Curtain Call: Aidan Gillen


The Game of Thrones season 7 finale held some surprises, chief among them the death of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, who has been stirring up trouble since season 1. Littlefinger was a major reoccurring character and the animating force behind several major shifts in the storyline throughout the run of the show. But in the end, no one lives forever, especially on Game of Thrones, and Littlefinger met his doom in “The Dragon and the Wolf” at the hands of the Stark siblings.

Petyr Baelish was from a minor house with no major holdings, and grew up on a rocky stretch of coastline in the Vale called the Fingers. When he was young, he went to live at Riverrun with the prominent Tully family: Lysa, Edmure and Catelyn. It was Edmure who first called him Littlefinger, based on his small stature and place of origin.

Petyr quickly became smitten with Catelyn, but she never returned his affections. It was Lysa who was always attracted to Littlefinger, an attraction he made use of right up until her death. Petyr leveraged Lysa’s family connections to climb the ladder and eventually install himself as Master of Coin on the Small Council in King’s Landing, first for Robert Baratheon and then Joffrey Baratheon. He bought brothels in the city and grew wealthy, amassing power based on his money rather than his house name. In the meantime, he forged connections of his own. He was always quick to know what other people wanted, and how to turn their desires to his advantage.

Helen Sloan – HBO

Petyr was mostly an intriguing background player on the show until he started regularly helping Sansa with her troubles, most dramatically by smuggling her out of King’s Landing after teaming up with Olenna Tyrell to kill her abusive ex-fiance Joffrey. When she asked for his help in season 6, he saved her again by ordering the Knights of the Vale to intercede on her behalf by defeating the Boltons at the Battle of the Bastards.

In between those two rescues, however, Littlefinger married Sansa off to Ramsay Bolton in an attempt to keep climbing that ladder he loved so much. It backfired — Ramsay ended up being far worse to Sansa than Joffrey ever was. Littlefinger had saved Sansa’s life, but he’d also put it in great danger, sometimes at the same time.

Still, his intervention in the Battle of the Bastards was enough for Sansa to accept him back into her life, out of necessity if nothing else. But when Arya Stark returned to Winterfell, Littlefinger went too far in trying to play the sisters against each other. Eventually, they used their combined knowledge — together with that of Bran Stark, who had also returned as the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven — to figure out Littlefinger’s plan, give him a quick trial for murder, and execute him.

Outside Game of Thrones, Gillen is best known for his role on Queer as Folk, for which he received a British Academy Television Award nomination for Best Actor, and for his part on HBO’s The Wire, where he played an ambitious politician. (There’s certainly no chance that influenced HBO when they it casting Littlefinger.) He’s particularly popular in his home country of Ireland, and has twice won an Irish Film & Television Award for [a] Lead Role in Television.

Gillen has done a fair amount of film work, too, and at a faster clip since he landed a small role in The Dark Knight Rises, his first part in a major Hollywood movie. He was even named an “Irish cult hero” by the Sunday Tribune in 2008.

Aidan Gillen had a difficult role to play during these last seven seasons. Littlefinger was mysterious to a fault — we never knew quite what he was going to do. His intentions were almost never pure, but Gillen did a fantastic job at keeping us on our toes. It’s easy to hate Littlefinger for everything he’s done, but Gillen always took care to show us different sides of the character, as when he breaks down in genuine tears right before his execution, reduced again to a young boy rejected by the girl he loves.

That last scene made us wonder: through all the scheming and plotting, was Littlefinger maybe doing this all for love at bottom, even if he himself didn’t know it, and even if he ultimately deserved what he got? Only an actor as versatile and supple as Gillen could bring those dimensions out.

We wish Gillen the best of luck in the future. He’ll be returning to his role as Janson in the third Maze Runner movie in 2018, and Deadline reports that he’ll play Irish novelist James Joyce in Robert Mullan’s new movie James And Lucia.

Next: Director Jeremy Podeswa explores the Rhaegar-Lyanna wedding scene, the fall of the Wall, and more

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