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Just what the heck is Game of Thrones' Littlefinger up to anyway?

It would be totally appropriate to make this an image macro reading, "Everybody chill the fuck out. We got this."
It would be totally appropriate to make this an image macro reading, "Everybody chill the fuck out. We got this."
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, executive editor Matthew Yglesias, and foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Todd VanDerWerff: I've talked around this a few times in the last couple of weeks, but never quite gotten into it directly. I'm not entirely sure what Littlefinger's plan is, and I think that might be derailing several plot lines.

I mean, I have the broad outlines of Littlefinger's plan. To riff on South Park for a moment, he seems to be aiming for this:

  1. Sow chaos
  2. ???
  3. Take Iron Throne

I get the start and end of this plan, but not really the middle. Littlefinger is currently in the "sow chaos" portion of his plan. (Arguably, he's been there since before the series began.) And it seems safe to say his endgame involves becoming king in some way. But it's that long middle portion, when he's ostensibly controlling for thousands of variables, where I'm not sure what he's thinking.

See, here's the thing. If we're supposed to be seeing Littlefinger's carefully laid manipulations flying out of his control, then the story is more or less succeeding. Cersei leaping into an alliance with the Faith Militant (and ultimately disrupting Littlefinger's brothel business) seems like something he wasn't counting on, and if he felt any real affection or care for Sansa, then his plan to leave her at Winterfell was a boneheaded one.

If this is the part of the story where Littlefinger slowly realizes he can't run the entire kingdom through deceit, then well played, writers. And he's always got the fissures he's exposed between the Tyrells and the Lannisters to fall back on, so it's not as if Littlefinger is out of the game entirely in this scenario (especially if Stannis overthrows the Boltons, as he's clearly expecting).

There's also the theory that Littlefinger is just sowing chaos to eliminate as many variables as possible, then hoping that when the dust settles, there are so few left that he can deal with them easily. He's weakened the Lannisters considerably, he knows the Tyrells and Martells aren't going to pose a significant threat at the moment, and the North has been broken. If he can whittle the contenders down to Stannis, he's in good shape. (Of course, he's unaware of Daenerys, but then, everybody is.)

That seems to me the most plausible theory for what's going on, but the show has done less than I would like to lay this out. By and large, Game of Thrones doesn't operate like Lost or other shows of its ilk. It's not teasing mysteries that we will hopefully realize the answers to down the line. It plays mostly in straightforward fashion with its audience, give or take a White Walker epidemic. (And even there, it tends to pair appearances of the Walker horde with bits of necessary information about them.)

Littlefinger in the books is a shadowy figure who isn't on the page all that often. That allows him to loom larger in the mind as a master manipulator of everything that happens, who's able to make things happen with a snap of his fingers. By making him more of a constant presence, the show has given us plenty of the amazing performance of Aidan Gillen (plus) but has also made everything the character does just a little bit more implausible (minus).

Littlefinger presents himself as a man who always has five or six backup plans, and because of that, he rarely needs to give the audience much in the way of clarity. And while I buy that that's who this man is, I'd also love for just a second to get a quick glimpse into his head, to figure out what he's thinking. Instead, we get scene after scene in which he talks in veiled terms about what he's really up to, and whatever is driving him gets further and further obscured.

Matt, I know you heartily disagree with me, so why don't you take it away? What am I missing here?

Read the recap. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

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