Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister stands at a window, flanked by Euron Greyjoy and the Mountain.
Some are born the worst. Some have worstness thrust upon them.
Helen Sloan/HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 8 , we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, editorial assistant Rachelle Hampton is joined by Slate associate editor Seth Maxon.

Rachelle Hampton: Hey, Seth, and thanks for joining me to decide this week’s Worst Person in Westeros! There are numerous contenders now that the army of the (un)dead is actually dead and Cersei is back on the chessboard after what I can imagine was a nice nap last week. She was truly in fine Mad Queen form this week, managing to kill off the one morally pure character on this show, and breaking my heart in the process.

But let’s back up to the beginning of “The Last of the Starks,” which opened up with a solemn reminder of who exactly had died in the Battle of Winterfell—let’s all pour one out for my girl, Lyanna. That joyous after-battle feast had a whole lot going on, from the drinking games to that extremely weird interaction between Sansa and the Hound to Dany deciding to lord-ify Gendry on the fly. That last move was a clever bit of politicking and maybe one of the only smart leadership decisions Dany’s made this entire season, proving that she, too, can be as clever as Tyrion purportedly is.

And speaking of his cleverness, it is, once again, nowhere to be found this episode. From futilely trying to convince Cersei that she’s not a monster to his continued loyalty to Dany despite her obvious (and low-key poorly written) descent into madness, Tyrion is a shadow of his former self. Is his misguided trust enough to make him the worst this episode?

Seth Maxon: Before I get to Tyrion, let’s talk about that battle feast. Given the stakes and limited time remaining in the show, it is kind of astonishing how much of the first half-hour of this episode was focused on characters either getting down or not getting down, if not turning down a future of getting down. (Tough break, now-Lord Gendry.) The world did just nearly end, though, and they’re all astonished to be alive, so I guess getting drunk and getting down does seem like an appropriate celebration. L’Chaim!

Tyrion does continue to seem misguided—but I think there’s more going on here than blind trust. He wasn’t wrong in that final scene in thinking that he is, at this point, the only person with a shred of hope to convince Cersei of anything. They did grow up together, and despite everything, he knows her more deeply than anyone else on either side of that looming clash. Talking to Cersei might have been futile, but I think he was right to try to appeal to her, because it was the only chance he had to stop the war. His tongue, it is said, is his greatest weapon, and speaking then was the most he could do. And as for his continued loyalty amid Dany’s narratively dissatisfying descent, Tyrion seems most driven by what he mentioned to Sansa on the barricades: fear. He’s probably wrong when he tells Varys that Dany’s the best possible leader for Westeros, but he’s not a bad person for being afraid of her wrath.

What about Daenerys herself? While the rest of Winterfell was grieving and grief-drinking (and getting down), she started this episode by swiftly pivoting from “humankind is lucky to have survived the apocalypse; a bunch of people we love are dead” to “the game is back on.” And she persistently ignored the advice of her smartest advisers and allies (notably Sansa, again) and, in doing so, worsened her chances in the war against Cersei, saw her closest confidant and dragon child killed, and (along with Cersei) made nearly certain mass death basically inevitable. Is Daenerys the worst?

Hampton: As much as it pains me to say this, Daenerys’ decisions this week ultimately made sense. I might just be getting used to her megalomania and unique talent for assembling advisers just for the express purpose of ignoring their counsel. I might just want her to burn down King’s Landing after queen of my heart Missandei died, who knows! But the decision to march her troops immediately south after slogging through that battle wasn’t one she made alone—Jon and Tyrion both seemed to agree. And it doesn’t really seem like waiting a few weeks would have prevented that Euron sneak attack that shouldn’t have worked by any stretch of the imagination. She’s flying thousands of feet in the air and doesn’t see a battalion of ships? Only one of her dragons can pivot now? I call bullshit. In terms of who is more directly responsible for the thousands of deaths we will certainly see in upcoming weeks, I unfortunately have to say that Dany doesn’t share equal blame with Cersei.

Which, of course, only makes Jaime’s decision to return to Cersei’s side all the more depressing. His slow development of a conscience, seemingly cemented by his ride north and his relationship with Brienne, was one of the more compelling parts of the show as it currently stands. And then he throws it all away for his crazypants sister. While I hate what the writers did to Brienne in her last scene—battle-hardened warrior that she is, she’d never beg Jaime to turn away from a fight—I hate Jaime’s turn back toward the incestuous dark side more. But what say you, Seth?

Maxon: Man, great point about the dragons and the Dragon Queen missing Euron’s fleet from above. Get your dragon heads in the game, y’all. And Missandei absolutely deserves to be avenged; I wish that for us all. But I think the most important point you make about Dany is that Jon and Tyrion supported her when they might have had the power to stop her. The blame for the coming bloodshed is indeed shared, among them all as well as with Cersei.

Jaime preparing his return to his sister was hard to watch. He is seemingly tearing down all he’s built up—in himself and with Brienne—to succumb to his ultimate demon. The great Ser Brienne believed in Jaime, and he’s betraying that faith. But I think there’s more to his choice than may be immediately apparent. Now that humankind is saved, he likely believes he owes his loyalty to the person to whom he’s always been most loyal. And in his self-hatred, he believes siding with Cersei is more true to who he “really” is. He thinks that he’s a mythical knight—and at bottom he is one—and kicking it with Brienne amid a great war would never strike him as honorable. I think Brienne will be proved right about Jaime’s nature in the end. Returning to Cersei is also the only way he can personally stop her. The Kingslayer can’t slay the queen from Winterfell. In King’s Landing, he may yet.

As for the queen: Her refusal to join the fight for humanity’s survival and her clinging to the throne at the expense of all else is what has brought about this whole war. If we believe the episode’s prognosticators, thousands will die so she can stay on the throne and pass power to her baby. Those are Cersei’s only goals. And maybe even colder still: She ordered Missandei beheaded. You see where I’m going here.

Hampton: I do see where you’re going, and I’m right there with you. It was clear from the moment that Cersei stepped out onto that platform with Missandei what was going to happen and that it was going to cement her as The Worst. But for the sake of being thorough, let’s go through her crimes against humanity this week. Normally I am at least somewhat amused by Cersei’s villainy—and as I said last week, she inspires the revenge-seeking wine aunt in me. But not this episode. First, she used her people as human shields and hostages, bringing them into the Red Keep to maximize the human fallout if and when Dany decides to storm the city. Then she lies to Euron about the paternity of her baby—which I honestly do not care about but still, not great form. One of the more subtly cruel moments is putting Missandei back into shackles, while mocking Dany’s “breaker of chains” title.

Of course, what tips her into Worst Person territory is that beheading, which was not only heartbreaking but pragmatically stupid. Keeping Missandei as a hostage while refusing to surrender would’ve made much more sense in the long term. It also would’ve kept some of Dany’s rage at bay, thus minimizing the chance that she decides to go for scorched-earth tactics and keeping casualties lower. Before this moment, I, like Tyrion, had a faint hope that Cersei wasn’t just content to rule over a burning city of screaming children just to say she won. Now, it’s fair to say that hope is as dead as the Mountain once was. It’s not like Cersei was ever exactly a saint, but were her actions this week enough to name her our Worst Person?

Maxon: I think that they were. I too can’t be moved much by Euron incorrectly thinking he’s a daddy-to-be, but that is a long and awful list of cruelty and death. And for what? A long history of cruelty does not exonerate more cruelty. Cersei Lannister, some weeks you do have that vengeful wine-aunt charm, but this week …

Hampton: Even a pitcher of the best Dornish wine couldn’t stop you from being named Worst Person in Westeros.