clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Saluting Cersei, the Only Stay-At-Home Monarch on ‘Game of Thrones’

Most major characters have covered thousands of miles, and many of them perished before they had time to write travelogues. Cersei? She paid a painter to make her a map.

HBO/Ringer Illustration

If we’ve learned anything from six-plus seasons of Game of Thrones, it’s that travel in Westeros and Essos sucks. One sunny afternoon you’re celebrating the loot drops you got from an easy sacking of Highgarden, and the next you’re beset by a dragon and a horde of Dothraki. One starlit evening you’re sailing calm seas with a flagon in one hand and a Dornish beauty in the other, and the next instant you’re attacked by the flagship of your evil uncle’s fleet. Strolling through the forest? Prepare to be captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners. Walking beyond the Wall? Meet the White Walkers. Hiking the Kingsroad? Here come the Gold Cloaks. Trying to sell some salt pork at the Twins? Have a Hound’s fist in your face. And the second you stop to admire the scenery, a Stone Man grabs your arm and forces you to schedule some agonizing surgery.

In Westeros, traveling quickly is all but impossible, and traveling slowly isn’t necessarily safe. That’s why the maesters, the smartest and best-educated Westeros residents, always work from home, wearing robes and chains that aren’t suited to traveling light. But there’s only one person who has truly mastered not moving: Cersei of House Lannister, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, and Savant of Staying Put. In a world where ravens are the fastest means of long-range communication, threatening, conquering, and governing without going anywhere is an incredible accomplishment.

As far as we know, Cersei hasn’t set foot outside of King’s Landing since Season 1, Episode 3, when she, Jaime, Robert, and the rest of her crew returned from a leisurely jaunt up to Winterfell. Since then, virtually every other character has sailed, ridden, or traipsed between towns and occasionally continents in an attempt to unseat her or her kin, thus far without much success. Those still-thwarted contenders for the crown—or, as Cersei would say, traitors—are putting in some serious work. Compare the mileage logged by Cersei (red) and Daenerys (black) prior to the most recent episode:

Map from ‘Game of Thrones’ showing paths of Cersei and Daenerys Quartermaester.info

Dany’s mileage—much of which she accumulated in such inviting locales as the Red Waste, the Gulf of Grief, and Slaver’s Bay—dwarfs Cersei’s. And that black line was drawn before Dany crossed a chunk of Westeros to ruin the Lannister loot train at an unspecified spot between Highgarden and King’s Landing. Despite all that distance, Dany isn’t even the weariest road warrior in Westeros right now. Among longtime recurring characters, that distinction probably belongs to Yara Greyjoy, who’s out-traveled everyone even though she didn’t show up until the 12th episode of the series and then sat out Season 5.

Map from ‘Game of Thrones’ showing path of Yara Greyjoy Quartermaester.info

Cersei’s siblings, too, have spent a ton of time on the road; Jaime’s been everywhere from Winterfell to Sunspear, losing his hand in the process, while Tyrion—who among the nobility also has a strong claim to the “most-traveled” title—has escaped (from Cersei) to Pentos inside a small box and taken a wagon all the way to Meereen before returning to Westeros.

In fact, most major characters have covered thousands and thousands of miles, and many of them perished before they had time to write travelogues. This season alone, Dany has landed at Dragonstone and then set off again with Drogon and the Dothraki; Jon has journeyed to Dragonstone; Arya has trekked from the Twins halfway to King’s Landing, then headed home to Winterfell; Bran has sledded south to Castle Black and continued on to Winterfell; Euron has sailed into and out of Blackwater Bay twice, presumably taken the long trip to Lannisport along with his fleet, and won two naval victories; hell, even Olenna went to Dragonstone and back to Highgarden before being forced to swallow poison by Jaime, who was on his own excursion.

And Cersei? She paid a painter to make a map she could walk across without actually leaving the building. This is the way to see Westeros.

Cersei Lannister stands on a map of Westeros HBO

Admittedly, Cersei’s stay in King’s Landing hasn’t always been pleasant. There was that small misunderstanding with the Sparrows and a difficult acquaintance with Septa Unella, followed by that historic walking tour of King’s Landing from the late Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep (which could have been pleasant under different conditions). There was Joffrey’s poisoning, Tommen’s suicide, and perhaps worst of all, that time Margaery hugged her, mocked her day drinking, and called her “Dowager Queen.”

On the whole, though, Cersei’s had it easier than almost every other major character, if only because she hasn’t had to pack an overnight bag, develop saddle sores, or spend a single night in a tent in the past six seasons. If she needs to see someone—say, Randyll Tarly and the lesser lords of the Reach—she sends for them, and they do the traveling. And if she needs to destroy someone, she sends Jaime, Bronn, or Euron to do her dirty work. Cersei declines to commute; to paraphrase one of her long-ago lines, a good queen knows when to save her strength.

Some might mistake Cersei for a prisoner: She’s effectively unable to leave King’s Landing, lest she run into one of the enemies that besiege her on all sides. Even straying far from the Red Keep would be risky, lest she start another riot. But if this is what captivity looks like, please sign me up. Cersei has everything she needs: Not only can she sit the Iron Throne to her heart’s content, but she has an obedient bodyguard (and the Hand who built him) to protect her; all the wildfire a monarch could want (or at least alchemists capable of creating it); bottomless barrels of wine to drink; hated enemies to torture; a lifelong lover (and an eager suitor) to satisfy her sexual desires; and a faithful, long-serving handmaid to make sure her sheets are fresh for the next tryst. By the standards of wartime Westeros, this is the lap of luxury.

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die—but before either outcome, you usually have to take road trips. Cersei is the exception. As the show’s end draws near, its principals are in motion more than ever, but Cersei’s still in her home office, imbibing and prescribing, with more than a thousand miles between her and the nearest undead army. However her story ends, she’s been winning since the start.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.