Whenever we see Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish onscreen, we know the game is afoot. Since allying his Knights of the Vale with Sansa at the end of season 6, he’s been relentlessly in Sansa’s ear, stoking her fears and recruiting her into his machinations. In the most recent episode, “Eastwatch,” Jon Snow is far afield and Littlefinger has kicked his game into high gear, starting by turning Arya and Sansa against each other. Actor Aiden Gillen sat down with The New York Times to talk about his character’s plans.
To start, Gillen doesn’t think Petyr Baelish was born bad. As a young man, he suffered immense emotional damage when his beloved Catelyn Tully chose the alpha male Brandon Stark over him, and it’s driven his obsession with power ever since. “It’s a reaction to being humiliated and spurned as a young man in matters of love,” Gillen says. “And he’s good at it, you know? This ‘Game of Thrones‘ universe, it’s a wicked world.”
Littlefinger is currently scheming to turn Arya and Sansa Stark into enemies. We should be worried for the sisters; Littlefinger has pulled off some elaborate schemes in his day, including getting Ned Stark thrown in a dungeon, assassinating King Joffrey, and killing Lady Lysa Arryn. But Gillen doesn’t believe that Littlefinger is as diabolical as everyone thinks:
"[Littlefinger’s evil] is pathological. I’m not trying to play him as a complete villain, really, although he had his hand in many of the more treacherous acts or events we’ve seen over seven seasons. Most of them, in fact."
Littlefinger is all about amassing power, and if he has to trample a few people underfoot in the process, so be it. “I wouldn’t say the undermining of the Stark family has been a goal,” Gillen says. “It’s opportunistic … he’s trying to drive wedges between all of them (the Starks).” If destroying the relationship between Sansa and Arya improves his position, he’s all for it.
Does Littlefinger plan all of his moves ahead of time or is he more reactive, moving swiftly to exploit opportunities as they emerge? According to Gillen, “It’s a mixture of both … depending on what fortune throws his way. Some of it is just guessing, and it doesn’t always go right. But it usually does.”
And then there’s Sansa. Does Littlefinger truly want her by his side as he sits on the Iron Throne, as he told her in “The Winds of Winter”?
"Yeah, maybe. I don’t imagine that was to be taken literally. It was intended to be taken literally by Sansa. But with this character he’ll say something and mean something else. It wasn’t far off the mark. (His affection) was maybe unintentional. I’m not really playing a romantic interest here. I know that’s how it appears, but it’s something slightly different."
There’re a lot of ‘maybes’ in that response, but that’s pretty appropriate for Littlefinger. Gilllen goes on to describe Littlefinger’s interest in Sansa as “a kind of mentoring, in terms of schooling Sansa in the ways of manipulation, the ways to play the game, or the ways to survive.” But in the end, he mostly ducks the question:
"Of course there’s a certain lack of clarity in what he’s after, and I think that’s the way it should be. I don’t think I should have anything to say about it."
Kit Harington as Jon Snow and Aidan Gillen as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish – Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO
If you’re wondering, no, Gillen does not know Littlefinger’s end game, not least of all because the show has not surpassed the books and the showrunners aren’t eager to hand out information for fear of leaks. And as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t want to know. “I think if you know it, you play it, and you might do something obvious.”
If you ask fans, a lot of them will probably say that Gillen plays Littlefinger as a villain, and they haven’t been shy in expressing their hopes, for example, that Arya get to wear Littlefinger’s face one day. (“Okay. I may wear her face,” Gillen fired back.) “Even with the obvious villainy, you’re always trying to at least make it likable and for there to be some fun to it,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just a matter of screen time. If you still have a lot of story to tell in a certain amount of episodes, sometimes you’ve got to get straight to plot detail. It might seem a bit more black-and-white or, in my case, villainous. There’s so much story going on at the moment. You’re living in the shadow of dragons.”
Helen Sloan – HBO
But Littlefinger is far from being squeezed out of the plot, and Gillen identifies both Varys and Bran as long-term threats to his character:
"Varys and Littlefinger are two guys who really know what the other is up to. So there is always a threat from Varys, even though we haven’t seen them together for a while. Of course Bran is another great threat–of course Littlefinger clocked exactly what Bran said when he repeated that ‘chaos is a ladder.’ (“The Spoils of War”) It was an an unsettling moment, for sure."
Finally, Gillen addressed why Lady Olenna didn’t implicate Littlefinger in the plot to assassinate King Joffrey. “You’d have to ask her,” Gillen says. “I wondered about that myself. She wanted all the credit, maybe. That’s luck for you.”