Brow Beat

Are Cersei and Daenerys the Mad Queens?

You can’t spell Daenerys without Aerys.
You can’t spell Daenerys without Aerys.

HBO

As Tyrion kept repeating on last night’s “Eastwatch”—trying to convince those around him or himself or both— “Daenerys is not her father.”

While Tyrion’s assertion is technically true (Daenerys is not Aerys, despite sharing the better part of a name), many who have seen her recent actions, her Hand included, are having a hard time swallowing it. The new queen seems to be acting more and more like her late father as she tries to ruthlessly cement her rule.

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Optics, Dany, optics. The Mad King, a tyrant known for his cruelty, paranoia, and pyromania, is the last person with whom an aspiring monarch should want to be compared. Though initially a benevolent ruler, the inbred Targaryen descended into madness as his rule went on, culminating in the sadistic public execution of Rickard and Brandon Stark, Ned’s father and brother. Daenerys has been eager to separate herself from her dad, telling Jon Snow, “My father was an evil man … and I ask you not to judge a daughter by the sins of her father.” Soon there will be no need: Queen Daenerys looks to be committing a number of her own.

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Following last week’s epic battle, Dany offers the Lannister soldiers who didn’t get burned alive a choice: “Bend the knee … or refuse and die.” She expects blind loyalty from her citizens and is not keen to show mercy to the dissenters. But is she being nasty? You must be thinking of the other queen. “That’s Cersei Lannister, not me,” she tells them, before burning the Tarlys alive (RIP Dickon).

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So are Westeros’ current queens really any improvement on its last few kings? The Iron Throne has seen its fair share of terrible occupants—Aerys (crazy), Robert (lazy), and Joffrey (crazy)—and everyone keeps warning Daenerys not to follow their lead. In the selectively pointed highlights from last episode, Jon tells Dany that if she just burns everyone, she’ll be “no different, just more of the same.” Does he mean the same as the Lannisters, or the same as her (their) mad ancestor? Or, perhaps, the same as the men who butchered the role before her?

Neither gender is immune to going mad with power, it seems. Tyrion is, understandably, a little freaked out about the potential Mad Queen on his hands. He’s having trouble advising her, as his own father had with Aerys and as his brother has had with Cersei (the Lannister men are not very good at influencing mad monarchs). In a heart-to-heart with Varys, the two altruistic men discuss their responsibility for the dark path their queen is on. “I am her Hand, not her head,” Tyrion says.

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“That’s what I used to tell myself about her father,” says Varys, sadly. “I found the traitors but I wasn’t the one burning them alive.”

The wise men are wise to be concerned. Daenerys, too, is the product of incest (her mother was Aerys’ sister), and as seven seasons have shown, this tends to result in some crazy, power-hungry kids, such as her brother Viserys and that other Mad King, Joffrey. She’s been through enough pain to make anyone crazy. And since landing in Westeros, the Breaker of Chains has burned prisoners alive, threatened her closest advisors out of paranoia, and killed honorable father-son duos, checking all the Aerys boxes.

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Down in King’s Landing, another ruthless ruler haunted by her father sits upon the Mad King’s melted sword chair. Daenerys has a strong contender in Cersei, if not for the Iron Throne, then for the title of the Mad Queen. The list of mad things Cersei has done is getting too long to mention, but blowing up the Great Sept and everyone inside it is up there.

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Returning from battle, Jaime is rightfully terrified of telling his terrifying sister about the terrifying woman they face. He’s not into fighting losing battles and thinks they should surrender. But Mad Queen I is long past caring if she lives or dies—she wants to go out fighting. The Kingslayer who took out the manic monarch he was sworn to serve realizes he might be serving another. No stranger to taking out tyrants, could he be the “valonqar” Cersei so fears?

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Cersei’s nihilistic madness appears to abate with the revelation that she is with child … or does it? Maggy the Frog’s prophecy promised her only three children. If the prophecy is to be believed, she’s either faking her pregnancy or pregnant but going to lose the baby, at which point she could finally—understandably—go over the deep end.

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With the practical Lannister brothers trying to reason with them, the Mad Queens show that women are not immune to becoming tyrants. Just as women are capable of shattering glass ceilings to become CEOs/politicians that are as heartless/greedy as their male counterparts, we women are just as capable of becoming despotic, pyromaniacal monarchs.

At least in the case of these queens, they seem to have rationales beyond the Mad King’s psychotic sadism. Though Tyrion can’t see it, Dany isn’t killing indiscriminately. She’s giving people choices (not that “kneel or die” is a great one) and following through on her word. Cersei, meanwhile, is playing one of her long games on Jaime: letting the Tyrion meeting happen, hinting at being open to an armistice, and manipulating her poor twin with the possibility of an heir.

Are these women just crazy, or are they crazy like a fox?

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