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The Selfish Games of Littlefinger} ?> From the Night King to Gregor Clegane, there’s no shortage of physically intimidating characters in Game of Thrones, but the ones that are most terrifying aren’t the biggest, strongest, or most brutish – they are the those like Tyrion, Varys, and Cersei, who connive and maneuver themselves into positions of authority, often with ruinous effect on those they perceive as enemies. Perhaps the most dangerous of these thinkers is Petyr Baelish, better known as Littlefinger, a master puppeteer who is always several steps ahead of even the most intelligent and powerful players; he manipulates and eliminates “pieces,” as he calls them, on his path toward the throne.
When we first meet him, we realize there’s more to Littlefinger than meets the eye. There has to be. He’s a slight man with only a low noble background, but has risen to an important rank as Master of Coin in the small council. As the series progresses, we see that Baelish is involved, sometimes as the mastermind, in so many of the major events, including the deaths of Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, and King Joffrey. He later takes Sansa under his wing, demonstrating to her how he manipulates people and proceedings by issuing bribes, placing his people in positions where they can influence outcomes, and even making “moves that have no purpose, or even seem to work against you” for a greater purpose.
I don’t particularly like Littlefinger, and I know exactly why. He reminds me too much of myself. During my adolescence and into college, I was constantly scheming to figure out how I could use people to get ahead. Like a high school version of Game of Thrones, I plotted and used friends, family, teachers, and acquaintances to gain popularity, increase finances, and achieve high grades. No one was off limits; in one case, I sold a gaming system to my best friend, then took it back two days later with a $50 surcharge when his mom told him he couldn’t keep it.
I’m very selfish, and Baelish is, too, but I wonder if our devious ways arise from something deeper than greed, something connected to our pasts and the core of who we are. Littlefinger is the very definition of a self-made man. Slender, weak, and wholly unable to put up a good fight when threatened by Ned or in combat against the other Stark brother, Brandon, he is also constantly reminded of his position as a small lord. Littlefinger’s nickname, in fact, comes not only from his delicate stature physically, but also because his family’s property was insignificant and unsightly, and located on the smallest of the Fingers, peninsulas at the edge of the Vale.
In the television series, Aidan Gillen plays LIttlefinger with quiet intensity. He is often picked on by those stronger and more affluent than he. When given the chance, Baelish revels in his smarts as he gains the edge over his enemies (aka everyone). It’s almost as if those around him don’t deserve to be playing this game with him. They are the pieces and Baelish is the player. And so it’s easy for him to murder Lysa, who has longed after him all this time and with whom he was reared, for she is beneath him. Betraying Ned, who was never worthy of Catelyn in Baelish’s eyes, isn’t difficult either. In fact, it’s perhaps only Catelyn, and later Sansa, who are worthy in Petyr’s mind. These women are the prizes he has longed for, the prizes he deserves.
And I relate to this madness, because as a child and into early adulthood, I felt I was above others in intelligence, judgment, and morals. I thought I deserved great things because I was great. I used others as if I was in a game of thrones, without thought of what the ultimate consequence might be, both to those I manipulated and to myself.
Getting out of my bubble through college, work, and moving to a new city showed me both that I wasn’t as talented as I thought I was and that other people were more amazing than I gave them credit for. My faith connected these thoughts and hammered the message home, as I realized that we’re all basically the same—we’re all broken people searching for hope. I didn’t deserve anything more than those around me, and if anything, my pride and lack of humility demonstrated to me that I was less than those I looked down upon. I began to admire people more and myself less, and in doing so, I learned to grow as a person through humility and kindness instead of getting ahead through cunning and arrogance.
These all seem like basic lessons in humanity, ideas that every adult should know, but I was too self absorbed to see there was more to the world than just me. In learning humility and how to love others, I started shedding much of the pride, hypocrisy, and acrimony that filled my spirit. My belief in God showed me that that I’m not as upright or smart as I thought, and it was a lesson that changed my whole life. I’m glad to have learned that early enough so I can spend my life living better, living to serve others and to love the people around me. Perhaps Petyr will learn a similar lesson, though if he does, knowing Mr. Martin, it will probably be too late. For that’s the game of thrones, after all.