Spoilers ahead for the season-six finale of Game of Thrones.
Littlefinger is one of the most enigmatic characters on Game of Thrones by design — “keep them guessing” should be his House words. But did his mask finally slip during the finale, when he seemed to bare his heart to Sansa Stark, telling her that every decision he’s made has been made to reach a goal: “Me on the Iron Throne, and you by my side”? Forgive us, Lord Baelish, but we’ve learned not to take anything you say at face value. We consulted with someone who is decidedly more trustworthy: Actor Aidan Gillen, who plays Littlefinger, chatted with Vulture about motives, manipulations, and why Sansa is becoming more and more like his character.
What did you think of the finale?
I loved it! I thought it was the best finale we’ve had, and I’m not just saying that. What was interesting was that it played a different kind of game — a very slow, deliberate, meticulously crafted piece of television. I was very impressed with the craft of it, the scope of it.
A few characters give each other some ambiguous glances full of subtext, such as the one between Jaime and Cersei. What’s behind the look in that Sansa and Littlefinger exchange, when Jon becomes king in the North?
As an actor, I never say, “This is what I’m trying to say here …” I don’t want you to know what I’m thinking. Actors tend to not tell each other what they’re up to, and it wasn’t really discussed when we shot it. But when I was looking at Jaime watching Cersei, I was asking myself the same question! “What is he thinking?” Personally, I like ambiguity. It gives you something to think about during the hiatus.
We only had a few scenes with Littlefinger in season six. But one thing he was trying to do consistently was sow some kind of seed of disquiet with Sansa in terms of Jon, and how closely related they really are, and how valid he really is as a king, or a leader, or a brother, while at the same time encouraging what might be her own position. There’s a certain amount of, “I told you so. Is this what you want? Can you trust him?” And all of that has been said anyway, in the previous scene. But there’s also a degree of excitement, because the lords are pledging their allegiance to Jon Snow, and we didn’t necessarily know it would go that way. Speaking for Littlefinger, it was one of those moments where you go, “Fuck! Maybe this is a bigger thing than I thought it would be. How are we going to deal with this?” Given that he enjoys chaos and uncertainty and the thrill of all of that, it was a big moment for him.
It’s a very Littlefinger thing to do, but there’s an inherent contradiction in what he’s telling Sansa about Jon, in terms of not trusting him because he’s a bastard, that he’s not equal to her in status. Because while Littlefinger isn’t a bastard, he did come from more meager circumstances and has been a self-made man.
I don’t think Littlefinger would differentiate between who is highborn and who is not, but it’s a lot harder to rise if you’re not. So there would be a certain respect and admiration, but also wariness about people who made it under difficult circumstance, because if they’ve fought hard for it, they must really want it, and they’re going to fight harder to hold on to it. They’re going to be clever, more ruthless, more adversarial, possibly. Littlefinger has a keen awareness of where people are coming from, and what they want, and what they’ll do to get what they want, and using that awareness for his own benefit while seemingly promoting their cause.
Up until this point, he’s been purposely vague about what he wants. But in the finale, he finally spells it out to Sansa, or so it seems.
Sitting on the Iron Throne might be a bit on the nose. Maybe we should treat that with a degree of …
A little bit of skepticism?
A little. I think I said it before — to you, actually — that sure, it’s nice to be near the throne, to be able to counsel the person who sits upon the throne, but it’s less interesting and more dangerous to be the one on the throne. He has said he wants that, he has said those words, but is that really what he means? I don’t know.
Maybe it’s just what he’s telling Sansa to stir up her ambitions?
Yeah. It’s unlikely, but not impossible. It’s a real push. It’s about pushing buttons in other people. You say what you want in order to have the maximum effect, and it’s the more interesting proposition, of course — her being on the throne. It could help me retain her trust. He’s not stupid, you know? He knows her trust is a very tenuous thing, post–Ramsay Bolton. But Sansa and Jon’s relationship has just taken a more interesting turn, of course!
Why do you think Sansa didn’t tell Jon about her arrangement with Littlefinger, that she asked him to bring the Knights of the Vale?
Hmmm. [Chuckles.] I don’t think I know the answer to that question!
People were wondering, and fans have theories, of course.
What are the theories?
That she was using Jon as bait, that she realizes that control of information is power, that she’s really more Littlefinger’s protégé than we realized …
She really is becoming more like me. More Baelish–like in the way she’s operating, and the fact that she’s operating at all. She has become a player under my tutelage, and that’s what I wanted. There’s a scene way back when we’re discussing a battle, a scene with Cersei, and we’re talking about Stannis and the Boltons, and letting the two of them tear each other apart, and coming in at the last minute with the Knights of the Vale. Who’s to say that Sansa wasn’t thinking of doing something like that as well? Let them kill each other. Again, it’s not likely, but not impossible.
And in that conversation, Littlefinger asks Cersei to make him Warden of the North, and she asks for Sansa’s head on a spike. She might expect some follow-up there, now that she’s queen.
She might. And I might bring her Sansa’s head on a spike!
There are a couple of other things that might catch up to Littlefinger, where he’s lied or betrayed people, not expecting them to ever find out. But now some of them are in the same place, or are about to be, as these stories converge. He lied to Lord Royce about how Sansa ended up with the Boltons. He very publicly betrayed Ned Stark, and the Hound, who was present for that, is now heading North. Jon and Sansa probably won’t be too happy about that one.
But that one was so public, how could they not have heard? I guess in times like that, it would be difficult to know what information would be widely, readily, quickly available. By the time a story gets out, there might be 40 different versions of it. And if you are a manipulative, political type, you’ll make sure to get your counterstory out immediately. And then you can assume there’s some leeway — if you ever are confronted with it, you can say, “Yeah, but it wasn’t quite the way you heard it.” I very obviously held a dagger to Ned Stark’s throat, which as television viewers saw in massive close-up, but the part of the story that’s the most damning evidence of betrayal — my holding a dagger to his throat — may not be out there. Everybody didn’t see it. But yeah, things come home to roost, and we are approaching the endgame, and things are going to get trickier for everyone, but particularly for people who have spun webs of lies and deceit.
Sansa sent Littlefinger a letter, asking for his aid. It was hard to see all the text, but she did promise that if he brought the Knights of the Vale, he would be rewarded. He hasn’t been yet. What do you think that reward should be?
She is aware that he has some feelings and affection towards her, which she is now in control of. So it could be a place of great influence in her regime, or it could be marriage, or it could be material, lands, wealth. I don’t know. But does he not deserve a reward? That would seem like a standard thing in this world. Some people do things out of honor, but it tends to be that you get something for it.
Given that we’re now at a point where story lines are intersecting, is there any one character you’d like Littlefinger to interact with come season seven?
Um … I’m just trying to think of who’s left! Qyburn. That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? He’s of the same ilk. I haven’t seen Varys for such a long time, and I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but I think we should spar one more time. Of course, Daenerys. And I don’t think I’d come across Bran in my travels, but it would be great to see him. This was a great season for him, and a great performance from Isaac [Hempstead Wright].
Plus, it would be interesting to see how Littlefinger reacts to people who have magical powers. So far, all of his machinations have been more on the political side …
He can’t beat the magic. Unless you get your own magic?
Well, I hear Melisandre is a free agent now, so maybe Littlefinger and Melisandre can team up.
That would be interesting! Can you throw that one into the mix? [Laughs.]