Game of Thrones Curtain Call: Anton Lesser
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Though he was vile, evil and unethical, the fallen maester Qyburn was one of those Game of Thrones characters we could never bring ourselves to hate entirely. That had a lot to do with the performance of veteran British actor Anton Lesser. Drawing on many years of experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company, he covered Qyburn’s twisted heart with a gentle, avuncular exterior. Qyburn’s soothing voice and calm countenance rarely suggested a mad scientist lurking within.
Qyburn was a well-written and conceived character, a layered, intellectually gifted villain who possessed a few admirable qualities we have to give him credit for. For example, his medical skills surely saved Jaime Lannister’s life, staving off the deadly infection setting into the stump of his arm after he lost his sword hand. But we also know that honed those medical skills in bizarre human experiments that resulted in the aghast archmaesters of the Citadel drumming Qyburn out of their prestigious order.
Jaime: “You’re no maester. Where’s your chain?”
Qyburn: “The Citadel stripped me of it. They found some of my… experiments… too bold.” (Jaime Lannister and Qyburn, “Kissed by Fire,” S3/Ep5).
Once Cersei forged a connection with Qyburn, she quickly got him back on his feet, understanding that he would be a willing amoral partner in her treacherous plots. In return for his devotion, she made him her Hand of the Queen and Master of Whisperers, and gave him the means to pursue his fascination with the reanimation of corrupted flesh.
It’s difficult to know just how deep Qyburn’s affection for Cersei truly was. We know Cersei loved nobody beyond her own children and possibly Jaime, but Qyburn didn’t need love—he needed someone to supply him with the means to pursue his own grim obsessions.
On this count, Cersei gave Qyburn all he wanted. This bonded Qyburn to her in a manner perhaps even more powerful than love; they shared a kind of co-dependent, animalistic fulfillment. In any case, it made him her loyal supporter, always faithfully conniving on her behalf, even when all but a few had abandoned her after her humiliating walk of atonement in “Mother’s Mercy,” (S5/Ep10).
Qyburn wasn’t a major character, but he was linked to a number of major storylines, including his role as Cersei’s cloak-and-dagger agent in her plot to destroy the Sept of Baelor. He was the one who designed the scorpions that killed Rhaegal and wounded Drogon. It was Qyburn who resurrected the mortally wounded Mountain, thus setting the table for the much-anticipated Cleganebowl.
Qyburn’s end in “The Bells” is among the most fittingly poetic on the show. His loyalty to Cersei spurred him to enforce her command to the Mountain, but in the end, his own Frankenstein-masterpiece turned and destroyed him.
Anton Lesser played Qyburn like a violin virtuoso, giving us a depiction of a gentle, even-handed and pragmatic soul entirely addicted to the forbidden, a man willing to do any task, no matter how awful, for Cersei. Why? Because she was willing to allow him a free hand in his royal laboratory, letting him sate his every terrible desire, dark obsession and unnatural whim. He became her archetypal Shadow.
Qyburn and Cersei were made for each other, two cruel, complex characters brought to life by excellent actors, and it was fitting that they met their fates on the same day, in the collapsing ruins of their dark citadel.
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