Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire.
Still shocked that Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor? Or that she subjected Septa Unella—a nun, albeit a cruel one—to rape and torture? Well, we’ve only just begun to see the Mad Queen side of Cersei, who has been a much more sympathetic character in the TV show than she is in the books. That’s due to a mix of Lena Headey’s performance and the show’s emphasis on Cersei’s love for her children. “It’s your one redeeming quality,” Tyrion once told her. “That, and your cheekbones.” Now that’s she’s newly childless, will we see her act more like book Cersei? If so, watch out, Westeros. Here’s a primer on what canonical Cersei is capable of.
She kills her best friend.
You might be surprised at this one—when did Cersei ever have friends? We got a glimpse of this during a Season 5 flashback to when she was a girl. Her companion and bedmaid Melara Hetherspoon accompanied Cersei to visit the woods witch, and Melara got a prophecy of her own after she dared to ask, “Will I marry Jaime?” The witch responded, “Worms will have your maidenhead. Your death is here tonight, little one. Can you smell her breath? She is very close.” Cersei wasn’t thrilled that Melara dared to dream of marrying her twin, later calling her a “greedy little schemer with ideas above her station.” Cersei thinks of this as a betrayal, and it’s implied that she pushed Melara into a well, where she drowned. (In Cersei’s memory Melara “fell,” but that sounds like her cover story, considering she also remembers “accusing eyes.”) Did Cersei kill Melara because the poor girl had a crush on Jaime, or because she thought, as Melara insisted, that if they never spoke of the prophecies, they would never come true? Whatever her reasoning, Melara died, and Cersei avoided having friends for years.
She kills the previous High Septon.
Before the High Sparrow comes to prominence, he has a predecessor in the High Septon. On the TV show, he’s accosted by the Sparrows and forced to do a walk of shame. In the books, Cersei takes him out by sending Osney Kettleblack to murder him. Why would Cersei kill a religious leader? Because she believed him to be Tyrion’s man, and the crown’s debt was owed in part to the Faith. It’s for this murder that she’s first arrested, after Osney confesses (following a round of torture): “He never had no guards. I just come in when he was sleeping and pushed a pillow down across his face. The charge of conspiring to kill King Robert was added afterward, along with adultery, fornication, and treason.
She schemes to kill Jon Snow.
When the Night’s Watch gives shelter to Stannis and his men, Cersei plots with the Small Council to finally send men to Castle Black, ostensibly to take the black, but in reality to remove Jon Snow as Lord Commander via assassination. “His Grace should send the Wall a hundred men,” Qyburn suggests. Perhaps [Jon] will even thank me, before the blade slides between his ribs, Cersei thinks.
She schemes to kill Trystane.
Cersei comes up with an assassination scheme to kill Prince Doran’s son, in which Tyrion would be blamed. The idea is that Myrcella would come home to King’s Landing for a visit, and Trystane would accompany her. Trystane is supposed to be killed en route during an ambush, aided by Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard. But Doran finds out about the plot and thwarts it.
She wants Arya to lose a hand.
When Arya and Joffrey get into a fight in Season 1, Cersei’s reaction seems a little severe, demanding the death of a direwolf not involved in the incident. In the books, she has an additional demand: “My sister wanted Arya to lose a hand,” Jaime says. “The old penalty, for striking one of the blood royal … Cersei cried [during sex], ‘I want.’ I thought that she meant me, but it was the Stark girl she wanted, maimed or dead.” Had Ned’s men not found Arya first, Jaime admits he would have done his sister’s bidding.
She slaughters babies.
The first report of this comes from Littlefinger, so take it with a grain of salt, but he claims to have heard stories about how King Robert impregnated a serving wench at Casterly Rock, who then had twins. “Cersei had the babes killed,” Littlefinger tells Ned, “and sold the mother to a passing slaver.” Later, after the mass murder of more bastards, Tyrion interrogates Janos Slynt and comes to the conclusion that Cersei gave the order. In the show, she is silent when Tyrion brings it up, leading him to think it was Joffrey. In the books, however, Varys tells Tyrion it was Cersei. “Your own sweet sister,” he says. “It is a hard thing to tell a man, my lord. I was fearful how you might take it. Can you forgive me?”
She aborts King Robert’s one legitimate heir.
As Cersei tells Ned, “Your Robert got me with child once. My brother found a woman to cleanse me.” (This became a more humanizing moment with Catelyn on the show, when she tells her a sob story about losing her first son, “a black-haired beauty,” to a fever). Cersei has every right to an abortion, but then she passes off illegitimate children borne of incest as the king’s issue, and actively seeks to ensure that the king has no actual legitimate heir. Ten thousand of your children perished in my palm, she thinks.
She gives women to Qyburn to “experiment” on.
When one of Cersei’s companions, Taena, a double agent for Margaery, tells her that another maid of hers, Senelle, is reporting on Cersei to Margaery, Cersei’s paranoia gets the better of her, and she condemns her without definitive proof. In public, Cersei resists an urge to throttle her (telling herself, “Do not presume to smile at me, you treacherous little bitch. You will be begging me for mercy before I’m done with you”) and in private, hands the poor woman over to Qyburn for what he calls “mine own purposes.” Senelle’s heard screaming down in the black cells, but she doesn’t last long. “The poor girl is quite … exhausted,” Qyburn reports. Cersei later gives him more women, but they, too, get “quite used up.”
She tries to kill Bronn.
Along with other murders of Tyrion’s allies, Cersei decides that Bronn must die. Since Bronn is married to Lollys Stokeworth, Cersei recruits Falyse Stokeworth and her husband Balman to do the deed, telling them she’s in fear of Bronn raising swords to kill Tommen and that Bronn should have a “mortal mishap” during a “hunting accident.” Balman instead challenges Bronn to a duel, loses, confesses, and dies. In fear, Falyse flees to King’s Landing, and Cersei, under the pretense of helping her, gives her to Qyburn for his “experiments.” Whatever he does to Falyse, she’s no longer capable of ruling her castle, “or, indeed, of feeding herself.” But he’s learned oh so much!
She has a whore whipped.
In the show, Cersei takes Ros hostage, mistaking her for Shae. In the books, a prostitute named Alayaya gets this distinction instead and is treated far worse. “They tied her to a post in the yard and scourged her, then shoved her out the gate naked and bloody,” Bronn tells Tyrion. (It’s debatable whether the whipping is Cersei’s direct action or something she makes happen by telling Tywin about Alayaya, knowing what his reaction will be.)
She buys Shae’s testimony against Tyrion, as a means to kill him.
At least, she pretends she’ll pay. Shae tries to collect on “certain promises Cersei might have made”—a manse in the city, a knight to marry her—and Cersei denies her the reward “until she told them where Sansa Stark had gone.” Shae, of course, has no knowledge of this, and Cersei refuses to believe her, leaving Shae in tears. In this case, Cersei does believe that Tyrion is guilty of the crime of murdering Joffrey, but she’s manufacturing evidence against him.
She frames Margaery for treason and adultery as a means to kill her.
In the show, Cersei goes after Loras Tyrell as a way to get at Margaery. (Margaery then perjures herself defending her brother.) In the books, Cersei goes straight for Margaery—she first sends men to try to seduce Margaery, and when that fails, she gets them to “confess” that they’ve slept with her, either by seducing them herself or by torture. The scheme almost works—the septa examining Margaery confirms her maidenhead is ruptured (although that’s common with highborn girls who go horseback riding) and Pycelle says he’s provided her with moon tea, Westeros’s most common abortifacient. The irony is, by accusing Margaery of crimes that she herself has committed, Cersei gets caught for even bigger ones. Oops!