What Happened to Littlefinger Will Change 'Game of Thrones' Forever
If we’re not counting undead dragons, there was only one major player removed from the board in Game of Thrones Season 7: the master manipulator, the secret engine behind the events of the first four seasons, the Lord of Harrenhal, the weasel who stole control of The Vale, the man who rose to Master of Coin on the Small Council and developed a network of spies by operating profitable brothels, yes ladies and gentlemen, tonight we said goodbye to Mr. Petyr Baelish.
Arya cut his throat with one quick slash to the throat, the kind of brutal act usually reserved for minor characters. Harsh.
The death of Littlefinger puts the writing on the Wall: politics are over on Game of Thrones. No one was better at backdoor deals and opinion-swaying whispers, and now all that's left are loud world leaders driven by war. But the character's impact on the series, and perhaps even the future of Season 8, can't go overlooked. This is how Baelish rose to power and, ultimately, set up his own shocking end.
Where the Littlefinger arc really began
Petyr Baelish rose from humble beginnings. His great-grandfather, a sell-sword from Bravvos who came over on business for House Corbury, was the first Westerosi Baelish and founder of his House. He stayed in Westeros, becoming a "hedge knight" or a knight without a sworn master and no lands. It's a semi-derogatory title, implying the knights are so poor they sleep behind hedges. The first Baelish won or was awarded a small parcel of land in the smallest of “The Fingers,” a series of peninsula jutting out into the Narrow Sea above The Vale.
Petyr’s father fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings (to give you historical perspective, so did Tywin Lannister and Berristan Selmy), where he made friends with Lord Tully of Riverrun. Riverrun was the seat of the Lord of the Trident, so when Petyr’s father sent his son to Lord Tully to be fostered, it was a significant step up in status from the small keep and meager lands in The Fingers.
How Baelish got the name Littlefinger
It was a bit of culture shock for young Petyr, moving to a large castle such as Riverrun. Although Lord Tully had three other children close to Petyr’s age, the kids didn't instantly click. Young Edmure Tully teased Petyr for his size and gave him the nickname "Littlefinger" because he was small and came from the smallest of The Fingers. Lord Tully’s daughters, Catelyn and Lysa, started off playing flirtatious games, but as they aged, it became apparent that Lysa had real feelings for Petyr, while he had real feelings for Catelyn.
Years later, Catelyn was promised to Brandon Stark of Winterfell to shore up alliances between the two Houses. Littlefinger loved Cat, but knew she would choose honor over him, so he attempted to make an honorable move himself and challenge Brandon Stark to a duel. Littlefinger was still just a boy in comparison to Brandon, who had already fought in battle, so Petyr was quickly defeated. Brandon was about to kill Petyr when Catelyn stepped in, stopping her fiance and sparing Petyr’s life. Because of the disrespect to both House Tully and House Stark, Lord Tully banished Littlefinger from Riverrun. He returned to The Vale.
The first rungs of "the ladder"
After losing his fight with Brandon, Littlefinger knew that he couldn’t be a warrior in the honorable way: with swords and arrows. His weapon of choice became wits. Losing his love Catelyn set him on a path to manipulate and play politics in a way that would both establish his House and climb in status. The Mad King Aerys and Robert’s Rebellion built the first rungs of Littlefinger's chaos ladder.
After Rhaegar Targaryen ran off and eloped with Lyanna Stark, everyone thought that Rhaegar had actually kidnapped her (and it wasn’t until flashbacks in "The Dragon and the Wolf" that we knew it was all legitimate!), so Brandon Stark and his father Rickard went to King’s Landing to demand Lyanna back from King Aerys II Targaryen. The encounter... did not go well. Rickard was burned alive inside his armor by wildfire and Brandon was put in a strangulation device that kept him just out of arm's reach of his sword until he suffocated to death, unable to help himself or his father. This set House Stark and House Baratheon against the throne, and to shore up alliances against the Targaryens, Lysa Tully married Jon Arryn, the then Lord of the Vale.
With Lysa brought to the North side of the Westeros map, Littlefinger took full advantage of having an admirer in a position of power. Lysa convinced Jon Arryn to give Littlefinger a job running a port in Gulltown (a shipping port in The Vale), and the young nothing Lord managed to increase the profits to House Arryn ten-times what it was before. After Robert Baratheon seized the Throne and appointed Jon Arryn his Hand, the Lord of the Vale knew just the person to take over as Master of Coin on the King’s Small Council. Having proved he could manage money, Littlefinger moved into King’s Landing and opened up a network of brothels where he could make income... and collect secrets.
Littlefinger cashes in a crush and starts a war
Baelish quickly amassed influence at King’s Landing while Jon Arryn served as Hand of the King, and Lysa, still with the hots for Littlefinger, gave birth to a child: Robyn. Littlefinger watched as Jon began to question the legitimacy of the three official royal children, but he also held a grudge against the Starks. After Brandon’s death, Catelyn had been married to the new head of House Stark, Eddard (Ned).
Petyr knew that both King Robert and Ned Stark were fostered by Jon Arryn, and his death could give him at the very least a chance to control The Vale, and perhaps even lure Ned Stark south to be the new Hand of the King. Littlefinger told Lysa Arryn that Robert planned to send Robyn to wed Shereen Baratheon at Dragonstone, and if Lysa were to poison her husband, Lysa and Petyr would be free to get married. The trick worked on Lysa, who used the Tears of Lys poison on the Hand of the King, then -- also under Littlefinger’s instruction -- sent a raven scroll to Catelyn suspecting the Lannisters of her husband's murder. These events eventually bring both Catelyn and Ned back into Littlefinger’s orbit at the beginning of Season 1, and the beginning of his rapid ascent to manipulative power.
How Baelish turned his beloved Catelyn against House Lannister
In the third episode of Season 1 ("Lord Snow"), Catelyn Stark secretly arrived to King’s Landing to investigate the attempted murder of her son, giving Petyr an excuse for a reunion. Littlefinger summoned Catelyn to one of his brothels, where Varys is also skulking around. There, Catelyn produced the dagger that an assassin (aka "catspaw assassin") used to try and murder Bran. Varys only recognizeed it as Valeryan Steel, but Littlefinger claimed that the dagger actually belonged to him… until he lost it to a bet to Tyrion Lannister. This is, we later learn, total bullshit.
Even with Catelyn within his grasp, Littlefinger didn't have the needed influence to get rid of Ned Stark, who was on his own mission in King's Landing. But he knew Jon Arryn was looking into the royal lineage and knows that will end up pissing off the Lannisters. Only now do we know that Cersei is not afraid to kill to protect her family, but three episodes into the series, Baelish wasn't sure his orchestrated conflict would reach a tipping point where he could take out Ned. Turning Catelyn against Tyrion eventually leads to Catelyn taking the dwarf hostage and inciting the War of the Five Kings.
Littlefinger's betrayal of Ned Stark
Tension escalated between the Starks and the Lannisters until one fateful hunting trip, when a bore gores and kills King Robert Baratheon. By this time, Ned knew the secret of the incestuous Queen and was preparing for how to deal with the new King Joffrey. But before publicly outting Joffrey’s true parentage and installing Stannis Baratheon as King, Ned asked Littlefinger to confirm the City Watch supports the effort. Ned thought he could trust Littlefinger since Catelyn told him that Petyr wouldn’t betray them. Nope.
Instead of defend Ned on cue, the City Watch turned on him. Later, in a bit of theatrics, Littlefinger holds a dagger up to Ned’s throat saying, "I did warn you not to trust me." Petyr’s only loyalty is to Catelyn Stark, and Ned was an obstacle to his unrequited love. No one could have predicted that, even after Ned Stark confessed his "treason" in exchange for a life in the Night’s Watch, that crazy little Joffrey would chop his head off. Littlefinger probably didn't mind much. There was only one problem: after Ned's death, Cersei tasked Littlefinger to find the missing Arya Stark. He never did.
Dragging House Tyrell into the political mess
After some time as the Master of Coin under Tyrion Lannister’s reign as Hand of the King, Littlefinger reunited with Catelyn, while double-dealing in the camp of Renly Baratheon, who was then married to Margery Tyrell. Lady Stark was also in that camp trying to make an alliance between Renly and Robb, so while Littlefinger pretended to be there with an offer for the Tyrells, he returned Ned Stark’s bones to Catelyn and proposed a deal on behalf of Tyrion: release Jaime Lannister in exchange for Arya and Sansa. Of course, Petyr attempted to get Catelyn to just run away with him then, but he backed off when she pulled a dagger on him and insisted Arya was still in King’s Landing (a lie with major repercussions).
While delivering the secret offer to Catelyn, Littlefinger also noticed that Margaery Tyrell had good ruling qualities about her -- a political mind. After a smoke baby conveniently killed Renly, Littlefinger devised a plan: wed Margaery to Joffrey. The Lannister armies had been losing battles to Robb Stark’s armies and the crown was unsure it had enough provisions to last the upcoming winter because of King Robert’s spending, giving Baelish the upper hand in brokering a deal between the Tyrells and the Lannisters. The deal happened and Loras and the Tyrell armies eventually showed up to save King’s Landing from Stannis’ attack at the Battle of Blackwater. Margery was betrothed to Joffrey.
As a reward, Joffrey made Littlefinger the Lord of Harrenhal, where he could rule over one of the creepiest castles (it's all melted by dragon fire). This promotion meant he could hand over the job of Master of Coin to Tyrion Lannister and buy a ship to get out of King’s Landing. With a Lordship, he can finally marry a lady and consolidate power.
Littlefinger pulls the strings to kill Joffrey
Joffrey didn’t have to die by Littlefinger and Lady Olenna’s hand -- the Tyrell matriarch could have easily done it alone. But Littlefinger’s love of Catelyn extended to Sansa after Catelyn’s death, especially as Sansa became the de facto Lady of Winterfell. But to creep properly, Petyr needed to sneak Sansa out of King’s Landing once Joffrey was engaged to Margery and sail North back to The Vale (where he already had plans to take over). Varys blocked him by convincing the Lannisters to marry Sansa to Tyrion. Littlefinger seemingly left, leaving Sansa behind to endure Joffrey’s torture, but he wanted her as much for love as a bargaining chip.
Using Ser Dontos and a fake necklace, he snuck poison into the King's wedding ceremony on Sansa’s person, then had Ser Dontos take Sansa out of King’s Landing during the confusion after Joffrey’s death. Lady Olenna did the deed with some geriatric sleight of hand, but it’s Littlefinger’s necklace, and Littlefinger’s poison, that did the strangling.
Wielding the power of The Vale
After killing the young king, headed to The Vale with Sansa in tow to make good on his long-promised marriage to Lysa Arryn. We all remember how that worked out: Lysa plummeted through the Moon Door mere days after her betrothal. The legitimate wedding ends up paying off for Petyr, who gets off scot-free after Sansa decides to lie for him to the Lords of the Vale. Robert Arryn, Lysa’s son, may have the claim to the kingdom, but Littlefinger gets elevated once again to Lord of the Vale and Harenhaal.
With Littlefinger’s ascension at an end, the need for non-dramatic alliances and backdoor politics on the show began to wane. A Lord of no lands who invented his own sigil, the mockingbird, rose to become a player in the great game for the throne. With Sansa as a potential bargaining chip for control of the North, Season 7 started with a large part of Westeros under his control.
Littlefinger's squanders his potential for winning the throne
Beginning in Season 5, as his infatuation with Sansa grew, Littlefinger started to make uncharacteristically bad decisions. The first was to wed Sansa off to Ramsey Bolton after the Boltons take Winterfell. Even when he tries to warn Ramsey off hurting Sansa, the implication was either he doesn’t know how much of a monster that Ramsey is or he didn’t care enough to think the bastard’s cruelty would extend to his bride. Either option clashed with our assumptions of Littlefinger's vast spy network and his love for Sansa Stark.
In that same season, Baelish went South to broker a vague deal with Cersei: she wanted information about Ser Loras Tyrell visiting Littlefinger’s brothels, but he wanted the title of Warden of the North because Roose Bolton dared to marry Sansa off instead of returning her to King’s Landing. Littlefinger eventually rode with the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards and remained content with living by Sansa's side. He never claimed his title of Warden of the North. Instead he expressed interest in the Iron Throne, where Sansa could be his Queen, an ambition that makes his previous maneuver with Cersei absolutely meaningless.
As the television adaptation abbreviated and surpassed the plot of George R.R. Martin's novels, the show shifted away from medieval politics and sacrificed one of the most efficient political operators. Littlefinger is suddenly cursed with fated decisions and robbed of nuance. In Season 6, Sansa confronted Littlefinger about Ramsey in a scene that bolstered her character and solidified Baelish as a failure: "If you didn’t know you’re an idiot, if you did know you’re my enemy."
Instead of aiming directly at the chink in Littlefinger’s armour by bringing about his downfall because of something he doesn’t know, Season 7 cast off Littlefinger as a necessary consequence of creating tension between Arya and Sansa. Weiss and Benioff admit that they wrote up to the fake Arya accusal in Littlefinger’s final episode, which means he only created conflict between the Stark sisters as much as they were willing to doubt each other.
Scheming to break Jon, Bran, and Arya away from Sansa is a unnecessary move in a season when Sansa knows she needs Littlefinger for his Knights of the Vale. Baelish is unnerved by the other magical Stark siblings, but Bran doesn’t care about his presence otherwise and Arya was easy enough to con into being agitated by the old scroll, therefore she was controllable. We’re expected to believe that the same character who waited years to exact revenge on the male Starks is suddenly so unsure of his position that he must create “chaos” over seven episodes in Winterfell? And for the love of Sansa somehow? The arc of the character doesn’t feel like it should end with blind incompetence.
It wasn’t entirely Littlefinger’s fault that he had to be an idiot for the show to move forward. He started from the very bottom of the social political ladder and was able to climb the chaos ladder to a few rungs from the top. What he wasn’t counting on in the end was that Catelyn’s children would be so magical. Sansa could have had Littlefinger killed last season, but thought she needed to keep him around for the Knights of the Vale. Littlefinger should have stalled for Sansa once again, like he did in Season 3, but he pushes his luck because, in the end, the true threat of Westeros isn't sly politicking but zombies and the world's dragon-incest saviors. We should be happy with the quality Aidan Gillen performance we were gifted, no matter what stupid decisions he was forced to make.
House Baelish is dead. Long live the reputation of the mockingbird.