The ladies of Westeros

I feel guilt over potentially ruining a pleasant afternoon with my mom by being obstinate.  Truly wasn’t my intention.

Not the point of this post though.  Sorry for those who care nothing about my pontifications about the HBO Game of Thrones mini-series, but I have more…  (SPOILERS for the tv show and for all four books in the series follow)

Having finished rereading the series itself so that I could compare it to the TV show, I’ve now resorted to reading the Interwebs and seeing their opinions.  There seems to be a feeling that the two lead adult women roles, Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark, are significantly different than portrayed in the novels.  Cersei is smarter, more controlled and calculating, and more sympathetic on tv while Catelyn is less cruel and more typically “womanly.” I like the changes to Cersei’s portrayal and hadn’t noticed those for Catelyn.

In the novel, The Game of Thrones, Cersei is universally reviled.  Most of the POV characters are Starks and thus her enemies.  The other POV character is her younger brother, Tyrion, and he dislikes her more than the Starks.  There are two motivating mysteries: who killed Jon Arryn and who sent an assassin after Bran.  There are three turns: the throwing of Bran from the tower, the assassination of the King and the arrest and murder of Eddard Stark.  Cersei is either legitimately suspected or culpable in all five of those events.  Her most positive traits are a concern for her children and her love for her brother.  Of course the second manifests as incest and the first can be simply seen as a reflection of her desire for power over others.  If there can be said to be one character lacking a redeeming virtue in tGoT it would be Cersei Lannister.

And that is just book one.  Throughout books 2 and 3 she become more shrill and paranoid.  When given the reins of power she misuses them horribly and makes bad, bad decisions.  By the time she has a POV of her own in the fourth book, she is a little mad.

The Cersei of the TV is more restrained.  While still cruel, she seems more like a cruel animal who attacks when threatened rather than cruel in the way only a person can be; nursing a grudge and then striking when least expected.  The biggest example of this is her firstborn child.  In the books the child is aborted by her in the womb because she can’t bear to bear her husband’s heir.  In the books the child dies in infancy, but she seems to have cared for it and her love for the king dies with the child’s natural passing.

Indeed more time is spent on TV showing the King’s neglect and abuse of her; more time establishing the justness of her revenge upon him.  (This element is in the novels as well, but is more poignant on the screen.)

I like the screen interpretation.  It is actually rather close to the way I pictured her in the books as opposed to the way she is seen on the ‘Net.  She is undoubtedly the villain of the piece.  Evil and not very nice.  I see her care for her children as legitimate and her struggle to rise above the typical role of a woman in those times as more than envy, but the stuff other stories make heroes from.  That is more clearly presented in the TV I think.

Now when she eventually does go mad in the fourth series and hopefully the just deserts that seem to start at the end of that book, it will seem all the sweeter by having her be just a little relate-able at the beginning.

The argument against Catelyn is that she loses layers of complexity on screen whereas Cersei gains layers folks don’t like.  In the books she is initially FOR her husband taking the Hand position to advance the family.  In the mini-series she is always opposed because of the potential threat to the family.  She is more virulent in her hatred of Jon Snow in the books – although I didn’t think much of that was lost in the transition myself.  She was keen and quick to observe where her sister went wrong in treating with Tyrion.  And she showed more bravery in battle during the fight against clansmen in the Mountains of the Moon.

I didn’t notice a single one of these items without prompting from the ‘Net.  The final three seem to be to be just people missing their favorite moments.  Her ire against Jon is still apparent.  Her bravery in battle is obvious in the fight versus the assassin.  And while their is no time for her to speak of it, acting and the camera hint that she still had the same opinions during the rial of Tyrion – the camera just removed the need to explicitly say it.  The first is probably valid, but I understand it from a story perspective.  Without the internal viewpoints the threat of going to King’s Landing needed to be established somehow in the first episode.

So I think I prefer the portrayal of the character in the novel, but not enough that it matters to me.  It is interesting to note that her devolution in the next two novels is a quicker version of that which occurs to Cersei.  A series of bad decisions are made, she grows more paranoid and manipulative and finally goes mad.

Neither of the ladies make it out of the series in good shape I’m afraid.


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