The sins of the final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” are many, but perhaps none are as reprehensible as what the fantasy series did to Cersei Lannister. (And that includes the Daenerys Targaryen old-school hysteria smokeshow, so you know it’s bad.)
“Game of Thrones” did Cersei – and actress Lena Headey – wrong.
Throughout the whole of “Thrones,” Headey consistently turned in a searing performance as the series’ most complex and difficult character, openly engaging in incest, torture, and mass murder, while still capturing the nugget of humanity remaining in Cersei’s soul. Forget the Mother of Dragons, Cersei was the Wine Mom of the seven kingdoms.
The character’s lot in life was not as straightforward as it seemed on the surface. Though born to wealth and power, Cersei was still a woman trying to stay alive in a deeply patriarchal, misogynist universe. All of the indignities visited on the show’s women were also suffered by Cersei at some point in her life: She was married off to a man she didn’t love, was beaten, humiliated, raped by the man she did love, and watched her children die in front of her very eyes.
She comes by her bitterness and spite honestly, which is precisely what made the character so vital and such a fantastic story engine. So much of that power came from Headey herself, who rightly earned four supporting actress Emmy nominations for her portrayal of the most vindictive Lannister. In the hands of a less gifted actress, Cersei becomes a parody of herself, mindlessly killing and being evil, just for evil’s sake.
And what did all that meticulous character development get her when the show’s final seven episodes rolled around? A whopping 23 minutes of screen time and change. (Yes, we counted.)
Less than half an hour. That’s how much time “Game of Thrones” dedicated to crafting an ending for one of its best characters. And it’s not as though the writers didn’t have plenty of potential material to work with.
After spending the Season 6 finale destroying the King’s Landing sept with wildfire, ruthlessly killing off her own people en masse, and spurring her remaining son Tommen to throw himself out a window, Cersei was riding high and due for a bit of comeuppance. But none was forthcoming. Instead, the final two seasons of the show rendered the self-crowned leader of the Seven Kingdoms a haint, forever lurking in the shadows but never actually doing anything of consequence.
This proved to be a huge detriment to the series, not just because it wasted Headey’s considerable gifts, but because it completely ruined whatever narrative momentum the final season attempted.
By the time Arya Thanos’d the Night King and his motley crew into oblivion, the battle for the Iron Throne was mostly an afterthought. I mean, no one watches “The Walking Dead” to find out who’ll end up president once they defeat the zombie hordes. That means that the bad-ass bitch showdown between Dany and Cersei that the show had been building up for years instead focused on the appalling character assassination of Dany.
There is some consolation to be taken from this miscarriage of justice, if reports from The Hollywood Reporter are to be believed, that Headey scored an absolutely jaw-dropping amount of money for her paltry amount of screentime.
In October 2018, THR wrote that the top tier of “Game of Thrones” actors, including Headey, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, were earning $1.2 million per episode for Season Eight. We did the math. Assuming those numbers check out, Headey made around $300,000 PER MINUTE of televised Cersei action.
Still, all that cash is cold comfort for a character that deserved so much better.