A Tragic Examination of Cersei Lannister

Oppositional Gaze Blog

Although I tried to leave out major spoilers, there still may small tidbits, especially about book 4/season 5 in the last paragraph.  I tried to be as vague as possible, but read at your own discretion.    

The number of female characters in Game of Thrones is incredible compared to other fantasy and science fiction texts.  There are physically strong women like Brienne, independent women like Daenerys, and intelligent women like Catlyn.  Women are not confined to female stereotypes that most women in fantasy are.  For example, one of the most popular fantasy texts, The Lord of the Rings, only has three female characters.  Two of them are elves, which is an attempt to heighten their femininity, while the only human female is not feminine enough because she is a human.  In most fantasy worlds, the female characters are defined by their gender.  Unlike The Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones offers a variety of women, who rise above their gendered stereotypes.

Unfortunately, not every woman in Game of Thrones is exempt from being stereotyped. Cersei Lannister, arguably the “villain” in the series, has often been claimed to be the “bitch.”  Despite being the Queen of the realm, viewers treat her extremely differently from the Khaleesi Daenerys.   While Daenerys is praised for her reign as Khaleesi with her dragons, Cersei is often scoffed at for trying to attain the power for herself.  For this reason along with her bitterness, this earns Cersei the label of a “bitch.” Cersei Lannister may have very unorthodox ways of gaining her power, but with an oppositional gaze, her ability to overcome a patriarchal society makes her an admirable character with a tragic story.  

The Dominant Reading

“This one was a bitch,” is how author George R. R. Martin begins his Acknowledgments for his book A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the series where Cersei is a central character to the story.    The word “bitch” is thrown around often in regards to Cersei, and for many reasons.

First, many people label her as a bitch because of her incestuous relationship with her brother, Jamie.  Being the queen, Cersei has high expectations she must live up to.  A queen should not sleep with anyone else besides her husband, the king.  Cersei has sexual relations with many other men besides King Robert, which makes her extremely unloyal and unfaithful.  Cersei sleeping with her brother and having children with him and not King Robert only makes people despise her even more.

Second, Cersei is a bitch because of the devotion she has for her illegitimate children.  None of her children are fathered by King Robert, which means they are not true heirs to the throne. Yet, Cersei still fights for their claim.  Despite her first born, Joffrey, being cruel and unforgiving, Cersei continues to spoil him and raises him to be distrusting of others.  She thrives on being close to her family, and teaches Joffrey “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy.”  Cersei believes the Lannister family are above everyone else and fails to recognize their faults.  She is blinded by her pride.

Cersei’s pride is the main reason why she is called a “bitch.”  She takes pride in her family and herself, but to an extreme.  Because of her family pride, she chooses to love no one else romantically besides her brother because he is the only one she can trust.  Also, she has a lust for power that even rises above a love for her family.  She may be the queen, but she still fights for the most power she can get, and she is not afraid to show her power.

Why this Dominant Interpretation is Flawed

This interpretation is flawed because it does not consider why Cersei acts this way.  It never considers what happened in Cersei’s childhood to make her untrusting and why she has a desire for power.  More importantly, it does not hold these same standards to the men in her family.  Her brother is never the one at fault for their relationship, and the blame falls only on Cersei.  Their father also has a strong love for their family and looks down on others, but he is never considered a bitch because of it.  Cersei is stereotyped to be the “bitch” solely because she is a female.  On page 194 of Feminist Film Studies, Hollinger points out that “the white woman evokes lack, loss and absence,” which means her lack of a penis is all she represents and could never be in control because of it.  She is living in a patriarchy full of double standards, and for Cersei to challenge those standards, she needs to be a bitch- and she needs to be good at it if she wants prove herself.

Oppositional Gaze

To view Cersei from an oppositional gaze, we need to imagine ourselves in Cersei’s position.  From the moment Cersei was born, she was always treated differently from her twin brother.  While Jamie was being raised to someday be the heir to Casterly Rock, Cersei was taught how to be a proper lady so she could be married to man of another house.  She was never given the same opportunities as her brother, so she needed to rise above her father’s expectations if she wanted the same recognition.  I believe her relationship with her brother was a backlash of how her father treated her.  Cersei wanted to be in control of her own life like Jamie was, and they made it clear their father was not control any of his children. Although Jamie was the heir to Casterly Rock, he at a young age joined the Kingsguard, which meant he could no longer someday rule Casterly Rock.  Cersei was not able to make these choices like Jamie, which means her only way to be free of her father’s expectations was through her sexual being, and their incestuous relationship was the ultimate sign of defiance. In bell hooks on page 130, she describes a part of the oppositional gaze for black women as “how they see themselves is most important, now how they will be stared at by others.”  For Cersei, this is important because Cersei sees through her femaleness and views herself as equal to her twin brother.  This gives her power by not letting her gender define her.  She is in control of her body and refuses to let her father speak for her.

After Cersei is viewed from this perspective, her life suddenly becomes tragic.  When her mother died after her youngest brother Tyrion was born, Cersei lost the only maternal female figure in her life.  After this moment, Cersei started becoming a more cynical woman who could  ultimately only trust herself, and later her children.  She could not trust her father as he would marry her away in a heartbeat, and she could not trust her lover/brother Jamie because he was not always present in her life.  At the beginning of the series, Cersei is battling with herself over her cruel son and soon-to-be-king Joffrey.  Joffrey began to ignore her counsel and advice, and even threatened to have her head if she defies him.  Although she loves her children, she was losing control of them like how her father lost control of her and her brothers.

The epitome of Cersei’s tragedy won’t come until season 5, which is due for release this April.  She will be punished for her sins and must shed her pride.  The power she had worked for will be destroyed, yet her brother will not be judged at all.  Although Cersei’s stubbornness earns her the title of “bitch,” she acts no differently than any other Lannister.  When she is compared to her father, brothers, and children, the only things she is guilty of is being a woman.

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