In a week, the latest season of Game of Thrones premieres on HBO. Things do not look good for what’s left of the richest, most powerful, and most backstabb-y house in Westeros. House Lannister has dominated Westeros for six seasons, but now winter has arrived. Enemies surround them, their armies are exhausted, and their gold is gone. The time may be coming for the Lannisters to finally pay their debts.
Strategically, the Lannister position could not be worse. The Starks rule the North. Daenerys can easily conquer the south. And House Greyjoy is still in play to the west. The Season 7 trailer shows a battle inside Casterly Rock, the heart of Lannister power in the Seven Kingdoms. Can the few surviving Lannisters actually defeat all these threats? No way.
Still, maybe they don’t need to fall too quickly. Though we may hate the golden lions, Game of Thrones needs House Lannister.
A Downfall is Coming
Logically the Lannister part of the story looks like it’s nearing its end. They were most powerful in a gritty medieval political drama. Now that Game of Thrones is going from low fantasy to high, the Lannister lion doesn’t have a lot of teeth. All the gold in Casterly Rock cannot buy you an army of undead ice zombies or a trio of dragons. Frankenstein’s monsters aside, the Lannisters are old news. They are not ready for what is coming. They could never have been ready. (This is bad news for you Littlefinger fans too.)
If the Lannisters are removed, that ends the civil war in Westeros. That means the end of the main plotline of Game of Thrones. One assumes that the politics would have had to end eventually. With White Walkers ready to destroy everything, the people of the Seven Kingdoms need to come together for a final battle of good versus evil. Dany and Jon Snow should beat the Lannisters, then beat the Night King. Then presumably everybody can live happily ever after.
But Game of Thrones has never been so black and white. Do we even want it to be? That sounds far too predictable for George R. R. Martin’s universe.
Westeros Soap Opera
For most of the show’s running time, the true protagonist has been House Lannister. Characters like Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen are the heroes of Game of Thrones. They’re good people looking to change things. However, they don’t embody the spirit of this world.
Why was it Cersei Lannister and not Jon, Ned, or Dany who speaks the title line? “When you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die.” Because heroes like Ned and Robb die. The most ruthless villains like Cersei survive and flourish. The Lannisters are the Game of Thrones. All the other houses are just playing along to the rules the Lannisters created.
Seasons 2 through 6 had the Starks surviving in the margins. The real action was focused in the Red Keep. Game of Thrones was more like a fantasy soap opera starring Tyrion, Cersei, and Tywin. It was like Lannister Dallas. Everybody had a scheme, everybody was drinking too much wine, and everybody had some great sarcastic quip. That was fantastic television.
Do you want to lose all that for a standard good vs. evil story?
Roles Left to Play
Now with nearly every character we know from King’s Landing dead, that family/political drama is gone. Game of Thrones has already lost something. But the surviving Lannisters still have a role to play.
Cersei Lannister in Season 7 is at the height of her power. She was never a nice lady, yet over the seasons she has grown into a fantastic villain. This woman has lost her children, her very reason for climbing the ladder in the first place. All that’s left is rage. She wants power for power’s sake. The Night King is intimidating and all-powerful, but Cersei is a far better villain. Do you want to trade the mad queen for a flat demon man? No, you don’t.
Meanwhile, Ser Jaime has even more places to go as a character. Jaime has grown in the opposite direction from his sister and lover, Cersei. She’s more evil and certain of her role. He’s more conflicted and morally lost. He wants to be a good person in spite of his reputation. There are two women in his life who represent a moral choice he will have to make. There’s Cersei, and then there is Brienne of Tarth, a knight who has never given up her honor. Where will Jaime go this season? Where is he going next season? He’s too interesting a character to lose.
That leaves only the “good” Lannister, Tyrion. His family has betrayed him, so he now serves Dany. Still, he has many scores to settle with his siblings.
The Best Players of This Game
Over the many years of the show, Game of Thrones has gained a well-deserved reputation for being utterly ruthless with its character deaths. Both heroes and villains have been killed off without ceremony. However, the more characters you lose, the more predictable the story becomes. You can’t surprise the audience with deaths when there are no characters of importance left to kill off.
No other house has mastered the shocking survival as well as the Lannisters. Tywin and Cersei won impossible victories through sheer cunning. The Lannisters might be the house we most hate. But they’re also the house we most love to hate. Because they’re the house that best plays the Game of Thrones. We still want intrigue, incest, and intimidating human enemies. Only the lions can give us that.
Westeros will be a less interesting place without the Lannisters. We should celebrate when Cersei is finally given justice, but we should also mourn the best family of villains in television history.