Every character on Game of Thrones has a tragic backstory before the series starts, except for, perhaps the Stark kids, who see their fair share of trauma early on in the series, and Joffrey, who doesn’t need a tragedy to act like a jerk. Other than that, just about everyone has a tragedy in their past: Daenerys is exiled and alone, Ned lost his father and brother to the Mad King, Tyrion was ridiculed and hated for his dwarfism, Jon is a bastard and therefore hated by his foster-mother. Among these tragedies, there is that of Cersei: in the grand scope of things, people would likely consider her tragedy the fact that her mother died at a young age, or perhaps that her father sent her off to be married to a husband who didn’t care much for her. But Cersei’s real tragedy can be found hiding in the early episodes of the show, in a scene of quiet dialogue and powerful (yet overlooked) characterization.
Season 1 is a complex beast; it is both slow-moving and action-packed, with greatly contrasting lulls and rushes throughout. Most viewers only remember the more action packed scenes as the ones that hook them early on: people are quick to remember things like Khal Drogo’s gift to Viserys, but might have forgotten interesting dialogue between Tyrion and Jon Snow. This is especially true for Cersei; between her watching Bran get tossed out a window, tearing up Robert’s dying words, and delivering such important lines as “When you play the game of thrones you win or you die,” it’s easier to forget her quieter moments. Over the course of the series, we have seen Cersei cause so many horrible things, that its hard to remember when we didn’t hate everything about her.
One particular scene can be found in Season 1, Episode 2. At Bran’s bedside, Cersei and Catelyn discuss the boy’s condition, and Cersei mentions her first child… No, not Joffrey, but instead a nameless child who did not live past infancy. This scene is well-acted, and has more drama than one might expect in the first few minutes of a show’s second episode.
“Handsome one, isn’t he? I lost my first boy. Little black-haired beauty. He was a fighter too. He tried to beat the fever that took him. … Robert was crazed, beat his hands bloody on the wall. All the things men do to show you that how much they care. Boy looked just like him, such a little thing, a bird without feathers. They came to take his body away, and Robert held me; I screamed and I battle but he held me. My little bundle, they took him away and I never saw him again, never visited the crypt. I pray to the Mother every morning and night
This scene, found here, is one of Cersei’s most emotional moments throughout the series.
Surely, such a kind-hearted speech cannot be delivered by the dastardly Cersei, one of the most hated characters in Westeros (who isn’t named Joffrey). It’s going to be hard for Thrones fans to wrap their heads around this one, but here is my read on the scene: when comforting Catelyn about what her brother did to Bran, Cersei is being genuine. There, I said it, Cersei Lannister being genuine.
Cersei’s love for her kids is the one thing we absolutely know about her. She is often likened to a lioness, defending her cubs. Viciously. One could say that this is just a maternal instinct, but it seems a little too crazed and violent, when compared to someone like Catelyn, who spends nearly two seasons saying that she just wants her daughters back. Cersei takes the maternal lioness idea to the extreme. Wouldn’t it make sense for Cersei to strive to keep her children safe, if she had lost one already? Thrones fans utterly hate Cersei, and for this reason, analysis of her usually doesn’t go deeper than trying to guess what her next move is. A plethora of things are said about Cersei (almost all of them bad) but she loves her children more than anything, and when Cersei sees Catelyn crying over Bran, she sees the same kind of pain which she experiences when her kids encounter danger or die.
In Season 5, Episode 7, Margery, who is then Cersei’s daughter and law, says to the Queen Mother: “Lies come easy to you, everyone knows that… But innocence, decency, concern… you’re not very good at those, I’m afraid.” It is easy to assume that her condolence is another lie. but the tears in her eyes are indicative of sincere emotion. Cersei, having such a deep affection for her children, and perhaps feeling a shred of guilt, feels bad for Catelyn and how upset she is regarding Bran.
Fans of the show love their heroes and hate their villains to the point where
selective memory kicks in. Choosing to forget the scene where Cersei talks of her lost child because of how hated is similar to the supporters of Stannis ***spoiler alert*** overlooking the fact that he kills his own brother in season 2 because of how much they like him. People who watch Thrones but choose to ignore all the things that make a good character bad or a bad character good misunderstand the moral stance of the show: that no one is wholly good or evil.
Of course, we are talking about the same woman who, in Season 2, commissions the murder of her husband’s bastard children, some of which are babies, so I’m really just making guesses here. It is entirely possible that the story of her first child is a lie, intended to frighten Catelyn. But doesn’t it make sense for a series like Thrones to have villains who are redeemable and heroes who are flawed? Here, we do not have a fairy tale of characters who are wholly good or wholly evil, but real, with their own goals, and motivations that drive them.
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