Last night Game of Thrones aired a first for the series–a flashback, something showrunners David and Dan said early on in their Thrones career they’d never do. However, this flashback was integral for a character’s development so I don’t begrudge them that early misstep. I do, however, have complaints about the omission of a character’s past that they wrote.
Cersei Lannister is character loathed by many. In the A Song of Ice and Fire books she is paranoid, cruel, and power hungry. However, HBO’s version of events has made Cersei a much more sympathetic character. I’ve already gone over the (biased) moments in the show when she was at her best, but last night HBO retconned one of Cersei’s most sympathetic moments on the show, acting as if it never happened.
During Cersei’s flashback in “The Wars to Come”, we met Maggy the Frog, a creepy soothsayer who divulged the future to the young Lannister. I won’t go into the specifics of the entire prophecy, but instead I want to focus on one part, the prediction about Cersei’s children.
The king will have twenty children. You will have three.
Three. Now, I know this is in keeping with the book canon prophecy, word for word, in fact. In the book, Cersei does have three children. However, in the show, Cersei gives birth to four children.
In the second episode of the first season, Cersei visits a distraught Catelyn Stark tending to the comatose Bran. In this scene Cersei and Catelyn display their many similarities, namely the fact that the love of their children comes before all else. Perhaps Cersei only visits Lady Stark out of guilt because she knows how Bran came to be as he is, and with her that is entirely plausible. Nonetheless, she does visit and it is an unexpected gesture of kindness. One to which Lady Stark does not know how to respond. Unprovoked, Cersei empathizes with the grieving mother.
I lost my first boy. A little black-haired beauty. He was a fighter too… tried to beat the fever that took him…It was years ago. Robert was crazed, beat his hands bloody on the wall, all the things men do to show you how much they care. The boy looked just like him. Such a little thing… a bird without feathers. They came to take his body away and Robert held me. I screamed and I battled, but he held me. That little bundle. They took him away and I never saw him again. Never have visited the crypt, never.
Note: click here to watch the scene between Cersei and Catelyn; begin at 1:36.
Some could argue that Cersei is lying in an attempt to make Catelyn Stark see her in a more sympathetic light, to throw her off the Lannister Lying Trail, and that there never was a black-haired baby. However, I don’t think Cersei is a liar. Crazy, evil, selfish, throw any of those adjectives in front of her name and they’d all be true, but dishonest she is not. When Bran Stark finally awakens her first thought is to silence him, not to lie about the event. It is Jaime who suggests lying. In the second season, when questioned about her relationship with Jaime, Cersei never denies the truth of it, and instead stays silent.
In later episodes, we learn from her conversation with Ned that Cersei did love Robert Baratheon and wanted to be a good and loving wife, one that would stand proud at his side. Of course, we know it all ends with three blonde children and a loveless marriage, but for a time, there was something between the two.
And then, in season one, episode five, Robert corroborates Cersei’s story to Catelyn Stark.
Robert Baratheon: “Do you want to know the horrible truth? I can’t even remember what she looked like….I only know she was the one thing I ever wanted…someone took her away from me…and seven kingdoms couldn’t fill the hole she left behind.”
Cersei Lannister: “I felt something for you once you know
Robert Baratheon: “I know.”
Cersei Lannister: “Even after we lost our first boy- for quite a while actually…was it ever possible for us? Was there ever a time ever a moment?”
Robert Baratheon: “No…does that make you feel better or worse?”
Cersei Lannister: “It doesn’t make me feel anything.”
What is the purpose for mentioning this lost boy if it was intended to have no purpose? Were the story not true, surely Robert would call her out on the lie. But he doesn’t, and even though that one line–even after we lost out first boy–lifts right out, it made it through the editing process. Because it has meaning.
What does all this mean? Why even bother nitpicking about something that to most viewers is a trivial moment in an unlikable character’s past? Well, one, because it’s sloppy writing. Someone in that writing room had to have remembered these scenes from the first season. This isn’t like the ASoIaF realm where there’s five years between seasons. Someone knew this occurred and either chose to ignore it or was overruled. If it was intended solely to solidify the difference between Robert’s true child and Cersei’s bastard children for the sake of the audience, then they must assume the viewers aren’t smart enough to pick up on all the other clues.
Two, and more importantly, Maggy the Frog’s prophecy about Cersei’s future is a intrinsic part of the character. It dictates much of what she does and explains–in most regards–why she acts in such a reckless manner. She clings to Joffrey despite his sadism because his demise means she is one step closer to confirming the prophecy. This moment in young Cersei’s life is so important that the creators chose to start the season with it. And yet, the prophecy remained the same. Three children.
Because the prophecy is worded as such in the show canon, once Cersei gave birth to Tommen she would have realized that Maggy the Frog was false and I have no doubt that such a thing would have changed her view. Or, to go back even further, Cersei’s first child was black-haired, which would have been an even earlier clue to the Queen that Maggy’s words meant nothing. Instead of becoming what many think is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it would have simply been the lies of a lunatic who lived in the forest, and Cersei would be a completely different character.
Just came across this as I was looking for evidence of another theory involving Gendry. Anyway, I can see your point about the retcon, but one thing we’ve learned across cannons and myths: prophecy is open to interpretation. In the books it’s more straightforward in reconciling Maggy’s prophecy with Cersei’s live births. But there is still that gray area in the show’s version that prophecies tend to have. Maggy said she would have three children. She did not say Cersei would have X number of pregnancies, or give birth to X number of children. She would have, as did raise, three children. Maggy also says those three will have gold crowns. Joffrey and Tommen’s are obvious. They were kings. Marcella’s crown is open to interpretation. Also, in a very patriarchal tradition, perhaps Maggy counted the little boy under Robert’s 20. While Cersei had three without him.