What is Littlefinger up to?
Littlefinger, or Petyr Baelish, is among the most hated characters in Game of Thrones, especially now that some of the more violent psychopaths, like Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton, are dead. And this hatred towards him is with good reason. Littlefinger singlehandedly started the War of the Five Kings, the brutal civil war in Westeros which destabilized the entire continent. And he went about achieving it without anyone ever suspecting him; well, maybe except Varys. This is in large part due to his initially friendly nature towards those who may have the power to challenge him, thus making himself appear content and weak, and because of his unusual and unclear goals.
While most of the characters in the show strive for glory, wealth, and power through more conventional means, Petyr Baelish uses intrigue, manipulation, betrayal, and insider information to achieve his goals. He always keeps his foes confused, unknowing of his true intentions, with most not even realizing Littlefinger already has them in his sights. These methods and general character make Baelish one of the most intriguing and interesting characters in the Game of Thrones.
To better understand him, we have to look at where he came from, and how he got to where his. Unlike most of the major players in the game, Petyr comes from a small and unimportant noble family located in the Vale, on one of the Fingers; thus his nickname. Baelish was actually raised in Riverrun, due to his father’s friendship with Hoster Tully. This is where he met Edmure, Lysa, and Catelyn. Growing up together, a sort of love triangle developed between Littlefinger and the two sisters. Lysa loved Littlefinger, but he only had eyes for Catelyn. When Catelyn was betrothed to Brandon Stark, Ned Stark’s older brother, Littlefinger even goes as far as to challenge him to a duel. This duel went terribly wrong for Baelysh, leaving him with a big scar across his chest and an injured pride. He only managed to survive Brandon’s attacks at Catelyn’s pleads. In any case, Brandon was later killed by the Mad King, Catelyn married Ned, and Baelish went on to become the man he is today.
He realized he will not be able to defeat his enemies by using his sword, and instead relied on his financial and strategic brilliance to quickly rise up the ranks and become Master of Coin in King’s Landing; a sort of Finance Minister or Treasurer for the realm. During King Robert‘s reign Littlefinger systematically impoverished the Crown by relentlessly borrowing money from the Iron Bank of Braavos. During this time he also looked after his own interests by greatly extending his influence. He bought property in the form of brothels, from where he could gather dirt on various influential clients, he developed an extensive network of spies and placed his loyal men in useful places.
With the start of Season I, Jon Arryn, the lord of the Vale, Lysa’s husband, and the Hand of the King, dies unexpectedly. Lysa then sends a letter to her sister in Winterfell telling her that she suspects the Lannisters for killing her husband. It is later revealed in Season IV that it was actually Lysa who poisoned her husband under the directions of Littlefinger, who she still loved deeply. With that letter she sent Catelyn, Lysa managed to sow dissent between the Lannisters and the Starks.
Furthermore, when Catelyn comes to King’s Landing to tell her husband about Bran’s attempted murder, which was possibly ordered by Joffrey, Littlefinger lies by telling her that the dagger used belongs to Tyrion Lannister. This, in turn, leads Catelyn to capture and wrongly accuse the dwarf. With the help of Petyr Baelysh, Ned then begins to unravel the true lineage of Joffrey and his siblings, and when he confronts the Lannisters, Littlefinger betrays him, leading to Ned’s execution.
Thus, without ever implicating himself in the slightest, Littlefinger is able to indirectly trigger the start of the war between the Kingdoms of Westeros. And he did it because, as he said:
“Chaos is a ladder. “
What he means by this is that in a world in turmoil, a man of his stature can only achieve more power and influence this way; things otherwise granted to people above his own social status. For example, in Season II, Littlefinger arranged an alliance between the Lannisters and the Tyrells. This alliance saved King’s Landing during the Battle of the Blackwater and ensured the Lannister continued control. For this, Littlefinger is given Harrenhal, and thus, control over the Riverlands. Now thanks to his higher status, he is able to marry Lysa, and thus have the Vale too. He then kills her, leaving her son, Robin Arryn, under his control.
Okay, we’ve established that he’s a bad guy, out solely for his own personal interests, without any regard for the wellbeing of anyone else; with the exception of maybe Sansa. But why would we want him in succeeding with his plans? There is no simple answer here, and it definitely isn’t because we love him. The best answer is that Littlefinger would be able to tear down the already existing feudal system, and herald in a new social system, more similar to ours here in the real world.
In a feudal system, social mobility is highly restricted within the society, and almost nobody can reach a higher level of success or social status, other than the one he or she was born into; regardless of any personal skills or merits. This is something which Littlefinger hates above all else, and is something that he wishes to destroy. Varys, his antagonist, is the exact opposite from this point of view. Varys wants stability and a restoration of the old Targaryen monarchy; a pure conservative tried-and-true.
Littlefinger is in short an agent of “creative destruction“. This is a real economic principle which somewhat coincides with the whole “out with the old, in with the new” idea. A good example for one such agent in our own history is Napoleon. He indeed brought on a lot of death and destruction, but from the ashes, he was able to create a lot of beneficial social and economic reforms, which later evolved into the worldwide ideals of national sovereignty and the more independent world we know today.
For more information about Littlefinger and his plans, check out the videos below: