Even if viewers didn’t already know that Cersei Lannister would live until the end of Game of Thrones‘ run, they certainly knew she was going to live until the final season. She has to, because Cersei Lannister is George R.R. Martin’s most complex, complicated creation. She’s the show’s tragic hero. She’s the series’ anti-hero. She’s its villain. She’s also the character for which Game of Thrones‘ showrunners most like to write.
Cersei also has the same emotional appeal as another of television’s most complicated and fascinating characters. She’s the Walter White of Game of Thrones, and after having been crowned the Queen, she’s now the series’ Heisenberg. Both are characters who were dealt a bad hand and decided to make the best of it. In doing so, each tapped into their own egos and cutthroat ambition. Walter White was diagnosed with cancer and given a death sentence. Cersei was sentenced to a life with a cruel, abusive king to further the political aspirations of her cruel, abusive father. Both managed to not only escape their fates, but to rule their respective worlds.
The parallels between the characters are extensive: Walter White was a high school teacher who resented his former girlfriend and her new husband for making a fortune at Grey Matter after profiting off his ideas. Cersei resented her family for benefitting from her marriage to Robert Baratheon. Neither character starts out as a particularly bad person. Walter White taught science. The worst that could be said of Cersei Lannister was that she was in love with her twin brother in a universe where incest wasn’t uncommon. (Rhaegar, Viserys, and Daenerys are all products of incest, as is the son of Gilly.) Trapped in dead-end lives, both Walter and Cersei took circumstances in their own hands. White uses his knowledge of chemistry to get in the meth trade; Cersei uses her beauty, cunning, and intelligence to have her husband killed so that she could install her son as king and work her way up the Westerosi power structure.
Of course, complications immediately ensue, and in both cases, the better natures of both characters get undone by the actions of others. Though Krazy-8 tries to kill Walter in the first season, Walter wants to spare his life. Walter is left with no choice but to kill him, however, after he discovers that Krazy-8 is plotting his murder. Meanwhile, Cersei tries to spare Ned Stark’s life (by sending him to the Night’s Watch), even though Ned has threatened to out the relationship between Jamie and Cersei. She, too, is prevented from doing so by her sadistic son, Joffrey, who flouts the arrangement that Cersei had helped to orchestrate.
Invested in their new paths, both Walter White and Cersei Lannister begin to lose the luster of tragic hero and gain the patina of anti-heroes as they get their first tastes of power, White as a successful meth dealer and Lannister as Queen Regent. Both scheme and manipulate their way into more power. Walter White gets into bed with Gus Fring, and when Gale Boetticker threatens his power, Walter has Jesse Pinkman kill him. Cersei helps orchestrate victory in the Battle of Blackwater (and save Joffrey) and then arranges to have Joffrey marry Margaery Tyrell, combining the power of House Lannister with the money of the Tyrells.
Both Cersei and Walt also continue to manipulate enemies and allies alike to their own benefit. Having had the taste of power, their thirsts can not be slaked, but their advancement is often blocked by the very people they seek out as allies. Cersei is thwarted by Margaery’s relationship with Tommen (after Joffrey’s death) and Gus Fring eventually fires Walt and threatens to kill his family if he continues manufacturing his product. In both cases, they are sold out by their partners: Jaime helps release Tyrion, who ultimately kills Stannis, while Jesse Pinkman briefly teams up with Gus Fring.
Ultimately, both characters go to extremes to advance their megalomania and vengefulness. Walt almost fatally poisons a boy in his effort to take down Gus Fring. Walter also uses Lydia Rodarte-Quayle and members of the Aryan Brotherhood to kill off nine of Mike Ehrmentraut’s known associates in prison to elude authorities. Walt “wins,” but at what cost to his character?
Likewise, Cersei allies with the High Sparrow to remove the threat of Margaery, but — like the Aryan Brotherhood in Breaking Bad — the plan backfires when the High Sparrow turns on Cersei. She’s able to extricate herself from that situation, however, but only by blowing up King’s Landing and killing the High Sparrow, Margaery, and scores of others. She also “wins” and captures the Iron Throne, but her character pays a steep price. She loses her son to suicide, she’s likely alienated Jamie, and like Walter White, she’s left with all the power as well as all the loneliness.
After the defeat of Gus, however, Walter White — Ozymandias, King of Kings — is undone by his own ego and ambition. His pride-fueled carelessness leads to Hank discovering his identity as Heisenberg, which eventually leads to Hank’s death, Walter losing his family, and ultimately Walter’s death. With Cersei — Queen of Queens — we are now on the precipice of her Ozymandias arc. As Maggy the woods witch revealed to Cersei at 15, she will ultimately be replaced by a younger, more beautiful Queen. Cersei’s reign will not last long, but it will be interesting to see if, like Walt, she attempts to redeem herself before she’s replaced by Daenerys Stormborn. She cannot save herself, but she might be able to save her brother and lover, Jaime Lannister, who — like Jesse Pinkman — is a better person than his acts would suggest.
What goes up, must come down, and what’s so appealing about these characters is how easy it is to sympathize with them even as they commit increasingly deplorable acts. We are so invested in them that, even as they cross unthinkable moral lines — think Walter White whistling while melting a dead boy in a barrel of lye or Cersei subjecting the Shame Nun to the rape and torture of The Mountain — we find it difficult to sever our attachments. We understand why they must fall, but there’s a dark part of ourselves that nevertheless wants to see them succeed. Jon Snow is noble. Dany is just. But Cersei Lannister is spiteful, malevolent, and vengeful, and that’s a lot more fun to watch.