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The King of the Ashes

Season 7 Theory: Littlefinger's Endgame

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Crossposted to The King of the Ashes blog.

This is all theory/speculation. I have no inside info.

Will Lord Petyr Baelish sit the Iron Throne, even briefly?

Imagine: As Season 7 opens, Littlefinger makes one last attempt to win Sansa’s alliance as his future Queen. Sansa yet again rejects him. Hints of rage, contempt, and indignation overtake his usually composed demeanor.

Littlefinger surreptitiously sends a raven to King’s Landing. When he receives a raven in reply, Littlefinger’s smug grin says it all: “My proposal has been accepted.”

Littlefinger sows dissent among the Knights of the Vale, who were already disinclined to ally themselves with “wildling invaders.” Then, Baelish sits Sweetrobin Arryn down for a coming-of-age conversation the young Warden of the East never expected. “It’s time you learned the truth about your father,” Baelish says. “I am your father.” Robin, who dearly loves the man he believed to be his stepfather, hugs him.

But, Littlefinger’s second disclosure is a less pleasant reveal. “You’re old enough to know the truth about your mother’s death. She didn’t commit suicide. I told you that because you were so young and I didn’t want to make it any harder for you. The truth is that Sansa pushed your mother out of the moon door. Sansa was jealous of our relationship.”

Needless to say, Robin is greatly flustered (as is his wont) at this news – and believes every word of it.

Furious, Robin orders the Knights of the Vale to bring Sansa to justice. In the middle of the night, they abduct her and ride off from Winterfell. Jon pleads with them to stay, but makes no move to stop them, not realizing they’ve taken Sansa until after they’re gone. Brienne is also unaware, as she’s asleep in the arms of a certain red-bearded wildling.

Halfway down the Kingsroad, Robin orders Sansa executed for the murder of his mother. They continue on to King’s Landing, where Baelish presents wedding presents to Cersei: Sansa’s head on a spike, and the Knights of the Vale, Westeros’ largest intact standing army, which Cersei desperately needs for the war to come.

Cersei is pleased beyond measure to finally bring justice to the woman she believes was responsible (along with Tyrion) for Joffrey’s murder.

It’s also possible Baelish will bring Sansa alive to Cersei. When Sansa tries to blame Littlefinger for Joffrey’s death before her execution (and throws in a desperate, “He killed Lysa Arryn, too!”), Cersei doesn’t believe her. Ser Ilyn Payne lops off Sansa’s head, Ned-style.

Baelish ascends the Iron Throne as King, and with Cersei, forms the most uneasy and dysfunctional power couple Westeros has ever seen. Robin is now prince and heir, a gift which pleases him more than any pet falcon.

Cersei sends Sansa’s bones in a box to Jon, along with a note, which will challenge the new King in the North’s patience and judgment: will he foolishly ride off to war against the Lannisters, just as Robb did? Perhaps Jon will learn from his mistake against Ramsay in the Battle of the Bastards, and Robb’s mistakes, and not fall into the Lannister trap.

Baelish’s reign with Cersei is brief, with Daenerys on the way to depose them. But before Daenerys arrives with all her host, Littlefinger arranges for Cersei to die, in a way that leaves him blameless, yet again.

Varys is unsurprised to find “the second most devious man in Westeros” sitting the Iron Throne, which Varys saw Baelish admiring at close range years before, counting blades. Indeed, Varys’ prophecy came true: Littlefinger is The King of the Ashes, if briefly.

Daenerys’ forces take Baelish alive. Littlefinger’s end comes at the hands of The Hand, the man who arguably owes him the most payback of all his living victims: Tyrion (who Littlefinger twice framed, just as he twice framed Sansa).


Littlefinger’s entire story arc set up his endgame: to take the Iron Throne, briefly, then lose it to forces more powerful than he could ever be. (Yes, deception is power, knowledge is power, but dragons, well, that’s a form of power Littlefinger could never possess…) Remember, a villain’s story arc can be just as important as a hero’s arc. We know what Littlefinger wants because he told us, first indirectly in the “chaos is a ladder” soliloquy (Season 3, “The Climb,”), and most recently, when Sansa asked him what he wants in the godswood at the end of season 6. Although usually Littlefinger lies as easily as he breathes, in that moment, he bared his soul and told her, and us, the truth about his ambitions.

“Every time I’m faced with a decision I close my eyes and see the same picture. Whenever I consider an action I ask myself, ‘Will this action help to make this picture a reality?’ Pull it out of my mind and into the world. And I only act if the answer is yes. A picture of me on the Iron Throne… (pause) and you by my side.”

For once, Baelish told the truth, wearing his twisted heart on his sleeve.

But, Sansa rejected Littlefinger, just as he leaned in to kiss her.

Notice within the statement his order of priorities. The Iron Throne is farmore important to Littlefinger than Sansa is. Now that she’s rebuffed him, he’s willing to sacrifice her to get what he most wants. Additionally, rejection hurts, and Littlefinger cannot stomach the scorn of both Catelyn and her daughter.

Also, we’ve had plenty of hints that Sansa is being set up to die as a consequence of her betrayal of her family. Recall her actions in season one. Her young age is no excuse. When she lied about Joffrey’s attack on the butcher’s boy, Mycah, Sansa both indirectly caused Mycah’s death and caused herself to suffer the killing of Lady. Through this experience, Sansa became painfully aware of Cersei’s penchant for unhinged, vengeful violence. And, still, after having first betrayed her sister, she later betrayed her father when the stakes were far higher, all because of her self-absorbed fantasies of being a princess. Had she never disclosed Ned’s plans to flee King’s Landing to Cersei, her father would still live, and the War of the Five Kings might never have happened.

Therefore, Sansa’s story must conclude either with redemption and loyalty to family, or with a repeat of her early sins, resulting in her death. Sansa’s deliverance of Jon in the Battle of the Bastards was partial, but not complete, redemption. Littlefinger’s presence in Winterfell is as important to Sansa’s story arc as is his access to her for his arc. Either she must finally rid herself of this lecherous schemer and in so doing demonstrate her loyalty to her family, or she must repeat the sins of the past and die a lone wolf like Lady.

While we all want her to redeem herself, the cumulative foreshadowing indicates she may be headed for a fall. Note how she did not disclose the incoming Knights of the Vale to Jon, and she did not overtly support him being proclaimed King in the North (her feelings were, at least, ambiguous). We know from the books and a few hints in her Season 6 reunion conversation with Jon that she treated her “bastard brother” poorly early in her life, more like Catelyn treated Jon than the way Ned, Robb, Arya, or Bran did. We can see in the Season 7 trailer the way she is glancing left and right in fear and consternation, as Littlefinger’s voice worms its way into her brain.

“Sansa betrays the Starks yet again, and dies for it” would seem to be in direct contradiction with Littlefinger orchestrating her death. Perhaps it seems more plausible that Sansa is either going to betray the Starks to the benefit of Littlefinger or kill/neutralize Littlefinger.

However, we seem to be headed for a double tragedy: Littlefinger could plant seditious seeds in Sansa’s mind that she acts upon, undermining Jon’s position, and then Littlefinger betrays her and uses her for his endgame.

In the “Inside the episode” commentary for the Season 6 finale, Benioff reminds us that Sansa “doesn’t trust Jon completely” and “there’s a hint of conflict there.” Why would the showrunners have set up so much tension between the two of them, if not to pay it off with some sort of Littlefinger-manipulated, Sansa betrayal of House Stark?

If it’s true that Littlefinger’s storyline takes him to the pinnacle of power, how else could he end up on the Irone Throne? Daenerys is clearly not a viable option; Tyrion would rat Baelish out in a heartbeat if he proposes to her. Unlike in the books, in the show, Littlefinger doesn’t have any conveniently-placed loyal swords in the Kingsguard. We also have the foreshadowing of Littlefinger referring to Cersei by name in his “players and pieces” speech to Sansa.

Most telling of all, recall Littlefinger’s brief, clandestine meeting with Cersei in Season 5, in which she implored him to destroy the Boltons and bring her Sansa’s head on a spike, with a promise he would be named Warden of the North in return. That scene didn’t communicate a definitive plan on Littlefinger’s part, it showed him keeping his options open if Plan A failed. This was classic Littlefinger; he always kept his options open on whether to side with Ned or Cersei in Book One/Season One, right up to the last possible moment.

In this case, he had a clear preference. Plan A was to woo Sansa, and then figure out a way to depose whoever sat the Iron Throne… he presumed it would be the easily-manipulated Tommen, with Cersei dead as a result of running afoul of the High Sparrow. Recall that Littlefinger planted the seeds of Cersei’s downfall with the faith militant when he revealed Lancell’s affair with Cersei to Olenna Tyrell (his “gift” to Olenna in Season 5), and then Olenna disclosed the adultery to the High Sparrow.

If Sansa turned him down, Plan B was to find a way to con his way onto the iron throne by tricking and deposing whoever sat upon it, using Sansa’s capture and execution if necessary to obtain his goal. Had Cersei died at the hands of the faith militant, he would likely have found a way to depose Tommen, and then marry Margaery, with Olenna’s blessing (in exchange for the Knights of the Vale fortifying the Tyrell position).

Plan C –– marrying Cersei, a “piece” he didn’t expect to outwit the High Sparrow, and betraying Sansa –– was not how he wanted this all to turn out. It was likely his least favorite of his possible paths to the throne.

But then again, Lysa Arryn raping him, the woman he loved spurning him, and Brandon Stark humiliating and wounding him was not how he wanted his teen years to turn out, either. (More about Baelish’s crucial, formative teen years in a future post.)

Even though he’d rather have Sansa by his side, Littlefinger is willing to sacrifice her to get what he wants. Sitting the Iron Throne is Littlefinger’s Definite Chief Aim. It is the sole purpose and goal of his life for which he would do literally anything.

Problems, Caveats, More Evidence, & Alternatives:

  • Sansa fans: don’t hate the messenger. (If you do, at least give this theory a good, clean death!)
  • This theory could be wrong.
  • But if it does happen, here’s one last box it would check: a final “shocking and unexpected death of a Stark,” echoing our reaction to the Red Wedding and the killings of Ned, Jon, and Rickon.
  • Euron’s on the way to King’s Landing with a lot of firepower. Right now, Cersei arguably needs ships more than ground forces (but she surely needs both). Could Cersei end up in a short-lived power triad marriage, with two kings – Euron and Littlefinger? That would be a callback to Aegon the conqueror marrying his two sisters. We know George is fond of problematic love triangles.
  • As Littlefinger said in the Godswood to Sansa, he has declared for House Stark for all to hear. It may seem difficult for him to walk that dog back now and change sides. However, there is plenty of precedent for a house that declares for the Starks changing sides by cutting a lucrative deal with the Lannisters, and if anyone could pull off this reversal in a way that would work politically for his lieutenants, it’s Littlefinger. Additionally, the Knights of the Vale leaving Winterfell was foreshadowed in the season 6 King in the North scene, when Bronze Yohn Royce haughtily proclaimed, “You can’t expect the Knights of the Vale to side with wildling invaders.”
  • This theory makes much more sense for the show than the books, where Littlefinger has placed three Kettleblacks within dagger’s range of the monarchy. (Although the High Sparrow has one under detention as of the end of book five.) Ascent-by-assassination/coup seems possible in the books. However, if Cersei blows up the Sept in The Winds of Winter, and in so doing eradicates the Kettleblacks, Littlefinger marrying her could be on the table.
  • What if Robin Arryn asks, “If Sansa killed my mother, why did you want my army to help her?” Littlefinger will have to invent some further lies, such as, “If we didn’t come track her down, we never would have been able to bring her to justice.” (This problem is a weak point in the theory, and I don’t have a good answer for it. Then again, the show totally undermined Littlefinger’s character by making him either ignorant of Ramsay’s identity (unbelievable) or uncaring of how he’d treat Sansa (also unbelievable, because he at that time fantasized about Sansa as his future Queen). So, a moderate-sized plot hole around Robin Arryn is concievable.
  • In his original query letter for A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin identified five main characters. Sansa wasn’t one of them.
  • Martin (and presumably, Benioff and Weiss) is fond of storylines where the present echoes or repeats the past. Virtually every aspect of this theory is an echo of books 1-3 and seasons 1-3. Consider the plot points:
    – Littlefinger frames someone, and benefits politically;
    – Cersei believes Littlefinger’s lies, and rewards him for them;
    – A Lannister creates a secret alliance with a house allied with Stark, and that house suddenly changes sides and murders a Stark(s);
    – Marriage alters the power equation of Westeros.
    – Sansa betrays her family, and pays the price for it;
    – The Lannisters execute/cause the death of a high-status Stark;
    – The King in the North is tempted into a foolish, vengeful crusade south that could cost him all.
  • Alternative Twist A – Sansa Lives!: Imagine that everything in this theory happens as stated, up until the point that the Knights of the Vale are to execute Sansa on the King’s Road. Just as the headsman is about to swing the sword, the Hound and the Brotherhood charge in, take the small encampment of Valesmen who are performing the execution unawares, cut them down, and the Hound charges off with Sansa on the back of his horse, headed for Winterfell, barely escaping from the rest of the Vale army. Or Arya could play that role. Or Arya, her wolves, the Hound, the Brotherhood, and Hot Pie. That could be a cool scene. Also, it leaves open the possibility that Baelish still ends up on the Iron Throne (Cersei might still marry him to obtain the Knights of the Vale), with Sansa back at Winterfell as future Queen in the North when Jon eventually departs for other duties.
  • Alternative Twist B – Sansa Lives!: Perhaps Littlefinger brings Sansa alive to King’s Landing, and then just before Cersei orders the Stark’s execution, Littlefinger persuades her not to kill Sansa. He tells his Queen it’s better to leave Jon to fight the White Walkers than perpetuate the Lannister/Stark war, especially with Daenerys coming. Littlefinger says, “After we deal with the dragons, we can worry about the Starks.” Cersei sends Sansa, alive, back to Winterfell, along with a message to Jon: never ride South again. Jon is relieved to not have to fight yet another living enemy when he has plenty of dead ones on the way.
  • Alternative Twist C – Sansa (Sort of) Lives!: Cersei executes Sansa. On the way back to Winterfell, the party carrying Sansa’s body is intercepted by Beric Dondarrion, the Brotherhood without Banners, and/or Melisandre. Fans of LSH, a book-only character (thus far), know where this one’s going…

P.S. – HBO Hints It’s Going to Happen:

Although I concocted the Baelish-takes-the-throne theory back in March of 2017, HBO recently dropped several Season 7 episode titles and descriptions that seem to corroborate the theory. Here they are:

Episode #61: “Dragonstone”
Cersei (Lena Headey) tries to even the odds.

How would Cersei even the odds? By adding the Knights of the Vale to her forces. (Plus Euron’s ships.)

Episode #62: “Stormborn”
Jon (Kit Harington) faces a revolt

A revolt? Who could that be? The wildlings? No. The northmen? They’ve all sworn allegiance to Jon. The Knights of the Vale? Littlefinger sowing dissent? Check.

Even more ominously:

Episode #63: “The Queen’s Justice”
Cersei (Lena Headey) returns a gift.

Having inflicted her flavor of “justice,” Cersei no longer needs one of her wedding gifts, and sends Sansa’s bones in a box to Jon. (Or Littlefinger persuades her to send Sansa back alive, to ensure that Jon isn’t tempted to ride south.)

P.P.S. – One last bit of foreshadowing:

Go back and watch the Chaos is a Ladder soliloquy. Notice how it ends:

“And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the Gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

Notice whose face we are watching as we hear Littlefinger’s final words, and the expression on her face. Baelish gave Sansa the chance to climb. She refused. When you play Littlefinger’s Game of Thrones, you are either a player or a piece. She could have been a player. Baelish will make her the final piece he needs to win his game.

Edited by The King of the Ashes
corrected an error

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Sorry, but no sorry: I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom dripping from their fangs. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow.

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I like your reasoning, and while you have many, many good points, here's my take on it: 

For the show: I would say a "definite" no. There are such discrepancies between the Littlefinger character between the show and in the books. In the show, he's much more obvious and in ADWD, we see the opposite of that. He seems less powerful on the show, less devilishly, ingeniously clever and no where near the point in time and place that he is in the books. In the books, I feel like we are just beginning to understand the web he is weaving, but in the show, we see him for what he is: the spider at the center of a large web.  Yes, they have made it clear that he wants and maybe can win the throne, but with only these few episodes left, there would have to be major league changes to see him crowned rather than killed off. Look at the timeliness in the books, and then line them up with the show, and see what you think. He's too obvious at this point for him to produce some other rabbit out of his hat: I think we've seen him lay down his cards, and they aren't going to win him the crown. 

For the books: I think he's already hovering on the throne. He has a time line all set up and is perturbed that Cersei is making his plans speed up but is calculating the difference and acting accordingly, He is a much smoother, subtler player, and probably controls more variables than we can imagine. Only Varys seems to be in his way. It gets sticky though when we see Varys kill Kevan in ADWD because he's ruining all of Cersei's bad work---that made me pause and consider, for the very first time ever, that Varys and Littlefinger could be in league with each other, but it also equally can mean the opposite. It was puzzling, and so surprising that I think we're going to see a lot more of both of them unfold and be less black and white as they are now portrayed on the screen. So in the books I believe Littlefinger will be the puppeteer, but will he actually claim the crown instead of merely controlling it? No. 


Because they would have to put it into the show, and if you've read this post, you can see that they're clearly not going to do that.  

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That is quite the theory.  But I could never see it playing out that way.  I don't think LF makes it out of season 7 alive.  His mistake will be staying in the north while playing his game.  LF is a pro at playing the game from the south, where there is much more stuff going on behind the scenes.  But northerners don't operate the same as those in the south.  Once the right people catch onto LF, his days will be numbered. We see the beginnings of his downfall in the preview trailers in my opinion.  Jon confronting him in the crypts of Winterfell is a turning point for LF.  Not to mention Arya and Ban are headed home.  Bran will have seen some, if not all of the things LF has been up to by now, and Arya is, well Arya.  Wait until that little assassin figures out what LF is up to.  It will be a wrap.  Pictures of Arya and her new blade from photo shoots promoting the upcoming season say it all...

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Sounds reasonable. Not going to happen, though.

My main reason for saying so: Winter has arrived. The Knights of the Vale that are at Winterfell cannot go back to the Vale. It is hard enough to get to that castle in fair weather, it is almost impossible in Winter. Now they could go to Kings Landing, but I don't think so.

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I'm not sure about LF dying. I don't think it's going to play out like this, but I do see some more deviousness coming from him for Sansa if it's not good for his game. He's always playing all sides. I don't think Sansa will allow herself vulnerable to that again though. If she were to die for her predestined betrayal commuppance, it won't be that way.

So I agree with almost all the elements that make this up but do not think the prediction is correct exactly. Sorry. Good work putting it together thoroughly!

Edited by Raeslewolhn

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