Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Cersei Lannister

Lannisters make particularly terrible parents.

Photo by Macall B. Polay/courtesy of HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 5, we’ll be discussing a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, Slate assistant editor Miriam Krule is joined by Slate senior editor Jonathan Fischer.

Miriam Krule: Jon! Thanks for joining me to discuss “The Sons of the Harpy.” I’m just going to cut to the chase: This episode was all about death. To be fair, Game of Thrones is always all about death, but this episode got a bit more philosophical, focusing on the ways death haunts the living. We saw Jon Snow resisting Melisandre because he loves a dead woman; we saw Jaime and Bronn discussing the “shit way” they’d like to die; and the ever more creepy Littlefinger telling Sansa “let’s talk where the dead can’t hear us” while in the crypts of Winterfell. We even hear a favorite refrain “all men must die,” but this time with the added bonus “but not all men can die in glory.” What was your favorite discussion of death in this week’s episode?

Jonathan Fischer: My favorite morbid exchange was on the slightly awkward side. King Tommen is blocked from entering the Holy Sept by the Faith Militant, so one of Kingsguard tells him, “Give the order, and we’ll clear out this rabble.” The fresh-faced monarch’s response: “You mean … kill them? Here, in the Sept?” You can’t rule Westeros without letting a few heads roll—or if you’re Tommen’s dear, departed, psychopathic older brother Joffrey, shooting a few with your crossbow—but it appears our gentle young king doesn’t have much of a stomach for blood. That’ll be a big problem, now that his scheming mother Cersei has elevated the High Sparrow to the leadership of the Faith of the Seven—and even more significantly, that she’s allowed him to revive the Faith Militant, a long-banished holy-rolling army that spends this episode dispensing brutal justice on the sinners of King’s Landing and arresting Tommen’s new brother-in-law, the closeted but not-too-closeted Ser Loras. Cersei’s powerplay—she’s trying to undermine the Tyrells, whom she fear will rob of her of influence—can only get deadlier from here, right?

Krule: If the ending of this episode is any indication, yes. Granted, the mass slaughter wasn’t in King’s Landing, but the masked men killing the unsullied are in many ways reminiscent of the Faith Militant—especially now that they have that painful looking head-branding initiation. The difference is that, for now, Cersei is in control of the killing, while Dany is at a loss, and losing important men. But I’m beginning to wonder how in control Cersei really is. I kind of couldn’t believe that she put Tommen in that position—one wrong move and he very well could have died. (Or am I just overly worried about kings dying at this point?) As much as she hates Margaery, she only has two children left, and the other is in Dorne! She’s gotten the Faith Militant to do her bidding, but I’ve already grown wary of them and am nervous to see how they move the plot in King’s Landing. After all, their agenda doesn’t really jibe with Cersei’s. What’s her end game when she doesn’t need them anymore? She’s done terrible things, but what she does to Tommen here is kind of unforgivable! Is she the Worst Person in Westeros?

Fischer: I’d nominate Cersei for Worst Person in Westeros just about every week, but this week she undoubtedly takes the prize. But it’s not because her gambit is so devious, although it is. It’s because it’s so selfishly oblivious to the possibly disastrous consequences. Cersei may believe that she’s manipulated the Faith Militant to move against the scion of her political rivals, but all she’s done is hand insane amounts of power to a group that ultimately has no allegiance to her—and now doesn’t even have a reason to fear her. Readers of George R.R. Martin’s books will know that the last time there was a Faith Militant in Westeros, the crown banned it after it attempted to rebel. The worst thing Cersei does in this episode is not knowing her history.

Krule: Even without that past history—even for those of us who haven’t read the book—it’s easy to guess where this is going. Last week I was all about how everyone serves as a foil for Jon Snow (and I still think that’s true) but this week we saw two women stand in juxtaposition with Cersei: Dany and Ellaria Sand. I am always happy to talk about Dany’s failings as a leader, which are growing more and more apparent, but it was interesting to see her compared to Ellaria. Cersei sells out her child, but Ellaria gathers Oberyn’s children to join in the revenge. (I’m very excited for Keisha Castle-Hughes’ revenge tactics—she may rival Arya for the spot of “best deadly vengeful daughter” in my heart.) Am I overreacting if I think this partially implies that Cersei’s biggest failing as a mother is that she doesn’t include her children in her plans?

Fischer: Cersei is definitely the Worst Parent in Westeros—maybe even a worse one than her father Tywin, who likely instilled in her a thing or two about manipulating one’s own kids. All three Lannister siblings, in fact, got a decent amount of screen time this episode. I think I’m looking forward to the Tyrion/Jorah Mormont buddy comedy that we saw the beginning of this week—they’ll be a blast as they insult each other all the way back to Mereen, assuming Jorah doesn’t end every conversation by clocking Tyrion in the head.

Krule: The Lannisters do make particularly terrible parents—and children for that matter. Jaime seems to love his children in his own way—even if they don’t really know he’s their father—and his reunion with his daughter should be interesting. But you got me curious to see what Tyrion would be like as a dad, though I have a feeling that won’t be happening any time soon. I’ll settle for the Tyrion/Jorah Mormont buddy comedy, just as long as they save the Dany plotline in the process. Cersei definitely takes the crown for worst person (and parent!) this week, especially as Stannis tells his daughter the story of how he fought for her when she fell ill—“You are the princess Shireen of House Baratheon. And you are my daughter”—revealing, for the first time, that he may not be the worst father in Westeros.