From the show’s iconic opening sequence, which ends highlighting the sigils of each warring faction, “Game of Thrones” has been a story about families. The infighting, the rivalries, the uneasy connections that pepper each turn in this expansive drama all stem from the deep roots that these characters have in a shared history. But of all of these in-world institutions, the most important over six seasons of the television series has been the Lannisters.
Though the show obviously draws on the George R.R. Martin source material heavily in its opening seasons, the show as a separate entity has always demonstrated a willingness to forge its own path when necessary. And within the foundation of treachery and deceit and outmaneuvering that has come to define the series over its entire run, the Lannisters did it first and best. The attack on King Robert Baratheon that occurred even before the beginning of the first episode and Bran’s very important fall from a Winterfell tower that closed out the pilot are both central reminders of what people in the world of Westeros are willing to sacrifice, whether it’s dignity, moral high ground or regal connections.
Now as the show heads into its most recent season, there’s no bigger symbol of this family’s twisted success than Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne. As forces, human and otherwise, are making their way to unseat her, that position of power is a validation of all the things, cunning and horrible, that this family has done to preserve itself under extraordinary circumstances.
The widescale battle between humans from every realm (and now the undead) is all wrapped up in this single family. From up top, the wily machinations of family patriarch Twyin set him, Jaime, Cersei and Tyrion into their own battle over the series’ run. That growing list of interpersonal conflicts and unexpected reconciliations has reflected the show’s ability to create psychological battlegrounds just as fascinating as the mammoth ones with swords and shields.
Jon Snow’s return from the dead and questioned parentage has received a greater share of headlines in the past few years, so it’s easy to forget that a lot of those same issues are present in Tyrion’s story as well. Because of his stature and perception, he’s had to fight to earn a place in the family in the eyes of his father and in the eyes of a kingdom that has turned to his family for royal guidance. Banished and redeemed multiple times over, Tyrion has been the show’s greatest example of someone trying to pursue an honorable course of action that also results in his own self-preservation. That’s a combination that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t offer many characters, and it’s what has made him a fan favorite.
For as much as he’s sacrificed, especially seeing the ones he’s loved die, Jaime is certainly not above reproach. A child was paralyzed by his actions and the nature of his and Cersei’s sexual relationship has always been fraught with horrible possible interpretations. As an illustration of the series renunciation of the gleaming, mythic heroic figure, Jaime’s long road home over the past few seasons has shown that rarely offers redemption without a steep price, and never affords that opportunity as a means of wiping away past offenses entirely. Jaime finally has his Queen, but in true “Game of Thrones” tradition, that momentary glimpse of happiness comes at the expense of his offspring, a sobering lesson of the dire trade-offs that exist in this world.
Though a Baratheon in name, so much of the turmoil in this family and the region can be pinned on the monstrous actions of Joffrey. The show’s sniveling picture of villainy, his reign of terror was a distinct moment showing that even if the coming war was simply a battle of good and evil, there were still room for characters who were firmly planted on either side of the spectrum. The monsters of “Game of Thrones” don’t always breathe fire or wear a frozen crown — sometimes they arrive in the form of a crossbow-wielding preteen maniac.
The Starks and Targaryens and Tyrells and Martells have all provided some helpful context in this all-encompassing battle for power. But when the show has honed in on the Lannisters, it’s been rewarded with moments that can advance the series’ central penchant for spectacle while still defining the characters who make this universe compelling. It’s no coincidence that the show’s two most significant explosions have been at the Lannisters’ behest. In a way, this family is the volatile reserve of wildfire that has kept this show on uncertain dramatic footing. Whether in a mass stabbing at a wedding or in a burst of green flames, the Lannisters have delivered the series’ most tectonic shifts.
And the show’s most recent fireball demonstrated how this family is not exempt from self-inflicted devastation. Amidst the bittersweet ascendance of Cersei to the throne at the close of last season was the possibility that she knew her actions might lead to her son’s suicide. Tommen jumping out of the window — not only a moment destined for the Reaction GIF Hall of Fame — raised the idea that this house, even by doing all that it did to strengthen its position in the realm, could not provide enough to salvage the spirits of its youngest member.
So as a curious TV world turns to the Season 7 premiere as a possible storyline for Jon’s continued evolution or Dany’s reclamation of power or Sansa’s reemergence, the true test of how this season fits into the overall story will be through the woman who currently resides at the very top, and the few family members she has left. The world of “Game of Thrones” has always valued outcome over motivation and for now, Westeros’ champion also stands at the firm head of her family’s legacy. The gold lion of House Lannister has been the ruler of this jungle — watching it take on its greatest challenge yet should be the series at its most satisfying.