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The Littlest Finger: More Than One Way to Skin a Deer on Game of Thrones

"I did warn you not to trust me." - Littlefinger

The world of George R.R. Martin's novels depicts the internal landscape as much as it does the external and epic; the plots of "A Game of Thrones" and the subsequent books in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel series balances on a knife's edge between grand battles and stirring soliloquies enacted by the chapters' viewpoint narrator. In a television show, we're denied the ability to enter into the characters' minds, to slip away behind the eyes and see the truths that they keep hidden from everyone but themselves, to hear the words that they whisper as they fall asleep, to see the lies that they tell others.

Instead, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have had to create ways of sharing information without it seeming obtrusive; the medium largely demands scenes of action rather than long drawn-out moments of inaction. And in this week's episode of Game of Thrones ("You Win Or You Die"), written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Daniel Minahan, we're given two such scenes where the audience is given exposition in scenes that play up the physical aspects of the medium: one involving the great Charles Dance, here appearing as Tywin Lannister, and another involving Lord Peter Baelish, a.k.a. "Littlefinger," played by the incomparable Aidan Gillen.

In both cases, there's a rawness to both sequences, as Tywin skins a deer (and, yes, it did appear as though Dance was doing just that in real life) and Littlefinger "auditions" two new whores (including composite character Ros, whom I think is being positioned as a possible replacement for Shae). In the context of the physical, both men are able to express their emotions, casting off the layers of skin and sinew to reveal their true emotional cores. Littlefinger's arousal is due in part to the two women before him but also to remembering his greatest defeat... and how he intends to pay it back in turn.

The wheel, it seems, never stays still for very long.

While I previously praised the fifth and sixth episodes, I do think that Episode Seven might be the strongest installment to date, a true blend of numerous subplots and overarching story, where the pieces are falling into place as we approach the endgame of the season. With only just three episodes remaining this season, Episode Seven marks a divisive turning point in Game of Thrones' ten-episode run this year, as long-simmering vendettas reach their boiling point and the status quo is irrevocably changed.

There's an interesting lesson about mercy buried within the bones of this episode: Brandon Stark lets Littlefinger live, only to have him betray his brother nearly twenty years later, yet it's Robert's decision to send an assassin after Daenerys Targarygen (using, ironically, wine, the very substance that leads to his own death as Dany's potential end) that backfires most spectacularly. The thing that Robert feared most--that the dragon would spread her wings and bring an army of Dothraki to Westeros--becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In targeting Dany, Robert awakens Khal Drogo's wrath, as he swears to bring his horses across the poison sea and retake the throne for his beloved khalessi.

Mercy saves but it also dooms, it seems. It's Ned who preaches mercy to his King, but whose advice falls on deaf ears, and he basically challenges the Dothraki to invade after his failed assassination attempt. But it's also Ned who gives Cersei and her children an opportunity to flee the capital, telling the Queen that he knows that Joffrey is not the rightful heir to the throne... and that her children aren't the king's spawn, but rather Jaime's. In allowing Cersei to know what he has planned, Ned tips his hand. He doesn't see Cersei as a threat any more than Robert does Daenerys and Drogo; they're more ephemeral than actual threats to the peace of the kingdom. (Ned goes so far, however, as to alter Robert's last will and testament, replacing "son Joffrey" with "righful heir." He never tells Robert the truth, offering him one final mercy as he heads into the darkness of the long sleep.)

The Lannisters have no such mercy. Tywin has charged Jaime with 30,000 men and sends him to Riverrun to make Catelyn's father Lord Hoster release Tyrion (if only he knew that his son was once again a free man), likely engulfing the Riverlands in war in the process. And I can't shake the notion that so much of Cersei's malice, of her spite and machinations, comes down to the fact that she was wed to a king who didn't love her, who would much rather spend his life remaining in love with the memory of the long-dead Lyanna than with the living wife he had been given as payment for an alliance with House Lannister. Does her plotting come from the blow to her ego suffered on that wedding night when her husband called her by Lyanna's name?

As the life seeps out of Robert Baratheon, it doesn't matter, really. A wine skin, a feisty boar, a treacherous wife. It all comes down to the same conclusion: the King is dead. If he had loved Cersei, would it have gotten to this point? If Ned had sat on the Iron Throne that day long ago, after their rebellion, would things have been different? Or would the never-ending game of thrones had other players, other claimants, other unruly factions warring and scheming? Is man's nature that unchangable?

We're given a glimpse into the wildlings on the other side of the Wall, the so-called barbarians (or "free people") who populate the wintery lands where the Iron Throne does not rule, with the character of Osha, now reduced to being a prisoner within the walls of Winterfell. I loved the scene between Osha and Theon Greyjoy, here once again reduced to a pervy boy in man's breeches, a would-be rapist who is clearly looking at Osha as his next "conquest." While it's Maester Luwin who breaks the moment, it's Osha who has the upper-hand in their dealings, using her wits to score a few points against Theon, reminding him that he's not a high lord but another prisoner at Winterfell, just like her, though his chains might not be as noticeable as hers. As for why she came south, Osha picks up that long-dangling plot threat of the white walkers... "There's things that sleep in the day and hunt at night," she says. And, no, Luwin, she's not talking about shadowcats...

It's unlikely that it's a shadowcat that got Benjen Stark, either. As Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly prepare to take their vows and become Sworn Brothers of the Night's Watch, it's Benjen's horse that comes back to the wall alone and without its rider. Where has the First Ranger gone? And why has he not returned from his scouting mission? What lurks within the dense woods of the world beyond the Wall? And was Osha right to run when she had the chance?

As for Jon and Sam, they make their pledges before a Heart Tree over the Wall, traveling into the unknown. (Jon, meanwhile, is furious at being made a steward to Lord Commander Mormont rather than a ranger like his uncle. But Sam knows the truth: Mormont has personally selected him and intends to groom him to one day be his replacement.) But as they make their vows, the moment of celebration is shattered by a grim discovery, as Ghost comes padding into the weirwood with a severed arm in his mouth. Is it Benjen's? Or someone else's? And how does it connect to the series' opening sequence and those white walkers? Hmm...

It's a mystery that will have to wait. Back in King's Landing, Renly tries to make an ally of Ned, insisting that he rather than Stannis should succeed Robert, but Ned refuses to cave and form a power grab with Robert's younger brother... and he turns down Littlefinger's offer as well. Which is just as good because Ned is then completely sold out by Littlefinger. Believing that the city's gold cloaks are behind him, Ned orders that Cersei and Joffrey are seized... but they turn on him when Cersei rips up Robert's final words (much to the horror of Ser Barristan) and orders Ned to bow before his rightful king. When he refuses, Cersei orders her men to take him prisoner... and they quickly slay everyone loyal to the Starks, as Littefinger puts his knife right at Ned's throat.

It's such a fantastic reversal and a staggering moment to go out on at the episode's end, as Baelish shows his true colors, giving that scene with the whores more weight and emotional grit; it's the moment in which Gillen's Littlefinger becomes the true villain we all know him to be. So much of the action of the season up until now has been due to the whispered words of Peter Baelish, pulling everyone's strings like the puppet master he is. He was right when he once told Ned that the wisest thing he had done was not trusting him. After all, it's Littlefinger who tells Catelyn that the blade that nearly slew Bran belonged to Tyrion Lannister... Was he telling the truth? Or was he setting into motion a colossal and deadly game that would ensnare the entire kingdom in its grasp?

In the hands of Littlefinger, words are most deadly... and far greater than any greatsword.

Next week on Game of Thrones ("The Pointy End"), in an episode written by George R.R. Martin, the Lannisters press their advantage over the Starks; Robb rallies his father’s northern allies and heads south to war.


leene said…
Hmm, but as far as I know Shae has been cast (Sibel Kekilli) already. Didn't hear any story of her role being cut either.

Nice recap!

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