Editors Note: This Article will discuss the A Song of Ice and Fire books up until the point of the show. For those who have seen the show, would like to read the books, and don’t want differences between the books and the show spoiled, this is your warning.
“Tell me why it is more honorable to kill a thousand men on the battlefield than it is to kill a dozen at dinner?”
– Tywin Lannister
By D.G. McCabe
If the Starks are the protagonist house for Game of Thrones up until this point the Lannisters are set up as the antagonist house. Interestingly enough, four of the five actors listed first in the opening credits of Game of Thrones are the main Lannister characters.
The Lannisters are therefore not the usual “bad guys” that one would have in a fantasy story. We’re not talking about Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters here, who were largely archetypal totalitarian villains. One of the clear “good guys” of the series, after all, is Tyrion Lannister, and Jaime Lannister’s arc has made him into a fan favorite as well.
Within the world of Game of Thrones, even those fan favorites are despised by the masses. Tyrion of course is the victim of an enormous amount of prejudice due to his stature, but he brings a lot of unnecessary trouble on himself at times. Jaime of course is seen as an incestuous “Kingslayer” – a man without honor.
Much of the hatred of the Lannisters, within and outside the world of Ice and Fire is centered around the characters of Tywin and Cersei. Cersei suffers from debilitating paranoia, but most of that stems from being trapped in powerless positions and lashing out. Tywin of course is calculating and emotionless, and is feared by everyone he comes in contact with.
What all four of the main Lannister characters have in common is a decisiveness when they have power, and a helplessness when they do not. Tyrion is bold and forceful when he is hand of the king, but struggles to find his place after the Battle of Blackwater. Cersei overcompensates for her lack of power by constantly lashing out. Jaime never really feels like himself unless he is able to take action. Lord Tywin is never without power, but he loses his temper more than once in seasons one and two when his armies are losing to Robb Stark.
The Lannisters therefore have a common thread in their personalities – a desire for power. This ambition isn’t necessarily a bad thing when channeled in certain ways. Tyrion uses his power over King’s Landing to save the city from Stannis’ armies. Jaime uses his influence to turn around Bolton’s men and rescue Brianne.
Even Lord Tywin doesn’t orchestrate the Red Wedding out of malevolence, but instead to stop the war and secure the position of his family. Even back in the first season, it was clear that he didn’t want this war in the first place. Tywin is Machiavellian, but he doesn’t operate out of a place of hatred like most antagonists in fantasy stories.
The same cannot be said for Cersei. If she sees real power, she would be operating out of a place of hatred and vengeance, and try to destroy everything that she sees as a threat. Which in her paranoid mind, is everything and everyone. At this point in the story, she is contained to a certain extent by her father, but if she were to be put in charge, she would be the most dangerously reckless person in all of Westeros.
(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe