Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Cersei Lannister

You beautiful betrayer, you.

Helen Sloan/HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 7, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate senior editor Sam Adams.

Brogan: Hi, Sam. Thanks for joining me to talk about “The Dragon and the Wolf.”

Just around the corner from my apartment in Washington, D.C., there’s a Game of Thrones–themed bar. Most nights, the line is hours long. Walking past it on my way to other, better bars, I’m sometimes tempted to yell, What is wrong with you people?!? But the truth is, I’ve stuck with this show for far, far longer than any of them have been waiting for a passable cocktail. Sometimes I think I’m the worst person in Westeros, if only for continuing to watch. Sometimes I think we all are.

But then an episode like this movie-length (and uncommonly cock joke-centric) one comes along, and I remember why I watched in the first place—even if I’m still not convinced that the show will ever find its way again.

Even here, though, we got a cumbersome series of scenes in which Sansa seems to fall for Littlefinger’s bullshit. Sure, that sequence builds to a satisfying twist, but we still have to hear him do Batman voice for much longer than I found bearable. Is Littlefinger the worst, just for, like, talking?

Adams: Lord Petyr Baelish, Lord Protector of the Vale (Ret.), probably stands a good chance of being the worst person in Westeros on any given week, but it does seem somewhat unsporting to award him that title so soon after having his throat slit. Sure, the list of bad deeds Sansa recites before Arya gives him the Red Wedding treatment is a long and inglorious one: He betrayed Ned Stark, murdered Lysa Arryn, delivered Sansa into the clutches of the brutal Ramsay Bolton, and finally connived to have Sansa murder her own sister. (A lesson learned, too late: Don’t mess with the Stark women.) The show finally confirmed that it was, in fact, Littlefinger who was behind the poisoning of Jon Arryn way back in Season 1, as well as the letter blaming the Lannisters for his murder, which set off the War of Five Kings—whose acrimonious ending has now put Westeros in even greater danger. But that also means that without Petyr Baelish, there would have been no Game of Thrones, so maybe we should be … thanking him?

I also resist naming Littlefinger the Worst Person in Westeros because, frankly, he might take it as a compliment. He’s been leaning against the wall in Sansa’s great hall all season long like some smirking woodwork, convinced that no one could possibly see through his complicated motivations. But once you realize Littlefinger’s ends have never changed, his means become a lot easier to discern, and the little game he proposes to Sansa as a means of turning her against Arya backfires: If you imagine the worst motives a person might possibly have, you will never be far from what Littlefinger is (or was) up to. He wasn’t as clever or as inscrutable as he believed, and when the jig was up, that smug grin turned to a blubbering quiver right quick. In death, he was what he feared being most: ordinary.

On the other hand, you can make a convincing argument that deceit is not such a bad thing, at least in small doses—especially with an extinction-level threat making its way toward the Wall. After a daring—if poorly executed—foray into White Walker territory to bring back a sample wight for Cersei to get a gander at, Jon Snow was within a hair’s breadth of forging the alliance he sought. But he couldn’t promise Cersei to stay neutral in the conflict to come after, even if telling that untruth might have meant the difference between the survival and the end of the human race. Read the room, dude.

So, Jacob, is Jon “cannot tell a lie” Snow the worst?

Brogan: There’s certainly a strong case to be made for it, and lord knows I’ve been agitating for Jon to get the title all season. It’s telling that in an episode where we finally and definitively learn his true parentage, he stridently hews to the tragic nobility of his adoptive father, Ned Stark. Then again, given where this episode leaves us—setting aside the dramatic shrug of a CGI final scene, which is, of course, also indirectly Jon’s fault—it’s tempting to suggest that he screwed up the whole plan just for a chance to get into Daenerys’ leather pants. He’s absolutely in the running.

But speaking of that scene, can we talk about Tyrion’s weird moment outside of her chamber? He has the look of a man who’s already seen too much, despite the closed door. And yet he sticks around. Sure, we saw more (including a lot of Jon’s glorious backside), but maybe Tyrion—who also makes some other comically lousy choices in this episode—is the worst for being … kind of a perv?

Adams: Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how to read that sequence, which gave fans their long-desired #Jonaerys coupling overlaid with Sam and Bran’s conversation definitively establishing that Jon is, at that moment, in the process of boning his aunt. Tryion doesn’t know that, of course, so maybe his frowny-face is just meant to convey that he worries what romance may do to his queen’s decision-making abilities, since she’s already put one of her strategically critical dragons at fatal risk in rescuing Jon. Or maybe he’s just feeling a little jealous that it’s Jon in there and not him. After all, as Cersei observes, she is his type.

I’m tempted to throw Samwell Tarly’s hat into the ring, taking credit as he does for Gilly’s discovery that Rhaegar Targaryen had his first marriage annuled, making Jon a fully legitimate, non-bastard heir to the throne. “I was transcribing” he tells Bran—no you bloody well were not. But allow me instead to make another nominee. Technically, the award is for worst person in Westeros, and not worst undead quasi-magical creature. But it ever there were an occasion to bend the rules, destroying the wall that has protected Westeros from eternal winter for thousands of years ought to qualify. So is the worst “person” in Westeros … Viserion, the undead dragon? (It’s definitely the worst Peter, Paul and Mary song.)

Brogan: I’m still mourning Zombear, the zombie who was a bear. He was a character we knew too briefly, so I’m not quite ready to curse the name of one of his undead kin. Let’s hope Viserion just ends up chilling in the autumn mists of Honnah Lee when this is all over.

In any case, we haven’t even touched on Cersei, who may have doomed all of humankind by not putting her weight behind Daenerys’ efforts. I imagine that Theon is going to somehow end up in control of the mercenary army that she’s purchased, allowing him to ride to the rescue next season. In the meantime, though, Cersei is still trying to play the game of thrones. She’s so dedicated to it that she can’t even take the threat of the white walkers seriously. So dedicated, in fact, that she comes close to killing Jaime. She’s been the worst before—and surely will be again—but she’s awfully terrible here.

Adams: In an episode that’s largely about people coming together and burying old grudges, Cersei is still nursing hers like a glass of Westeros’ finest non-alcoholic wine. The show did manage to double-fake us into thinking she’d given in, perhaps turned sentimental by the new life growing inside her. But parenthood hasn’t traditionally brought out the best in the Lannisters. If she’s having another child, Cersei’s going to make damn sure she has a kingdom to pass on to him or her, so she’s doing what Jon Snow couldn’t—lying to advance her own cause. She’ll fake an alliance, get Jon and Dany’s forces to lower their guards, and then strike at them from behind. Honesty’s a noble goal and all, Jon, but when you’re the only one being honest you’re being played for a sucker.

But just as Littlefinger’s instigating incident gave us Game of Thrones, so Cersei’s betrayal sets up a thrilling endgame for the series, and one that’s true to the show’s, and George R.R. Martin’s, ideas about people failing to find their better selves. Can Cersei be the Worst Person in Westeros if she’s also the best?

Brogan: I don’t think it could be any other way. If we fixate on the terrible people in this show—and if we’re a little terrible for continuing to watch—it can only be because they make it exciting. Cersei Lannister …

Adams: You are the Worst Person in Westeros—and we love you for it.