SPOILERS FOR ALL THE BOOKS
Okay, here goes. This is the first part of what will probably be a really long series, in which I attempt to explain everything Petyr Baelish has ever done. Instead of starting with canon and building my theories outward, I’ve decided to organize this chronologically, so some of these things may seem like bizarre assumptions at first. Feel free to ask me for my reasoning on any point. For this series, I’m only going to look at things that happen during the books or immediately before them, but I’ll happily try to explain other stuff if asked and/or after I’m done with the main project.
I love debating, so please feel free to argue with anything I write here. As far as I’m concerned, if my theory can’t stand up to criticism, I should get a new theory. All I ask is that you try to stay in the realm of logic and courtesy, which means explaining yourself, being specific, and not engaging in ad hominem attacks.
Also, I don’t know how to format, so I’m sorry if this is awful. I’ll try to improve for future installments.
Alrighty, time to begin…
Grand Unified Theory of All Things Petyr Baelish: Introduction
Since I’m doing this chronologically, instead of topically, I thought I’d start out with a list of major theories/assumptions I’m including in here. All of these will be explained at some point, but I may well use them to bolster other claims before I properly introduce them. If you want me to address them before that, just let me know.
Petyr Baelish genuinely loves Catelyn Tully.
Petyr Baelish and Renly Baratheon were friends and allies.
Petyr Baelish was Jon Arryn’s protégé.
Petyr Baelish did not manipulate Joffrey into killing Eddard Stark.
Petyr Baelish is not a psychopath.
Petyr Baelish drew most of his political support from Jon Arryn and Cersei Lannister.
Petyr Baelish is not attracted to Sansa Stark in and of herself.
Petyr Baelish is motivated chiefly by ambition and desire, not revenge or hate.
If you think there’s anything major that I forgot to put in here, tell me and I’ll add it.
Additional note: I’m not specifically citing my canon sources in here, but I’ll provide them if asked. I just don’t want this to take any more time away from my productive activities than it already has.
Part One, The Original Plan
The very first thing Littlefinger does, as far as the main plot of the series is concerned, is hint to Stannis Baratheon that his brother’s children might not be true Baratheons. Canonically, Varys strongly implies this happened, but I generally don’t like to take his word for anything. However, Littlefinger’s later actions and motivations at the time strongly suggest he did do this.
It’s interesting to note that this is one of the few times, perhaps the only time, that Littlefinger is not acting in response to anything. There is no reason to suspect that he needed to act when he did, or act at all. This first move is motivated chiefly by ambition. It is a strike against a political enemy, and a gamble for power. Everything else he does during the course of the series is simply dealing with and capitalizing on the consequences of this first action.
Littlefinger does not like Stannis Baratheon. He says as much to Ned Stark, and backs it up by opposing Stannis whenever he can, even when it strengthens parties he does not truly support. He thinks Stannis is too unyielding, too harsh, and too honor-burdened to be a decent ruler. Before Littlefinger makes his move, though, he has no reason to suspect that Stannis will do anything but continue to grudgingly go along with whatever King Robert says, and King Joffrey after him. In this case, why give Stannis information that could potentially lead to his taking the throne? It comes down to the other reason for Littlefinger’s dislike of Stannis: Stannis is bad for business. Literally, in that one of his pet projects is outlawing prostitution, and figuratively, in that Stannis does not like Littlefinger and has the potential to do him some serious political harm.
Everything about Stannis leads him to despise men like Petyr Baelish. He is dedicated to his principles; Littlefinger, by his own admission, has no more than a shred of honor. Stannis is dedicated to the truth; Littlefinger lies for fun. Stannis is an uncompromising idealist; Littlefinger is practical and politically-savvy. Stannis is a martial man; Littlefinger would rather stay home counting coppers, thanks. Stannis will do what he believes is right, regardless of how many unspoken rules he breaks; Littlefinger practically wrote the rulebook for the game of thrones. Stannis does not understand laughter or mockery; Littlefinger answers everything with a quip. It’s easy to see how Littlefinger would view him as a serious threat, especially if he feared Stannis might be named Hand after Jon Arryn’s death. Stannis certainly thought he would be, as he broods about it later. Meanwhile, even if Jon Arryn was grooming Petyr as his successor, there was no reason to trust that Robert would honor that preference. Better to get rid of, or at least discredit, Stannis before he could challenge Littlefinger’s claim to the position and influence at court.
It’s also important to point out that Littlefinger couldn’t have anticipated that Stannis would bring Jon Arryn into things. Ned himself notes that Stannis and Jon were never close, and Stannis doesn’t like asking for help from anyone. In Littlefinger’s original plan, Stannis would do his investigating alone and alone bring his conclusions to Robert. Since Robert never liked Stannis and since Joffrey and Tommen’s illegitimacy would make Stannis the heir, Stannis would likely be laughed at, dismissed, and possibly punished for trying to usurp. At worst (for Littlefinger), Stannis would simply go back to Dragonstone to grind his teeth and fume. At best, he would end up at war with the crown, a war he could never win, as Stannis is not exactly famous for attracting followers. The war would end with Stannis executed or exiled for treason. As icing on the cake, Littlefinger might be awarded the now-unclaimed Dragonstone, either by making himself invaluable in some way to the king, as he did later with the Tyrell alliance, or simply by being a friend to major political power players like Jon Arryn, Renly, and the Lannisters, any of whom might wish to see their ally granted a major seat of power – and placed in their debt.
Thus, Littlefinger gambles, hoping to eliminate Stannis and win Dragonstone. Even if his venture goes sour, he can hold up the fact that he was the one to set Stannis on the right course, paint himself as a man of honor after all, and (to quote the show) retain his position – and his head. Unfortunately for Littlefinger, Stannis breaks pattern and takes his suspicions to Jon Arryn…
Part Two, Plan B
Littlefinger liked Jon Arryn, if not as a man, as a valuable tool. It was Jon Arryn who gave him his first appointment as master of customs for Gulltown, Jon Arryn who brought him to court and sponsored his rise to master of coin, and Jon Arryn who may have been setting him up to be the next Hand of the King. With Jon dead, Littlefinger’s power base would be weakened, and, even if he hadn’t been responsible for his death, Littlefinger would be suspect, since he could reasonably think (as Jaime and Cersei Lannister did) that he would succeed him as Hand. Nevertheless, once Stannis involved him, Jon Arryn had to die.
Had Littlefinger done nothing and allowed Jon and Stannis to inform Robert of his children’s paternity, there would have been a war, but not the war he wanted. His two main patrons, Jon and Cersei, would be on opposite sides, and Littlefinger would have to choose one. If he chose the losing side, he would almost certainly be executed. Even if he picked the right side (which would almost certainly be Team Baratheon) he would run the risk of being killed during the war, and afterward find himself in a world where Stannis Baratheon was considered a hero for revealing the truth, allotted even more power, and possibly given Littlefinger’s place as Hand-to-be.
If, however, Jon Arryn died before he could tell Robert the truth, there would be no war, or, even better, there would be the war against Stannis which Petyr had initially hoped for. Stannis, spooked, would retreat to Dragonstone, or else take his claim to Robert alone. Nobody on Team Baratheon would suspect Littlefinger of anything, especially if he took care to frame the Lannisters, and Jon’s death would make Lysa an eligible widow. Meanwhile, if he, as I suspect he did, told Cersei what he had done, the Lannisters would think him their certain ally and he would gain their trust.
To make matters even better, Jon Arryn decided to send his son away to Dragonstone, which made manipulating Lysa into poisoning him absurdly easy – and set up a second person with a motive to place the blame on, if need be. Thus, as we know, Petyr had a chat with Lysa and convinced her to slip some Tears of Lys into her husband’s wine. Additionally, to keep suspicion away from them, he told Lysa they couldn’t marry right away. In fact, they couldn’t marry until someone else told them to. Petyr instructed Lysa to retreat to the Eyrie with her household, shortly after Jon’s death, and there remain, withholding support from either side in the upcoming war until Petyr told her otherwise. The idea, he told her, was that, once the king and council started fretting about Lysa’s inaction, perhaps worrying that she meant to support Stannis, Littlefinger would offer to solve their problem. He could wed her, become Lord Protector, and deliver the armies of the Vale. Of course, he would add, it wouldn’t be seemly for Lady Arryn to wed someone as lowborn as he was. Perhaps, if the king were to grant him, say, Dragonstone…
Part Three, Damage Control
After the deed had been done, Littlefinger met the queen somewhere out of the way of Varys’ hearing, perhaps in the godswood, and told her a tale. First, he told her he had arranged the murder of Jon Arryn. Why? Because he was going to tell Robert the truth about her and Jaime, and Littlefinger acted to protect his friends the Lannisters. He told her he’d had Jon’s squire, Hugh, poison him, in exchange for knighthood, which Cersei could arrange, no doubt. He asked her to cover up the murder for him, since it had been done in her name and he was really no good at these things. Thus, he got the Lannisters to actually frame themselves. If anyone investigated the death, he would notice that Hugh was knighted soon after Jon Arryn’s death, for no apparent reason, and at Cersei’s urging. He might notice that the Lannisters were acting very defensive about the affair, and that, as soon as he tried to question Ser Hugh, the newly made knight would die in a convenient accident – stabbed in the throat by the lance of a Lannister bannerman, say. Indeed, Littlefinger’s plan worked like a charm, as Ned Stark, Stannis Baratheon, and even Varys believed the Lannister/Hugh story. As an added bonus, Petyr Baelish now had Cersei’s full confidence – he had killed for her, after all.
The only thing left to do was wait to be named Hand of the King and, eventually, Lord of Dragonstone and Lord Protector of the Vale of Arryn, sire a son on Lysa, and establish himself as the most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms. Except Robert didn’t name Littlefinger Hand at all; he chose Eddard Stark.
Robert may not have announced his intention to name Ned as his Hand, but it was just as clear to the court as it was to the Starks, when Robert started making plans to ride north. Thus, Littlefinger had time enough to prepare. He went to Lysa, before she left King’s Landing, and had her write a coded letter to Catelyn, implicating the Lannisters, especially Cersei, in her husband’s death. Petyr may never have met Ned Stark, but he knew him by reputation, an honorable, straight-forward man who had seen Jon Arryn as a second father. There was next to no chance he wouldn’t look into his friend’s suspicious death – and, though the Starks were no friends to the Lannisters, they were no friends of Petyr’s, either. With the letter, Littlefinger set them on the wrong path before Lord Stark (and his wife, who worried Petyr even more, because Catelyn had always known him too well) could think of turning his eye on him. Meanwhile, Lysa departed for the Eyrie according to plan, there to wait for war with Stannis, and for word from her beloved Petyr that they could be married at last.
To be continued…