Episode 26 – The Climb – Analysis
By Winter Is Coming on in Editorial.

Littlefinger

Climbing Without Rope: Littlefinger’s Dangerous Game

By Tyler Davis

The Iron Throne is but one of countless fictional sources of power that now populate our cultural landscape; the popularity of Game of Thrones means that you’re not unlikely to find a famous athlete or celebrity sitting on a throne replica when you’re channel surfing or browsing the net. Many of us are fascinated by the idea of ultimate rule. Perhaps our iron thrones are top floor CEO suites or head seats of government, but the idea of the king of the hill – the undisputed leader – is a fixture in our collective imagining. The complexity of the modern world means that absolute power never collects in one place; competing interests, checks and balances, shifting opinion, the democratic voice, limitations of scale–these and more conspire to dilute or make temporary any concentration of strength. Maybe there’s a quieter understanding most of us share which holds that such power is, in its own way, undesirable–that smaller connections constitute the bulk of what we value–but the idea remains thrilling.

Westeros strips away many of the protections from tyranny we enjoy in our daily lives, and the rules of the Westerosi game facilitate meteoric rises and falls. This, in part, helps explain the allure of this fantastic world. Despite the comparatively torturous standards of living (and dying) in Martin’s Seven Kingdoms, escapism abounds. In Westeros, the truest and most uncommonly acknowledged restrictions on might are the uncontrollable variables which threaten to encroach on the game from without: winters that just won’t end, or White Walkers descending from the north. Everything else is fair play, which means that men like Varys and Littlefinger can raise their station one rung at a time, while poor players are thrown to untimely ends. It also means that the philosophies which direct men in their pursuit of power can be more plainly delineated.

Beyond the figurative significance of the throne itself, it’s clear that Westerosi power isn’t located in any physical apparatus. Power is relative, and if it requires deference, deference is a choice. So season two’s lesson that “power resides where men believe it resides” remains perpetually relevant, informing us that the perception of power is often more important than the capacity to express it. Jaime Lannister’s corollary example shows that even a king can fall to those sworn to protect him; all it takes is a rejection of the terms of power, sufficient motivation, and choice. Setting aside the sweeping, supernatural changes which threaten to undermine the game entirely, it’s in this other, important sense that Westerosi power remains fragile and relative even while its potential impact remains fantastically large.

“The Climb” offers a new lesson in explicit terms: chaos is a ladder–an opportunity. Littlefinger’s monologue in the throne room – precipitating from his ruminations on the iron throne itself – is the show’s clearest attempt at exposing his philosophy. When Varys explains (in a rare moment of tightly-bottled anger) that his decision to turn Ros against Littlefinger was made “for the good of the realm,” Littlefinger retorts that the realm is nothing more than an illusion, a story, a pastiche of lies crammed together in a doomed attempt at bringing order out of chaos. Varys, having already established that power is a shadow on the wall, may well agree. But chaos, Littlefinger teaches, is the fundamental force which allows one to elevate their position. Whether it’s engendered through a naturally occurring power vacuum or the destabilizing effects of war, chaos – deeply frightening to the majority of men and women who “cling to the realm, or the gods, or love” – is a chance for men like Littlefinger to make themselves essential, and eventually rise to prominence.

Be forewarned: Littlefinger is, I admit, a central concern of mine this week. Reaching back to the first season, much ado has been made in comment threads and forum posts about show-Littlefinger’s characterization. Many of you will remember the aptly-titled “whoregate” debacle from season one, episode seven “You Win or You Die” in which Littlefinger instructs the newly-acquired Ros (and a fellow prostitute) how to better sell their sexual performances. The scene was criticized by detractors for many reasons, including but not limited to its supposed gratuitousness, and what was considered an out of character Littlefinger “revealing too much” where he might otherwise be secretive. I found that scene wonderfully effective, and I enjoyed Littlefinger’s monologue here. It’s worth considering why Aidan Gillen’s Littlefinger works for me.

Littlefinger

My appreciation for what Benioff and Weiss have done with Littlefinger has everything to do with what’s gained and lost in the process of adaptation. The Littlefinger of the novels is enigmatic not because he’s a morally ambivalent person, but because Martin’s POV structure prevents Petyr from being observed through any perspectives other than those of the very people he’s manipulating. As such, book-Littlefinger is always colored by someone’s lens. This has an effect on the first-time reader, and many are left with only a vague distrust of Littlefinger before later events solidify their feelings. As compared with their iterations in Thrones, the events of the novels are less telegraphed by explicit revelations about Petyr’s character, and are thus less easily anticipated.

But if we sacrifice suspended ambiguity over Baelish’s motives when transitioning from the novels to the show, the show’s adoption of a more cleanly objective point of view means that we gain a more thorough understanding of who Littlefinger is. As with Varys, the exchange nets a more psychologically rounded, substantial character; Petyr Baelish of Thrones may be less inscrutable than his ASoIaF counterpart, but he’s more clearly motivated.

Consider the broad options available to the showrunners when defining Littlefinger’s role. Petyr is one player among many, so we can immediately acknowledge that there are very real limitations on the amount of time he can be on screen. From this starting point, he could have been kept incredibly enigmatic and shown only rarely, or perhaps talked about by others; this would leave audience members like Bill Simmons scratching their heads about who Peytr is and why he matters, especially whenever he does show up to influence the story. Alternatively, Littlefinger could be kept relatively present, interacting with other characters without ever revealing his hand, and all this without tangling up the actual threads he’s integral to. But this would leave audience members wondering why Littlefinger is always around without appearing to do anything of importance, and greater invention would be necessary to give him something to do outside of what Martin has accounted for.

Instead, Littlefinger is given flesh and blood. This means exposing his darkness, and it means clarifying his philosophy–something primarily accomplished in conversations which unfold in privileged spaces: areas where these characters can reveal something of themselves which would otherwise remain undisclosed. The controversial scene in season one – tucked safely in the confines of Littlefinger’s brothel – is a perfect example of this exposure taking place. And what do we learn of Petyr Baelish, self-made man, in this moment? That his life has orbited one central, lost love – a blistering obsession that has burst into a venomous disdain for the ruling elite. His cunning has only ever been turned to the advancement of his station so as to secure, once and for all, a perfect defense against ever again being as humiliated as he was by Brandon Stark. Littlefinger explains as much when he says he’ll “-never win. Not that way. That’s their game, their rules.” And what is it he hopes to gain when playing by his own rules? “Everything there is.” This sentiment is later echoed in season three when Littlefinger speaks to Sansa of always wanting more, more, more, rewarding audience members who’ve been paying attention.

When we ask ourselves if Littlefinger is “out of character” in these scenes, what we’re really concerned about is whether Littlefinger is having a familiar effect on the audience. If our sole concern is strict fidelity to the novels, the answer is “perhaps not,” but my contention is that more is gained than lost in the adaptation. What Petyr reveals is not just that he is the kind of man capable of marshalling his intellect toward the satisfaction of long term objectives with utter patience, but that his reasons for doing so come from a deeply personal and hauntingly vibrant place. Taking the brothel scene as an example, no game changing secrets were revealed–just a bald admission of how he sees the world. And like the montage we were given in “The Climb,” the scene was underscored by a clever metaphor that enhanced the message: note how the women were compelled to authenticity as the silver-tongued mockingbird sung his song, puppeteering with words alone? We learn that Littlefinger takes a relish in his playacting, and that he expects nothing less from his whores. So we sacrifice crypticism for an enriching exchange that works on multiple levels (yes: including the titillating one). I was sold then, and I’m sold now.

(As a brief aside, another visual moment that I found effective was the sequence of nested shots set in the brothel in season two. The prostitute and her client writhe, the voyeur watches on, and Littlefinger watches the watcher. It was all a quick, punchy, and humorous representation of Petyr’s favored role if ever there was one.)

Littlefinger and Varys

Every major encounter between Littlefinger and Varys is an example of a privileged space being uniquely entered by the show’s cameras; neither character has a single POV chapter in the novels, so what better way to illustrate their cunning and respective motivations than to pit them against one another? As the preeminent spymasters of King’s Landing, each is uniquely suited to understanding exactly how dangerous the other is. But this episode’s verbal duel is remarkable because it’s so thematically integral to the episode, and because it shows Littlefinger at his most coldly direct. Some see this performance as nothing more than a mustache-twirling villain’s hyperbolic machinations tumbling out needlessly, but I see it as a frightening look at a dedicated man’s soul. If there was any doubt about the Spider’s accuracy when he warned Olenna that Littlefinger “would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes,” Littlefinger’s monologue confirmed the worst.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Petyr’s speech is his dismissal of common, institutional survival strategies – the appeal to human connection, the appeal to law, the appeal to religion, and all attendant moral codes thereof – as mere illusions. Yet we know from his fascination with the Iron Throne – and from his own weakness for Catelyn Stark – that Littlefinger isn’t insusceptible to the draw of the very things he deems unreal. How self-aware is he? It might not matter, as what he posits as most important is the climb itself–the literal process of acquiring power however and wherever he can. Littlefinger is supremely adaptable, capable of seeing the opportunity in any situation, and this makes him especially dangerous for “bad investments” like Ros who, having crossed him, become nothing more than profit waiting to be reclaimed. No moral framework or personal sentiment will impede the deal; for Littlefinger, “all desires are valid to a man with a full purse.”

Few see the world as Littlefinger does. The episode hinges on scenarios where other characters attempt to negotiate their way to advantageous positions, usually through legal union, by relying on the standard “illusory” traditions of Westeros. Robb must depend upon his Uncle Edmure’s acquiescence to Walder Frey’s marriage proposal if he is to have a hope of acquiring the forces necessary to attack Casterly Rock. Tywin and Olenna spar to protect their respective interests, each deftly maneuvering in order to thwart the other. Roose Bolton considers his options before striking a deal with Jaime. Melisandre purchases Robert’s bastard, Gendry, in the name of her religious mission. The price? Gold. In some instances these negotiations reveal the compelling allure of battle that only exists at the height of political gamesmanship, and in others they expose the clumsy gracelessness of perfunctory political haggling. In each case, however, characters work within scope of the realm’s precedents in order to advance themselves, the very constraints of the rules providing them with opportunities to devise more or less creative solutions to their predicaments.

But if these attempts at shoring up a bulwark against the deleterious effects of age, betrayal, war, and more represent the attempt to impose order onto the unbidden by employing the traditional mechanisms of Westerosi culture, the unnamed Boy’s sadistic torture of Theon represents a willful inversion of these rules without regard to external dictates. Cloistered away and kept from the most basic understanding of his own physical location in the world, Theon learns that there will be no happy ending, that every truth is a lie, and that the pain exists merely to pleasure the person inflicting it. There is no sense that Theon’s captor hopes to benefit from this imprisonment–it hardly seems politically motivated. What Theon faces is the supreme mockery of negotiation–a false game where his only option is to lose. He is no longer a player–like Ros, he is a piece on someone else’s board, and the game being played is very, very private.

For Littlefinger, “only the ladder is real – the climb is all there is,” and this, I think, is in deep accordance with everything his character does. There is no time to waste on fallen climbers. As for Ros, Littlefinger merely sold her off, blithely unconcerned with her fate, and perfectly content with the warning he gave her long ago. And in this there’s a striking parallel to be made between Theon and Ros – lovers, after a fashion, once upon a time in Winterfell. It seems so long ago, but we can remember Theon asking Ros where she was going, with her reply of “King’s Landing!” sounding out from the back of a shaky turnip cart. From such inauspicious beginnings they both tried to climb, and they both chose wrong, each falling prey to the two most sadistic characters we’ve yet encountered.

Little of this is hopeful, but beyond its observations of the strategies men use to eliminate or create order in the world, “The Climb” suggests that some wish not to ascend but to find firm ground. When Ygritte lets Jon know that she understands he’s not the sort of man to cast aside his loyalties so easily, she doesn’t do so to alarm him. Instead, she hopes to center his attention on something other than the promises he’s plagued by. She’s a mere soldier in Mance’s army, and Jon is just one more crow who spoke unfair vows in the name of an unappreciated task, but together? Together they have something tangible. “It’s you and me who matters to me and you,” she says, asking that he never betray her. Their quite literal climb up the face of the Wall is fraught with difficulty, but the rope connecting them saves them both, proving a far stabler unifying force than the alliances being brokered elsewhere. They can be severed from others through caprice or malice, and the affiliations they swear allegiance to offer no true security, but the bond between them is something they both have control over.

Jon and Ygritte on top of the Wall

When they reach the top of their ascent, the moment they share is underscored by a note of sadness, as if to suggest that any moment so perfect can only be understood as something besieged on all sides by forces which seek to undermine or exploit it. Fitting, then, that the camera lingers in a moment of balance–balance between worlds that keep them apart, balance after a journey that threatened to end them. The moment felt earned. From this vantage atop the world, what choices will they have to make next? If nothing else, Thrones is certain to let us know that they will have choices–everyone does. Even Ned chose to follow his friend south when honor called, much to Catelyn’s dismay. Will Jon’s abstract loyalty to his vows supplant his personal loyalty to his woman?

We know that Littlefinger loved, too, and that he now nurses the memory of his love not because he believes it can be realized, but because the terms of its failure fuel his ambition. Self-driven men seemingly free from obligations to others, Varys and Littlefinger both acknowledge that the institutions structuring Westeros are shadows and illusions, but they respond to this truth in mutually exclusive ways. Where Varys seeks to defend the realm from itself, Littlefinger seeks to destroy the equilibrium which binds the realm together so that he might mercilessly climb to greater heights of power in the ensuing bedlam. Rejected so long ago by a woman of nobler birth, bested by the heir of a nobler house, Littlefinger’s only loyalty is to himself. It’s a mistake to see Littlefinger’s fascination with the throne as a simple representation of his desire to be seated upon it; Littlefinger wishes to subvert the very system which empowers the throne in the first place, and this begins by understanding its lie.

But in segueing from Littlefinger’s speech to the closing moments atop the Wall, the showrunners offer a third alternative to the options presented in the throne room: outside of the realm itself, outside of general affiliation, outside of the illusory terms of honor, outside of the dictates of vows, people in this world can still choose one another, save one another. Petyr may decry love as a meaningless distraction from his ceaseless ascent, but then he’s forgotten what it’s like to have anyone to keep him from falling.


54 Comments

  1. Ice
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    HODOR!

  2. Derek
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Hodor!

  3. Ho
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Hodor

  4. Shywalker
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Petyr may decry love as a meaningless distraction from his ceaseless ascent, but then he’s forgotten what it’s like to have anyone to keep him from falling.

    Beautifully written.

  5. TheWalkingDave
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    It’s almost Red Wedding time…….

  6. RT3
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    This was probably my favorite of your pieces yet – love the longer in-depth section on Littlefinger and the adaptation choices.

    One thing I do wish we saw was less mustache-twirling and a little more effectiveness – although I suppose we will get that in spades next season. Those Sansa chapters are definitely some of my favorite.

  7. whodatb
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Really fine analysis. I think you are spot-on here.

  8. The_Wanderer
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    The end of the Wall climb was one of the most hopeful and mostly positive endings the show has come up with, up to this point. It counterpoints Littlefinger’s mini-montage perfectly.

    It seems no one is safe from the struggles for power, and ultimately it sucks everyone into it, whether they want to be or not. The ending provides hope for all the suffering caused by power struggles through a beautiful love inspired scene.

    On a side note, I wrote a blog article about this episode and how it discusses the struggles for power, if you interested in reading in it, it is linked below.

    http://www.all-that-is-gold-does-not-glitter.blogspot.com/2013/05/game-of-thrones-season-3-the-climb-analysis.html

  9. OhDanyBoy
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Great job. I usually enjoy these, but this was REALLY good.

    Very poetic ending as well.

  10. RichMan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Being a schemer is fine, but you need protection against the lethal counter strike.

    Jon Arryn, Ned Stark. They did not have protection.

    I am interested in what protection Vary’s and Littlefinger have. Is it just their implied network?

    “You could kill me. But I have 5 men paid to hunt down my killer. I have 20 men hired to kill those 5 if my killer is not dead in a month. I have 50 men hired to kill those 20 if my killer and those 5 men are not dead in two months.”

  11. lonas
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The Thenn fell from the wall to number ten..

    darn..11

  12. Summer Is Coming
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    This is the way I see it also.

  13. fuelpagan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Very well done. Your analysis of Littlefinger is excellent in examining how book readers falsely conclude who Petyr Baelish is when viewed through the very lens of those he is in the process of manipulating.

    But you missed how eliminating Ros was more than just eliminating a “bad investment” and can be used to show the Tyrell’s how they’re mistaken if they think Joffrey can be contained. Varys attempt to use Ros as a double agent gave Littlefinger the opportunity to make a bold move in playing the game.

  14. Assunta
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Great piece. I so enjoy reading these.

    I love the characters of Littlefinger and Varys and how both GRRM and D&D use them to distill the theme of power to two basic constructs:

    Littlefinger = Hobbes = natural rights = chaos.
    Varys = Rousseau = social contract = the realm.

    Beautifully done.

  15. Nagga's Kin
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe LF wants to be king of the ashes, he just wants the ashes. He wants to destroy the realm so he can profit from the inevitable and interminable strife between the smaller fiefdoms and no-mans-lands that will remain after the hypocritical, petty and naive highborn have all knocked each other off their pedestals. LF just has to be careful he is not hoist with his own petar’ in the process.

  16. Ivdar
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    RichMan, I think their protection is mainly that few people see them as real threats.

    None of them are truly lords or men of “real” power. Baelish does own some land, but it’s just some rocks and sheep on the Fingers. Neither Varys nor LF has land, armies or substantial amounts of money. They can’t wage wars.

    For Varys, this is even more true, since he owns practically nothing and seems to have no ambition whatsoever. When Cersei says that Varys is dangerous because he doesn’t have a cock, she means that he has no desires, meaning he has no weaknesses.

    The other defense is that they’re extremely useful. Both of them are very competent in their roles and appear indispensable as a result.

    Several times, we see LF being threatened (by Ned and by Cersei), and Varys mentions that if he truly intervened, he would be quickly killed. They don’t have real defenses, other than the fact that most nobles despise them and don’t think much of them. They’re like servants, and nobody thinks of servants as threats.

  17. redqueen
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Very well done and I do think the TV show is capturing the essence of LF whereas in the books in sneaks up on you and TV can’t really be that indirect with all of these characters.
    Showing our boy Joffrey again for what he really is was a great touch.
    Almost forgotten what an evil insane sadistic piece of work Joffrey is with him waving to the crowds with his lady love.

  18. Assunta
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    RichMan: I am interested in what protection Vary’s and Littlefinger have. Is it just their implied network?

    Interesting question. To a certain extent they are protected by their usefulness. Vary’s for his ability to learn, share and/or keep secrets. Knowledge is power, particularly knowledge of secrets. Littlefinger has the ability to “breed dragons” and increase at least the illusion of wealth that allows the monarchy to function in a very real way (soldiers have to be fed, clothed and housed).

  19. Hawk
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    fuelpagan,

    How precisely are the book readers falsely concluding who Petyr Baelish is?

    That’s a pretty vague and all encompassing statement…can we have some examples, please?

    Do the book readers think he’s a nice guy, but just misunderstood?

    It’s pretty obvious from the books that Baelish is very Machiavellian, and does not do things b/c of a sadistic glee in destroying others…his ends justify his means, and he does not do things for the sake of cruelty…he has more sadistic traits in the TV show, along the lines of Ramsay Snow…

    like show watchers, not all book readers are the same, and there are varying degrees of understanding and interpreting the story amongst the book crowd, though we seem to get lumped into one category all the time by those who haven’t read the books…

  20. Family, Duty, Hodor
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Ivdar,

    I take it you haven’t read the books then? Your interpretation makes some sense at this point in the show, but it’s actually incorrect. For example, we already have met one of Varys’ allies…

    Nice article anyway. Although I wish tv Littlefinger were more charming when talking to the people he’s trying to manipulate. His voice is too growly. ‘Chaos is a ladder’ was great though.

  21. NousWanderer
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    fuelpagan:
    But you missed how eliminating Ros was more than just eliminating a “bad investment” and can be used to show the Tyrell’s how they’re mistaken if they think Joffrey can be contained. Varys attempt to use Ros as a double agent gave Littlefinger the opportunity to make a bold move in playing the game.

    This is an interesting point, but thus far I have no idea if the Tyrells will actually see what has happened or if the murder of Ros will be used toward that end. I HOPE it is, as there’s little doubt that Varys would keep them updated.

    My thoughts on the matter aren’t final, but part of me thinks it was a (slight) missed opportunity to not have one moment where we see Margaery looking on from the corner behind Joffrey with feigned-enjoyment when he turns to smile at her, her heart sinking, fear and disgust underscoring her expression when he looks away.

  22. Helen
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the best ‘analysis’ posts yet!

    I was a little jarred by Littlefinger and how obviously evil he was in Season 1, but after re-reading the books again his machinations were a wee bit too subtle for television.

    I like how the show makes me forget and like characters that are actually quite grey. Everyone loves Tyrion, but he is loyal to the Lannisters. We hate Littlefinger for what he did to Ros, but didn’t Varys show a cruelty towards the sorcerer in the box?

    And to think, Margaery almost made Joffrey seem slightly likeable, to the residents of Flea Bottom anyway. I really hope she comes out on top, somehow, by the series’ end.

    http://tiny-tran.blogspot.ca/2013/05/crystal-clay-game-of-thrones-part-3.html

  23. Skipjack
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to have your take on Littlefinger. I haven’t enjoyed his tv version much, but I can see from the way you put it that those who aren’t familiar with him need to see what is motivating him more clearly. In fact my problem with him is different from the other tv versions of the characters- basically his inner life is too near the surface, while some other characters seem to have their inner life stripped away completely. I guess it’s better to have this Littlefinger be too transparent than unmotivated like Jon.

    Varys and Littlefinger aren’t enemies, an idea I think that is getting short shrift from most corners. Their relationship is complicated but neither of them really are standing in each other’s way, though Varys did move to obstruct Baelish’s personal desire to possess Sansa. But Littlefinger needs there to be a realm left to take over and Varys needs Baelish and others to foment conflict of a sort that will make Varys’ preferred agenda most attractive. Sometimes people have asked why don’t they kill each other, and I think this could be elaborated upon a bit more. I don’t think Littlefinger really wants the world to be a heap of ashes- it would be a bad return on investment.

    I think the big issue with closing the climb as they did, with Jon and Ygritte in a clinch as a kind of reproof to Littlefinger’s speech, is that book readers know that Jon does betray her, while the language of the big romantic moment seems to promise otherwise. That’s not just a promise to be broken Jon makes to Ygritte but that the show makes to the viewer. So that’s not a third alternative unless the show changes things up and has Ygritte die before Jon leaves the wildlings

  24. Veltigar
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    fuelpagan:
    Very well done. Your analysis of Littlefinger is excellent in examining how book readers falsely conclude who Petyr Baelish is when viewed through the very lens of those he is in the process of manipulating.
    But you missed how eliminating Ros was more than just eliminating a “bad investment” and can be used to show the Tyrell’s how they’re mistaken if they think Joffrey can be contained. Varys attempt to use Ros as a double agent gave Littlefinger the opportunity to make a bold move in playing the game.

    Wait, are you suggesting that the demise of Ros actually has a point? Let’s hope by the Old Gods and the New that you are right. Because it seemed pointless and was one of the many lows of this episode.

    Love the analysis by the way. The LF/Varys (save for the Ros part) was one of the best added scenes ever. A shame that it was placed in the worst episode of GoT so far (well, low quality when compared to GoT standards).

  25. fuelpagan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Hawk,

    I do not mean that readers falsely conclude who Petyr Baelish is as a person is due to any incompetence on the part of the reader, but more as part of the design by GRRM on how we always view Littlefinger through the eyes of someone he is manipulating. In the books our view of Littlefinger is constantly from the point of view of an unreliable narrative clouding our picture of who Littlefinger truly is. Much in the same way we don’t really see how honorable Jaime is until we get see the world from his POV.

  26. Rob
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Talented writer. A well written, witty perspective into Baelish. Wish it were longer.

  27. realitytripz
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    The reason why I don’t like the TV portrayal of LF is because he is spilling the beans to Varys. Varys would have taken LF out a long time ago if he truly believed in the safety of the realm. That’s why the TV portrayal of LF is bad. He would be dead by now and we all know it.

    I agree more with Varys’ statement that chaos is a pit. Chaos is unpredictable. As of right now LF has been using subtlety within the system(Order) to achieve his own ends. The moment he decides to use real chaos, not faked, is the moment he will fail.

    For example, if the Others descend upon Westeros, that is chaos. There is no ladder to climb because there is nothing to climb to. Order must be brought and I think we can all agree the only way the others are going to have a hope of being defeated is by Dany and her Dragons.

    In this Dany would have the only power to bring back order, for without her, little sniveling cowards like LF will have nothing.

    And I can tell you if Dany survives this, she will be made ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, no doubt.

  28. pntrlqst
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Veltigar,

    Why are people forgetting Ros was thought to be Tyrion’s lover? Her death doesn’t have to be pointless if D&D didn’t forget the fact like everyone else because it now gives Cersei even more reason to believe Tyrion poisoned Jeff. Not to mention Littlefinger set up Ros’s death (don’t forget he mentioned the Tyrion/Ros mistake in 303) so this is a perfect way for him to orchestrate the PW and its fallout while shifting the blame to someone else.

  29. EllenRipley
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Great piece. Can anyone explain to me why Arya doesn’t say Tywin’s name in her kill mantra anymore. Also, why doesn’t she include Jaime. You’d think she would after what he did to Bran.

  30. GreatJon of Slumber
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Well stated, and this analysis also benefits from its tight focus on Littlefinger.

    And the contrast between Varys and Littlefinger in what they hold onto – Varys to the realm, Littlefinger to nothing, not anyone else, just his ambition – is nicely undercut by the physical climb of Jon and Ygritte at the end. Because those two are clinging to “love,” so to speak, and that pure, clear moment in the cold, crisp air, view of the world undisturbed, is a rejoinder to – or perhaps a question to be answered – in response to Littlefinger. Is this love possible in this brutal world? Or is a trick as well?

    And that’s why the camera lingers on it – Game of Thrones, or rather, Westeros, is a tough place, unforgiving, and so moments of pure joy and affection when otherwise unaffected by anything else are so rare. The episode earns that ending.

  31. fuelpagan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    NousWanderer,
    Veltigar,

    Before the demise of Ros, all indications were Margaery has the ability to control Joffrey in ways that Cersei does not. We hear in the conversation between Margaery and Sansa where she believes this control over him is strong enough to allow Sansa to leave Kings Landing and go to Highgarden.

    Petyr doesn’t want Joffrey controlled, he wants Joffrey dead. Joffrey played right into his hands by accepting this “gift” from Petyr that will crush any notion of Joffrey being controllable. Knowing Margaery’s motivation to becoming “The Queen” Petyr is simply moving the Tyrell’s into going forward in a manner Petyr wants them too.

    What I really enjoy about the Littlefinger character is how he moves one way while letting everyone think he is moving another way. He needed Joffrey on the throne because he knew he could undermine Cersei by appealing to Joffrey’s interests. He asks Ned to forget Stannis and let the boy become king. And if Ned had done that he may be alive today. We all know about Littlefinger betraying Ned and getting him thrown in the dungeons. But what we don’t see is Petyr manipulating Joffrey into cutting off Ned’s head and thereby undermining Cersei’s plans of having Ned take the black. Thus causing an escalating war allowing Petyr to climb the ranks.

    Now that Joffrey’s usefulness to Littlefinger is complete, he is now a pawn to create even more chaos in the realm.

    Figuring out Littlefingers game is like looking at a “Magic 3D Picture” where everything is a jumbled mess, but if you look at it from the right distance at the right angle, the picture becomes clear.

  32. fuelpagan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    pntrlqst,

    Excellent point on the Tyrion/Ros connection. Now it makes sense why the scene of Tyrion retrieving the account books included that discussion with Littlefinger asking why Cersei would think Ros was Tyrion’s whore to hold captive.

  33. Veltigar
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    fuelpagan:
    NousWanderer,
    Veltigar,

    Before the demise of Ros, all indications were Margaery has the ability to control Joffrey in ways that Cersei does not. We hear in the conversation between Margaery and Sansa where she believes this control over him is strong enough to allow Sansa to leave Kings Landing and go to Highgarden.

    Petyr doesn’t want Joffrey controlled, he wants Joffrey dead. Joffrey played right into his hands by accepting this “gift” from Petyr that will crush any notion of Joffrey being controllable. Knowing Margaery’s motivation to becoming “The Queen” Petyr is simply moving the Tyrell’s into going forward in a manner Petyr wants them too.

    What I really enjoy about the Littlefinger character is how he moves one way while letting everyone think he is moving another way.He needed Joffrey on the throne because he knew he could undermine Cersei by appealing to Joffrey’s interests. He asks Ned to forget Stannis and let the boy become king. And if Ned had done that he may be alive today. We all know about Littlefinger betraying Ned and getting him thrown in the dungeons. But what we don’t see is Petyr manipulating Joffrey into cutting off Ned’s head and thereby undermining Cersei’s plans of having Ned take the black. Thus causing an escalating war allowing Petyr to climb the ranks.

    Now that Joffrey’s usefulness to Littlefinger is complete, he is now a pawn to create even more chaos in the realm.

    Figuring out Littlefingers game is like looking at a “Magic 3D Picture” where everything is a jumbled mess, but if you look at it from the right distance at the right angle, the picture becomes clear.

    I hope you are right. Though I still think that it was poorly executed, but it would at least have a point then.

  34. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Per usual, my feedback….feel free to summarily dismiss ;)

    “…all it takes is a rejection of the terms of power, sufficient motivation, and choice. “

    The choice is the rejection so all it requires is sufficient motivation to overcome the barriers for a particular character. The barriers are usually some code of ethics or belief system, fear (of reprisal, loss, etc), or both.

    “Setting aside the sweeping, supernatural changes which threaten to undermine the game entirely….”

    This brings to mind the fact in our world the factions in countries will often unite ONLY when they are faced with war and/or complete destruction. And even then they still don’t work together. I could get political here as there are wonderful examples in the last decade but I will leave that third rail alone. :) I think we have a “unite or die” archetype in our culture (don’t know if it exists in non-western cultures)…we only have to look at all the movies and books about supernatural forces attacking, Alien Invasions or massive Meteor Strikes that threaten the planet and far too often, according to Hollywood, everyone joins hands, sings kumbaya and fights together regardless of country, race, age, wealth, etc. Since GRRM’s story is so incredibly cynical (and obviously so much more like the real world than Hollywood is used to portraying), I don’t think we’ll have a Kumbaya ending. I hope that there will enough coordination amongst the players to save some vestige of their civilization. I guess we will see! /she rubs her hands Mr. Burn’s style

    Totally agree with you in regards to Show LF and appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

    “If there was any doubt about the Spider’s accuracy when he warned Olenna that Littlefinger “would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes,” Littlefinger’s monologue confirmed the worst.”

    Yes! With only Varys’ convo with Olenna to go by one could take away the impression that Varys could be mistaken or he has another hidden reason for thwarting LF. LF confirms that Varys is right and it sets us up for other things still to come.

    “…the unnamed Boy’s sadistic torture of Theon represents a willful inversion of these rules without regard to external dictates”

    The Boy hasn’t completely rejected those eternal dictates though, not yet at least, because I think he is hiding Theon. For now, no one knows, so far as the audience has been told, where Theon is. Even the men who captured and tortured him originally are dead. There’s nothing to indicate that the residents in the castle/building above know who or if anyone is being tortured. Remember, The Boy brought Theon back into the dungeon via a storm drain. Bookreaders know that he will eventually include Theon in his retinue but by then Theon is unrecognizable.

    “Littlefinger merely sold her off, blithely unconcerned with her fate, and perfectly content with the warning he gave her long ago”

    Littlefinger wanted and needed Ros silenced so “blithely unconcerned” is an understatement IMHO. He knew she would die.

    I REALLY love your closing paragraph. Very insightful!

  35. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Assunta,

    Littlefinger = Hobbes = natural rights = chaos.
    Varys = Rousseau = social contract = the realm.

    Nice!

  36. ASOIAFan57
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    EllenRipley:
    Great piece. Can anyone explain to me why Arya doesn’t say Tywin’s name in her kill mantra anymore. Also, why doesn’t she include Jaime. You’d think she would after what he did to Bran.

    If I remember correctly, Arya doesn’t actually know it was Jaime that pushed Bran out of the window. Not so many people actually know that, so that explains why she doesn’t include him in her mantra.

  37. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Nagga’s Kin,

    LF just has to be careful he is not hoist with his own petar’ in the process.

    Good point. I came to the same conclusion in my own analysis of the ep over on my blog. History is littered with people who schemed under the auspices of a capricious king only to be killed later by the very same forces they unleashed. One good example is Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540) who was a chief adviser of King Henry the 8th. GRRM being such a student of history surely has these kinds of people in mind when he’s writing.

  38. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Assunta,
    RichMan,

    Yes, and let’s not forget that the loss of either man would mean the ruling family would lose their entire network of spies, locally and abroad. That’s not something that can be built in a day…it takes many years and a whole lot of work.

  39. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Helen,

    We hate Littlefinger for what he did to Ros, but didn’t Varys show a cruelty towards the sorcerer in the box?

    Ros didn’t deserve her fate–she betrayed her employer. I would posit the sorcerer does–he permanently scarred, in more ways than one, an innocent child.

  40. Ms. D. Ranged in AZ
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    pntrlqst,

    Also, someone else here mentioned that LF may have found out that Ros was trying to protect Sansa from a jealous Shae, which sets up her betrayal of Tyrion later. And that makes Tyrion’s actions much more understandable in regards to Shae.

  41. Ninepenny
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    The question of Littlefinger’s motivations in the books has long been a subject that I have debated with a friend, and it was sometimes hard to understand why he did some of the things that he did. I think that the show and your analysis helps to make where Littlefinger is coming from more understandable, and I think that is great (even if it does often feel that he is less discrete than he should be given his intellect).

    In my view both the show and the books are, to a large extent, a simulation of what happens when you mix a bunch of people with different backgrounds, motivations, prejudices, virtues and flaws; a rich and diverse world with a history and character of its own; and the complicating factors of asymmetrical information and magic. What happens, of course, is the game of thrones.

  42. fuelpagan
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Veltigar,

    I think how well it is executed remains to be seen. Like the book, the show is still hiding many of LF moves. I expect the aftermath being the Tyrell’s and others expressing concern about this behavior laying the groundwork for what the Tyrell’s do next.

    But don’t expect the writers to point out LF is behind the whole thing for a couple of seasons.

    Once we see the effect of Ros’ death I think its purpose will be clearer.

  43. Juego de Tronos
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Very good analysis.

  44. outdoorcats
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    realitytripz,

    In both the book series and the TV show it’s strongly implied that Littlefinger knows Varys’ ‘big secret’ (the one we find out much, much later in the series) so basically LF owns Varys. In the very first scene with both of them in ‘A Game of Thrones’ (when Catelyn arrives at King’s Landing) LF jokes to her that he holds Varys’ figurative balls in the palm of his hand so she doesn’t have to worry about him. The TV series around the middle of Season 1 had a sequence of scenes which implied to us book readers that LF caught Varys meeting with Magister Illyrio and overheard their whole conversation.

    BTW, excellent job on your write-up Tyler. This is my favorite so far. You give an excellent analysis of Littlefinger as a character (especially the way the show portrays him) and also of the wall scene in relation to that.

  45. EllenRipley
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    ASOIAFan57,

    Thanks. I wasn’t sure if she knew or not. Definitely not sure why Tywin isn’t included anymore though.

  46. Israel León
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    How interesting perspective. How well-written review. Longing to read the next one.

  47. Lord Selwyn
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    A really excellent analysis of LF himself. I have always enjoyed watching him skilfully appear as ‘all things to all people’ as he interacts with the various characters, even subtly adjusting his speech. I am glad you also examined the choices that faced D&D when bringing LF and Varys to the screen because of GRRM’s limited POV structure in the books, and point out how cleverly they are doing this.

    Look forward to reading more of your in-depth analyses as the show goes on.

  48. ATG
    Posted May 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    This was such a brilliantly written and thought provoking analysis, well done! Im starting to look forward to your analysis almost as much as I look forward to the actual episodes.

  49. Caelra
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Imagine if Joffrey had a bit more cunning. He could have questioned Ros about why Littlefinger sold her to him to kill. Then he would have found out about Littlefinger wanting to take Sansa with him from the capitol. Littlefinger probably knows that Joffrey wouldn’t even consider Ros as a person and especially a person who might have some interesting information for him. If I were Ros I would probably have told Joffrey without being prompted in order to get back at Littlefinger.

  50. Croccifixio
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    i do hope the sadistic killing of ros is what will push the tyrells to plan the PW because so far margaery have joffrey in the palm of his hands and it will make no sense for them to plan the PW if they can control joffrey

  51. FearisfortheWinter
    Posted May 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Really enjoyed the episode, thought Littlefinger’s scene was brilliant

  52. I hate crossbows
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Very well- written. I’ve also considered the differences in between show-Petyr and book-Petyr, and your argument has me sold on the adaptation of the character. Your take on the relationship and parallels between Ros and Theon is enlightening.

  53. Staeven
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you Ser Tyler Davis,

    I always look forward to reading your insightful analysis.
    Honour to your house.

  54. ivy
    Posted June 4, 2013 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    You explained this episode beautifully. it was how i felt because that scene was the most epic scene ever. very insightful!!


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