Warning: This article is dark and full of Game of Thrones season 8 spoilers.
With two GoT episodes remaining, the season’s biggest pitfall so far (in my opinion) has been how little Cersei Lannister is featured. People love to pretend that Cersei is some kind of unpredictable monster, and plenty of fans have developed theories about how she’ll die. But honestly, Cersei has done nothing but stand up for her family since day one — and after all she’s been through, I don’t think she deserves the fate that GoT fans are expecting.
Let’s start from the very beginning. Cersei was born to a father who didn’t love her, and a mother who died early in her childhood. She wanted to marry Rhaegar Targaryen, but was married instead to Robert Baratheon, a man who didn’t love her and often cheated on her. Even her children, who she fought to protect, either brush aside or outright rebel at her attempts to consolidate their power. (Yes, burning Margaery alive was a bit harsh — but having been tossed aside for Margaery by Joffrey already, I don’t blame her for not trusting the Tyrell’s influence.)
Nearly every move Cersei has made trying to keep House Lannister in power has backfired on her: putting Joffrey on the throne at a young age, going against the Tyrells and appointing the High Septon all come to mind. At every turn, the people she’d helped bring to power turned on her as soon as she was no longer of use — can anyone blame her for deciding to finally take power for herself?
Then there’s the issue of the prophecy: in her youth, Cersei was told that she would be usurped by a younger and more beautiful queen, watch all her children die and be killed by a younger brother. One could view her entire trajectory as an attempt to escape that fate — particularly when it comes to her children, it helps to explain Cersei’s paranoia and violent nature toward those who threaten them. In the end, while Cersei may revel in her plotting more than most, all the remaining leads on Game of Thrones have planned and enacted several murders in their time. And for the most part, they’ve done so for the sake of their family: Arya, Sansa and Jon for House Stark, and Dany in the name of her Targaryen claim to the throne.
I don’t believe that Cersei has acted much more cruelly than anyone in her position would have. Frankly, I think much of the ire for her character comes from the fact that she began the series in a position of relative power. Cersei never goes out of her way to be considered warm, or to be well-liked, an issue we always hear less about where male leaders are concerned. But viewers expected Cersei to woo them to her side, and she never did. By the time we encounter Cersei, she already knows that the fates are against her remaining in power — we should commend her for fighting so hard against the inevitable, and praise her for never disguising her true nature, as it now seems Dany has.
Fittingly, Cersei was the one to utter the iconic line “when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” She’s been operating with that attitude since we first met her: if it took everyone else a few seasons to catch up with her ruthlessness, that’s on them.