HBO’s Game of Thrones is a dense series with a huge weight of history behind its story, so in practically every episode, something happens that could use a little explanation. So every week, The Verge will be diving into a scene or event from the latest installment of the series and explain how we got here. Whether you’re basically a Game of Thrones maester or you need a little reminder about previous events, we’ll try to help you keep your history straight.
Littlefinger — also known as Petyr Baelish — has been one of Game of Thrones’ power players since the beginning of the show, quietly lurking in the shadows and constantly moving pieces to his advantage. Throughout season 7, he’s been lurking at Winterfell, with no obvious purpose except turning Sansa’s allies against her and making her dependent on him again. But before that, he seemed to be playing a long game with a shifting focus. Now, with the season 7 finale, we’ve finally gotten some answers as to what he’s actually been up to over the course of the show. Here’s how it all went down.
Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 7, episode 7, “The Dragon and the Wolf”
Time for some answers
Let’s start with what we learned this week. In one of the most satisfying moments in an episode full of satisfying moments, Sansa — who has been manipulated, lied to, and betrayed by Baelish for years now — finally turns the table on him and exposes his schemes to the world. Some of them, we already knew about. Others were new reveals. Specifically:
- Littlefinger killed Lysa Arryn by pushing her through the Moon Door to seize control of the Vale
- Littlefinger conspired with Lysa to kill Jon Arryn (the lord of the Vale) by giving Lysa poison, which she used to murder Jon
- Littlefinger had Lysa tell Ned and Catelyn Stark that the Lannisters poisoned Jon, leading to further animosity between the houses that later erupted into war
- Littlefinger betrayed Ned Stark, causing him to be executed by King Joffery
- Littlefinger told Catelyn that the catspaw Valyrian steel dagger used in the attempted assassination of Bran belonged to Tyrion, when in fact Baelish sent both the dagger and the assassin
That’s a pretty big laundry list of crimes. But even more impressive is taking all of them together — because from a more zoomed-out perspective, Littlefinger has essentially been behind almost every major event in the entire show.
Remember Jon Arryn?
Let’s start with Lysa and Jon Arryn. Way back in the very first episode of Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon comes to Winterfell to ask Ned Stark to bring his family down to King’s Landing and serve as his new Hand of the King, due to Jon Arryn’s death. We know Littlefinger caused that death, conspiring with Jon’s wife — Lysa, who was Catelyn Stark’s sister. Lysa believed Littlefinger was in love with her, and agreed to help him in his machinations because of that.
Next, he further complicated the balance of power in King’s Landing by having Lysa convince the Starks that the Lannisters killed Jon — which would have cut particularly deep to Ned, given that he was raised as Jon Arryn’s ward before Robert’s Rebellion. And given that Cersei Lannister was married to the then-current king, Robert Baratheon, Littlefinger in essence managed to turn three of the major houses — Stark, Lannister, and Baratheon — against each other. In a similar vein, he came extremely close to framing and killing Tyrion Lannister for the attempted murder of Bran Stark, with Tyrion only escaping the Moon Door due to Bronn’s skill at fighting.
This rift resulted in Robert getting killed by Cersei’s efforts, and Littlefinger’s betrayal of Ned leading to Ned’s execution. Those events caused the War of the Five Kings, and most of the later events of the show.
Why go through all the trouble?
The Seven Kingdoms entering a five-way war is perfect for Baelish, who took the chance to head to the Vale, marry Lysa Arryn, then kill her, placing himself as lord of the Vale, with Sansa Stark as his ward.
But the big question hovering over the show is, why would Baelish do all this? It seems there are two answers. The first is a deeply misplaced, misguided attempt at love. For most of his life, Littlefinger was in love with Catelyn Stark. Most of his efforts can be traced to acquiring power, and using that power to contrive circumstances where in some twisted version of events, he could be with her. As he tells Lysa when he kills her, Catelyn was the only woman he ever loved.
Once Catelyn dies, he seems to transfer that affection to her daughter and lookalike Sansa, and he similarly works to bend the world into a shape where he could one day be with her. But as Sansa points out in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” he ends up betraying both Catelyn and Sansa — the two women he purported to love — in truly horrible ways.
That’s because Littlefinger ultimately does everything for the sake of power. Nothing, not even his so-called love, can sway him from that. Which makes it all the more satisfying when Sansa and Arya are able to turn the tables on his, strip him of his power, and mete out the justice he deserved. He started most of the major conflicts of Game of Thrones in an attempt to get his hands on a woman who didn’t love him, who was with someone else, and who would never be his. He won’t be around to see how those conflicts resolve, and what comes next.