Warning: contains major spoilers for the Game Of Thrones season seven finale.
Just when it was all going so well for Petyr Baelish—he’d manipulated and murdered his way to becoming Lord Protector of the Vale, he had the ear of the Lady of Winterfell and was inches from getting her dangerous little sister out of the way—it was over. One slash of an assassin’s dagger and Littlefinger, the man whose machinations were responsible for so much strife, was a bloody puddle on Sansa’s floor.
There was poetic justice in the choice of weapon used in his execution. Arya slashed Baelish’s throat with the very dagger he had given to an assassin to kill Bran in season one. Thinking to ingratiate himself with the youngest surviving Stark, Littlefinger had presented Bran with the knife as a gift, but, knowing all, the Three-Eyed Raven passed it on to his deadly older sister.
We don’t know when the Stark children hatched their plan to kill Littlefinger, but the Three-Eyed Raven knew the extent of his treachery all along. A man who’d caused such harm to the Starks couldn’t be allowed to divide and conquer the wolf pack. In many ways, Littlefinger was dead the moment he walked back into Winterfell.
Why had Littlefinger wanted the young Bran dead in season one? He probably didn’t, not really. After all, Bran’s murder would have caused untold grief to the only woman he’s ever loved – Bran’s mother, Catelyn Stark. Ambition, however, trumps sentiment in Littlefinger’s world. To further his ploy of setting the Starks and Lannisters in opposition so they’d wipe each other out and create a power vacuum he could step into, Catelyn and Ned needed to think a Lannister had sent an assassin after their boy. So he engineered the hit, implicated the royal family, stood back and watched.
This, after he’d manipulated his infatuated and unhinged childhood friend Lysa Arryn into murdering her own husband, the Hand of the King, and telling her sister Lady Stark that the Lannisters were responsible. Jon Arryn’s death kick-started the major action of Game Of Thrones season one. That was what brought Ned Stark to the capital, and ultimately to his own execution. What goes around comes around.
Back in July, we had a brief roundtable chat with Aiden Gillan about playing Littlefinger that HBO required to be kept under wraps until now that season seven is available for digital home release. Taking place before the season aired, it contained no spoilers, just a few insights into one of Game Of Thrones’ most calculating characters…
How do you see Littlefinger’s character having developed over the course of seven seasons?
So much of what Littlefinger is, is laid out in the books before we started shooting so it was about trying to hold something back and add a little shade, just a little something, very subtle, in each subsequent season. That kind of happens naturally if you’re put in a different grouping with other people.
The fact that Littlefinger’s journey became so entwined with Sansa’s wasn’t something I anticipated at the start. Within that, I’ve always tried to show a kind of warm side. She’s a kid, or she started as a kid, she’s clever, so why would she trust him and why would other people trust him? [I tried] to show a bit of charm, that was there and necessary from the beginning, some warmth and some brightness to counter the shade and the deviousness.
You can’t change that too much because it works but every now and then just to show some kind of secret side, it’s tiny, it happens maybe two or three times in the whole seven seasons.
Which moments in particular when he shows warmth do you mean?
Well, warmth? Honesty. Probably in conversations with Sansa. There’ve been two or three times there where he really has shown almost a vulnerable side, definitely he’s put himself in a vulnerable position by being honest and open. So it’s really with her. Maybe some stuff with Varys earlier but that’s a kind of slightly disguised warmth, playful, jabbing…
You don’t see Littlefinger as just pure, venal ambition then?
I think there’s a lot of that but not pure ambition, mostly ambition but not pure, no.
Are putting those little sides to him in a conversation that you can have with the writers?
It is. In hiring whatever actors they hire, people will bring whatever they’re good at. It’s nice to have your own strong ideas of what a person should look like, act like. There’s so much trust put in the performers, particularly in long-running series like this when a director will come in to do one episode, you’ve really got to know who you are and what you’re about.
Of course, the writers are so on it and present, if Dan or David [showrunners Weiss and Benioff] aren’t there, there will always be [writers] Bryan Cogman or Dave Hill, there’ll always be one of that tight creative team there to make sure that you’re not actually going a step too far or taking things too much into your own hands. They do give you a certain amount of freedom. I don’t think anyone goes crazy with it.
Now that the books have overtaken the source material, does that give you more freedom to create your own character?
It might give them more freedom. The source material is so rich but as soon as the show writing overtook the books, it had to, it gave them freedom to maybe write just a little bit more for you, which they probably have been doing anyway since the start. You can tell subtle differences between what’s happening in season one and season two because season one was written and then the others were written knowing the actors who are playing those roles and what their personalities are. I don’t want to overplay that because it really is them and George Martin.
Tell us about Littlefinger’s accent, which has been an obsession of many fans of the show. It’s changed over the years, some suggest as a way of adapting to his environment. What have you been going for?
I think a little bit more has been made of that than it warrants, you know? He’s a guy who’s from one place, his beginnings are quite humble, over the years and in the decade before we even met this character, he’s been working his way up through into the court at King’s Landing and pretending he’s something else. He’s a player, he pretends he’s other things all the time so you know, it’s just not defined. And yeah, it has, it has changed with him. I have done that intentionally, but it’s not radical. He does things and I do things to wrong-foot people, the other characters or the audience even and it’s part of my job. So yeah, I don’t have that much more to say about it than that.
Does that say something about people’s obsession with the tiny details on the show?
That’s not a tiny detail, it’s not tiny. I think there’s other detail people are obsessed with, and that’s not a bad thing.
Do you have to do any particular physical training for the role?
Not for Game Of Thrones. To be honest actually, the costume I’ve had has been so tight-fitting, yeah I do. After season one for about two months before coming back to Game Of Thrones every year I’ve gone on my bike and cycled 50-70k cycles three to four times a week up in the Dublin mountains just to make sure I fit into the costume!
Aiden Gillen, thank you very much!
Game of Thrones Season 7 is available now on Digital Download