all the tragedy floating around the world of Game of Thrones, the path Cersei Lannister has walked has them all beat. By now seemingly one of the true villains of the piece, having murdered, betrayed and cajoled her way to the Iron Throne, Cersei’s journey to quietly vengeful dominance has all the hallmarks of Shakespearean levels of tragic inevitability.
The daughter of Tywin and Joanna Lannister, Cersei was prized as one of the most beautiful young ladies in the Seven Kingdoms, yet her youthful family relationships were complicated. Growing up at Casterly Rock in the Westerlands, she struggled with an absent Tywin, often away as Hand of the King to Aerys Targaryen. She never forgave her youngest brother, dwarf Tyrion, for the death of Joanna giving birth to him, and she began a sexual relationship with her brother Jaime which they have always endeavoured to keep secret. When just fifteen, she encountered a fortune-teller in the forests, Maggy the Frog, who told her she would be Queen but lose it to a younger woman, and she would bear three children – all of whom would die before she did. With such dark prophecy hanging over her, Cersei’s future was always clouded and haunted by a sense of destiny she couldn’t escape.
This came to be when, following Robert’s Rebellion which saw Jaime murder Aerys and Robert Baratheon become King as the Targaryen dynasty crumbled, Cersei was quickly arranged to be married to the new King in order to cement the alliance between Baratheon & Lannister holding the Crown rebels together. Robert soon proved himself a much better whorer & drinker than King, bored without a challenge or fight, and any initial feelings Cersei may have felt for him died away. She bore him three children though, as the prophecy stated – two boys, Joffrey & Tommen, and a girl Myrcella.
Except, a secret very few knew, all of them were Jamie’s children biologically. Knowing Tywin would refuse to accept grandchildren born of incest, Cersei & Jaime strive to keep their children & burning love for each other secret. And so the status quo remained until a state visit to Winterfell, in which young Bran Stark sees Cersei & Jaime having sex and Jaime pushes him out of a tower window, breaking his back. Cersei later, in Kings Landing, discovers Robert has died after a boar hunt went wrong, leaving Joffrey in line to be crowned King.
Only problem being Robert named his old friend Eddard Stark, in King’s Landing to expose a conspiracy involving the death of Robert’s hand, Jon Arryn, and the illegitimacy of Robert’s child. Cersei soon, with the help of Littlefinger, has Eddard arrested and upon being crowned King, Joffrey orders his head be cut off publically and the man denounced as a traitor. She encourages Sansa Stark, now effectively a prisoner in Kings Landing, to encourage her brother Robb Stark, heir to Winterfell, to bend the knee to Joffrey but this just encourages him further to raise an army and triggers the War of Five Kings for control of the Seven Kingdoms. Jaime goes off to fight with Lannister armies, led by Tywin, leaving Cersei to take her cousin Lancel Lannister to bed – the same man who helped fill King Robert’s cup with enough wine to ensure the boar he was hunting would kill him.
Cersei finds life in King’s Landing one of frustration, having to appease the whims and wishes of Joffrey while trying to manipulate events herself. She is repeatedly stymied; by Tyrion’s return, installed as Hand of the King by Tywin to help rule while he’s fighting; by Jaime being held hostage by Catelyn Stark, intending to trade him for the lives of Sansa & Arya; by Myrcella being sent to Dorne by Tyrion to marry Prince Trystane in order to establish an alliance; and by challenges to the throne, such as Stannis’ attack on the Blackwater.
She is relieved when Tywin returns to assert control but he soon conspires to have Tyrion marry Sansa instead of Joffrey, to gain control of the North, for Joffrey to marry the beguiling Margaery Tyrell to secure Highgarden, and for Cersei to marry her brother Ser Loras – a known homosexual. Cersei refuses to give up her role as Queen Regent and bear more children as part of a political alliance, instead focusing her efforts on trying to recover Jaime & guide her children. It all begins to start crumbling at Joffrey & Margaery’s wedding when Joffrey is killed by poison quite horrifically, and Cersei accuses Tyrion of the crime. Tommen becomes King in the line of succession and Jaime returns to find Cersei broken at the death of her son.
When Tyrion manages to escape, having been sentenced to death, and kill Tywin in the process, Cersei is left to help Tommen try and rule an Iron Throne increasingly beset by enemies. She soon finds a new threat on the streets of King’s Landing – the Faith Militant, who boast Lancel now among their number. A fanatical group of armed religious purists believing in the faith of the Seven, their leader, the High Sparrow, is enlisted by Cersei to help her bring order to the growing Lannister enemies in court.
This includes imprisoning Loras and Margaery for historic acts of indecency, thereby freeing up Tommen to be influenced by her and her alone. Cersei also sends Jaime on a secret mission to Dorne to recover Myrcella before she can be married off and aids Littlefinger’s battles in the North when he tells her Sansa is at Winterfell, she still a major suspect in Joffrey’s murder. Then chickens come home to roost as the High Sparrow has Cersei arrested for crimes Lancel tells him off, putting her through the humiliation of the ‘Mother’s Mercy’, where she is stripped naked and walked through King’s Landing to be molested by the peasantry, as part of her confession.
Ending up under house arrest in the Red Keep, Cersei gains the protection of Ser Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane–now undead after some disturbing medical work conducted by evil Maester Qyburn–as she plots revenge, but Jaime returns to Dorne only with Myrcella’s corpse, she having been murdered by the Sand Snakes as revenge for the death of Oberyn Martell in Tyrion’s trial by combat.
With two of her children now dead, Cersei becomes consumed with helping Tommen, but as he is manipulated by the High Sparrow and a game-playing Margaery, he increasingly isolates and alienates Cersei – even sending Jaime to take back Riverrun after the Blackfish captures it from the Frey’s, when Jaime refuses to serve a union Tommen makes between the Crown and the Faith. This serves as the last straw for Cersei and she takes decisive action.
Learning via Qyburn that long-rumoured stores of wildfire exist beneath major sites in King’s Landing, destructive near-atomic weaponry King Aerys planted in order to burn the city if he was ever conquered, Cersei–using Qyburn’s ‘little birds’ aka child spies–manages to explode wildfire underneath the Sept of Baelor on the day of her trial by the Faith. The destructive blast takes out a chunk of King’s Landing and kills, in the process, Margaery, Loras & Mace Tyrell, her uncle Kevan Lannister, cousin Lancel, Grand Maester Pycelle, the High Sparrow and the rest of his Faith Militant soldiers.
Yet Cersei bears a major cost for this reaction, when a devastated Tommen jumps out of a window high in his chambers to his death, fulfilling Cersei’s long-held prophecy. With all her of her enemies vanquished, her children dead and all of her family except Jaime gone (and Tyrion), Cersei installs herself as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and now sits on the Iron Throne, with no one in the city able to stand in her way.
Yet she faces enemies on all sides. The conquering Daenerys Targaryen. The Sand Snakes of Dorne. The new King in the North, Jon Snow. The approaching Euron Greyjoy from the Iron Islands and the vengeful Olenna Tyrell. Can Cersei hold on to the power she has lost and destroyed so much to gain? Or will she finally lose her grasp on the Iron Throne once and for all?
Game of Thrones Season 7 begins on Sunday July 16th.