I love Lena Headey’s performance as Cersei. Like many of the characters on the show, she seems to be a prototypical fantasy construction – the Evil Queen/Stepmother to Sansa’s Disney princess – but is gradually shown to have more going on beneath the surface. But I think Headey in particular does a lot to bring things that aren’t even on the script page (don’t know what’s on the book pages, and once again this is not the place to talk about that) to the performance, painting a picture of a damaged woman straining at confines of her gilded prison. Someone who is constantly reminded what a position of power she nominally holds, but also stymied from wielding that power against any of the people that do the most to subjugate her. This creates an enormous, believable well of bitterness within her, but Headey never tries to mine this unhappiness for sympathy. It’s important that we understand Cersei, not so much that we like her. But of course I like her anyway.
It doesn’t hurt that she gets the best lines in this episode. Her conversation with Marge manages to be both icy and conciliatory in a way that is unique to the character (the delivery of “Do you think I am easily shocked?” was particularly great), and the scene with Tywin shows him backtracking on his previous admonitions against getting too many ideas in her head. It’s hard to say whether this is because he’s feeling sympathy for her grief, or just that she has become a more viable confidant with Jamie refusing to contribute and Tyrion (whose intellect Tywin can’t help but acknowledge, no matter how much he loathes him overall) on the chopping block. It could easily be both. Regardless, he lets her in on the secret that the Lannisters have been living on credit cards for years, which would probably register as a bigger shock if it weren’t placed right next to some of the things we learn at the Eyrie this week.
Speaking of, I think with this episode my friends and I may officially stop calling Aidan Gillen “Carcetti from The Wire” and start using just referring to him as “Litttlefinger”. After an extended absence, Lord Baelish comes roaring back into the narrative with the jaw-dropper that not only did he murder Joffrey (boo hoo) out of sheer deviousness, but he also pulled the strings that set this whole rigamarole in motion by conspiring to murder Jon Arryn with his wife, the loopy widow Lysa. That was the catalyst that set the entire series in motion, you’ll recall, which reframes the last four seasons as all part of Littlefinger’s grand, if nebulous (best I can tell, he’s sort of generally sowing discord in order to manipulate the major Houses into sapping each others’ strength, allowing him to worm his way into new lands and titles along the way) plan. It seems as though even the Lannisters were his patsies, although I really thought it had been established that Jaime and Cersei were behind Arryn’s poisoning, such that I was totally blindsided by the reveal. I hadn’t even been thinking of that as being a mystery that still required “solving”.
Indeed, while I realize that it is a primary thematic raison d’etre for the series, I think after a few years the show may be hammering too hard on the “honor is useless and will only get you killed” button. It’s not that I don’t take the point, it’s that when it gets repeated ad nauseum in so many storylines, it starts to feel simplistic. And the series’ is strongest when it is reveling in the messiness and relativity of any particular ethos.
Which is great, I think. The show seems to have been going out of its way this year to give us viscerally satisfying comeuppances for some of its nastiest characters, and fist-pumping smackdowns of the type it had previously reserved for one-dimensional villains over in Dany’s storyline – the death of Joffrey most prominently, but also Arya’s shanking the shitheel in the inn, and now the graphic ends of Locke and the mutineers. It’s almost like Martin/Benioff/Wise realized that after the Red Wedding, they had reached a saturation point as far as the punishment the audience could possibly stand, and decided that we had earned some pudding now that we’d finished our meat. And I do feel like I’ve earned it, and or at least that I need to see that the wicked can have it as hard as the good guys from time to time. I intend to savor it while I can, before the end of the season arrives to heap more tragedy to my favorite characters. I’m just petrified that it will be Tyrion who ends up taking the loss come episode 9…
But in the meantime, if the scene with Tywin and the preseason trailers are to be believed, we have another fist-pumper to look forward to in an Oberyn vs the Mountain showdown, which seems ancillary enough to the main plot that the Bad Guy can lose without disrupting the show’s MO. Maybe that’ll even be next week.
So, is it next week yet? Oh, come on!!
*whom I called in my Breaking Bad reviews “the best director working in TV today” – she’s still up there, but if we count ringers from the feature film world like Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) and Vincenzo Natali (Hannibal), the competition gets a lot more fierce