And so, Winter has truly arrived in Westeros as reinforced by the menacing snow-flakes falling over King’s Landing. The enemy, whose mere glimpses had sent shivers down our spines, has now set foot into the land we had earlier associated only with political strife, bloody war-games and dark magic. The game of thrones has now become the game of life itself. Despite its unconscionable continuity problems, Season 7 of Game of Thrones has been one of the most satisfying seasons so far. From Arya’s Red wedding revenge to the rescue of the Suicide Squad from beyond the wall, and to the enormous revelation about Jon’s true-born name – it left us clamoring from episode to episode, wanting more.
This is about a man who had thrived in the grimy alleys and the shadows of King’s Landing; a man who didn’t have a ‘noble’ house that may command respect; a man who was without allegiances; a man who was the most successful political strategist after Chanakya and Sun Tzu…
But we are not here to talk about how great it all was and what theories it would inspire for the next season. This is about a man who had thrived in the grimy alleys and the shadows of King’s Landing; a man who didn’t have a ‘noble’ house that may command respect; a man who was without allegiances; a man who was the most successful political strategist after Chanakya and Sun Tzu, and perhaps the greatest in Westeros even – Petyr Baelish was a man who guarded his secrets well. Over the seven seasons, we have more or less grasped the transformation of each character – who they were, what they had become, their motivations, their insecurities, their ambitions. But what did we really know about Baelish ? Who was he really ? What motivated him ? How did he become the person that we perceived him to be ?
We were first introduced to Lord Baelish when he was the Master of Coins under the reign of Robert Baratheon. Through Catelyn Stark’s memories of her childhood, we came to know about Petyr’s childhood too, while he was being fostered under the hospices of Lord Hoster Tully. Whilst there, Petyr would play with Lord Tully’s children Catelyn, Lysa, and Edmure who would mockingly give him the popular nickname of “Littlefinger” owing to his short stature and for the fact that his House owned a few acres of a peninsula known as the Fingers. Although Catelyn thought of him as a brother, Petyr had always been in love with her, unaware that Lysa was also infatuated with him, which he would cunningly use to his advantage capturing the title of the Lord Protector of the Vale later.
Petyr’s time at the Tully’s would end in a bitter fight when he would challenge Catelyn’s former betrothed Brandon Stark (Eddard Stark’s brother who is later killed by Aerys II Targaryen) hoping to win back Catelyn’s affection, but would face an embarrassing defeat. From that point onwards until Catelyn meets him many years later in King’s Landing, the Master of Coins, we know nothing about him. Here was a man whose House was a mummer’s farce with no standing in the political landscape of Westeros. He didn’t have the blood of any of the legendary houses to stake claim to the rights to any position. He didn’t have any magical powers. He didn’t have any allies or Bannersmen who would readily put down their lives for him.
Littlefinger had learnt early on that to survive, he would have to manipulate men through his words. After being banished from Riverrun, he returned to the Vale where Lysa was now married to the King’s Hand Jon Arryn. His affectation over Lysa earned him the position of a customs officer at Gulltown where he could significantly increase the earnings of the King. His knack for numbers and reading people, became his gateway into the King’s small council, eventually bestowing upon him the position of ultimate financial power in King’s Landing. Littlefinger’s prowess in manipulation was so uncanny that I have often mentioned it in passing while discussing with friends that if there were a character who George R. R. Martin would create in his own image, it would be him – the perpetual puppet-master, the man who started it all.
Petyr Baelish’s shocking but somewhat predictable death was the culmination of the events that he himself had set in motion following the death of Jon Arryn in the first season, making it the biggest throwback of them all which Sansa summarized quite succinctly, finally earning some respect among the audience. For many of us, this has been a satisfying end for a character who has instigated battles and has been an agent of chaos. Even in season 7, we kept asking – “Why is he so smug all the time ? What is he planning ?”. The way he tried to use the scroll to spark a tussle between the Stark sisters was a master-stroke. However, a part of me remains unconvinced. For me, this was perhaps one of the biggest continuity errors in the entire series. Let me explain why.
Assuming that Baelish’s ambition was to usurp the Iron throne at some point in time, it made very little sense for him to stay in Winterfell all this time when King’s Landing was in turmoil. Yes, he may have wanted to make an alliance of the Northmen with that of the Vale, I cannot believe that he made the folly of not understanding that the North was united beyond his power. Part of him may have wanted to stick with Sansa as she had inherited her mother’s auburn hair and features, reminding him of his childhood but love or loyalty was a flimsy reason for him to be there when the centre of power was positioned at King’s Landing. Well, Dragonstone was a centre of power too but this was a foreign queen from a foreign land about whom he knew nothing about. But Cersei ? He had seen her style, up close. He had studied her treacherous ways and knew almost every secret about the Lannisters. It would have been a fair chance for him to go back to Cersei and whisper into her ears, the working of the Starks. He could have used the strained relationship between Cersei and Jaime to his advantage. He could have offered his services as a former Master of Coins and an individual who was adept in Finance, knowing how they were in dire need for resources.
Alas, Littefinger, in his pursuit of power had lost his place in the script. So much so, that he had been reduced to a mere trope that would have to be killed in order to make the hate favorite Sansa rise up to being the Lady of Winterfell and Warden of the North, now that Jon is not a Stark anymore. To revive his place in the overall arc, several intriguing theories had also been suggested by Redditors such as @thefacelessbastard who posed a theory that “Littlefinger is actually a member of The Faceless Men” who had returned to eliminate Arya for the chaos she had caused at Braavos. Instead of serving their many-faced god, she had used her training to exact revenge. Among the Redditors who supported this theory was one @corsairjones who also added that his sigil was “Mockingbird” and he was just an agent of chaos. Another Redditor @thisisthrones observed that while Brienne was fighting Arya and Arya defeats her, Brienne asks – “Who taught you how to do that ?”, to which Arya replies – “No one.” The smirk on Littlefinger’s face meant more than we could fathom at the time and that he knew exactly what Arya meant right then. Add this to the fact that, his great-grandfather was of Braavosi descent, it becomes even more plausible that some of the learnings may have been passed down the family tree from father to son, or there might have been some point in time when he had spent time in Braavos training as per family tradition.
The theory may seem far-fetched to many of us but from a plotline’s perspective, it could have made for far richer story-telling than what we witnessed that day in Winterfell’s hall. Instead of nonchalantly killing the man who had, literally, triggered the game of thrones, and making him beg for mercy, a different goodbye could have made for a more fitting closure. Maybe he could have revealed his true self to Arya (or one of his selfs) letting her know that he was from the temple and that he had come to kill her. Maybe Arya could have made him see her point of view. Maybe he would have agreed with her and patted her on her back, as his face changed into Syrio Forel, then into a smiling Jaqen H’ghar.
Well, what’s done is done. Now that we cannot change his fate in the show, we can at least hope that the upcoming books would do more justice to the man who wore many masks and ran the machinations of the world.
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