By Theresa Hogue (May 14, 2019)
There are plenty of valid criticisms floating about regarding Game of Thrones’ brutal penultimate episode, many of which focus on the unexpected and frankly wild veering that many beloved characters do from the path the writers had previously put them on. Whether it’s Jaime’s sudden crash from his redemption arc with Brienne to Dany’s maniacal firestorm slaughter of innocents, there was a lot to take in, and a lot to be critical of.
For me, though, the most frustrating moments of the episode came when multiple male characters discussed the motivations of Queen Cersei, including both her brothers. Over and over, you heard male characters linking Cersei’s ambitions directly to her motherhood and current pregnancy, negating any other valid reason for her refusal to cede power.
Does Cersei identify as a wounded mother? Clearly. And have many of her most brutal actions been fueled by either protecting or revenging her children? Absolutely. But Cersei’s underlying drive for power is clearly motivated by being a capable, intelligent woman in a patriarchy that severely limits female ambition. She was less valued by her father than her twin brother, despite being a better strategist. She was strategically married by her father to a far less capable king and had to watch his failures as a leader. “I should wear the armor, and you the gown,” she tells King Robert Baratheon. She has been limited and thwarted by men her entire life.
While it is true that Cersei’s current pregnancy may lend urgency to her situation, she fights not because she’s a mother but because she has finally attained the position she felt she deserved and she damn well won’t relinquish it. It is true that Cersei’s position is not a feminist one, she is not fighting to stay in power to somehow advance the situation of women in Westeros, in fact many of her biggest and most loathed enemies have been other women attempting to grab or maintain power, and she’s ruthlessly cut them down (think Margery Tyrell, her treatment of Sansa, and her current disdain of Dany). However, she does fight against patriarchy for her own sake.
Salon did an analysis of Game of Thrones last year which showed that since 2013 there hasn’t been a single female writer, let alone director, on the show. So perhaps it’s not surprising when a major female character like Cersei is reduced simply to her role as a protective mother, rather than a complicated, dangerous and ruthless leader who has many reasons for protecting the throne she fought so violently for. In her final scene with her brother, the writers reinforce the episode’s emphasis on motherhood when they have her plead to Jaime, “I want our baby to live.” And of course she does, but her impending death is about so much more.
“Power is power,” Cersei says in a much earlier episode. Her whole life has been about shaking off the impediments of male power in order to attain what she knew, all along, she was capable of. That’s what she loses as the walls come down.