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.
Matthew Yglesias: Before we get to Littlefinger's plan, let me start with why I like him as a character.
In a series that's committed to not having much in the way of "good guys," Littlefinger is the right kind of bad guy. He's not an out-of-left-field monster like Ramsay Bolton, but instead a character whose sensibilities in many ways echo those of the audience. Whatever the opposite of a throwback is, that's Littlefinger — a man with a modern sensibility in a medieval era. He has business interests. He is upwardly mobile. He doesn't think birthright legitimacy matters. He doesn't think decisions about leadership should be heavily influenced by the question of who is good at swordfighting.
And indeed, unlike the majority of players on Game of Thrones he appears to actually know something about governing. He's skilled at negotiating and diplomacy. He tripled customs revenue at the Port of Gulltown.
A Song of Ice and Fire is often said to be a revisionist fantasy epic. But despite that, I think most fans are expecting a fairly classical fantasy epic. A lost Targaeryen (Dany or Jon Snow or both) takes the Iron Throne and through the combined powers of magic and legitimate bloodright saves the world from the White Walkers. It would be much more subversive for someone like Littlefinger — a guy from nowhere who's just smart and hardworking — to take over and end up saving the world because being smart and hardworking are pretty good qualifications for tackling a complicated problem.
Now on to his plan. Or, rather, "plan."
I think the reason his plan doesn't seem to make sense is that there isn't really a plan. He wants two things — to amass as much wealth and power as possible and to humiliate the Tully/Stark/Arryn constellation of great houses that humiliated him in his youth. And he is acting purely opportunistically to that end.
It seems to me that if you look, historically, at the phenomenon of the parvenu who manages to rise to power outside the context of the legitimate political order, this is what you find. If you look at Napoleon at the apogee of his power and then run the tape of his life backward, it's very difficult to discern a coherent "plan." The path from Corsican nationalist to French general to revolutionary politician to emperor was a series of inspired improvisations. Oliver Cromwell and Vladimir Lenin and Julius Caesar all look to me to fit that pattern.
And so does Littlefinger. He is relentlessly disrupting alternate concentrations of power while trying to grow his own.
At the moment, I would say his proximate plan is for the Baratheon and Bolton armies to exhaust themselves in combat, at which point the Knights of the Vale can seize military control of the North and Littlefinger can marry Sansa to legitimate the claim — all while nominally staying in the good graces of the Lannisters in King's Landing.
What's the endgame of that? Why should there be an endgame? It depends on what happens next.
Read the recap. Come back throughout the week for more entries.