I first realized I was rooting for the Lannisters to “win” Game of Thrones during last week’s episode, when Daenerys’s army was off playing capture-the-flag at Casterly Rock. Team Unsullied seemed poised for a predictable victory, when suddenly — his square jawline visible from the exosphere — along came dependable ol’ Jaime Lannister, sacking Highgarden and laying waste to Dany’s plans at the last minute. It was a classic “the Lannisters send their regards!” curveball. And all I could think was, Damn, I hope those freaky Lannisters win this thing.
Before I get put on some FBI watch list, let me explain myself. Is Cersei a bad lady? Unquestionably. If I were your average, tax-paying citizen of Westeros, and Westeros were a democracy, would I cast my vote for a Lannister/Greyjoy government in the upcoming election? Probably not, even though Cersei’s credit history is impeccable. But as a TV viewer engaging with a fiction, there are few things I enjoy more than watching the Lannisters fuck shit up. Ultimately, this comes down to the question of what it means to root for someone on a TV show: Should we all be narrative utilitarians, rooting for the character we think is best poised to bring the best quality of life to the maximum number of people in a given fictional world? Or should we root for the person who brings the maximum amount of enjoyment to our viewing experience? Personally, I choose the latter; and when it comes to Game of Thrones, nobody offers more in terms of sheer balls-to-the-walls excitement than Cersei Lannister.
Cersei is not just the best villain Game of Thrones has ever had, she’s also one of the show’s juiciest and most complex characters. She’s not a cartoonish sadist like Joffrey or Ramsay or John Varvatos nightmare-fuel Euron Greyjoy. She’s a survivor sent down a dark path, a grieving mother driven to the end of the rope by the loss of her children, a bloodthirsty vigilante with nothing left to lose. Every time she gets revenge in some sadistically poetic way, I feel a frisson of excitement. Watching Cersei murder people with custom-made lip gloss, set fire to heritage buildings, and fling open her bedroom door post-incest-coitus without a care in the world, I feel the way I do when I’m watching Beyoncé smash things with a baseball bat in the “Hold Up” video: Hell hath no fury like a queen scorned.
As each season gets bleaker and bleaker — down to the crappy winter weather and the weird biker-gang fashion — Cersei remains one of the few characters who is consistently fun to watch (just saying, I wouldn’t want to run into Arya Stark at a party these days). And as the show veers inevitably ever closer toward devolving into one big wintry-zombie-dragon battle (which I understand some people enjoy, although I do not), Cersei is still serving up that campy, betrayal-fueled palace intrigue that made the show so thrilling to begin with. She perpetually looks like she’s fresh off the runway at Balmain, she can drink her body weight in red wine, and she can convince me to abandon my deepest-held moral and ethical convictions with a single bloodcurdling speech. Compared to Dany’s wholesome-yet-boring stump speeches, Cersei’s ball-busting monologues are like a shot of tequila for your soul — they may not be good for you in the long run, but they certainly put a fire in your belly. Plus, if Cersei dies, who is the antagonist? A bunch of CGI ice zombies? If I wanted to see that, I’d watch The Walking Dead.
What’s more, if you put aside the whole incest thing for a second (and if you’ve been watching Game of Thrones since the beginning, you’ve definitely offered moral justification for worse), the twisted romance Jaime and Cersei have going on is actually kind of sweet. After all, who else on this godforsaken show is actually in love anymore? I’m talking real, lasting, morally dubious, against-all-odds, push-a-child-out-a-window-to-cover-your-ass LOVE? Ygritte is dead, Daario is MIA, Jorah and Littlefinger probably belong on a sex-offender registry, Missandei and Grey Worm are cute, but sorry, I don’t even know them that well. For better or for worse, Jaime and Cersei are the show’s last remaining star-crossed lovers, who we’ve known since day one, and they have traveled through hell and back to be by each other’s side. More than the fate of the Seven Kingdoms or the sigil that hangs over the Iron Throne, the thing I’m the most invested in on this exhausting show is the relationships between the characters, and no other twosome shares a connection so tortured and compelling.
I’ll go so far as to say that, despite being hot and rich, from a narrative standpoint, the Lannisters are actually the underdogs at this point. Frankly, Dany is so self-righteous in her insistence that she was born to rule, and Jon so humorless with his White Walker Inconvenient Truth shtick, I wouldn’t mind seeing an unexpected upset in the 11th hour. (And do you really want another child ruling the Seven Kingdoms? Remember how well that turned out last time?) Game of Thrones is a show about the futility of war; a show that regularly kills beloved characters; a show where we have watched thousands of extras die bloody, pointless deaths. Is George R.R. Martin going to wrap things up in a neat little bow and have Dany and the Starks quash the zombies and deliver Westeros peace and prosperity? Or could he play the contrarian and show us that even when you want a Jon Snow, sometimes you get a Cersei Lannister, and sorry, but that’s just the way the world works? It may not be the happiest ending, but it’s certainly fitting for a show that’s always been proud of its perversity. Whatever, I don’t even live there.