Queens and their Castles: Cersei, First of her Name

CW: SPOILERS

For six seasons, Cersei Lannister has the character that fans love to hate. Daughter of the powerful Lannister family, she was always destined to marry nobility and be part of the ruling class of Westeros in some capacity. Cersei had previously been betrothed to a Targaryen lord and then married Robert Baratheon, as he assumed the throne after overthrowing the Targaryen dynasty and taking the Iron Throne.

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Cersei had been married for many years prior to the series starting but her marriage to the king was far from healthy.  She had been deeply unhappy  with the marriage itself but most content when surrounded by her family and knowing she had the full power of the Crown behind her.

Cersei had been depicted as ambitious and ruthless with a limited capacity for diplomacy. Compared to her brother Tyrion or father Tywin, Cersei is not really a long-vision strategist and instead lashes out at those who cross her path.  In the Machiavellian model of rulership,  Cersei would absolutely rather be feared than loved.

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During the show we see her influence and power wax and wane. In the last few seasons in particular, Cersei has slowly and desperately trying to maintain power as younger female characters gain power and threaten her standing. At the beginning of the seventh season, she has finally achieved her ultimate goal: becoming a Queen without a King. She has absolute power but in the process she has lost many of the people that she cares about. In an earlier season, her younger brother Tyrion remarks that her fierce love for her children is her most admirable trait (along with maybe her cheek bones). But at the beginning of Season 7, Cersei has no one to fight for, no one to tether her to her better instinct. But more importantly, no one to argue with her, and temper her ruthlessness. Cersei finally has ultimate power to do as she pleases, but what exactly will please her?

The Red Keep is the royal residence in King’s Landing, a coastal city in the South of Westeros.

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According to Production designer Gemma Jackson, the color red features heavily in Kings, inspired by Rajasthan in India. The exterior shots of King’s Landing in season 1 shot in Malta, while later seasons used Dubrovnik, Croatia as the main filming location for the royal city.

The castle itself is perched upon a cliff overlooking the sea and is constructed from a pale red stone, perhaps limestone. The Red Keep is on one end of a main thoroughfare leading to the Sept of Baelor, the main temple in the city. The castle is fortified by a wall and features a labyrinthine set of terraced roads leading to the main body of the castle which rises far above any other building in the city. The Red Keep also features many guard towers for the security of the palace and the main living space is set far in from the entrance and comprises the tallest structure in the complex.

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To say that the castle dominates the city skyline would be an understatement. On the whole, The Red Keep is much more architecturally complex and ornate compared to Winterfell, as the main historic seat of power for the entire island of Westeros. In terms of IRL architecture, the Red Keep appears to be an interesting amalgam of medieval and Gothic architecture. The walls around the perimeter of the castle are reminiscent of medieval fortresses, built from grey or very light-colored red stone. Within the walls however, there is a wing of the castle supported by flying buttresses and making use of tall windows, characteristic of cathedral architecture. The ratio, however, is slightly different from conventional buttresses (outside of Westeros). While normal buttresses feature the vertical buttress itself as shorter than the wall it is supporting and the outward thrust being forced down upon it, the Red Keep’s buttresses have extended to be taller than the peaked roof of that particular wing. Since there is no physical advantage for this change, one can only assume that this modification was made for aesthetic reasons, perhaps to contribute to the overall visual motion upwards. In this respect, perhaps the Westerosi architects also drew upon the Gothic principles of architecture reaching towards the air and becoming less substantial with the rise in altitude. While gothic architects employed this technique for the glory of God, perhaps the architects of the Red Keep wanted simply to intimidate the lay people with the overwhelming size and scale of the castle.

Notable features of the castle include:

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The Royal Chambers: These comprise the rooms in which the Royal Family eats and sleeps. In previous seasons, these have been the site of more intimate conversations within of the Lannister family. Although we as a viewer have access to these, very few nobles would have even been granted access to this suite.

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The Gardens: The gardens used to be the favorite gathering of the Tyrell family. The garden has many small paths lined with impeccably manicured trees, flowering shrubbery and fountains. But the crown jewel of the garden is a small pavilion constructed out of grey stone and covered in ivy that would be the site of many afternoon teas.  Cersei also had a walk with Oberyn Martell which was the most casual (and on her part most vulnerable) of their interactions.

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The Small Council Room: I would rank this room of an intermediate level of diplomacy and formality. Whereas the above locations were sites of interesting small political vignettes, the Small Council Room is a space that was actually designed for rulership. In this chamber, there is a small table around which 5-7people could convene (the Small Council). They could converse and advise the Crown on matters of state but in relative privacy from the people of King’s Landing.  In previous seasons, interests of the Crown and interests of the Lannister family clashed here. Rather than a tyrant, there was always supposed to be the small group of people actually controlling the government and the Crown was always the figurehead. However, now that Cersei has seen to it that everyone of importance has been killed off, I find it hard to believe that we will see any of this room in the seventh season.

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The Throne Room: This magnificent, multi-story chamber houses the iconic Iron Throne, forged from hundreds of swords. From hearings to general matters of court, the Throne room is the most formal outward front where the Crown, the courtiers and the regular citizens might meet. The Iron Throne was originally constructed from the swords of lords in the act of ultimate fealty to Aegon the Conqueror. Until this season, Cersei has always been Throne-adjacent but she now sits in the seat of power with only her brother beside her.

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In season 7, we see Cersei strolling around a small courtyard with a small Romanesque colonnade.  She notes that they have enemies on all sides: East, West and North. Cersei says that it is time to build an empire. Her brother Jaime asks “for whom?” since everyone they cared about is gone. Cersei disregards this (saying “a dynasty for us then”) and that might ultimately be her downfall. After many seasons of political manipulation to forge alliances and defeat enemies, she finally is the sole proprietor of the castle. Cersei had lived in the Red Keep for most of her adult life but in her capacity as the Queen/Queen Mother, she had to make use of indirect means to achieve her agenda. She now has the ultimate power of the throne but so far we have seen that Cersei excels at strong-arming her ascent to power rather than actual rulership. The Red Keep is the fairytale castle that many dream of but how long can Cersei keep it in her possession? My prediction is that many of the halls of government that we have seen will go unused this season, and we will instead focus on the Iron Throne and singular, unchecked power and perhaps the weakness therein.

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