The second in our series on the deeper meaning of the Game of Thrones house symbols: find out more about the Lannister crimson & gold, their motto, and their animal, the lion.
THE LANNISTERS: Appearance, Riches & the Self
The Lannister’s sigil, a gold lion on a crimson field, projects royalty and nobility. The symbols come from a centuries-old lineage, but the current image of the Lannister’s has been crafted by Tywin Lannister. Tywin’s father, Tytos, was known as a weak man who was mocked and taken advantage of by even his mistress. The proud Tywin resolved to create a better reputation for his family. He values the image and appearance of Lannister greatness above all else. Key to the Lannister nature is that interplay between perfect outer appearance and the uglier reality underneath. The Lannisters as a house embody pride and the will of the self or ego, which includes self-gain or selfishness, self-creation and, as represented by incest between twins, self-love.
MOTTO: HEAR ME ROAR
The official Lannister motto, “Hear Me Roar,” underlines the Lion’s power, strength and ferocity that they want to project. But this motto is rarely used. Behind closed doors, the Lannisters are defined by their unofficial saying, “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts.” On one level, the saying reminds everyone that the Lannisters are rich. Their wealth defines them - they’re the “Haves” and proud of it. The words position them almost as the “bank” of King’s Landing. They understand that, in their ultra-political world, perception is everything, and they can trade on their reputation for having money and being reliable. On the literal level, “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts” means they can be trusted to pay back favors or loans, but the motto has a flipside - if wronged, a Lannister will seek revenge. And this reputation is also valuable. While the outer motto embodies the royal image the Lannisters would like people to see, the true motto tells us what the Lannisters value most: their riches, manipulative wits, and vengeance.
COLORS: GOLD & CRIMSON
Their colors, gold and crimson, signal their desire to be royal. Gold is the color of a crown, and the color of the precious metal and money. Gold indicates sophistication, prosperity and rule. It’s an eye-catching color that demands attention. We associate gold with being the best - as in a gold medal - just as the Lannisters see themselves as superior to everyone else. Gold is linked to masculine energy, the power of the sun, wisdom and enlightenment. We picture gold as illuminating its surroundings, as the wealthy and cultured Lannisters might want to be seen, while in reality, the Lannisters expose who they actually are only in the shadows, never out in the open of golden daylight.
The Lannisters’ picture-perfect looks and golden hair likewise echo this sunny false appearance that couldn’t be further from their ruthless inner selves. Meanwhile, the golden hair and green eyes - typical of the Lannister appeareance - remind us of their money and greed.
Thinking of oneself as gold - as the best - and focusing on the greed of amassing gold are deeply egotistical behaviors. Cersei’s character embodies the Lannister narcissism - she loves only herself, her twin Jaime and her offspring, all extensions of herself.
Crimson, too, indicates nobility and social status. This upscale red is infused with the royalty of purple. In the Elizabethan Era of Britain, only royalty and the wealthy were allowed to wear the color. The Greeks and Romans used crimson for military robes. Yet the Lannisters aren’t true royalty - they grasp at power. Each one gains power through social climbing and proximity to royalty: Tywin was the Hand of the King, Jaime was in the Kingsguard, and Cersei married King Robert Baratheon and destined her children to be kings. So the Lannisters’ noble colors tell us not who the Lannisters really are, but who they want to be and be seen as. The crimson and gold reflect the Lannister’s desire to rule and fierce will to dominate over others.
The Lion on the Lannister sigil shows the family likes to imagine themselves as the rulers of the kingdom. The kings of the jungle, lions symbolize wisdom, power, dignity and (like the Lannister colors) royalty. To others, the crafty Lannisters might be better embodied by a snake. Yet the Lannisters truly have created their house into something strong and majestic, like a lion. No animal on earth can rival a lion - but, in Westeros, there are also dragons and the biggest threat to the Lannisters comes from the mythical, superhuman power of Targaryen blood.
The Lannister who truly doesn’t fit the house personality is Tyrion. Hated by his father and sister, Tyrion copes with his situation of being wealthy and privileged yet despised with wine and a cynical wit. But now that he’s found Daenerys, unlike the other Lannisters, he has found a greater purpose to live for - and started to believe in a deeper magic than wealth or power. A long-running fan theory believes Tyrion is also a Targaryen - that the Mad King may have impregnated his mother Joanna - but either way, it’s safe to say he’s not a Lannister, in the mold of his father, at heart.
In recent seasons, Jaime has shown an un-Lannister chivalrous side, while Cersei’s youngest child Tommen actually seems to have the potential to be a good and kind king. But this goodness of Tommen’s isn’t rewarded or allowed to exist in the Lannister world. Cersei’s love for Jaime and even her children can’t overrule her own egotistical agenda.
All together, the Lannister symbols represent a duality. Their outer image signifies noble blood, royalty and legitimate rule, yet their inner world boils down to money, secrets, grudges, illegitimacy and power plays in the shadows. After the Lannister family line is weakened by Season 6, the image of Cersei on the Iron Throne - a childless mother with no furture to her bloodline - represents more acutely than ever the symbolism of the ego trying to dominate for its own sake with no greater purpose. The Lannister self will never back down in its mission to win, to rule, and to shine.