No matter who you are or what season you're on I can bet, dollars to donuts, that your favorite character is a Lannister. They may not be the one you love the most, but damn it all, you just can't help but wait for Tyrion to make a quip or for Cersi to do something crazy. And what's Jamie doing? Poor damaged kid that he is.
But the real question is why? Why does everyone love the fucking Lannisters? Well, in truth, it all goes back to that old mantra Tyrion has.
"A Lannister Always Pays His Debts."
This is a sort of creed for their kind and, though each of them acts very independently of one another they all have their debts they must pay. They all have the things they must do. That is a big part of it because, though it may seem silly, characters that are motivated and always striving toward a course of action are exciting. We always know that the Lannisters are up to something, hell, everyone in the book or show knows it too. Yet, despite that fact, no one knows what because they are so clever and they are so different from everyone else.
For instance, take someone like Jamie Lannister, who is smart but rash. He is a warrior by nature and, in his own way, he is honorable. In fact, it would be fair to say that Jamie looks to be an honorable knight and yet, when he killed the Mad King, he did it by stabbing him in the back. That is not a thing an honorable man would do.
To put that into perspective, can you imagine Ned Stark doing such a thing? Or any of the Stark's for that matter? Of course not. They are bound by their honor whereas Jamie merely uses it for a suggestion.
Or the great Tyrion Lannister. Small but clever. You never know exactly what his plan in and, no matter the problem, you know he always has a way out. And, much like his own brother, he is an honorable sort in his own way.
The fact of the matter is that the Lannisters are not black or white but gray characters. This means that, while they may be more good that bad (or bad than good) they do whatever it is suits them. In this way they are more human and relate-able. We may not agree with what they do, but we can understand it.
We may not agree with anything that Cersi does, yet we can come to understand it. She lacks power because she is a woman yet she is shrewd and, honestly, most fit for rule out of most everyone. She knows how to be strong and also how to be kind. From the very start it is clear that she pulls the strings and, though we may not like what she does, we can understand the feeling of powerlessness. We have all manipulated to get what we want or to better position ourselves in life.
There is a part of Cersi Lannister in us all.
Now, why does this matter? Well, these are the kinds of characters that you want to put in your stories. You want to have more that just the honorable Ned Stark or the vile Jeoffry. If you are stuck dealing with what is good and what is bad you will alienate people.
When Robert Jordan, author of The Wheel of Time series said that, "in fantasy your one certainty is that evil will never triumph over good," I feel as though he missed the point. I understand that we all want the good guy to win, but good is subjective and often times the good guy is not the right man for the job.
A character who is so concerned with the idea of what is honorable or just or what will help the most people is a character that will lose it all in the end, just as King Robert did.
On the other end, a character that will only pursue their own ends and will kill whoever stands in their way is equally unsuited to rule, for obvious reasons.
Yet, someone who can walk that line and make the decisions based on the greater good is one who will truly rule the people well. So, while those characters of good and evil are good to drive things forward, it is those gray characters that really make your story powerful and believable.
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