Littlefinger has been a key player on Game of Thrones from season one. Since then, Petyr Baelish has backstabbed and manipulated his way from King Robert to King Jon Snow’s court. He’s risen from brothel-owner to Lord Paramount of the Vale and one of the great leaders of Westeros.
However, Littlefinger has also risen to complete irrelevance. Littlefinger has achieved much, but was his end game really to spend his days chilling in a dark corner of Winterfell? Jon Snow almost strangled him on Sunday night, but would anybody have mourned him if he were gone? Nope.
Mayor Carcetti won’t become Governor this time. Littlefinger has run out of moves, he has isolated himself in a snowy castle, and will probably not survive the season.
Baelish’s power always came from being seen as a non-threat. King Robert and the Lannisters could trust him with key positions because he was just Littlefinger. His nickname tells the whole story. He was the lord of a tiny castle in the middle of nowhere. Littlefinger had no wealth, no armies, and no combat ability. He could sit at the big kids’ table, but he would never be one of them.
Baelish has been disturbingly effective over the seasons. Behind the scenes, he started the War of the Five Kings. He then created only to later destroy the Tyrell-Lannister alliance. Through it all, his position improved step by step, season by season. Now he’s the ruler of the Vale – at least in theory. Power is a trick in Westeros, after all.
Interestingly, Littlefinger never misleads anybody as to what kind of person he is. He told Ned Stark “distrusting me was the wisest thing you’ve done since you climbed off your horse”. Others keep their spy networks a secret, but Baelish gloats about them. Petyr is never without his classic smirk and sarcastic wit.
His honest dishonesty actually works to win people over. By telling people not to trust him, they ironically end up trusting him more. Ned was suckered in and the Lannisters were willing partners. People know Littlefinger is ambitious. But they have no idea just how ambitious – or how ruthless. He doesn’t just want a small gain or some lands, he wants everything. That makes him a frightening figure, but not an omnipotent one.
Littlefinger was at his strongest two seasons ago. His moves since then have only made him weaker, and a lot of them haven’t made a ton of sense. Back in Season 5, Littlefinger held Robin Arryn and Sansa Stark as pawns, giving him a good claim on the Vale and the North. He seemed to have a network all across the Seven Kingdoms. Also, he could seemingly teleport anywhere he pleased right in the middle of a brutal war. Baelish could wield all this power while sitting safely in the Eyrie, an impregnable castle in the sky.
Nobody was in a better position to mop up after the civil war or to hold out against dragons and White Walkers. But then Littlefinger stupidly left his castle and he sold Sansa to the Boltons which set in motion the Battle of the Bastards. So in a convoluted way, you can thank Littlefinger for rebuilding the Stark armies in the North.
This plan was a mistake. Look at his position now: Littlefinger’s brothels are smashed, his alliance with the Lannisters is dead, and his influence seems to have faded away completely. In King’s Landing, Littlefinger was a player; in Winterfell, he’s just a nuisance.
Jon Snow has beaten Littlefinger with a tactic nobody has tried yet: ignoring him. With Petyr Baelish, everything is about schemes. If Jon isn’t interested in buying, Littlefinger has no influence.
Plus, nobody likes Littlefinger. The Vale armies do not march for him, they march for Sansa or for Robin. He has no friends, no loyal soldiers, and nobody to come to his rescue if say, an angry king were to squeeze the life out of him.
For six seasons, Petyr Baelish has been built up as the grand master of the Game of Thrones. It’s all worked perfectly as long as he had co-conspirators to screw over. But now, nobody else will take him in. The Lannister bridge is burned, Varys and Tyrion know him too well to bring him into Dany’s camp, and the White Walkers would just eat him. Littlefinger has put all his eggs into one basket: Sansa’s basket. This is all risky.
Littlefinger needs Sansa to betray Jon. He assumes she will, even if that is unlikely. But there’s a twisted logic to Petyr’s worldview. You see, Littlefinger has lived in the Game of Thrones; it is his entire world. Everybody is either a player or a sucker. In King’s Landing, nobody waits for power, they take it. Why shouldn’t Sansa become a little redheaded Cersei?
However, Littlefinger has forgotten that not everybody in this world is as evil as he is. He could never work with Jon, he could never work with Dany, and by the end of this season, he won’t be able to work with Sansa either. Why would Sansa pick Petyr Baelish – a man who inadvertently had her raped – over her own family?
Littlefinger’s faith in the wretchedness of the world has checkmated him. He’s run out of things to sell and has now run out of friends. As the show approaches its end game, Game of Thrones simply doesn’t need Littlefinger anymore.