Keeping Up with the Lannisters
Excited for season 8 of Game of Thrones? Of course you are. You, like the rest of us, have been waiting a thousand years to see how the epic series is going to shake out in its final season. But do you remember all the intricate plot details that might come into play? Of course you don’t. Don’t pretend. No one is that good.
Even this author, resident Game of Thrones expert, had to do a significant amount of research to prep. And I noticed something: when the show’s intense plot is broken down chronologically, episode by episode, it’s still pretty hard to track. So I’ve prepared a three-part summary of the plot of Game of Thrones so far, each part focusing not on a set of seasons, but instead a set of major characters. Want to know the entire plot of season 5? No, you don’t. Want to know Tyrion Lannister’s entire character arc? Of course you do! And I’ve got you covered.
This first part follows the plots that revolve around the major players of House Lannister: Queen Cersei, Ser Jaime, and Tyrion, Hand of the Queen to Daenerys Targaryen. Don’t need or want a detailed summary? Scroll to the end of the article for the tl;dr (too long; did not read) version, key players, and burning questions. Without further ado, here are the annals of House Lannister.
Wherever power can be found, you’ll find the Lannisters. In the very first episode, during a lesson, young Bran Stark misremembers House Lannister’s motto (“hear me roar”) as the popular saying, “A Lannister always pays his debts,” referring both to their self-serving tendencies and their famous wealth. Their ancestral home in the south of Westeros is legendary for the stores of gold reportedly kept there.
A generation before season one begins, during the reign of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, the Lannisters resided at his side in the Red Keep (the royal castle, located in the capital city of King’s Landing). During Robert’s Rebellion, the civil war that placed Robert Baratheon on the throne, patriarch Tywin Lannister betrayed Aerys, joining his forces to Baratheon’s in a march against King’s Landing. During the battle, a teenaged Jaime Lannister, horrified by Aerys’ murderous cruelty, stabbed him in the back, earning the nickname “Kingslayer.” Robert ascended to the throne, and Tywin married his daughter Cersei off to him to cement the alliance.
In season one, the Lannister siblings (Jaime, Cersei, and Tyrion) travel with the now middle-aged King Robert to Winterfell. Jaime and Cersei make a splash at the end of the pilot episode: young Bran Stark, absently climbing the castle walls, stumbles on them having incestuous sex, and Jaime pushes him out a window so he won’t talk. On the way back to King’s Landing, Cersei’s son Joffrey (heir to the throne) gets upset with Sansa Stark’s pet direwolf. Cersei, despite Sansa being Joffrey’s fiance, is delighted to order that the girl’s pet be put to death. That should give you a general idea of how the Lannisters start the show.
Meanwhile, Tyrion takes a detour, and on his way back to King’s Landing he gets captured by Catelyn Stark, who believed Tyrion orchestrated an assassination attempt against her now-disabled son Bran. Tyrion is innocent, but he demands trial by combat and, with the help of an untrustworthy mercenary called Bronn, wins and is freed. In King’s Landing, Ned Stark tries to go home, but Jaime’s forces attack his, and Ned demands justice. Because the Baratheon royal family is held in financial thrall to the Lannisters, King Robert cannot punish Jaime. Worse, shortly after Ned Stark makes the tactical error of telling Cersei he has discovered her and Jaime’s incest, King Robert is mauled by a boar in a “mysterious” hunting accident. His last wish is to name Ned regent until Prince Joffrey comes of age, but the Lannisters ignore this and have Ned arrested. Joffrey is left unchecked, and ends up having Ned killed despite having made a plea deal with him. Unbearably smug, King Joffrey names Tywin his Hand and Jaime Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, because nepotism is all the rage.
Season two sees Tyrion returned to King’s Landing after acquitting himself well in some skirmishes with Robb Stark’s forces. Tywin, on his way out of town to fight Stark forces, names Tyrion acting Hand of the King. The adults (Tywin, Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion) fight the war while Joffrey has a grand time torturing Sansa and killing prostitutes; they have their own fun too, Cersei shacking up with her cousin Lancel and Tyrion growing ever closer to Shae, a prostitute he met in battle last season. Robb Stark’s forces capture Jaime, but Catelyn frees him and sends the formidable knight Brienne to take him as a prisoner to King’s Landing and exchange him for Sansa and Arya Stark.
The armies of Stannis Baratheon (brother to the late King Robert, and claimant to the throne) attack King’s Landing in the Battle of the Blackwater. Tyrion, in a brilliant move, uses some wildfyre (a flammable substance probably based on Greek Fire) to blow up most of Stannis’ navy. He rallies the troops when Joffrey flees, and fights well, but is badly injured just as Tywin’s reinforcements arrive to win the day. He wakes after the battle to find that Tywin has taken his job back, and that Cersei ordered an attack on Tyrion during the battle as vengeance for Tyrion’s decision to send her daughter away to be married. House Tyrell, another wealthy noble family from the south, allied with the Lannisters in this battle, so their prized daughter Margaery–former bride of the now-deceased Renly Baratheon–is granted the dubious honor of becoming Joffrey’s fiance, usurping a grateful Sansa.
A deeply bromantic road trip between Brienne and Jaime characterizes much of season three; the two get captured by Bolton men, the Boltons being a house that is nominally allied with Robb Stark. These soldiers don’t care much about the war, however; regardless of their prisoners’ usefulness, they cut off Jaime’s hand and pit Brienne against a bear, a doomed fight that Jaime is luckily able to stop. The two escape to King’s Landing, where Jaime is reunited with Cersei and their two sons, King Joffrey and Prince Tommen.
Meanwhile, Tyrion, now Master of Coin (a far less prestigious position), is ordered by his father to marry Sansa Stark, which he is forced to do in a ceremony that is humiliating for both of them. He refuses to share a bed with the teenage Sansa, but makes the questionable decision to assign Shae as Sansa’s maid. These petty politics lose their importance, however, when Sansa’s mother and brother are slaughtered in the Red Wedding. To recap: for reasons that will be discussed in our coverage of House Stark’s journey, minor nobleman Walder Frey allies with the Lannisters and Boltons to slaughter Robb, his pregnant wife, and Catelyn at a wedding feast.
Season four is a bad time to be a Lannister. Jaime, in particular, suffers: now disabled, with his famous sword hand gone, he loses his sister-girlfriend Cersei. Tywin asks Jaime to leave the Kingsguard (a celibate order) and return to their homeland to act as Tywin’s heir apparent; Jaime refuses, even though he joined the Kingsguard to be close to Cersei. Things get ominous when Oberyn Martell, whose sister was raped and murdered by Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, comes to King’s Landing with revenge on the brain. Gregor was acting on Lannister orders, so things don’t look good.
It looks worse when Joffrey, just having married Margaery, is gruesomely poisoned at his own wedding feast. A furiously grieving Cersei immediately accuses Tyrion of the assassination, and he is imprisoned. Jaime, in one of the show’s writing low points, rapes Cersei by Joffrey’s coffin. In relieving contrast to this horrifying scene, their sweet young son Tommen tears himself away from playing with his cat, Ser Pounce of House Whiskers, and flirting with Margaery, now his fiance, long enough to be crowned King.
Tyrion, accused of murdering his own nephew, seems set to take a plea deal Jaime has negotiated for him, but when Shae turns against him to testify for Cersei, he loses his cool and demands trial by combat. Cersei names the Mountain as her champion, so Oberyn, seeing his chance for revenge, volunteers to fight on Tyrion’s behalf. Oberyn wounds the Mountain with a poisoned spear, but before he can claim victory, the Mountain crushes his head. With his bare hands. Tyrion is sentenced to death, but Jaime helps him escape his cell. Not satisfied with a simple getaway, Tyrion goes after his father, and, on seeing that Shae has shacked up with Tywin, strangles her. Then he kills Tywin with Joffrey’s crossbow, while Tywin is on the privy. It’s quite satisfying.
Season five sees Tyrion travelling to the foreign city of Meereen with former spymaster Varys, going to meet Daenerys Targaryen, Jaime and Bronn headed to Dorne to bring Cersei and Jaime’s daughter Princess Myrcella home, and King Tommen marrying Margaery. Cersei, in an attempt to grab power, elevates a new religious leader, the High Sparrow, to power, giving him permission to arrest “sinners,” including Margaery’s brother Loras, who is gay and was in love with Renly Baratheon, Margaery’s former husband. The High Sparrow gets a little carried away, though, and arrests Margaery for covering up for Loras, then arrests Cersei, whose cousin Lancel has tattled on her.
South of the sea, Tyrion has been captured by Daenerys’s faithful acolyte Jorah Mormont, and both of them are then captured by slavers. Tyrion negotiates a deal with the slavers for Jorah to earn their freedom in the fighting pits of Meereen, and they meet Daenerys. Tyrion swears his fealty to her and is named her Hand of the Queen. Jaime and Bronn tangle with Oberyn’s widow, Ellaria Sand, and his daughters; Prince Doran, Oberyn’s brother, gives Jaime and Myrcella safe passage home, but Ellaria, desperate for revenge, assassinates Doran and poisons Myrcella. By the time Jaime returns home, Cersei has endured her own trial, a naked walk of shame through King’s Landing (a much-memed moment).
Season six is pretty boring overall, especially for a Lannister fan like yours truly. But the end is worth it. Though Cersei, Margaery, and Loras have all shown apparent penance, their religious trials are still to come, and all will be held in the Westerosi version of a cathedral, called a Sept. Along with Margaery’s grandmother, Olenna Tyrell, Cersei and Jaime throw down some major political machinations, but all are thwarted when it turns out that Margaery and Tommen, now apparently pious converts, have allied themselves with the High Sparrow. Margaery sends Olenna home, and Cersei simmers.
The season finale worth waiting for: the trial is held at the Sept, but Cersei does not arrive. Lancel, now working for the Faith, is sent to see what’s up, and arrives too late to stop her from setting off a store of wildfyre in a tunnel below the Sept. Margaery senses something is wrong, but the High Sparrow locks everyone in the Sept so they can’t escape Justice, and that means they all go up in flames. Tommen, at a window in the Red Keep, sees the Sept burning and kills himself. Cersei is crowned Queen.
At the start of season seven, Daenerys has returned to Westeros, and Cersei, furious both that her power is being challenged and that Tyrion is working for the opposition, allies with Euron Greyjoy, pirate king of the Iron Islands (and way less awesome than he sounds). While Tyrion is encouraging Daenerys to ally herself with Jon Snow, the Lannister and Greyjoy forces win a naval battle against a fleet, led by House Martell, that is allied with Daenerys. Cersei consigns a captured Ellaria to a torturous death as vengeance for Myrcella’s murder.
Tyrion retaliates by sending Daenerys’s army, the Unsullied, to take the Lannister home of Casterly Rock; meanwhile, Jaime leads Lannister forces to take the more strategically important Tyrell home, Highgarden. He brings poison to Olenna so that the last remaining Tyrell can die with relative dignity, and Olenna confesses to arranging Joffrey’s assassination before drinking it. This Pyrrhic victory is worsened when Daenerys brings her Dothraki horde and rides a dragon into battle to wipe out Jaime’s forces. Bronn manages to wound the dragon and rescue Jaime, but the defeat is resounding.
Still, there is an existential threat to all the factions in Westeros: the Night’s King, an undead ice demon, is closing in on the divided nation with his massive army of White Walkers (lesser ice demons) and wights (ice zombies made from the corpses of defeated enemies). A meeting is held in King’s Landing; Cersei comes out of it having promised to ally with Daenerys, but this promise is cloaked in so many layers of manipulation, including a possibly spurious pregnancy, that even Jaime is fed up. He leaves; ravens arrive from the Citadel (the greatest academy in Westeros) announcing that the much-dreaded long winter has arrived.
Tl;dr: The Lannisters are rich and powerful, and in it for themselves alone. Tyrion, the younger Lannister brother, breaks this mold and ends up joining forces with Daenerys and Jon against his siblings; Cersei is ruthless and manipulative as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, while her twin (and the father of her children) Jaime tries to find the right thing to do but never knows exactly what that is, and often ends up hurting people instead.
Claim to Throne: Cersei was King Robert Baratheon’s wife, and the mother of the last two kings, who she still claims were also Robert’s sons. Combine that with Lannister wealth and clout, and her position is strong. There are also some fan theories that Tyrion may be an illegitimate son of Aerys Targaryen, which would give him a claim as well.
Major (living) players: Cersei, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms; Jaime, her now-estranged twin brother and lover; Tyrion, their younger brother, who now serves Daenerys Targaryen as Hand of the Queen. And don’t count out the royal cat, Ser Pounce of House Whiskers.
Associates: Undead Gregor Clegane, called “The Mountain;” mad scientist Maester Qyburn, who resurrected him; Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, a nouveau riche mercenary of uncertain allegiance, but who has recently been hanging out with Jaime.
Burning questions: Who will kill Cersei? She’s on Arya’s kill list, but some fans have speculated, based on the prophecy of Azor Ahai, (see upcoming article on the Targaryens), that it could be Jaime. Another burning question, one close to this author’s heart: will Tyrion live through the series finale? Finally, this is not so much a matter of “if”: WHEN will Sandor Clegane, better known as the Hound, finally get the chance to kill his undead brother?