I’ve always found myself particularly attracted to villains and their function in storytelling. Game of Thrones is absolutely fascinating in the sense that there is no shortage of antagonists, all with their own manner of cruelty, each one representing unique facets of villainous behavior. They all have their own grotesque shine; whether they be sadist kings/queens treating their subjects as objects to torment, the “Good Masters” perpetuating a system of human misery, ancient evils dawning from the days of the First Men, etc. There’s too many downright awful characters to name. Every type of vile and detestable behavior has a character representing it in this universe. And in the middle of it all, there is this greasy, shifty, backstabbing accountant(with an impeccable sense of style). Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish ended up being a major catalyst for the events that transpired throughout most of the show, to the point where you’re left wondering how much more he was responsible for.
I love a solid underdog, and who’s a better underdog than a man of low birth and limited resources, a man with no legitimate reason to be mixing it up with all of these high-profile players? Beyond being on the Small Council as Master of Coin, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. However, he’s got cunning, ambition, and he understands how society works as opposed to how he would like it to work. The foundation of his success is in his ability to use these talents to manipulate people/situations in the most self-serving way possible. Game of Thrones is very much so a story where unimportant people with the wrong names/circumstances are brutalized, sometimes for no reason at all. He should be an itch, an irritation, and yet despite everything, he is the knife that finds his way into everyone’s backs. And I admire that.
One primary function of a villain of any kind is to serve as a foil to the protagonists of the world they live in. The honest, honorable, and lawful nature of Ned Stark is contrasted by the deceptive, no-love, illicit nature of Petyr Baelish. Ned Stark was incorruptible, incompatible with the means by which Lord Baelish would pursue his own ends. Ned Stark was also incapable of understanding that he could be so easily manipulated and betrayed, because he is so very unlike Petyr in every way. And when conflicting, unyielding, and opposing personalities arise in a story…somebody has to go. Unfortunately for Ned, this was a situation where the circumstances of the clash were dictated by Lord Baelish’s rules; a fighter faces a fucker in a conflict where the winner is determined by who can fuck over who. And Littlefinger’s unparalleled experience in this field left Ned the loser. This specific conflict from start to finish was beautiful from a storytelling standpoint. The Game of Thrones universe was able to use a villain like Petyr to introduce you to exactly what kind of game these characters were playing. You can be a commoner or Hand of the King, but you’re still forced to play by the rules. It was a critical lesson for us as viewers, and the effects rippled throughout the story all the way to where we are now. All thanks to the subversive Master of Coin.
“Thank you for all your many lessons, Lord Baelish. I will never forget them.”
I was looking for a quote that would adequately represent Lord Baelish, but the very last line spoken to him is the most fitting when it comes to encapsulating his role as a villain. He would not and could not accept his station in life, to the point where he devoted everything towards learning the rules of society and how to circumvent these rules to raise his stock. Littlefinger provided a very specific type of exposition, another mark of a truly exceptional villain. He taught major characters significant lessons, rules, and mechanics that he understood better than everyone else. His journey communicated to us the real conditions of the game, he helped our protagonists grow, and he looked so goddamn stylish doing it. However, in the end, he exposed himself to be just as susceptible to these very same rules as everyone else.
And indeed, this is the case. He was incapable of loving earnestly, he was devoid of a sense of duty, and he started on a path chasing things he assumed he understood. Every single character in this story pays the price for what they are unwilling to realize, and Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish failed to realize that his distorted idea of love/power and the means by which he pursued those things are what ultimately left him on his knees, bleeding from his throat, vainly trying to utter one last lie before the lights went out.
I’ll miss you Pete. I’ll fly my Mockingbird banner proudly.