Note: spoilers for both seasons and all five books. Proceed with caution. You have been warned.

Now, are we ready to investigate the shifty mind and black, black soul of one Petyr Baelish?  Excellent.  Here we go.

One of the (few) disappointments I have with the Game of Thrones TV series is the character of Littlefinger.  While it’s clear that he’s shifty and untrustworthy, he’s not the master schemer of the books.  This is particularly sad because, when I first saw that Aidan Gillan was cast, I thought “Tommy Carcetti in Westeros!  Yes!”  But instead we se a Littefinger who’s genuinely afraid of the Lannisters, and who approaches Caitlin directly and get turned down,  rather than trying to manipulate her.

Conversely, Littlefinger is one of the great triumphs of the books.  He’s never a viewpoint character, and rarely speaks directly about his plans (the only occasion I can think of is his conversation with Sansa bout Harry the heir), but Martin gives us enough clues that we can work out what he’s been doing.  F. Scott Fitzgerald once  said:

I didn’t have the two top things–great animal magnetism or money. I had the two second things, tho’, good looks and intelligence. So I always got the top girl.

Likewise, Littlefinger didn’t have the two top things, inherited position and power, but he had the next two things, intelligence and no conscience of any kind.

A blogger who calls himself The Halfhand has given us an awesome summary of what Littlefinger has been up to over the course of the books,  It’s very long and very detailed, and I can’t say that I’ve thought about all of it, but where I have had time to consider, he’s been, in my opinion, spot on.  If you love AGoT, you should read the whole things.  There are just a few of the highlights:

  • Littlefingr does awful things because they might be of some future advantage.  For instance, he has Jon Arryn murdered, not as part of a fully worked-out plan, but  because he suspects that Ned Stark would be easier for him to control.
  • Littlefinger deliberately creates chaos because he assumes he’ll be able to take advantage of it.  For instance , his lie about the dagger that almost killed Bran being Tyrion’s was purely to increase tensions between Starks and Lannisters, because there is great opportunity for an up-and-coming schemer during a civil war.
  • Littlefinger likes to dispose of his tools once they’ve done their job: Hugh, Dontos,  Lysa Arryn.  Dead tools tell no tales.  Littlefinger also has a hand in many of the high-profile deaths: Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, Joffrey,  Lysa Arryn, as well as in framing Tyrion, which led directly to Tywin’s death.

Mike Schilling

Mike has been a software engineer far longer than he would like to admit. He has strong opinions on baseball, software, science fiction, comedy, contract bridge, and European history, any of which he's willing to share with almost no prompting whatsoever.


  1. I think Baelish is a character that benefits from being an enigma, which occurs naturally in the books because of the way the chapters are structured. We never see his point of view, while in the show we do.

    I fell the opposite about Cersei, who comes off better by seeing her perspective in the early days of the books.

    • I like Cersei both ways.
      Littlefinger is too chatty in the show… not that I know how you could make him not chatty and still get scenes. He’s a schemer, and it’s hard to keep suspense without showing his “dealmaking” scenes.

  2. I really need to read Dance of Dragons soon, that’s the only extant piece of the canon I haven’t got to yet.

  3. “Littlefinger didn’t have the two top things, inherited position and power, but he had the next two things, intelligence and no conscience of any kind.”

    This made me laugh out loud.

    Also, Cat and Littlefinger are easily the worst-served by the show. They’ve been flattened and made almost totally uninteresting. Cersei and Tywin have probably been the best-served by the show.

    • There’s a scene in one of the later books where Tyrion is shocked to find that his uncle Kevan, who’s a decent many that Tyrion’s always liked, loves his brother Tywin and respects him for rebuilding the family fortunes, which their father Tytos had done his best to piss away. (In fact, late in life Tytos had taken up with a trashy, lowborn woman, which contributed to the disrespect in which the Lannisters were held. This colors Tywin’s opinions of Tyrion’s mistresses.)

      That’s not going to work on TV, where his conversations with Arya have already substantially humanized Tywin (and were amazing, probably the best thing the TV series added.)

  4. Much the same is true of Varys. Varys’s scheme is somewhat more clear, but perhaps only because it’s closer to completion.

    There’s an important difference, though. Petyr Baelish seems to enjoying manipulating people to serve his goal and cause chaos. Varys has a job to do, but doesn’t seem to take pleasure in the fact that people are turned into tools. Playing up the Varys/Littlefinger conflict was another nice thing the show did, in my opinion. I can easily see them hating each other, despite similar perspective and even, to an extent, convergent goals. Varys thinks Petyr Baelish is unprofessional and a borderline sadist who enjoys the fact that his machinations destroy people. Petyr thinks Varys is a self-satisfied hypocrite who thinks he’s superior, despite the fact that they both destroy people, because Varys feels sorry about.

    • Varys had a conversation with Ned Stark once, explaining that, though his means may be pretty ugly, his ends are just: all he wants is the stability of the realm. Now, while we learn (much) later just what he means by that, it remains true that where Baelish creates chaos for his own advancement, Varys tries to create order for what he thinks is everyone’s sake.

  5. Frankly I don’t doubt that Littlefinger has been honest on the matter of Harry the Heir at all. It sounds far to much like telling Sansa exactly what she’d like to hear.

      • I’m pretty sure that Littlefinger wants Sansa for himself, but revealing her as Sansa Stark and betrothing her to Harry (who dies coveniently in battle when the North has been reconquered) may well be part of that plan.

        • That sounds much more Littlefinger like. Since Sansa is (oddly) one of my favorite POV characters I’m earnestly hoping that she learns from Littlefinger enough to become a brilliant manipulator herself and turns his plans on him in the end. With her beauty and breeding if she can pick up Littlefinger’s guile she could become a ferociously influential character in the new Tagaryn Westeros when it comes.

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