Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Chaos Is A Catch-All

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It’s nice to see a bit of continuity about the place. Who doesn’t like old plot threads come together as the show’s conclusion draws ever closer? Littlefinger giving Bran the dagger used in the second attempt on his life is certainly an old plot thread, and it’s certainly going to be used going forward.

The problem is that it makes no sense at all.

The Story So Far…

Littlefinger’s been attached to a wall in the Great Hall of Winterfell for the better part of season 7. It’s by far the best place for his smirking. He’s left once or twice to talk to Sansa. Last episode he gave her truly magnificent advice: fight every battle, everywhere, in your mind. As far as I can tell what he means is that Sansa should consider all possibilities, so she can never be surprised. It’s very practical, useful advice. We’re seeing with Bran just how that looks.

Littlefinger has also roused himself from his wall to have a brief chat with Jon in Winterfell’s crypts. He told Jon that he did his best to help Ned in King’s Landing (which every viewer knows to be a blatant lie). He also brought up how much he loved Catelyn, and added that he loves Sansa this way too. Jon agreed with the audience that this is incredibly gross and slammed him against a wall.

But as for what Littlefinger has actually done so far or affected the plot this season, it’s a mystery.

Good ol’ wall spot.

That Bloody Dagger

Then we cut to Bran handing over a Valyrian steel dagger. Not just any Valryian steel dagger, the dagger. The dagger that started a war, as Littlefinger so helpfully reminds us. The knife has a longer and more involved story than Littlefinger at this point. It’s worth going through it, with reference to the books.

What happened was this: when Bran was comatose following his shove from the tower, parties unknown sent a man to cut his throat. That man used this dagger. Catelyn Stark foiled this assassination attempt, grabbing the dagger’s blade in totally metal self-defense. Ascertaining that the weapon used (Valyrian steel with a dragonbone hilt) was way too fancy to belong to just anyone and pointed instead to a highborn sponsor, Catelyn took it to King’s Landing so that she and Ned could investigate that along with the murder of Jon Arryn. Upon her arrival, she asked Littlefinger (and Varys, also present) about the dagger’s provenance.

Littlefinger told Catelyn the dagger belonged to him – or, at least, it did.

“Until the tourney on Prince Joffrey’s name day,” he said, crossing the room to wrench the dagger from the wood. “I backed Ser Jaime in the jousting, along with half the court.” Petyr’s sheepish grin made him look half a boy again. “When Loras Tyrell unhorsed him, many of us became a trifle poorer. Ser Jaime lost a hundred golden dragons, the queen lost an emerald pendant, and I lost my knife. Her Grace got the emerald back, but the winner kept the rest.”
“Who?” Catelyn demanded, her mouth dry with fear. Her fingers ached with remembered pain. “The Imp,” said Littlefinger as Lord Varys watched her face. “Tyrion Lannister.”
—Catelyn IV, AGoT

As Tyrion himself tells Catelyn later, this is baloney. Tyrion never bets against his brother, and therefore would not and could not have won anything from that bet. He never owned the dagger, but on the strength of Littlefinger’s evidence, Catelyn had already arrested him and was halfway to the Vale.

In actuality, Robert won that bet (he was all for seeing Loras unhorse Jaime), and the dagger was put into his massive collection of bladed weapons he never used. The person who ordered the assassination of Bran was, in all likelihood, Joffrey. Trying to impress his father, and nowhere near intelligent enough to spot that the apparently plain dagger was made with expensive, nigh-unobtainable materials, he gave that knife and plenty of gold to the would-be assassin, instructing him to wait until after the royal party had departed Winterfell to strike. No doubt he thought it was the height of cunning, as Tyrion thought of the plan.

The dagger itself was left behind with Ned in King’s Landing. We next see it come to prominence in Ned XIV (and the show’s equivalent), when Littlefinger in the moment of his betrayal, takes the dagger from Ned and puts it to his throat. Because Littlefinger does things that way. As far as I can tell, he kept it afterwards. It is quite probably the dagger he uses to cut fruit in Sansa VI, ASoS.

In the show, the dagger’s physical journey has been preserved. We have lost, however, the quiet and understated reveal of who really tried to assassinate Bran with it. But that’s all. The initial lies, the ones that started the war, remain the same in adaptation. So when Littlefinger says he doesn’t know who owned the dagger, the viewer knows this for bullshit as well.

What’s My Motivation?

Which begs the question—why on earth would Littlefinger give Bran the dagger, pointing out as he did the item’s significance? Pointing out the dagger’s significance only shows that Littlefinger knows exactly how important this item is, and the lie shows that he knows how incriminating it could be if anything were somehow to be discovered. The mind boggles at why anyone would do this.

The show thus far has depicted Littlefinger’s actions as “chaotic.” But Littlefinger, who thrives on chaos, does not take risks at random. His initial lie with the dagger was reckless and foolish, but it catered to his need to prove himself smarter than anyone else in the room. The theatre with putting the dagger to Ned’s throat did the same. But this? It proves nothing. It accomplishes nothing. Nothing that would be satisfying to Littlefinger, anyway. Sansa even lampshades this later in the episode.

“He’s not a generous man. If he gave you the dagger, he had a reason for it.”

Then we must look at the less reliable explanation: Littlefinger’s stated motivation for giving away the dagger. He says it’s because he loved Catelyn just so much, he thought Bran might like to have the knife as a reminder of the way his mother defended him. Okay then. This just introduces some fatal confusion about the nature of Littlefinger’s relationship with Catelyn. Littlefinger says he loved Catelyn, but he put the plot with Jon Arryn in motion, including instructing Lysa to involve Catelyn and her family. He personally betrayed Ned (and in the books, likely precipitated his execution as well). This does not bespeak the pure and selfless love he professes to Bran and to Jon; it does not suffice as an explanation for handing the dagger over.

There is, quite simply, no good in-universe reason for this action. Littlefinger gave Bran the dagger because later on, the Starks will need that dagger. It will probably be the thing that seals his fate and/or kills him. Therefore it will be ironic.

Is the thematic significance blowing you away?

In Sum

The writers have never demonstrated a good understanding of either how Littlefinger works, or his guiding motivations. “Chaos is a ladder,” as we’re reminded, but it does not follow that chaos is the fix-all solution for every political problem Littlefinger may encounter. Littlefinger seeks to foster disorder, not act in a disorderly manner. When he acts foolishly, it is possible to discern his personal motivation in his desire to prove himself the smartest of them all.

Giving the evidence of his greatest crime to someone with the ability and motivation to use it against him isn’t any of this. It’s just random.

Images courtesy of HBO

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