Game of Thrones: Littlefinger, Lies, and Limits

Posted: March 28, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , ,

This post will be talking about Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, one of the masterminds of mischief in HBO’s Game of Thrones (and in the source material, A Song of Ice and Fire.) As usual, discussion of characters from Game of Thrones is going to involve talking about plot points, so if you’re not up to date on the story this post will spoil things for you. (Unless you don’t care about spoilers, that’s cool.)

sansaandbaelish

Baelish: Let me tell you a spoiler about the Hound. How his face got spoiled.
Sansa: How discourteous!

You can trust me on that. Just don’t trust Littlefinger.

Some people are fans of Littlefinger, and by fans I mean that they’re rooting for him to end up on the Iron Throne. I don’t quite get that, but to each their own. I guess some people like to watch the world burn.

Although in the case of Westeros, they might be watching the world freeze since Baelish and his self-centered and short sighted chaos theory is playing into the cold hands of the Others. But that’s really not my focus here.

He certainly is the architect of the framework of forces that gave the show’s storylines their momentum. His murder of Jon Arryn got the ball rolling and he’s managed to keep it rolling in a manner that’s benefited him, regardless of the cost to the people of the realm.

whywelovebaelish

I think the White Walkers are playing the actual long game, and thanks to Littlefinger, they don’t even have to play it all that well. #ThanksBaelish

A great deal of misery and awfulness can be laid at his feet. He’s smart though, I’ll never deny that, and I can respect his ability to roll with the punches and make it look like he’d planned it all out. He’s certainly prepared for many situations. But he’s not infallible.

Petyr Baelish – the last person you want as a matchmaker.

His early successful machinations resulted in his obtaining near-direct control of the Vale of Arryn by marrying Jon Arryn’s widow Lysa and knowing the levers for manipulating her son Lord Robin Arryn.

He’d planned to add the kingdom of the North under his shadowy control by marrying his protege and political asset Sansa Stark into the northern authoritarian Bolton family.

The North was in a chaotic situation, with the other households grumbling and Stannis Baratheon at the Wall challenging Bolton rule. Inserting Sansa into the mix would give Littlefinger a means of access, and by reporting the marriage to Cersei Lannister he received the regent’s permission to bring the knights of the Vale into the North. Without raising the otherwise paranoid Cersei’s suspicions.

This seemed like a typically well-thought Baelish plan, one where thousands would die so he can satisfy his ambitions. Except that Sansa’s new husband Ramsay Bolton was a horrible monster, which resulted in undermining the relationship Littlefinger was cultivating with Sansa.

Sansa, his key to the North and Catelyn-substitute. (Gross.)

I’ve heard some talk wondering if Baelish knew how bad Ramsay was, and if he knew how abusively Sansa would be treated by her odious monster of a husband.

The aggrieved Sansa wondered the same thing and asked Baelish that very question in Season Six.

sansalittlefinger

Sansa: Did you know about Ramsay? If you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy.

When pressed, Baelish said he didn’t know, that he’d made a mistake and underestimated a stranger. Sansa was skeptical. As were members of the audience.

Sansa: I thought you knew everyone’s secrets.

Now this is rare for me to take Baelish’s side, like super-rare, but even though he’s guilty of a lot of things, I’m pretty sure he didn’t fully know about Ramsay’s reprehensibleness.

In Defense of … this is killing me … Littlefinger

It’s true that Littlefinger knows things. He knows a lot of things. Like Lord Varys (whose access to information seems unbelievable at times) Baelish has a top-notch information gathering network. But there has to be limits.

A few years ago, I wrote a post about magic in Game of Thrones, addressing criticisms that the magic displayed (mostly by Melisandre, but also the Warlocks) was show-breaking. The complaints boiled down to this: since we don’t know the rules of magic, we can’t know the stakes and therefore the show had no dramatic meaning. I wasn’t a fan of that assumption. We can apply common sense to these situations and in general the show has been consistent about its established magic. We might have to infer them, but the limits seem to be there.

Similar reasoning can be made about knowledge. We don’t know if Baelish knew about Ramsay or not, but it’s certainly a possible scenario. It’s also possible that he had no idea what a monster Ramsay would be.

Let’s look at the evidence and see what makes sense.

Baelish brought Sansa to Winterfell on the promise of her getting revenge against the Boltons. In particular, against Roose Bolton who was part of the Red Wedding. His advice to Sansa is to pull the wool over Ramsay’s eyes, to lull him into a false sense of security.

Baelish: You will take this Bolton boy, Ramsay, and make him yours.
Sansa: I don’t know how to do that.
Baelish: Of course you do. He’s already fallen for you.
Sansa: His father frightens me.
Baelish: He should. He’s a dangerous man. But even the most dangerous man can be out-maneuvered. And you’ve learned to maneuver from the very best.

It’s possible that Baelish is lying and falsely reassuring Sansa, but it seems he’s far more concerned about Roose Bolton than “the Bolton boy.”

littlefinger-ramsay

On the walls of Winterfell, Baelish and Ramsay share a brief scene as they observe Sansa in the courtyard. Ramsay swears that he’d never harm her.

Baelish: I’ve heard very little about you, which makes you quite a rare thing as lords go.
Ramsay: I haven’t been a lord very long.

Petyr Baelish is a dangerous man. A very dangerous man. (Especially to his allies.) But even the most dangerous man can be out-maneuvered. Ramsay has stayed under Baelish’s radar, and has also managed to conceal the full extent of his nature.

Although maybe Baelish is again lying. Maybe he knows all about Ramsay and his tendency to torture and to hunt down people with dogs. But I doubt that he’d drop Sansa into this situation without some kind of leverage for her protection. Sansa is an asset of his. Even if he had no (creepy) feelings for her, she’s a rung in his ladder that is worth more useful whole and supporting him, than broken.

Ramsay also seems more likely to be outside of Baelish’s typical zone of focus.

Baelish knows things, and he certainly would have had his eyes on the Starks up in the North. He had a thing for Catelyn, and he was nearly killed by a Stark. That’s a family whose fortunes he’d be interested in, if only because there was a personal connection.

But we have to accept that his attention would be largely consumed with King’s Landing and the lords and ladies who had influence in the capital. Where all the power, secrets, and influence peddling was happening.

Before being legitimized, Ramsay was just the bastard of one of the northern lords. If Ramsay’s activities had been well known enough before the War of the Five Kings, Ned Stark would have killed him as a criminal.

Once the war started, Baelish had way too many plots and schemes hatching, and too many opportunities to manage in and around the capital for him to be checking up on rumors from the hinterlands. The North was immediately cut off from the realm anyway, thanks to the Ironmen capturing Moat Cailin, so details of skullduggery (which was mostly happening to Theon) wouldn’t be part of Littlefinger’s usual morning intelligence briefings.

Once the Red Wedding happened (which Baelish probably did not know about) he was already in deep competing for influence with Varys, he was trying to sneak Sansa out of the city, he was publicly leaving to woo Lysa Arryn but was in reality staying nearby secretly as part of the plot to poison Joffrey. With Joffrey dying, Baelish was escaping with Sansa, first marrying Lysa then killing his bride. And trying to avoid the wrath of the lords of the Vale over Lysa’s death.

Our boy Pete had a lot of things that he had to pay close attention to.

It’s quite probable that Baelish got word that Ramsay Snow had defeated the Ironmen at Moat Cailin and had flayed them and lined their corpses up along the kingsroad. As shocking as that might sound to people of our modern sensibilities, Baelish probably shrugged about that detail and was instead thinking on the power exchange that was happening in the North and how he might capitalize on it.

I mean, Ramsay isn’t the only person to use humans as roadside markers on the show. In theory, Dany might have even nailed up some people that could have been potential allies for her.

crucifix

This is fine. We still have our skin.

The Ironmen were invaders and Ramsay was associated with House Bolton – the Flayed Man. I think Baelish would have been more uneasy if Ramsay hadn’t treated them horribly.

Baelish: Uh, I didn’t quite hear what happened to the prisoners from Moat Cailin. I assume it was terrible.
Ramsay: Oh. I let them all go home.
Baelish: Really?
Ramsay: Really.
Baelish: THE WEDDINGS OFF!

All the evidence from the show plays out as if Baelish honestly made a mistake in leaving Sansa with the Boltons and had not realized he was leaving her with an abusive, torturous rapist. I think it makes the character of Littlefinger more realistic. He’s fallible.

Despite what Sansa suggests, it is possible for him to have not known about Ramsay and also not necessarily be an idiot. Sometimes very intelligent people can make dumb mistakes, because if they have any doubts they can better rationalize them away and dismiss them. Especially if the doubts are counter to what they want to have happen.

Baelish imagined Sansa as Wardeness of the North, with whom he had influence. Handing her over to a rapist would not help him in the future.

Let me again say that I’m not usually this guy, but let’s give Baelish the benefit of the doubt on this.

baelish-2

Baelish: Really, isn’t more accurate that I’M the victim here?
Me: Don’t push it, man.

But, I’m certainly understanding of those who think otherwise. Let me hear what you think.

Okay, we’re almost done with the month of March. Usually about this time, we’d be expecting the imminent return of Game of Thrones, but Season Seven has been delayed, sadly, until mid-July. I’ll continue to crank out as many weekly posts as I can before the show starts up. Or until I totally run out of topics.


(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)

I make no claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there. (Just not the actual text from the show, of course.)

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2017 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. jennnanigans says:

    I have wondered about Baelish’s lapse in this case myself. I could never believe he would sell her to Ramsay Bolton willingly if he knew what Ramsay was capable of (and even Roose underestimated Ramsay’s ambition), but maybe that’s because somehow, against all sense and reason, I still think of Littlefinger as human. But maybe I’m giving him too much credit.

    I mean think about it – ostensibly Sansa’s the last living aspect of Catelyn Stark he has access to, but that also means she’s his weakness. A dude as bent on power as Baelish is wouldn’t risk having weaknesses lying around within reach of his enemies (or himself), so he sells her to someone who has everything to gain from marrying her.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. writingjems says:

    I’m of the opinion that Baelish did not know the full extent of Ramsay’s nature. Even the best schemers can make missteps when they underestimate or overestimate others. I think a good example would be Olenna and Margaery Tyrell. Both were brilliant political strategists, but neither saw Cersei’s final move coming because it would never make sense to them to completely undermine the only alliance keeping your House afloat. Likewise, even if Baelish knew the Boltons were vile, it wouldn’t make sense to him to mistreat her and turn a valuable hostage against them. Roose himself berates Ramsay for just this reason when Sansa escapes. I think Baelish knew Roose well enough and assumed his son would likewise be capable of keeping his sadism in check when it benefited him.

    Honestly, I do hope Baelish climbs the Iron Throne, at least for a little while. We need to see the culmination of all his schemes, or else seeing them crumble will be anticlimactic.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jennnanigans says:

      “I think Baelish knew Roose well enough and assumed his son would likewise be capable of keeping his sadism in check when it benefited him.”

      I agree! I think Baelish had an idea that something was wonky in the Bolton household, but that Roose could keep Ramsay in check. Heck, Roose himself thought he could keep Ramsay in check, and we all know how that turned out.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hey, I am glad you brought up Margaery Tyrell. I won’t confirm nor deny that I am talking about her next week.

      Ack! I don’t know if I want Baelish to have the satisfaction of being on the Iron Throne at all. Even if it makes his plummet that much more painful. Impaled on the throne would be fine. But I get what you’re saying.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Okay, I voted the way I originally thought, which is that Baelish knew everything and was treating Sansa as a pawn, and that maybe he wouldn’t quite understand just how horrible such torture could be, but still… he knew.

    However, this post is really interesting, and I can totally see that side of things too. It’s still typical Littlefinger manipulation, but I can see where he doesn’t want to risk losing Sansa as an ally by setting her up for that kind of torture (his personal feelings for her aside). Anyway, great post that got me thinking! I was really curious what it would be about since you teased the topic last week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad my hype brought you in. I probably oversold how much defense I was going to employ for Baelish, but honestly any time I say something non-condemning about Littlefinger hurts my soul.

      Thank you for voting too, I always like looking at the results of my super-scientific polls.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well stated Pat. I’m also of the belief that Baelish didn’t know what Ramsay was like (and even if he upheld some of the terrible Bolton traits, like flaying enemies, Roose would certainly keep his house and “heir” under control). The text and show both make a case for Baelish being cunning (though not infallible, of course). And if he is cunning, it makes zero sense strategically (or emotionally, given his Stark/Cat/Sansa “feelings”) for him to put Sansa in the situation knowing she would be traumatized. That doesn’t help him personally nor would it help his larger schemes. That doesn’t change the outcome or where the narrative wound up, but going in, I have to believe Littlefinger’s plan did not involve anything “bad” happening to Sansa. Other than being in a politically expedient, loveless arranged marriage, but that’s the coin of the realm in Westeros.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m with the majority here, Baelish would not have known Ramsay was particularly horrid. Just Westeros horrid, and the Northern women are a tough lot. As pointed out above, even his own dad thought the kid was human. Sad, dad, died. BTW, I have issue with the actor – he always uses that ‘breathy’ tone which makes it hard to read subtleties. He makes Littlefinger always seem a bit indistinct. I would like to see more dynamic range in the LF emotional gamut.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This one’s so tough I didn’t vote. Littlefinger DOES say to Ramsay that he hadn’t heard much about it, and why divulge that information if it wasn’t true. It didn’t seem like he was trying to manipulate him, and admitting you don’t know something puts Petyr in a more vulnerable position, which is not something Littlefinger generally does. It’s possible he really thought that Sansa would be able to handle him, and I agree with your assessment that it shows he’s fallible. It’s a clever move on the show’s part so that when/if LF does fall due to some unforeseen circumstance, there’s a precedence for it. If someone’s been the perfect chess master the entire time, it makes less sense for him to lose/die due to a mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Haylee says:

    Oh well, here goes…

    Hi, my name’s Haylee and I’m a massive Baelish fan.

    I’m sorry. I’ll understand if I have to renounce my honorary Sponaugle status!

    I obviously agree with the majority that he didn’t know what he was leaving Sansa with. I still believe his ultimate goal is to have the life he wanted as a child: power with Cat by his side, albeit with the younger surrogate. So I don’t feel he would have put her willingly in danger that he didn’t think she could handle – she survived Joffrey so he likely thought she was tough enough to cope in a less than ideal situation.

    In defence of my defence: I just love how scheming he is. Granted, many (most) of the characters scheme and manipulate themselves around Westeros and beyond but I feel he is the most capable and is only executing these manoeuvres for himself, unlike others who are plotting revenge or seeking justice etc.

    And every story has to have a good villain – I just always seem to prefer the ones that you don’t know 100% where their loyalties lie. I guess I like his sociopathic tendencies, it’s far more interesting to watch.

    Oh my, WHAT am I saying? I’ll get my coat…

    Liked by 1 person

  8. joanna says:

    Although a fascinating character, I’m not a Baelish fan. He really has to go. That said, I also believe Baelish knew nothing of Ramsay’s sadistic perversions or exactly how cruel he could be. He must have assumed that Ramsay would be a ‘chip off the ole Bolton block”, but nothing more than that. And under Roose’s control. As we saw, Roose, although a cold fish, and ruthless, treated his own bride, Fat Walda, with courtesy. He chewed Ramsay out at dinner for his ridiculous tasteless Reek “sorry I killed ya brothers” scene.

    As a [former] bastard son Ramsay would have been relatively insignificant, overlooked, invisible. Much in the same way as was Jon Snow (a deliberate move on Ned’s part to keep him safe).

    Sansa was a prize, a way to legitimise and cement the Boltons’ hold on the north. Something to parade around and flaunt in the faces of dissenting Northern families. She would need to be unharmed to achieve this. It would be equivalent to bad business to abuse her. Baelish probably thought along those lines when he proffered Sansa as a bride. He assumed the Boltons would be like minded.

    Baelish’s end game is to claim the Iron Throne with Sansa by his side, yet another reason to keep her safe. Marrying her off to a Bolton bastard [temporarily] was a way to get her back inside Winterfell without an army. He also bet on Stannis. It was, and is, a game of chess.

    And for what’s worth, I do think he genuinely has feelings for Sansa. Albeit initially a Cat surrogate, it’s developed, moved on from there. Yes, yes, he’s manipulated her again and again. He’s still trying to do it, whispering venomous seeds of doubt in Sansa’s ear. But he also revealed himself to her in uncharacteristic fashion. If Baelish can love, he loves Sansa. I think she may be his Achilles’ heel. I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even more than Sansa taking down Ramsay on the show, I soooo want Baelish to be out maneuvered and cast down by Sansa.

      As always, I think you have a good read on his character.

      Liked by 1 person

      • joanna says:

        Me too Patrick. But I think it needs a trigger, something to set her off. In other words, a witness to his betrayal of Ned. Two people are still alive to tell the tale of that day, Varys .. and Sandor Clegane. The Hound is heading north, could it be? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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