Welcome back to A Read of Ice and Fire! Please join me as I read and react, for the very first time, to George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
Today’s entry is Part 17 of A Feast for Crows, in which we cover Chapter 24 (“Cersei”).
Previous entries are located in the Index. The only spoilers in the post itself will be for the actual chapters covered and for the chapters previous to them. As for the comments, please note that the Powers That Be have provided you a lovely spoiler thread here on Tor.com. Any spoileriffic discussion should go there, where I won’t see it. Non-spoiler comments go below, in the comments to the post itself.
And now, the post!
Chapter 24: Cersei
Tommen complains that he wants to sit on the Iron Throne and attend Council meetings, and Cersei accurately divines that he was encouraged to demand these by Margaery. She tells Tommen he must wait until he’s older, and thinks to herself that she will not let Margaery cheat her of her “hour in the sun.” Later, Pycelle reports to her that Wyman Manderly has obeyed her ultimatum and beheaded Lord Stannis’s onion knight; pleased, Cersei orders the return of Manderly’s son. Mace Tyrell’s siege against Dragonstone continues fruitlessly, but Cersei is confident that they will soon win the allegiance of the rest of the northmen and prevail against Stannis.
The Braavosi envoy comes to audience, demanding the crown’s debt to the Iron Bank, but Cersei tells him they’ll get it once the rebellion has been taken care of, and dismisses him. She is displeased to learn that Ser Osney Kettleblack has thus far failed to seduce Margaery, and promises Ser Osmund that she will arrange to make it possible.
She is startled to see Tommen practicing jousting in the yard. Tommen is thrilled by his success, and Margaery and Loras and the others all heap praise on him. Cersei also praises him, and tells him that jousting is in his blood. Margaery makes a sly comment as to how she never heard Robert was much of a jouster, and Cersei curses herself for the slip, as it had been Jaime she was thinking of. She speaks to Ser Loras alone afterward and tells him it is not his job to train the king. Loras points out that they have had no master-at-arms since the last one was killed, and that Tommen should already be a squire by now. Cersei thinks of the relationship between Renly and Loras, who had been his squire, and tells him she will find a master-at-arms, but it will not be Loras.
Lord Qyburn reports to her about the Free Cities and the slave revolt in Astapor spreading to Meereen, but Cersei is not interested in any of it. Qyburn also mentions that in Dorne, the young daughter of the Knight of Spottswood has suddenly wed the elderly Lord Estermont, who are kin to her through Robert. Cersei remembers the fortnight she had been forced to spend there while Robert seduced his own cousin, and likes to think that was when she and Jaime conceived Joffrey. Cersei asks why she should care about this, and Qyburn says that the girl and Daemon Sand, who was recently imprisoned by Prince Doran, were both close to Doran’s daughter Arianne. He also tells her about a treasonous puppet show being shown in the streets, which depicts a pride of lions being devoured by a dragon, and Cersei orders the puppeteers executed and anyone caught watching them to lose an eye, unless they are “of note,” in which case they will be fined. Qyburn requests to keep the women puppeteers for “mine own purposes,” as the last girl Cersei had given him was “exhausted.” Cersei shudders, but grants the request.
Jaime and Tommen invade her bath, and Tommen demands Loras for his training. Cersei tells Tommen he must wait until she appoints a new master-at-arms, but Tommen stubbornly insists. He also wants a kitten, and to not have to eat beets. Cersei is angered when Jaime only finds Tommen’s defiance amusing. She tells Tommen that he is a foolish little boy, and Ser Loras has more important things to do than train him. Tearfully, Tommen backs down and leaves. Jaime asks her if she is “drunk, or merely stupid” to reject Loras as master-at-arms. Cersei thinks to herself that everyone feels free to contradict her just because she is a woman, and that she had thought Jaime an ally, but that she will have to get rid of him soon. She kicks him out; Jaime tells her that he loves her, but she is “a beautiful golden fool.”
She has dinner with Lady Falyse and Ser Balman, Lady Tanda’s son. She commiserates with Balman about Lady Tanda’s tragic riding accident, which she is unlikely to survive long, and reassures them she does not blame them for Lollys’s husband’s decision to name her child Tyrion. She claims that Ser Bronn is still loyal to the Imp and working against her, and manipulates them into promising that they will arrange for Bronn to meet with a fatal accident.
She finds Tommen sleeping with three black kittens, which Meryn Trant tells her Margaery gave him. Cersei mentally mocks Margaery’s clumsy attempts at winning Tommen over. She remembers how Mad King Aerys had had a falling out with her father, and had therefore rejected his suit to have Cersei marry Rhaegar. She remembers how happy she had been when she had thought it would happen, and thinks that that’s why she was reckless enough to go see Maggy the Frog. She believes her father’s failure to deliver on the betrothal is what made Maggy’s curse on her come true.
If she had only married Rhaegar as the gods intended, he would never have looked twice at the wolf girl. Rhaegar would be our king today and I would be his queen, the mother of his sons.
She had never forgiven Robert for killing him.
But then, lions were not good at forgiving. As Ser Bronn of the Blackwater would shortly learn.
Part of the fun of working with tight 3rd person POVs, as we have been throughout this series, is also part of the frustration of it, which is the issue of the unreliable narrator. To some extent, any POV of any one character is inherently unreliable, in the hands of a capable author, because people are inherently biased. It’s a feature, not a bug. So insofar as your characters hopefully portray real-seeming people, it follows that their perspective will naturally be skewed toward their own personal beliefs, prejudices, and blind spots.
That said, there are definitely some characters who are far more unreliable narrators than others. Cersei is not the most unreliable of unreliable narrators I have ever come across, but I think it’s safe to say that she’s up there near the top.
And it’s fun, because you get to try to tease out where the truth lies between the lines of what she is saying (and not saying) about the other characters she encounters, but it is also frustrating as regards Cersei in particular (and me as a reader in particular), because her unreliableness means the things she says and thinks that do ring true are inherently undermined.
Like this, for example:
No one had ever balked her lord father. When Tywin Lannister spoke, men obeyed. When Cersei spoke, they felt free to counsel her, to contradict her, even refuse her. It is all because I am a woman. Because I cannot fight them with a sword. They gave Robert more respect than they give me, and Robert was a witless sot.
Ugh, so frustrating. Because, there is nothing in that statement which is untrue in principle, and yet because it is Cersei saying it, who is (to put it bluntly) fucking things up so very royally, it is an open invitation to dismiss her statement as untrue in the aggregate, just because it happens to be untrue in her particular case.
This is a classic logical fallacy that particularly applies to issues of sexism, racism, and other –isms of that sort. While it is neutral in a broader sense, merely meaning that anecdotal accounts do not override overall statistics, it has an extra insidiousness when applied in cases like this. Because women (and people of color, and non-Christians, and people of alternate sexualities and/or gender identities, and so on) find that they do not get to be judged as individuals, but as part of a group to which they have been involuntarily assigned, and are unable to separate that judgment from that group.
By which I mean that because Cersei, personally, sucks at ruling, it is far too easy to conclude that therefore women suck at ruling, and that her complaints about prejudice against women in power can therefore be dismissed. Because a very large part of bigotry is being denied the privilege of being judged on one’s own merits. Cersei’s failure, therefore, is the failure of her entire gender, because her femaleness is judged, in her peers’ eyes, as being more relevant than her individual personality and capabilities. Even if that judgment is, objectively, bullshit.
It’s a problem, is my point. And one I’m not sure I articulated very clearly, but that’s just the same problem in another context: just because I personally may not have made the argument very well doesn’t mean the argument itself has no merit.
So it is that I can sympathize with Cersei’s frustrations at being a woman wielding power in her excessively patriarchal society, while simultaneously wincing that she is the one to be expressing those frustrations, because holy crap do I want to shake her for some of the appalling decisions she is making. As regards Tommen specifically in this chapter, of course, but it’s not like most of the other things she’s doing are exactly covering her with glory either, in my opinion.
But really, Tommen, oh my God. Not that the kid really had much of a chance at growing up with any kind of non-warped perspective on life anyway, but that Cersei doesn’t even seem to see what she’s doing to her own son in the name of keeping power for herself makes me want to scream.
But then again, as I said, the unreliableness of Cersei’s perspective makes for some fun in speculating on the actual motives of the people around her. Especially Margaery Tyrell, who is either Tommen’s saving grace or an even worse manipulator than his mother, depending on your point of view.
From Cersei’s perspective, of course, Margaery is nothing but a conniving, devious obstacle, whose every move is directed at undermining Cersei personally. And this may be the case, actually; it’s perfectly possible that Margaery’s primary objective is Cersei’s downfall. But reading between the lines of Cersei’s excessively solipsistic concerns, it is equally as possible that Margaery is far less concerned with Cersei’s status than she is with Tommen’s, and not even so much for her own advancement (though her safety and survival are surely a factor) than for a belief that the good of the kingdom is better achieved with training Tommen to be a good king than abetting Cersei’s seemingly unwitting quest to keep him a weak one.
Or, naturally, it could be both objectives at the same time, since they are hardly mutually exclusive. Or something else entirely. Maybe Margaery is setting up Tommen for a fall just as much as Cersei, though that seems fairly counterproductive on her part, seeing as divorce is not exactly a thing in Westeros as far as I can tell.
In any case, it really sucks that Tommen is stuck in the middle of this particular tug-of-war, and I guess we’re just going to have to hope he learns any kind of kinging-relevant skills at all before he’s inevitably called upon to use them. And seeing as Margaery, whatever her actual agenda, is the one of the two who actually seems to want Tommen to, you know, learn things, I’m going to have to be on her side over Cersei until further notice.
In other news, Davos is NOT DEAD. I have decreed it so; so let it be. That was all bullshit, I nod authoritatively. Manderly is totes lying through his teeth about having actually killed the Onion Knight. I will believe this until such time as I am either proven right, or… not, at which time I shall throw a Fit of Extreme Hissy, because nooooooo Davos!
We shall see.
Also, I really hope that Cersei’s assassination-by-proxy scheme backfires spectacularly. It’s not so much that I have a lot of sympathy for Bronn, who really probably should have known better, than I have objections to the entire concept of being able to kill anyone who makes you look bad (or pisses you off) on principle. I recognize that I am probably being terribly idealistic here, but sorry, I have to believe that it is possible to rule a nation while not being a total dick about it. Which Cersei is being. Oh, the irony.
And what is it with spymasters and being completely creepy, anyway? I’m not sure what exactly Qyburn is even doing with the people Cersei is supplying him, but I’m pretty sure I absolutely do not want to know, so maybe that works out. And I’m probably insulting Varys here, who had his issues, for sure, but at least they didn’t seem to include reenacting the plot of Saw in the dungeons for shits and giggles, or whatever the hell Qyburn is actually doing. Which, again, I really do not want to know about. I just want to slap Cersei for condoning it, because what the hell, Cersei, seriously.
Loras: I’m a little annoyed, here, because I think it is pretty obvious that Cersei is referring (contemptuously) to the fact that Loras and Renly were lovers in this chapter (hence at least part of her determination to keep Tommen away from Loras as a trainer), but I really can’t tell if I would have noticed that without the overly broad hints about Loras and Renly’s relationship that people have been dropping in the comments ever since the relationship flew right over my head back in the day when we saw them together (for the first and last time). On the one hand, it’s probably not something I would have picked up on without doing another entire reading of ASOIAF, but on the other, I’d really prefer to pick up on these things (or not) on my own. Just saying.
As for Cersei’s memory of Rhaegar and Maggy, are we ever going to get a clear answer on what exactly Maggy told her? Probably not. But it’s interesting to think about the giant Might-Have-Been in Cersei’s memories of the rejection of her suit for Rhaegar, because I think it is perfectly possible that if Cersei had landed Rhaegar, the entire continent might have been saved from this crazy, never-ending war.
Oh, well. Shoulda woulda coulda.
And that’s what I got for now, alla y’all! Have a week, and I’ll see you next Thursday!