It was not an easy season to be one of the women on Game Of Thrones, and it wasn't an easy season to be a woman watching, either. Though the HBO show has never been particularly kind to its female characters — as Cersei Lannister once told Prince Oberyn Martell, "Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls" — Season 5 was doubly painful for Sansa, Arya, Shireen... but perhaps the most lingering scene was Cersei's walk of shame through the streets of King's Landing. The performance was deeply dark and gut-wrenching, and for it, Lena Headey was justly honored for it with an Emmy nomination on Thursday morning. Cersei's public and brutal judgment may have been the point that Game Of Thrones became too cruel, but Headey deserves to take home the Emmy for the performance.
All of the women in the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama category more than earned it with their roles this year: along with Headey, the nominees are Emilia Clarke for Game Of Thrones, Joanne Froggatt for Downton Abbey, Christina Hendricks for Mad Men, Uzo Aduba for Orange Is The New Black, and Christine Baranski for The Good Wife. Headey's performance stands out, though; it was perhaps the lowest point for Game Of Thrones, and a turning point for the series.
In "Mother's Mercy," Cersei Lannister confesses, her hair is shorn violently, and she is forced by the High Sparrow to walk naked and bruised through King's Landing while her former subjects jeer at her, throw things at her naked body and scream "Slut, liar, whore." It is the only scene on Game Of Thrones that has made me physically get up and walk out of the room (as well as a few other of my female friends).
That being said, the mark of a great actor is his or her immersion and commitment to their performance, even off the screen. Headey could have let her nude, humiliating and spirit-shattering walk of shame speak for itself, but she spoke about how demoralizing even the filming of the scene was, which took three long days: "It’s not hard when people are screaming at you and you look like shit and you’re being f–king humiliated to figure out how that would feel,” Headey told Entertainment Weekly of the scene in "Mother's Mercy."
"There’s a part of you that’s f–king terrified. I can’t even imagine people wanting your blood. Cersei has done wrong, but she doesn’t really deserve this," she said.
And that last statement is precisely why Headey deserves the Emmy: even though Cersei Lannister is undeniably one of the worst and most wicked players in Westeros, during that scene, it was only possible to feel outraged for the despicable, slut-shaming punishment she deserved.
As a Game Of Thrones fan, I've long waited for Cersei to get her comeuppance for all the heartless scheming, betrayal and heartlessness she has unleashed on Westeros since the very beginning. The Queen Mother has countless enemies, and her allies are dwindling, or worse, turning on her: she secured the High Sparrow his power in King's Landing, only for him to brutally make her beg for forgiveness. That is not what she deserves. She was not being punished for her acts: she was being punished for being a woman. She had already repented to the High Septon; the violent, dehumanizing shaming by the public was gratuitous, cruel and unusual. And critics and fans alike noticed, many calling it the moment where Game Of Thrones "went too far."
But the show now has a chance to do right by its women in Season 6, precisely because of that criticism. The show has so long captivated fans, and it can't afford to lose its viewers. The scene incited a burning conversation about the sexual violence on Game Of Thrones, and maybe now, after Cersei's humiliation, the showrunners and writers will take heed of the warning that enough is enough. And for that, give Lena Headey all the Emmys.
Images: Helen Sloan/HBO (2)