Why Claire Underwood is the Ice Queen of Our Dreams
For her, no scheme is too cold or manipulative if it gets her what she wants
Photo via Instagram/House of Cards
You’ve been warned: major spoilers ahead for the first four seasons of Netflix’s House of Cards
Described by many as House of Cards’ dynamite spin on the archetypal Lady Macbeth, Claire has proven over the course of the show’s four seasons that ruthless pragmatism, an innate ability to exploit other people’s weaknesses and an unquenchable thirst for power make for one terrifying, but ultimately fascinating woman.
1. She allowed her husband Frank’s affair with reporter Zoe Barnes to continue, so long as it benefited them.
How did Frank get Claire on board? By assuring her that Zoe, being a political journalist desperate to rise among the ranks, could serve as a useful mouthpiece for them—one they can easily control. Even better: Frank told Claire he’d stop the minute she wanted him to, but Claire conceded that Zoe was the ideal pawn. (Season 1, Ep. 5)
2. To cover up her own adultery-made-public, Claire blackmailed former lover Adam into lying to the press—telling him she will “bury him” if he doesn’t comply.
Adam Galloway was a photographer whose private, post-coital photos of Claire were leaked, causing the world to speculate on the state of Frank and Claire’s marriage. To save face, the two threatened the life of Adam’s father-in-law—a human rights journalist based in Bogota—to get him to publicly declare that he doctored the photos to resuscitate his own career. (Season 2, Ep. 9)
3. She didn’t hesitate to leave Frank after he told her she’s nothing without him.
In Season 3, Frank removed Claire from her position as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, bending to pressure from Russian president Viktor Petrov. Being once again relegated to the role of First Lady, campaigning across the country on Frank’s behalf, Claire grew resentful at the loss of power. When she told Frank that neither he nor her current role were enough for her anymore—being First Lady made her feel second to him in every way—he told her he was “beyond caring.” Claire left him the very next morning. (Season 3, Ep. 13)
4. Claire went head-to-head with Frank—and won.
Frank drew first blood, sabotaging Claire’s bid for the House of Representatives seat in Texas by endorsing her fiercest competitor. She quickly shot back by leaking an old photo of Frank’s father with a Klansman, grievously injuring his already rocky presidential campaign. When Claire told Frank to put her on his ticket as his running mate or risk fighting her until she’s taken everything from him, he scoffed at the idea and told her to let it go. “You don’t deserve it,” he said. Well, you know how this goes: Claire refused. Several weeks and one assassination attempt (by disgruntled victim of the Underwood machinery Lucas Goodwin) later, Frank agreed to give her the Vice Presidency. (Season 4, Ep. 7)
The latest season concluded with the most chilling shot yet: that of Frank and Claire Underwood sitting together, united again, staring their audience down. This, just seconds after we saw them witness a terrorist’s brutal execution of an American hostage. While everyone else in that war room grimaced openly or quickly looked away, the Underwoods hardly seemed bothered. Instead, they broke the fourth wall, itself a symbolically-charged gesture as previously only Frank had acknowledged us. It seems Claire can see us, too, because she’s finally his true equal. She has all the power he does. And God help us all, her eyes have never looked colder.
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Words by Ayana Tolentino
Art by Jenn Yap