For the few characters who live long enough to survive several seasons on Game of Thrones, change is inevitable. Daenerys has gone from a naïve girl with an arranged marriage to the Mother of Dragons; Arya went from a cute child to a face-shifting assassin; Sansa turned from a true Lannister believer to an abused political hostage to the Queen of the North. More than any other GOT character, though, that tendency to evolve is especially true of Cersei Lannister.
Cersei has held many different roles on the series, but she’s also unusually great at being more than one thing at once. In the earlier seasons, she was forced to pivot from sidelined daughter to stage mother, depending on context and circumstance. She’s often been defined by her relationships with others, too: She’s a wife and she’s a sister, but she’s rarely been allowed to just be her own person. Now, in season seven, things have changed yet again. So which Cersei is the best? Let’s find out.
Bored Matchmaker Cersei
Cersei’s opening position in Game of Thrones is not worthy of her talents or indicative of her full range of skills. With her husband still alive and her father controlling the Lannister fortunes, Cersei’s primary role at the beginning of the series is to negotiate power by finding the right wife for Joffrey. Plus, inventing increasingly vertical hair sculptures.
Hand-in-hand with her role as Joffrey’s matchmaker, we catch a glimpse of exactly why Cersei’s wifely role is so upsetting. King Robert Baratheon beats her, he’s never loved her, and she’s trapped in a terrible marriage for political power. Embittered Cersei does get some iconic lines, though.
After Joffrey ascends the throne, Cersei suddenly has new power. She isn’t actually in charge, but she has more influence over Joffrey than she ever did over Robert. Of course, like any stage mom, the job is part “living vicariously” and part “how do I control this monster I created?”
Stage-Mom Cersei was all about furthering her own interests while stopping Joffrey from slaughtering anything with a heartbeat. Not-Quite-Queen Cersei is stuck trying to navigate the tricky competing forces of her son and her father, Tywin. Prevented from simply enacting her own will, Not-Quite-Queen Cersei crushes those beneath her and picks up the pieces of whatever disaster happens along the way. “Knowledge is power,” Littlefinger tries to tell her. “Power is power,” she snaps back.
As though trying to balance the desires of her father with the whims of her son weren’t enough, Cersei also spends a great deal of time jockeying for power with Tyrion. (When she’s not trying to torture him, that is.) The peak moment of Sibling Rivalry Cersei is a beautiful, wordless sequence in season three.
Never exactly cheerful, Cersei takes a sharper turn into darkness once Joffrey dies on his wedding day. Mourning Cersei ping-pongs between desperately clutching at Tommen and vowing revenge on whoever poisoned Joffrey. She’s newly aware of her family’s vulnerability, and is intensely protective of her remaining children.
Cersei’s relationship with Jaime has always been an undercurrent of GOT. It’s the worst-kept secret in Westeros, but it stays mostly under wraps in the show’s earlier seasons. (There are a few notable exceptions; sorry Bran.) But after Joffrey’s death, Cersei cares less about propriety, and when she’s finally reunited with her brother in King’s Landing, Twincest Cersei makes more frequent appearances.
The thing about frantically trying to maintain control over your only remaining son is that he’ll start to resent you, especially if you become a wedge between him and his new wife. Short version: Cersei tries her best to once again protect those she loves. It does not go well.
You can’t just go straight from Shame Cersei to a full comeback. It takes time to plot your revenge, especially when King’s Landing is full of religious zealots working against you. On-the-Outs Cersei also has to negotiate with the powerful Tyrell family, so she spends a lot of time suggesting and requesting, rather than just doing things for herself.
From the ashes of Shame Cersei and On-the-Outs Cersei, Goth Cersei rises more powerful and more unyielding than ever before. It comes at terrible personal cost, but Goth Cersei isn’t content to just sit next to the Iron Throne. That chair is hers now, and aside from her symbolically useful but not particularly flattering haircut, this new, unflinching, “burn it all down” Goth Cersei is the best iteration we’ve seen yet. Power becomes her.