The Style Evolution Of Cersei Lannister
Game of Thrones' Cersei Lannister: The woman we love to hate. She's so cunning, intelligent, and dresses to kill (pun intended, guys!) — it's hard not to want to do a Cersei Lannister costume analysis. So in the spirit of my recent foray into the wonderful world of the wardrobes of the Game of Thrones' women, I thought I would explore how Cersei's complex and Machiavellian character is woven into her threads. Unlike Sansa, Daenerys, and Arya, whose visual narratives I have explored thus far, costume designer Michelle Clapton designs Cersei's plethora of Westerosi couture to convey her personal story arc visually in a comparatively subtle manner.It's easy to dismiss Cersei as a basic bitch — and terrible she may be — but this season especially, us fans have (quite rightly, IMO) gained at least an ounce of sympathy for Westeros' Queen Bee... maybe. I am most definitely not the only one who felt incredibly sorry for — and angry at — the double standards inflicted upon the Queen Regent in this week's finale, during her humiliating nude walk of shame.Of course, it's never OK to make your brother's life hell simply because he was born short of stature, allow your eldest son to grow up a whore-murdering sociopath, or plot to imprison your happily married youngest son's wife and family because you feel threatened (karma bites you in the ass, Cersei, as you've learned) — but it's not hard to see why Cersei has turned out to be as cold hearted as she is. Constantly involved in face-offs with her brother and father, Cersei's incredible intelligence is always belittled because #vagina. Her worth has forv been judged by her good looks and fertility.
She is a pampered princess, yes, and you may eye roll thinking "poor little rich girl," but Cersei Lannister is also a clever and ambitious woman trapped in a terribly patriarchal system. Not only that, but she has been brought up by a power-hungry and corrupt family that values its wealth and name over its children and subjects' wellbeing. It's hard to turn out peaches and cream with that stacked against you — let's give the girl credit where it's due, guys!Cersei's cool demeanor and ruthlessness are learned — they are her emotional armor. Growing up bitter and unable to control her future, she used her wits to play the game of thrones and be as ambitious as she could with what she had. She's just doing what she can to survive. And she loves her children dearly... at least we can give her that.
So without further ado, let's take a sartorial journey through the lioness' wardrobe. We might need some wine...
We meet Cersei Lannister in the Stark homeland of Winterfell. A beautiful but hard nosed queen and trophy bride of King Robert Baratheon, she is visually every bit the part. Always dressed ostentatiously in her signature Lannister colors of red and gold, and wearing her famously aloof expression, Cersei is as queenly as can be in her fancy regalia. Brilliantly auspicious furs, intricate brocades, and quilted golden silks protect her from the cold of the North and swathe her in importance.
However, she is obviously bored and tired with her position. Constantly shot down and silenced by her husband, she unflinchingly retains her sense of self, but us viewers can see the small cracks.
In the joust scene above, Cersei's position and character in season 1 are best distilled. Her high, braided hairstyle and dramatic cloaked appearance connote power and status. Her crown of Baratheon antlers is diminutive, but adorns her piled high power-hair. Her Lannister family ties are visually of greater importance than her Baratheon alliances, as her extravagant cape bears two great, red lion embroideries. Her choice of gold and red attire again presents her firmly as being of Lannister descent. Straight away we see where Cersei's loyalties lie.
A highly aware fashionista, Cersei knows how her wardrobe can act as a disguise or aid when playing her game of faces. To mask her involvement in Bran's disfigurement, Cersei spends her down-time at Winterfell literally dressing like a Tully-Stark. The cold blue of her demure gown post pushing Catelyn's son out of the window deceptively mirrors the attire worn by the Stark women and is highly influenced by Mama Stark herself.
Even her beautiful and richly embroidered floral stole is neutrally green in color. Her hair is also worn soft and loose, the opposite to her power braids. She plays the caring mother role well.
It is interesting to note that Cersei often wears pale blue early in this season, especially when around her male co stars. This delicately feminine wrap dress, embroidered with intricate birds, is worn in two contexts in which Cersei is most definitely defined by her female gender. When advising and comforting her son, Joffrey, Cersei's dress presents her as a loving mother — a maternal bird. In her scene with Robert, Cersei is literally in the king's shadow. Her bird dress blends into the background, which is similarly painted with a flying swallow motif. As Robert shouts her down, Cersei's lack of power is visually obvious.The symbol of the bird depicts Cersei as breakable, fragile, an object in a cage to be admired. In fact, this bird dress is not unlike Sansa Stark's costumes, which draws interesting parallels between the two characters. As we learn, Cersei is terrified by the prophecy that she will be overthrown as queen, in a Snow White fashion, by a younger and more beautiful woman. Cersei is threatened by Sansa, despite her diminutive character, when she is betrothed to her son, Joffrey, and does all she can to belittle the girl. It is ironic that she calls Sansa "little bird" when she herself is costumed as one. Maybe Cersei can see a little of herself in the Stark girl? After all, both have been used as political pawns via marriage.
Even in scenes in which Cersei expresses her manipulative skills, word-sparring with the likes of Ned Stark and her brother, Tyrion, the Queen Regent's more passionate clothing is still a muted shade of mulberry. This more powerful gown — with its plunging neckline and armor-like belt — does give Cersei some visual potency. However, it still retains a diaphaneity, combined with her loose hair that projects her lowly position as a woman.Despite this, I love the fact that Cersei is the only character in Robert's death scene who wears a light shade of red. The dark tones of Joffrey's oxblood brown garb, Robert's brownish sheets, and the Maester's dirty grey linen robes, really draw attention to Cersei's literal "scarlet woman" attire — giving the viewer a colorful clue to the culprit.
With her husband's death, Cersei gains more power in her own right, and suddenly her clothing switches to commanding and authoritative cuts and colors. Her dominating braided hairstyle grows in size, almost crowning her new status. She is draped in a bejeweled body chain that signifies her richness and status. Her winged, brocade gown in an eye popping emerald green is queenly and bold, and harks back to her status symbol clothing at the beginning of the series. Only now she is not wearing the colors of any political ties. She is dressed for herself, in a color she has never worn before, and never wears again. It is perhaps the only time we see Cersei dress this way in the entirety of Game of Thrones. It's arguably the pinnacle of her power.
Despite her new lease of life, Cersei still knows when to tone down her regal garms, and when to let her son take the visual limelight. Still adorned in her crown of braids, Cersei dons a shade of pastel pink, still in the wrapped kimono-like style she has made fashionable in her city of King's Landing. This is clearly a woman who knows the power and deception that can be created by fashion. All hail the queen! Kinda.
Season 2 sees the two sides of Cersei Lannister battle it out, as she struggles to tread water and keep her position of power in the patriarchal political landscape of Westeros. We ultimately see the triumph of Cersei's powerful ambition win out in the end, though, as the series progresses, and this plays out subtly in the outfits in which she is costumed.Cersei's season 1 "scarlet woman" dresses — which represent the Queen Mother's potency — evolve into dresses fit for a fairytale evil queen as she grows stronger. The wrap dress keeps its battle ready jewelry-like belt and dramatic silhouette, only now it is cut now from a deep lipstick-red, thick silk, and is decorated with extravagant Lannister gold embellishment. Gone is the girlish mulberry. Cersei is never without her lioness pendant or heavy statement necklace when playing the powerful political force to be reckoned with, too.
The feisty Lannister lady has moments of weakness, however. She is often quashed during meetings with her male relatives and her only daughter Myrcella is shipped off to Dorne for political marriage. In these scenes, the famous bird dress from season 1 is brought back into the picture.
As I discussed, the innocent blue shade and bird embroidery represent Cersei's position as lesser because of her gender. The visual contrast between the red of Cersei's powerful moments and the blue of her weakness is swapped during the season to present this complex character's personal struggle.
During scenes when female characters' political positions are discussed, and wisdom is passed on, Cersei re-wears the Lannister cape she wore at the joust back in season 1. The cape is introduced as a visual display of Cersei's position as a trophy bride from a rich and affluent family, and is first worn with discomfort by the bored queen during the festival. In keeping with the bird imagery associated with Cersei, the contrast to the strong, wing-like way in which Cersei wore this garment in the scene it was introduced, during these season 2 scenes, her "wings" look tired, worn, and flat — burdensome. The visual red/blue contrast between Cersei and Sansa in the first image also demonstrates the power of the Lannisters over the young Stark, especially with the visual prominency of the lion emblem. It also represents the power struggle between the Queen Regent and betrothed.
As the season draws to a close, Cersei's powerful persona seems to win through, at least visually. As the Battle of Blackwater Bay threatens King's Landing, Cersei appears strong and proud as Boudicca in her most visually compelling dress so far. The heavily embroidered neckline features golden birds and flowers, whereas the exquisite armor features carved lions, marrying Cersei's feminine strength with her vulnerability, and bringing an end to this visual and symbolic struggle. It is the pinnacle of her self exploration to find her strength. The armor itself is both a symbol of her feisty nature as a warrior of words, but also reminds us that Cersei's viciousness is a self defense mechanism. Furthermore, her home is being attacked — so I guess this outfit also has an added element of practicality...
Gone are Cersei's delicate bird dresses; the lioness in her has won, and Cersei is in full bitch mode! Season 3 features a multitude of rich red gowns of imperial appearance. Goldwork and stumpwork opulently embroidering Lannister lions now take over her ever more monarchial ensembles as the Queen Mother's vile bad assery grows.
The decorative armor motif is also developed as Cersei becomes ever more ballsy and gives as good as she gets in her world of men — f*ck the patriarchy! We see the return of her thick, gold power-belt in struggles with her brother, Tyrion.
In scenes in which she is dealing with men who threaten her more, or when dealing with small council situations, Cersei power dresses with her armor with the vigor of a 1980s feminist CEO at a corporate board meeting. Both sexy and smart whilst channeling her inner Khaleesi, Cersei dons an armored under-bust corset and Lanniser lion heavy statement necklace to enhance her political prowess. Meow.
As Margaery Tyrell replaces poor little Sansa as Cersei Lannister's feminine political frenemy du jour, some serious visual jousting starts occurring on the costume front, quietly demonstrating the power play between these two characters. Again, we see Michele Clapton utilize the contrast of red and blue in Cersei and Margaery's subtle sartorial war — a projection of ocular opposition.
We also witness the two women have a fashion face off in a much less obvious manner, with their silhouettes and style. Cersei's fear of her prophecy coming true sees her borrowing Margeary's Alexander McQueen style bowl neckline, to try and outshine the ambitious young woman in her own mirror image.
Margeary responds to Cersei's vestiary volley by toning down the drama and perfecting her feminine yet seductive style. Michele Clapton told Fast Company , "She honed this look that was girlishly sexy because she could see that it was exactly what Cersei couldn't do. The more armored and more regal Cersei got, the more girlish and simple Margaery became — very knowing."
This Lannister lady's weaker side is alluded to in — albeit more stately — updates of her mulberry gowns from past series, which she wears mainly around the multitude of controlling men in her family. The very fact that her more "passive" garms hark back to her past series' "scarlet lady" power dresses, visually exhibits her growing strength of character.
Cersei's last appearance in season 3 also showcases the lioness' vulnerability and heightened emotion, as she is reunited with her brother/lover Jaime (minus one hand!). Dressed in a sleeveless plain shift, without a speck of embellishment, Cersei's blank dress in her more passive shade of mulberry presents our feisty vixen as the helpless and emotional creature she tries so hard not to be. She is literally stripped of all the royal trappings of her symbolic and sartorial coat of armor.Her handling of a spiked conch shell prop during the quiet moment of sad contemplation prior to Jaime's arrival is also visually telling. The violent shape of this beautiful object mirrors Cersei's own beautiful self defense in the form of clothing and "prickly" nature. A shell itself is an elegant protection. However, it also has an element of delicacy and can be easily shattered...
Cersei has a pretty rough ride in season 4, and her prolapsing power is all over her muting threads. Her wine reds have been diluted back to the more subdued mulberry, her gown of vulnerability being her choice of attire for speaking with her lost lover Jaime.
As her power wanes to Margeary Tyrell at her son Joffrey's wedding, even her terrifying lion embroidery and crownlike braids do not detract from the fading of her passionate red. After witnessing the obvious murder of her eldest son, Cersei's garments plunge into a mournful darkness, that is not shaken all the way into season 5. Her bitterness at life, depression, and ennui are visible in all her gothic gowns.
Cersei's lust for passion and fashion is dampened in her sadness — the once brimming wardrobe of her majesty gives way to one staple mourning dress in black brocade with shoulder embellishments... a blackened version of her faded red. Her hair is worn natural and down unless dressed, more simply than usual at formal events.
She even re-wears what appears to be the same gown for Tommen's coronation and her brother's trial, something she would have never done before. As she stands and publicly humiliates her younger brother, accusing him of murdering Joffrey at his wedding, and therefore sentencing him to death, the velvet of her black harbinger dress is deep and menacing as a night sky. Cersei is brimming with deep hatred and sorrow.
Season 5 has been key in Cersei's character development, and has definitely cast a more sympathetic light on the Westerosi evil queen. The season began with a flashback to Cersei's youth and the prophecy that haunted her her whole life — which is vital to her story arc and personality. Young Cersei is dressed in a teenage version of her mulberry wrap dress, complete with mini tough girl armor belt. As well as confirming to the viewer this is most definitely the diminutive queen through visual parallels, the very fact they choose to costume Cersei in a shrunken version of her more "passive" of outfits, makes evident that this important event in her past is what created her failings and weaknesses.
For the rest of her (relatively) comfortable existence for the rest of the series, Cersei is cloaked in more mourning gowns, which are variants of her wrapped black garb from last season. We even see the velvet from her coronation/trial dress recycled as the lining of her sleeve below, signifying times are hard for even the richest woman in Westeros.
Cersei is also far less bejeweled than in previous seasons. Embellishment is dumbed down and her extravagant warrior princess jewelry is gone. Sadness is still written all over the Queen Regent's wardrobe.
I don't know about you, but I was as shocked as Cersei herself when her plans to annihilate the Tyrells backfired on her, landing her in a dungeon cell also. Quickly Cersei's illustrious hair becomes matted and dirty, her perfect complexion muddy, and her grimly gorgeous death dresses swapped for the burlap sack shift of a prisoner.
What is particularly interesting visually and symbollically about Cersei's disturbingly sad Walk of Penance, is what her nakedness signifies from a costume perspective. Yes, she is stripped bare to be shamed and embarrased in front of her whole kingdom, but this is not all her bare body stands for.
Game of Thrones does not shy away from full frontal during sex scenes, and Cersei is no prude. However, this is the very first time we have seen the Lannister lioness stripped bare. As we have explored, Cersei's relationship with clothing is one of protection, of disguise, of empowerment. Even with her skirts pushed around her waist in a tryst with Jaime, her dresses add an extra dimension. Therefore, Cersei's forced removal of her clothes is a violation and a stripping of her power in a many layered way.
The rough hacking of her long and lustrous hair is also a symbol of degradation in more ways than one. Her femininity is cast aside, her sexuality frowned upon. Her protection stripped, her power shorn like Delilah to Samson.
The mud, blood, and other nasty substances thrown at Cersei only add to the visual picture of a woman in pain being punished for the same "sins" committed by a plethora of Seven Kingdoms gentlemen. What makes this scene so terrible is the double standards of her patriarchal society, and the fact she has spent her whole life fighting to survive within it.
It is a tear inducing sight then when Cersei breaks down into tears and is carried like a broken bird by the Lannisters when she completes her walk within the walls of her castle home. This is the first time we have seen this utterly vulnerable side to her character. The Lannister red robe she is wrapped in symbolically envelops her again in the protection of her family... but for how long? And what does this mean for our Queen of Mean?
From status symbol to swaddled delicate bird, Cersei's costumes tell a gracious story of this anti heroine's complicated personal journey. I simply cannot wait a year until this incredible character graces our screens again...
Images: HBO; Giphy