Could Littlefinger Win The Game Of Thrones?

  • Science Fiction
Is this the future king and queen of the seven kingdoms of Westeros? HBO

There are many in Westeros chasing power, money or revenge, but a few dare to aspire to the Iron Throne. Some, like Daenerys, are open about their intentions, others might wind up on the Iron Throne almost by accident, like Jon Snow, currently far more concerned with the Night King and his army invading the North. Queen Cersei Lannister saw her ambitions come to fruition, but at great personal cost. And now, coming into Game of Thrones Season 7, there are a number of claimants gunning for her, including Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, a wheeling and dealing pimp who has cleverly served most sides, pausing only to stab a back once in a while. He may be a longshot, but Littlefinger has made his rise stepping on the people who underestimated him.

While much of Westeros is caught up with sub-conflicts and inter-house struggles, like Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand’s developing plot against Cersei, Littlefinger is working toward a straight shot at the throne. At the end of Season 6 he revealed the motive we’d long suspected, telling Sansa:

“Every time I’m faced with a decision, I close my eyes and see the same picture. Whenever I consider a question, I ask myself ‘Will this action make this picture a reality,’ pull it out of my mind and into the world… and I only act if the answer is yes. A picture of me on the Iron Throne and you by my side.”

In this quote could be contained both Littlefinger’s rise and eventual downfall, since he has gone from continent-wide powerbroker to Stark partisan. This would significantly curtail Littlefinger’s ability to make deals in and around the halls of power. King’s Landing is likely closed to him.

More than that, Littlefinger’s vision of Sansa at his side takes one of his best options off the table. Cersei’s offer to make him Warden of the North, made in Season 5, still stands, even if it currently carries no weight with the northern houses. It would take some skillfulness, but backstabbing Jon Snow and Sansa Stark and bringing the northern houses to heel (the Boltons already demonstrated it’s at least possible) could give him an unstoppable army when combined with the powers of the Vale. But he’s not about to ruin his perfect picture. The Starks are stuck with him, for now.

So what’s Littlefinger’s plausible path to power?

Littlefinger’s typical strategy is to pit foes against each other, picking up the pieces once they’re dead. Acquiring the Iron Throne simply by virtue of being the last man standing might be narratively unsatisfying, but is far from impossible. We suspect Jon Snow and Daenerys will team up to fight the Night King, maybe even north of the Wall, which would pit Littlefinger directly against Cersei. This would be a tricky gambit for Littlefinger. He holds the armies of the Vale, but his other title, Lord of Harrenhal, doesn’t accrue any troops to his side. In open warfare, the Lannisters deep pockets seem more likely to win. Still, this is one option.

But realistically, all of Littlefinger’s paths to power involve Sansa Stark. He has to not only split her from Jon Snow — who, unknown to everyone, has the second best claim to the Iron Throne (as Daenerys’ Targaryen nephew) — but also convince her she needs him. Since Sansa just spent a torturous season learning precisely that she doesn’t need him, this will prove tricky. As she tells him, “You’ve declared for other Houses before, Lord Baelish, but it’s never stopped you from serving yourself.”

Which is how most pathways to power for Littlefinger wend, through narrower and narrower gates. Littlefinger’s power derived from his cynicism and lack of loyalty, so it’s his love for Sansa (or his creepy association of her with Catelyn Stark) that’s most likely to lead to his fall. Sansa is unlikely to tolerate him driving a rift between her and Jon Snow for very long. And we haven’t mentioned Littlefinger’s nemesis, that other major powerbroker in Westeros and Essos: the Spider, Varys. Both played the majority of their game of thrones behind the surface conflict, their maneuverings portrayed as an ongoing battle of wits since at least Season 3, when they revealed to each other their contrasting motives:

Varys: “But what do we have left once we abandon the lie? Chaos, a gaping pit, waiting to swallow us all.”

Littlefinger: “Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse; they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real.”

If one of his many many enemies doesn’t kill him, expect the woman he loves to do so. And if Littlefinger somehow eludes Sansa Stark’s vengeance, it’s unlikely he’ll escape the Spider’s web. If the final two seasons of Game of Thrones is a bracket, with the Iron Throne at its center, then Littlefinger might very well make it a few rounds, maybe even into the final four. But there’s simply too much arrayed against him to win. He will fall, back into his mixed metaphor about chaos and pits and ladders.

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