The smug little smile with the laughing eyes. The weird coat dresses. The medieval porn ‘stache. The accent. Oh, and the penchant for bringing profound misery to the few decent people in Westeros. Is there anyone on Game of Thrones more despicable than Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish? Anyone else who makes you want to throw something at your screen when he smirks?
“The Climb” climaxed on Sunday night as Littlefinger gave a soaring speech on how chaos (an apt description of the current state of Westeros) is a ladder. An opportunity. But the way Littlefinger sees it, the climb is the thing. That’s all there is. The sentiment is actually in line with what Varys told Lady Olenna not long ago, that Littlefinger would “would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes.”
Littlefinger will do anything to increase his power. That’s not exactly uncommon among the powerful in Westeros. And yet we find something to like in almost everyone. Terrible people do things to charm us, and charming people are beloved despite doing terrible things. Jaime Lannister is the Kingslayer, he sleeps with his sister, and throws little boys out of towers. And yet he and Brienne are everyone’s favorite odd couple. Everything Tyrion does is to keep his wretched family in power, and yet he’s one of the most beloved characters on the show. Theon Greyjoy betrayed Robb and burned Winterfell and pretended to kill Bran and Rickon, but we feel bad about his miserable childhood.
So what sets Littlefinger apart? His honesty about his thirst for power. Everyone else who’s hateful—and hateworthy—cloaks himself or herself with some excuse for their treachery. The Lannisters see ruling as noblesse oblige. Jaime only killed the king because he had to. Theon was trying win over his father, Balon, when he sacked Winterfell. Not Littlefinger. If he were a modern man, his strip club, or his yacht—or both—would be called Naked Ambition.
He told Ned Stark not to trust him, and then he betrayed him. He told Cat that the dagger used in the attempt on Bran’s life was Tyrion’s, a claim that helped start the war. He gave Ros to Joffrey after he realized she was spying for Varys. He has absolutely zero redeeming qualities, and—even more despicably—he doesn’t believe he needs any.
And don’t talk about Joffrey. He’s a brat and a murderer, but he’s also a puppet to his elders. Sure, he had the horrible urge to kill. But who gladly fed that urge and gave him the whore to kill? Littlefinger. And now Ros is dead. But recall a conversation the two had in the first season:
Littlefinger: You know what I learned, losing that duel? I learned that I'll never win. Not that way. That's their game, their rules. I'm not going to fight them: I'm going to fuck them. That's what I know, that's what I am, and only by admitting what we are can we get what we want.
Ros: And what do you want?
Littlefinger: Everything, my dear. Everything there is.