He’s the kind of delicious villain you love to hate. Or… maybe you just hate him. Either way, there’s no denying the major influence Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish has had on the other characters from Game of Thrones — and mostly for their detriment.
Whether he was betraying Ned Stark, scheming to murder a monarch, killing someone who passionately loves him, or making creepy moves on a girl way too young for him, he always seemed to have a plan. His way of playing the game of thrones was to try and plan for every possibility dozens of moves ahead of everyone else, keep his enemies guessing, and always seeming to hold the upper hand.
Naturally, a man who plays his cards so close to the vest has many hidden secrets of his own. There are plenty of things about him that casual viewers (and/or readers) might never know. His past — including events from his childhood up to where we find him when Game of Thrones and the novels begin — is full of surprises. Here’s a deep dive into fifteen commonly unknown things about Littlefinger that many fans are unaware of.
Needless to say, there are spoilers ahead if you’re not caught up on the show or the novels.
15. House Baelish barely exists
Petyr Baelish is the latest in the very short history of his house. House Baelish has no huge castle or grand swath of land to call home. Its seat of power is a minuscule tower which Petyr himself dubbed the “Drearfort,” because he despises its insignificance. (Not to be confused with the Dreadfort, the ancestral home of the treacherous — and now dead — House Bolton.)
On the eastern shore of Westeros just above the Vale of Arryn is a collection of four narrow, extended peninsulas called the Fingers. The Drearfort is located on the very smallest of the Fingers, on a tiny piece of land. This is, incidentally, how Petyr acquired the nickname “Littlefinger.” (More on that later.)
14. He picked his own sigil
The Free City of Braavos is home to the Iron Bank, as well as the House of Black and White, where Arya Stark trained with Jaqen H’ghar and the Faceless Men, learning fighting skills with that horrible Waif girl and learning to wear other people’s faces. Towering high over this city is the Titan of Braavos, a gargantuan statue that serves as a guardian of its namesake city.
The traditional sigil of House Baelish is the head of the Titan of Braavos (for good reason — see #11). The head on the sigil is stone and gray with a Trojan-style helmet and eyes aflame, just like the real Titan. The head is typically displayed atop a green background.
In keeping with his disdain for everything related to his heritage, Petyr Baelish opted to discard the Titan sigil when he came of age. He instead created a new crest that he seems to prefer and brandishes proudly — a mockingbird. This symbol is usually seen over a green background as well, but not always. Why did he choose a mockingbird? It’s never been fully explained.
13. Where’s the beard?
In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Petyr Baelish is described as slender and short, with sharp facial bone structure and a chin beard that ends in a point. Obviously, the pointed beard is there because it makes him appear more eeeeeevil. Think about it: it’s pretty much an upside down pitchfork with a single prong. And everybody knows whose signature accessory is a pitchfork.
On Game of Thrones, Baelish is played by actor Aidan Gillen, who fits the above description pretty well. He’s slender, and has close-cropped, graying hair. But he’s not short, and he’s never sported the character’s signature pointy beard, opting for a stubbly goatee instead.
You have to wonder if, when the show was in pre-production, the producers and Gillen tried out a look closer to how he’s described in the book, but maybe the style just didn’t look right on the actor?
12. He has minty fresh breath – always
You’d never know this from watching the TV show, because it’s never been mentioned on screen. And also because no one has invented smell-o-vision yet. (Come on, people. Get on that.) According to the books, Littlefinger’s breath always smells fresh. No, it’s not his toothpaste. Since he was a child, Baelish has made a habit of chewing on mint leaves. Two different characters — Catelyn and Sansa — take note of this in point-of-view chapters in two of Martin’s novels.
It seems like a minor, insignificant detail, but it reinforces the duplicitous nature of Littlefinger’s character. Everything about him is friendly, approachable, and helpful, on the surface. But it’s just a mask, a ruse to hide his real motives, which everyone knows by now to be anything but altruistic.
11. His heritage is not what you’d expect
It may surprise you to learn that the Baelish family line is not native to Westeros. They are, in fact, immigrants from Essos. Petyr’s great-grandfather, whose name has never been revealed, was born in Braavos — hence why House Baelish’s original sigil was the Braavosi Titan. There, he was a sellsword, not unlike Daenerys devotee Daario Naharis or Tyrion Lannister’s (probably former) pal, Bronn.
The original Baelish pulled up stakes and moved to Westeros after being hired by House Corbray. Presumably, he swore fealty to House Corbray and gave up his sellsword ways, because history reports nothing further from him outside of his service to Lord Corbray.
House Corbray, incidentally, is a poor house located in the Vale that’s loyal to House Arryn. This first connection to House Arryn is rather ironic, considering the twist that would come a few generations later thanks to Littlefinger himself (see #3).
10. His grandfather was a fighter, too
Petyr’s grandfather carried on his father’s tradition by becoming a Hedge Knight. Hedge Knights, in case you’re not familiar with the term, are knights without masters who wander the land, looking for work. They’re pretty much the Westerosi version of sellswords.
Presumably, this particular Hedge Knight had a number of adventures, but those tales have never been told. (Maybe we’ll meet him in one of the spinoffs HBO is working on.) All that’s known about him is that he was eventually granted a tiny piece of land in the Fingers, where the so-called Drearfort would be built.
Likewise, almost nothing is known about his son, the man who would become Littlefinger’s father. The only information on record about him is that at some point, he fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, an attempted invasion of Westeros by a family loyal to House Targaryen. It was during this conflict that Petyr’s father became friends with one Hoster Tully. This would prove to be a fateful relationship for House Baelish, and for Littlefinger in particular…
9. He’s practically a Tully
Thanks to his father’s friendship with Hoster Tully, Petyr was sent to Riverrun, where he was raised alongside Catelyn, Lisa, and Edmure Tully, making them his foster siblings. Similar to Theon Greyjoy and the Stark kids, Petyr’s childhood saw him grow close to the Tullys even if he was never truly one of them. It was Edmure (whom Game of Thrones fans remember as the groom at the Red Wedding) who came up with the name “Littlefinger” for Petyr, but it was never meant as anything more than childish teasing. Nevertheless, it stuck.
It wasn’t long before Catelyn became the primary object of his affections, and by the time they were teenagers, he was madly in love with her. Unfortunately for him, as viewers of the TV show know all too well, Catelyn never felt the same way toward him, although she did care about him in a brother/sister kind of way. (Not like Jaime and Cersei. Don’t even start.)
8. He thought he’d slept with Catelyn once
As an adult, Catelyn was betrothed to Ned Stark’s older brother, Brandon. (She would eventually be promised to Ned instead, after Brandon died before they were wed.) The night the first engagement was announced, a big shindig was held at Riverrun, where Petyr danced with Catelyn no less than six times.
At the end of their last dance, Petyr made his move. But Catelyn merely laughed and pushed him away instead of accepting his kiss. Petyr took it hard. He drank himself to sleep after her rejection, and had to be carried to his bedroom. Lysa Tully snuck into the room once he was alone, and slept with him, which was undoubtedly one of the best nights of her life.
Petyr, on the other hand, thought he was doing the deed with Catelyn, since he was still stone cold drunk. Even years later, well into adulthood, he still refused to believe that he’d never slept with Cat.
7. He didn’t inherit his ancestors’ primary talent
His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all capable fighters or soldiers. Petyr is most decidedly neither.
Littlefinger has no skills as a fighter, a fact that was made very clear when he attempted to participate in a duel. When Catelyn was betrothed to Ned Stark’s older brother, Brandon, the reality of the situation must have finally sunk in for Petyr. It was about to become official — Catelyn would never be his. So, throwing logic and sense to the wind, he brashly challenged Brandon Stark to a duel in a last ditch attempt to win his beloved’s heart.
Brandon Stark, five years his senior, nearly killed Petyr in the duel, and he would have had Catelyn not begged for him to be spared. Littlefinger tried his best to stand his ground in the fight, but he was dramatically outmatched. Brandon tried to get Petyr to give up the fight several times, but the younger combatant refused. The battle ended only after he’d suffered numerous lashes from Brandon’s sword.
6. He almost had a child
After his disastrous duel against Brandon Stark, Petyr was forced to leave Riverrun in disgrace. Before that happened, he was allowed a few weeks to recover from his injuries. To rub salt in the wound, Catelyn never visited him while he was convalescing.
One person that did visit him, however, was Lysa. At some point during this time, he must’ve regained most of his strength, because he slept with Lysa for a second time. (To his mind, it was the first, because of #8.) After Petyr had returned to live at the Drearfort, Lysa discovered that she was pregnant with his child.
Lysa saw an opportunity to cement her love for Littlefinger with marriage. She confessed her pregnancy to her father Hoster Tully, hoping for his blessing to marry Petyr Baelish. But Hoster had never approved of his daughter’s infatuation with him, because of what he saw as Petyr’s “lowborn” status. Lord Tully instead tricked Lysa into drinking some kind of concoction called Moon Tea, which resulted in the termination of her pregnancy.
5. He rose to power very quickly
Littlefinger never lost contact with Lysa despite their distance from one another, and he used her to manipulate her eventual husband, Hand of the King Jon Arryn. At her urging, Arryn appointed Petyr to a position in the city of Gulltown, where he was finally able to show his true talents. During his brief time in Gulltown, he increased the city’s profits to ten times their previous amounts.
Due both to his financial skills and the strings he pulled through Lysa, Baelish was soon brought to King’s Landing, where his greatest ambitions awaited. Just three short years after his arrival there, he was appointed to the king’s Small Council and made Master of Coin — two positions he was still holding when the events of both the books and the TV series began.
4. His brothels came later than you think
Particularly on the TV show, Baelish was first known as the proprietor of the various brothels throughout King’s Landing. But he purchased those establishments only after being made Master of Coin and his appointment to the Small Council.
In addition to the brothels, he acquired a number of other businesses in the capital city, and moved people loyal to him into various positions of power. People like toll collectors and harbor masters all around the city were in his pocket, allowing him to collect secrets from all of King’s Landing’s most powerful residents — secrets he would use to his advantage for bribery or manipulation.
But Petyr’s brothels played possibly the biggest part in learning all those secrets. Only the most pious of characters from Martin’s novels have managed to keep away from the many bordellos, which gave Littlefinger unparalleled access to information from almost every major player in King’s Landing. Petyr knew, thanks to his shrewd business mind, that people have much looser lips when they’re in the midst of unbridled pleasure.
3. His power surpasses most of his rivals
At the end of the day, for Petyr Baelish, everything is about power. Or rather, acquiring as much of it as he can. The boy who was rejected as a teenager became a man who would have the power to affect everyone in all of Westeros.
His first big win came after the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Littlefinger was instrumental in securing the alliance between House Lannister and House Tyrell via the engagement of Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell. So after the battle was won, Joffrey rewarded Baelish by giving him the strategically significant castle known as Harrenhall. This officially elevated him from “lowborn” status to a Lord. He was also named Lord Paramount of the Trident, a large area named after a nearby river.
Later, Petyr married Lysa Arryn; not for love, of course, but for the acquisition of further power. Lysa named him Lord Protector of the Vale, effectively giving him the keys to the Eyrie and command of the Vale’s sizable army. With Lysa no longer needed, he murdered her by shoving her through the Eyrie’s moon door.
2. He was almost played by a different actor
Before Aidan Gillen landed the role on Game of Thrones, someone else was offered the job. (This is no slight against Gillen; the casting process is always very fluid in television, film, and theater.) The show’s producers initially tried to hire an actor named Tom Hollander for the part.
Tom Hollander (not to be confused with Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming) is probably best remembered by American audiences as the white-wigged villain of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, British naval officer Lord Cutler Beckett. Brits know him for a number of quirky roles in film and television, including the sitcom Rev (pictured above), big screen romance About Time, TV thriller The Night Manager, period drama Doctor Thorne, and loads more.
Incidentally, in the time since he was offered the part of Littlefinger, Hollander has expressed regret at turning it down. Can’t imagine why.
1. Where else you recognize Aidan Gillen from
You know the work of actor Aidan Gillen, even if you don’t realize it. Before he was Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish on Game of Thrones, he was an accomplished actor with a prolific résumé. He’s Irish by birth, but his credits list shows he’s capable of affecting a number of accents.
He was Stuart Jones on Queer as Folk. He played politician Tommy Carcetti on The Wire. He was John Boy Power on Love/Hate. Remember the scene at the start of The Dark Knight Rises, when Bane is put on an airplane? Gillen was the CIA officer who was there to collect him, and then later interrogated him on the plane. (He looked pretty different in that role, as you can see above.) He was also the villain Janson in The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. He has dozens of other parts to his credit, so you may have seen him pop up here or there, and not realized it.
Gillen has also been seen on stage, in the Broadway production of The Caretaker, and a production in Dublin of American Buffalo. All that remains to be seen is just how much longer he’ll be playing Petyr Baelish, given recent events.
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