The best way to describe Game of Thrones’ Lord Petyr Baelish isn’t actually his in-show nickname — a better term would be social climber. In a show where characters must make alliances in order to survive, Littlefinger is the master. He makes and breaks alliances quicker than it takes Drogon to incinerate an entire army.
Well, maybe not that quick, but it’s pretty close.
Loyal to No One
He may be the only character in the show who is loyal only to himself. Even Cersei, with all of her faults, is loyal to her family. This strategy keeps him one step ahead of everyone else because he can get information from both sides of a conflict and use that information to the demise of both. All the while, he gains another step on the “ladder of chaos.”
But we know all did not end well for the smug collector of knowledge in the end. That’s because he made one major mistake. He underestimated Sansa Stark.
But let’s back up a bit and take a look at how he eventually got his throat sliced.
Before the events in the show begin, Littlefinger was a ward of the Tully house, which meant he grew up with Catelyn (Stark,) Lysa (Arryn,) and Edmure. During that time he fell in love with Catelyn, who never considered him more than a little brother. In fact, he loved Catelyn so much he challenged her intended husband, Brandon Stark (not the three-eyed raven) to a duel. During that battle, Littlefinger was severely wounded and would have died had Catelyn not pleaded for Brandon to stop. But even when Brandon was later fried by the Mad King, Littlefinger still didn’t gain the love of Catelyn as she went on to marry Ned.
After he was grown, Littlefinger formed his own house and his own sigil. Then he made his way to King’s Landing. King’s Landing was the perfect place for him to gain power and he knew it. His talents for manipulation and knowledge-gathering landed him a seat on the small council of Robert Baratheon and enabled him to buy a number of brothels, which he could then use to gather more information.
When the Starks came to King’s Landing, he swooped in on Sansa almost immediately, seeing her as easily manipulated and someone who could be used in his machinations in more than one way.
Once Robert Baratheon lost the fight with the boar, Littlefinger found himself with more opportunity than he could ever have imagined.
After he helped along the beheading of Ned Stark by handing him over to the Lannisters, he tried to press his first advantage outside of the city. He traveled to the camp of Renly Baratheon, where he scoped out an opportunity to take another step on the ladder by having a conversation with Margaery Tyrell and learning of her sights on the crown.
His knowledge of Margaery’s interest in being queen offers him the opportunity to ally with the entire Tyrell house. After he conspires with Lady Olenna to poison Joffrey at his wedding, Littlefinger knows it’s time to get out of King’s Landing. He feels he can make a better ploy for power by taking a roundabout trip, which he hopes will eventually win him the throne. And he has the power over one person who can help him accomplish his goals — the naive Sansa Stark.
He takes Sansa with him to the Vale, where he’s already meddled with her aunt Lysa. In fact, Lysa, who unlike Catelyn, fell in love with him, actually murdered her husband Jon Arryn so she could marry him. Once Littlefinger marries Lysa, solidifying himself of Lord of the Vale, he shoves her out the moon door because she’s of no more use to him.
On the Way Down
With the Vale in his pocket, he makes his next move, one that will ultimately cost him his life. He makes a pact with the Boltons, who are now wardens of the North. By selling Sansa off in marriage to their family, it helps to substantiate their position, while giving Littlefinger a foot in the door.
Sansa’s marriage and subsequent hatred toward Littlefinger for orchestrating it, might seem like the biggest mistake he could make, but it’s not. Sansa decides to overlook that betrayal (at least for the time being) because she desperately needs the Knights of the Vale to take back Winterfell. Littlefinger sees this an opportunity to close the deal with Sansa, gaining rule of the North for himself.
Throughout his entire ploy to gain control of the Vale and the North, he failed to see that he was teaching a bit too many lessons to the one that held the key to it all. Sansa’s marriage to Ramsay was a tipping point in her life (as it should be). She stopped being controlled and found she could control her own destiny, as well as that as others.
Littlefinger seems oblivious to this transformation, trying throughout Season 7 to continue to manipulate Sansa into doing what he wants, but she’s taken everything he ever said to heart.
“I’m a slow learner, it’s true,” she says. “But I learn…Thank you for all your many lessons, Lord Baelish. I will never forget them.”
And those are the words that seal his fate.