Everyone loves to hate a good villain.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones and Avengers: Infinity War below!
While it hasn’t always been easy to pick a clear hero in Game of Thrones, it’s probably safe to assume that most would name Cersei Lannister the supreme villain of Westeros. Sure, there have been plenty of other evil characters; Joffrey, Ramsey, now Euron. They are all, of course, the absolute worst. But there are none who have quite reached and maintained Cersei’s level of villainy, as our own Max Covill has laid out.
Still, even for such a villainous individual, if you ask random Game of Thrones fans off the street who their all-time favorite character is, there would be a good handful who say Cersei. More people than one would probably assume. And as all things lead to these days, this got me also thinking about Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, who’s own villainy has sparked lots of nuanced discussions recently.
Probably no one would say Thanos is their favorite. At least, not as many as those who say Cersei. Their character development has been a little different as well as our attachments to them, which is in part the result of one being on a seven-year television show and the other a two and a half hour film. But it’s difficult to deny that we are intrigued by his character. Many have coined Infinity War as Thanos’ movie. And believe it or not, there are plenty of parallels to draw between the Cosmic Titan and the Westerosi Queen Regent.
For starters, they’re both “mad” evildoers who don’t necessarily believe they’re doing evil. They destroy people and places, they take what they want, they manipulate others, and it’s all for the benefit of those they rule over. Or so they say. Throughout Infinity War, Thanos believed he was doing the right thing and working toward a more “balanced” world. In Game of Thrones, we’ve heard Jaime tell characters like Olenna a similar story regarding Cersei’s goal. Once she’s fought the good fight, everyone will be thankful for the peaceful world she’s created, and it won’t matter how much destruction she’s caused. Much more so than Thanos, Cersei knows to the extent that she’s doing wrong and just doesn’t care. That said, she doesn’t exactly deny the positive intentions others attribute to her, and she gets others to work with her under that pretense. Qyburn’s just the Ebony Maw of King’s Landing.
They also both feel they have some kind of destiny weighing on them, and that their lives aren’t complete until they accomplish such destiny. Albeit, Cersei’s is a little more complicated than Thanos’. Her “destiny” is a mixture of working against a prophecy she received as a child along with her extreme hubris regarding her being Tywin’s successor. Thanos too, however, is haunted by events from his childhood that directly motivate his desire to attain all of the infinity stones. Of course, they also both always believe they’re the smartest, most capable people in the room.
And, for two completely different individuals physically, with one being of a giant galactic species, their powers are quite similar. Thanos snapped his fingers, and through the power of the infinity gauntlet complete with every stone, he wiped out half the population, including most of our favorite heroes. Cersei set up a wildfire plot which blew up the Sept along with Margaery and Loras and so many more. Cersei may not be able to crush someone’s skull with her bare hands, but she’s got the zombie Mountain to do it. And Thanos tortures Nebula much like Cersei tortures almost everyone.
Then there is their one weakness. The part of their lives that drive their emotional arc: their children. More than anyone else, including Jaime, Cersei loved Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen. As we learned in Infinity War, the only person Thanos loved is Gamora. When it came down to it though, even their “love” for their children wasn’t enough to stop them. In the season six finale of Game of Thrones, we see how matter-of-fact Cersei regards Tommen’s death, which was a direct result of her terrible actions. Gamora too died at the hands of Thanos, who seemed to be somewhat upset about it, but still carried through with his plan nonetheless.
Perhaps their most striking similarity, however, is the fact that no one steals the show quite as they do.
It’s telling that so many people love to hate Cersei and that when audiences walk out of theaters after watching Infinity War, it’s Thanos they are discussing. And not just because he’s one of the only remaining characters.
Both franchises (GoT and the MCU) have had characters who were technically villains, but nothing more. They were evil and their intentions destructive, but they were very one-dimensional in their development. Almost evil for the sake of evil, which works on the level that it gets us to hate them and root against them, but it doesn’t get us talking about them long after their gone.
Aside from being one in the same, Cersei and Thanos ultimately show us why we’re so captivated by the characters we are meant to be against. Going back to Cersei specifically, it’s easy to hate her, but to many, it’s also easy to want her around. We care about villains mostly in the sense that we want to understand why they do what they do. An effective villain also doesn’t just take away from our heroes, but they add to them in some way that goes deeper than simply inciting their heroic actions. Beyond all of Cersei’s villainy, for example, there’s her complicated relationship with Tyrion that has far more of an impact on him than any traditionally “villainous” thing she could ever do to him in the war for the Seven Kingdoms. We have yet to see how Infinity War plays out, but it can be assumed taking down Thanos will make characters like Iron Man and Cap reconsider parts of themselves as well.
Cersei and Thanos therefore, are two examples of how a narrative can sometimes be just as much the villains’ story as it is the heroes’. After all, out of every character who’s died in Game of Thrones, bad or good, there’s a reason Cersei has survived them all. Outside of Dany and Jon Snow, she’s right at the center of the story. There would also be no Infinity War without Thanos either. So much of the film is focused on him because narratively it’s important. Every hero becomes a hero because an opposing force has been established first. Understanding their side of the story, as well as allowing them to have fully fleshed out stories, is essential to getting us on board with a story at all. And sure, the odds of Cersei and Thanos making it through to the end of each of their respective stories is pretty unlikely, because, c’mon, they’re the villains. We don’t necessarily want them to make it, but it’s interesting to think that they practically dictate the end. When they’re gone, the story is done. And when that happens, that’ll be just another similarity they share.