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 38 of A Dance With Dragons, in which we cover Chapter 65 (“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 65: Cersei
Cersei fears her upcoming ordeal, afraid that the mob will rape her like they did Lollys during the bread riots, but tells herself that she is a Lannister and will quail before no one. She wonders if she is foolish to trust Kevan’s word that this is the only safe way to extricate her, since Jaime is not here to be her champion and she does not dare allow the Faith to judge her in a real trial. She tells herself that nothing but her pride will suffer, but still hopes against hope that Jaime will come for her.
The septas shave her, everywhere, and give her a robe but no sandals. She meets her guard of Warrior’s Sons, which include Lancel. She exits the doors to stand on the steps, and suddenly recalls standing in the same place when Joffrey had ordered Eddard Stark’s execution, even though he had been supposed to spare him and send him to the Wall instead. She thinks of how differently everything would have gone if he had done so. She stands before the hostile throng, raises her head, and tells herself she will soon be with Tommen in the Red Keep. The septas announce her crimes and her punishment of this “walk of atonement.” Cersei remembers how her grandfather’s lowborn mistress had been rode out of town naked and ashamed, but tells herself she is a lioness, and will not cringe. She takes off the robe, leaving herself naked before the crowd, and begins her walk.
She ignores the jeers and invective at first, telling herself that she will not let the High Sparrow and the “little rose” break her pride, but then the crowd begins showering her with refuse and rotting matter (including a dead cat). Cersei falls, and the crowd laughs. Her escort tries to hurry her along, concerned about the mob growing ugly, but she wrenches away from the captain’s grip. She cuts her foot, but walks on, covered in mud and offal and blood, and the jeers get worse. She starts seeing the faces of her family and enemies (or both) everywhere in the crowd, and falls a second time. She tells herself she is beautiful, but the crude insults penetrate further, and finally Cersei starts to cry, and runs, covering herself as best she can.
She falls again, but finally makes it to the castle gates, where Ser Kevan orders her covered with a blanket. Then she is lifted easily by two giant armored arms, and sees she has been picked up by a huge knight in gilded mail and a white cloak, and realizes that Kevan had kept his part of the bargain, and had Tommen name her champion to the Kingsguard. Qyburn appears and introduces her to the newest member of the Kingsguard, Ser Robert Strong.
“Ser Robert,” Cersei whispered, as they entered the gates.
“If it please Your Grace, Ser Robert has taken a holy vow of silence,” Qyburn said. “He has sworn that he will not speak until all of His Grace’s enemies are dead and evil has been driven from the realm.”
Yes, thought Cersei Lannister. Oh, yes.
Ser Robert… Strong. Ser Robert Strong. Really. For your eight-foot-tall cyborg-y hand-tailored champion-of-Cersei knight dude.
Well, that’s… subtle. Not.
(also get off my lawn with your new-fangled slang, YOUTHS)
Man, I really hope they didn’t resurrect King Robert’s months-dead (years-dead?) corpse to make Roboknight, because that is super-ultra-mega gross, if so. On more levels than just the necrophilia one, even. (EWWWWWWW)
But then I suppose someone would probably notice/mention it if the newest member of the Kingsguard was, you know, severely decomposed and maggot-ridden, so either Qyburn found a way around the apparent WYSIWYG nature of corpse resurrection, or he found a slightly fresher dead dude than Robert Baratheon to molest experiment on.
…Unless he just keeps the armor on, all the time, so no one can see. EWWWWWWWWW
Grossness aside, though, either possibility seems legit, since Qyburn also apparently found a way to make the guy eight feet tall (!!) and muscle-bound as all hell, so who knows what that little shit can do? So much Frankensteining, so little time.
But whatever with Roboknight, I am busy being seriously pissed that I have to go back and reread this chapter enough to summarize it, because Jesus Christ if that wasn’t one of the most horrifically uncomfortable passages of this series I’ve yet had to read. And that’s saying something.
No, seriously, I am so strongly tempted to “summarize” this chapter with “zealotry is awful, sexism is awful, people are awful, everything is awful, The End.” I’m probably not going to actually do that (spoiler: I didn’t), but man do I want to, because fuck this chapter, y’all. Fuck it right in the ear.
Do I have to talk about this? Really? Ugh, I suppose I must.
It is absolutely impossible (for me, anyway) to fail to sympathize with Cersei here. In the obvious objective sense of what a thoroughly horrific ordeal this would have been for anyone, of course (the horrificness of which my brief summary absolutely does not adequately convey), but also in a broader sense of acknowledging how utterly wrong it is on every level that this could be regarded as a commensurate punishment for just about anything.
Because, look, I have not forgotten the terrible shit that Cersei has either done directly, or indirectly been a party to, and nor do I dispute that she deserves a comeuppance for those deeds. I’m pretty sure I never have wavered from either of these stances. But this… this is beyond the pale.
It is beyond the pale because this “walk of shame” is such a specifically misogynistic punishment that to me it renders any possible beneficial “penance” that might be wrung from it pointless. This does not punish Cersei for doing terrible shit; this punishes Cersei for being a woman and doing terrible shit, and that is not acceptable. Not just because it misses the point entirely, but because it denies the possibility of any kind of balanced justice for when a man “sins” and when a woman does.
Sure, I bet they could have stripped a guy naked and shaved him and paraded him through the city for his sins, but would it have had the same impact—would it have inspired the same blatantly sexualized and vicious invective—as doing it to a woman? I would say not. So, not the same.
And that makes it entirely orthogonal to the crimes it purports to punish her for, because the only thing this “shaming” accomplishes is to reinforce the idea that the only worth that women have are contained in their bodies and their sexuality, and that therefore the only punishments worth giving them are to denigrate and/or exploit their bodies and sexuality.
In other words, it degrades not just Cersei but, by extension, all women. And that shit is not cool. Put her in prison, sure. Exile her, sure. Execute her, sure. Do anything to her that you would also do to a man in her position and having committed treasonous crimes.
But this? This is fucking bullshit.
*flips middle finger to everyone involved*
“Whore!” someone cried out. A woman’s voice. Women were always the cruelest where other women were concerned.
True. Society-wide systems of oppression work in part because they convince their victims to participate in their own subjugation, and reward them for enforcing that oppression upon their fellows. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and it’s been played on women and other oppressed groups for centuries—up to and including the present day. Lovely, isn’t it.
All that said, Cersei is certainly not an innocent, nor any kind of Messianic figure, which is why I’m sort of bemused at the not-insignificant similarities this “walk of shame” bears to Jesus’s Via Dolorosa (or the path he walked on the way to his crucifixion), right down to the condemnation from the dominant religious power, the jeering crowds, the reluctant help from an outsider, and the falling down multiple times. I’m not sure what (if anything) Martin is trying to say with that, but I suspect it involves irony.
One of the novices had brought a robe for her, a soft white septa’s robe to cover her as she made her way down the tower steps and through the sept, so any worshipers they met along the way might be spared the sight of naked flesh. Seven save us all, what hypocrites they are.
*snort* Well, I’m totally with Cersei on this one: what a pile of hypocritical horseshit.
Although, I’m not actually sure “hypocrite” is the right word to use there. Hypocrite is generally defined as “a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs,” but I suspect what is happening here is not so much a deliberate dissembling, as it is a blithe blindness as to how the statement of belief and its execution are at complete odds with each other.
Is there even a word for that? I tried to think of one but drew a blank; the closest I can get is “hypocrisy through obliviousness,” but that’s pretty clunky. “Negligent hypocrisy”? Anyone? Bueller?
(I bet there’s a German word for it, though. Heh.)
If Joff had only done as he was told, Winterfell would never have gone to war, and Father would have dealt with Robert’s brothers.
Instead Joff had commanded that Stark’s head be struck off, and Lord Slynt and Ser Ilyn Payne had hastened to obey. It was just there, the queen recalled, gazing at the spot. Janos Slynt had lifted Ned Stark’s head by the hair as his life’s blood flowed down the steps, and after that there was no turning back.
I’m not sure, so long after the fact, whether I had known before this that Joffrey was not supposed to actually execute Ned Stark back when it happened, but Cersei’s thoughts on it sound vaguely familiar, so I suspect something was said about it back in the day as well. But in any case… wow, that is really sad.
Imagining Ned Stark being sent to the Wall just as the incursions of the Others began to pick up… damn, how much would have gone differently. Not that I am disparaging Jon’s efforts there, but damn.
So on the whims of a single psychotic manchild turned the fate of an entire continent, it seems. It also seems like that should be the kind of thing that happens less often, historically, in the real world than it does… but it isn’t.
We’re kind of a fucked-up species, aren’t we. Sometimes.
And yeah, that’s all I’m doing for this installment, kids, because blarg. Please refrain from getting crucified—metaphorically or otherwise—if you don’t mind, and come on back next Thursday for More!