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"I choose violence."
From the start of Game of Thrones
there's been a hidden thread,

connecting two characters:
Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.

These two women have shared
a stunning number of things in common.

Essentially, all along they've been
inverse mirrors of each other,

living parallel, inverted lives.
At its core, their opposition stems
from where they start out:

One grows up in a rich
position of maximum privilege,

while the other grows up poor
across the world from the Iron Throne.

All of Game of Thrones
has been structured around

the trajectory of these two exceptional
and dangerous women

getting closer together.
So here's our take on why
the showdown between Cersei and Daenerys

was always the endgame,
and how their conflict reveals

the true message of Game of Thrones.
“Power is power.”
“Do not become what you have
always struggled to defeat.”

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Let's look at all that Daenerys
and Cersei have in common.

They're both blonde,
highborn women with two brothers.

They're given in a strategic,
arranged marriage

by their male relative
who wants to get the family

closer to the throne.
Their husband is a dark-haired warrior
who they develop feelings for.

“I felt something
for you once you know.”

“My sun and stars.”
Both lose a baby with this husband,
and cause the husband's death,

though only one means to.
They have three children, of sorts
not by that husband.

Both have a self-image
that centers on being a mother.

“But when the fire burned out
I was unhurt, the mother of dragons.”

“Love no one but your children.
On that front a mother has no choice.”
While their kids are to varying degrees
dangerous and feared,

and are killed off one by one,
We might also say that, for each,

one of the three children is a bad apple
if you count Viserion
becoming an ice dragon.

And the second is killed by a sudden,
surprise attack they don't see coming.

They share incredible beauty,
which they use matter-of-factly

for political gain.
“You shall have
what your heart desires,

when the war is won.”
“And in order to forge a lasting bond
with the Meereenese people,

I will marry the leader
of an ancient family.”

They enjoy sex and take what they want.
They see themselves as primary rulers.
“I am Khaleesi.
I do command you.”
“I am the queen.”
and aren't content to be
merely the wife of the ruler.

“I should wear the armor
and you the gown.”

“Do you think she wants to share
the throne?”

They're both products
of what our world would call incest.

Dany's parents were brother and sister,
while Cersei's parents were cousins.

And they both have
an incestuous love affair.

They grow up without a mother
and for most of their childhood,

under the thumb of a controlling,
male family member.

Both feel that they've been
underestimated by their worlds,

and have to prove time and time again
that they're more than others see.

“Did it ever occur to you
that I might be the one

who deserves your confidence
and your trust, not your sons?”

“I am not your little princess.
I am Daenerys Stormborn
of the blood of Old Valyria,
and I will take what is mine.”

Both women receive unsettling prophecies
about their futures.

On top of all this,
throughout the series,

they've gone through similar challenges
around the same time.

In season one, they're both queens
through marriage to a male ruler,

and after that,
each starts to build her own power

as an individual ruler.
In season six, they're captured
and treated inhumanely,

and they respond by mercilessly burning
those who were foolish enough

to challenge their power.
All of these echoes
running through the story

signal that author George R.R. Martin
wants us to be actively comparing

these two incredibly bright,
powerful women.

They get a lot of
the same obstacles thrown at them,

yet, for much of the story,
Daenerys is the role model,

and Cersei is the cautionary tale.
“Put their heads on spikes
outside the stables as a warning.”

“Your freedom is not mine to give.
It belongs to you and you alone.”
Time and again, we see Dany turn
a seemingly hopeless situation

into an empowering opportunity,
while Cersei continues to
view herself as a victim

no matter how many she hurts
and oppresses.

Both begin in a doomed marriage.
“Whispered in my ear Lyanna.”
but Dany transforms hers
into a loving union,

while Cersei lets her hate fester.
When Daenerys sees
that her children are dangerous,

she chains them up,
while Cersei refuses
to put a leash on her monstrous son.

“It's hard to put a leash on a dog,
once you've put a crown on its head.”

Daenerys makes lasting bonds with people
she meets in her journey,

while Cersei trusts only
her immediate family

and not even all of them.
“Everyone who isn't us is an enemy.
So the fact that they feel so different,
considering how much they share,

is telling us that we're not
defined by what happens to us --

but what we make
of the experiences we're given.

Daenerys the Unburnt is the all-powerful
earth-shaker we aspire to feel like

at our best.
Yet the deliciously wicked, petty Cersei
embodies impulses

we've all probably indulged
at our worst.

We can choose to be like Daenerys -
to build something from nothing,

take strength from hardship,
remake the world
when we see a better way,

and help those who have even less.
“Those who were slaves in Astapor
Now stand behind me, free.”

Or we can be like Cersei --
fixate on how enemies have wronged us,

see the worst in everyone,
hurt others for the hell of it,

and not help the less fortunate
when it would be just as easy

to throw them a bone.
“The leftovers will feed the dogs.”
Over time, though,
Game of Thrones

complicates this
narrative of opposition

between the Good Queen
and the Bad Queen.

These two women are two sides
of the same coin.

The fundamental reason
that Cersei and Dany

are inverses of each other
is situational.

One is born in power --
rich, privileged,

promised since childhood
to be a queen.

The other is born in poverty --
exiled, hunted down,

never expected to be anything.
One begins with nothing to lose,
the other, with everything.

Dany makes big,
risky offensive plays,

while Cersei --
surrounded by treacherous snakes

and haunted by a prophecy
that's outlined how much she will lose -

plays defensively.
“You want to rule?
This is what ruling is.
Lying on a bed of weeds
ripping them out

by the root, one by one
before they strangle you in your sleep.”

In light of all this,
it makes sense why Dany

views everything as positive opportunity
and Cersei sees the negative angle.

Daenerys wins hearts along her way
not just because she's a humanitarian,

but also because she has to.
“The Dothraki hadn't crossed
the sea, any sea.

They did for me.”
It's smart strategy,
when you don't have anything,

to inspire people
to serve your cause for free.

“I will ask more of you than any Khal
has every asked of his Khalassar.”

Cersei doesn't need to do that
because she can buy an army.

As we see in Cersei's walk of shame --
the inverse of Dany

being welcomed as Mhysa --
Cersei hates and fears the people.

“If someone is laughing at the queen
who walked naked through the streets

covered in shit, I want to hear.”
while Dany loves them --
and it's easy to love

people who greet you like this,
and harder to love

people who treat you like this.
“I don't have love here,
I only have fear.”

As Daenerys gains power,
she faces complex choices

designed to make us question
whether the Dragon Queen

is really as different as Cersei
as she claims to be.

“Tens of thousands of innocents will die
That is why Cersei is bringing them

into the Red Keep.”
The story reminds us
that the identity of hero or villain

is in the eye of the beholder,
and it's not fixed --
if a hero starts acting villainously,

we have to reassess.
In fact, if we look closer,
there are a number of things

Daenerys and Cersei both do that --
because of the way

the story has been framed --
come across as heroic for Dany

and villainous for Cersei.
Both use fire
as a weapon of mass destruction

Ceresi loves threatening
to burn cities to the ground.

“I will burn our house to the ground
before I let that happen.”

“I will burn their cities to the ground
if they touch her.”

“I will burn cities to the ground.”
And likewise
whenever Daenerys in a bind,

her go-to tactic is
to burn things to the ground.

“We will take back
what was stolen from me

and destroy those
who have wronged me.

We will lay waste to armies
and burn cities to the ground.”

When Daenerys burns the Dothraki Khals
her burning people alive

feels utterly ruthless.
And as she flexes her Targaryen muscle,
here and elsewhere,

listen to the music that plays.
This is fire-and-blood music.
“You weren't made to sit on a chair
in a palace.”

“What was I made for?”
“You're a conqueror,
Daenerys Stormborn.”

Both inflict painful revenge
on a person whose killed

their loved ones.
It hardly surprises us when Cersei
neglects to own her mistakes --

“Our baby boy killed himself.”
“He betrayed me,
he betrayed us both.”

But we see Dany fail
to hold herself accountable, too --

“This is where the Dosh Khaleen
pronounced my child

The stallion Who Mounts the World.”
“And what happened?
You trusted a sorceress, like a fool.
Your baby is dead because of you.”
Both Cersei and Dany tell Jon
to bend the knee.

Cersei sends a letter
with an up-front demand,

while Dany sends a friendly letter
via Tyrion,

only to insist Jon bend the knee
after he's risked the journey there.

Daenerys won't help
fight the Night King unless he does,

but later, Cersei asks for less --
only that Jon promise to remain neutral.

After he refuses,
everyone views Cersei as the villain

for not offering her support,
but on the facts alone,

Daenerys has been more demanding.
And while -- unlike Cersei --
Dany does try

to check her worst instincts
by listening to moderate advisors.

“She chose an advisor
who checks her worst impulses

instead of feeding them.
That's the difference between you.”
“I don't care about checking
my worst impulses.

I don't care about making
the world a better place.”

Their plans for compromise
often don't go well.

So time and again
she responds by doubling down

on her fire-and-blood power,
because that gets her results.

Crucially, these two queens are driven
by an extravagant faith in themselves.

Each gives a pivotal speech in Season 7
revealing her self-centered

vision of the world.
As Daenerys tells Jon about
the hardship she's endured to get here,

“So many men have tried to kill me,
I don't remember all their names.

I have been sold like a broodmare.”
She concludes that what kept her going
through all of it was,

Not in any gods.
Not in myths and legends.
In myself.
In Daenerys Targaryen.”
Dany is saying she believes in herself
and really nothing else.

Similarly, Cersei tells Tyrion
that the only thing
that matters to her is herself.

“When it came at me,
I didn't think about the world,

not at all.
As soon as it opened its mouth,
the world disappeared for me,

right down its black throat.”
Except when she's talking about herself
she doesn't say “me” --

she says my family.
“All I could think about
was keeping those gnashing teeth

away from the ones who matter most,
away from my family.”

Tyrion talks about serving Dany
because she'll make the world better.

“Because I think she will make the world
a better place.”

Yet her reasoning
isn't that she should rule

because she'll do good --
but because it's her destiny.

“I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms,
and I will."

This is very medieval logic,
reminding us of “divine right,”

the belief that a monarch
was chosen by God,

and not subject to human judgment.
“I have served tyrants most of my life.
They all talk about destiny.”
Everywhere Dany has gone
she's been hailed as a savior,

as almost a goddess on earth.
And she has been shaped
by this god complex

as much as anyone around her.
“Do not walk away from your queen.”
As the mother of three Dragons,
she's spent a long time feeling

like she's all-powerful.
So many times her secret weapon
allowed her to reject two bad choices

and take everything she wants
not having to get herself dirty

with the compromises
mere mortals have to make all the time.

“We're here to discuss your surrender,
not mine.”

But finally, as Daenerys' dragons
and other advantages are taken away,

she's forced to play Cersei's game
and reveal her true colors.

Daenerys is ruthless like Cersei,
“If you ever betray me,
I'll burn you alive.”

She believes in herself
as an exception above everyone else

like Cersei.
“I'm no ordinary woman.”
By the time each Queen
is demanding the other's surrender,

they even look like each other,
both wearing the color red

to reflect their shared inner rage.
And Cersei's play
in the Battle of King's Landing

is to expose that Daenerys really
is no different from her.

“I beg you, your grace.
Do not destroy the city
you came to save.”
For a long time Dany
has avoided having to truly choose

between her selfish ambition,
and her liberator identity.

So that's why Cersei sets up
this exact challenge

in the battle of King's Landing.
She puts the people between her
and Daenerys,

explicitly forcing the Dragon Queen
to answer the question:

Does she care more about the people,
or the throne?

“Keep the gates open
if she wants to take the castle

she'll have to murder
thousands of innocent people first.”

We are shaped
by what we've lived through --

and the true reason Daenerys should be
a better ruler than Cersei

has nothing to do with destiny.
It's because she's known
material hardship

and can empathize with
the disempowered.

“You're the Mother of Dragons.”
“I need to be more than that.
I will not let those I have freed
slide back into chains.”
All of Game of Thrones
has been about power,

“Power resides where men believe it resides.”
what it truly is, and how it endangers
and corrupts those closest to it.

One of Martin's biggest inspirations
was Lord of the Rings -

and in that story
even the truly good-hearted

lose control of themselves
when they're too close

to the irresistible ring.
So it appears that the Iron Throne
is Martin's version of the ring --

a long suffering ring bearer
must destroy it

to finally break the wheel -
so that this temptation of ultimate power

can no longer destroy everyone
who comes too near.

As Daenerys fulfills
Maggy the Frog's prophecy

to become the younger,
more beautiful queen to replace Cersei,

the show has been building toward
its most fundamental questions.

Was all the rhetoric of
“breaking the wheel”

just something you say
when you're far from

the reality of ruling?
And is it even possible
to want to rule for the right reasons,

or does everyone who seeks power
finally become Cersei?

In the showdown between these two Queens
who have mirrored each other

all along, we get our answer --
that Daeneryes is not only
the new Cersei.

She's worse.
Because her rage is far greater.
“She chose violence.
And a Targaryen choosing violence
is a pretty terrifying thing.”
Cersei has long fixated
on destroying her enemies,

and here Daenerys' mysterious obsession
with the throne,

“All my life I've known one goal
The Iron Throne.”

Is revealed to be at its essence
not a desire to rule well,

but a desire to punish her enemies.
This is something she herself
didn't know

and has repressed up to this point.
“She sees the red keep -
Where she's looking at the symbol

of everything that was taken from her,
when she makes the decision

to-to make this personal.”
Meanwhile, as she loses power,
Cersei moves in the opposite direction

“I want our baby to live.”-
She focuses not on anger
but on the love

that has always been
at the center of her life.

And the way Cersei
and Dany trade places

underlines how much
their opposing characteristics

have been linked
to their proximity to power.

Being alone in the ruler's seat
allows fury to go unchecked.

“Targaryen, alone in the world.
It's a terrible feeling.”
Looking back
it's not hard to see the hints

that Daenerys always had
this stone-hearted tyrant within her.

“Even when you look back to season one
when Khal Drogo

gives the golden crown to Viserys
and her reaction to watching

her brother's head melted off.”
“He was no dragon.”
“There is something kind of chilling
about the way that Dany has responded

to the death of her enemies.”
Yet Daenerys' inner dragon
is woken due to a lot of factors

that could have been different.--
like the fact

that all her trusted advisors
have died or become distant,

and the way that Cersei provokes her.
“You don't wake the dragon do you?”
“If all these things had happened
in a different way

I don't think we would be seeing
this side of Daenerys Targaryen.”

So it wasn't inevitable
for her to become a deadlier Cersei.

For most of the story,
the great difference

between how these two women work
with similar raw material

underlines that we always have a choice
as to what kind of person we become.

“Conquering Westeros
would be easy for you.

But you're not here
to be queen of the ashes.”

The moral of the Battle of King's Landing
is that,

no matter how tragic your reasons
for feeling hate and craving revenge,

clinging to that hatred will destroy you.
Daenerys doesn't become the Mad Queen
because of her genes,

“I'm not my father.”
She makes a choice.
She still could have been
the ruler she once promised to be --

until she chose violence.
“All right, then.
Let it be fear.”
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Game of Thrones: Why Daenerys Was Cersei All Along - Two Sides of the Same Queen

483 Folder Collection
Ellie published on May 21, 2019
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