Curtain Call: Aidan Gillen

Littlefinger

Aidan Gillen’s run as Petyr Baelish serves as an excellent reminder to us all that it takes a truly great actor to play a villain that evokes the kind of emotion that fans felt for Littlefinger.

This truth didn’t fully sink in until my elation over Baelish’s execution had settled a bit. I stopped cheering, I shook out my hands, which stung from clapping and then I realized, Wait … this means no more Aidan Gillen, doesn’t it?

For seven glorious seasons, Aidan Gillen delivered a performance as rich and varied as the psychology of Petyr Baelish himself. Simultaneously a cold and calculating puppet master and a pitiful little boy trapped in a man’s body pining for his childhood love, it’s difficult to imagine a character more layered than Petyr Baelish and Aidan Gillen conveyed each aspect of that dichotomous man brilliantly.

On a personal note, as much as I enjoyed watching Littlefinger wax mysterious about the nature of power and chaos (say it with me, everyone, “CHAOS IS A LADDAH”) my favorite Aidan Gillen acting moments will always be the ones in which Baelish felt the earth move under him, if only a little bit.

Littlefinger2

Though that final scene in which Baelish scrambled to play every last card in his hand to avoid execution-by-irony will always stand out, my most treasured moment remains Sansa’s confrontation in Molestown. Though the scene undoubtedly belonged to Sophie Turner, Gillen’s performance also stood out, as it was the first time we truly saw Baelish at a loss for words, reeling from a terrible miscalculation. I never tire of watching Gillen let the Littlefinger mask slip to show us the fallible Petyr beneath.

Littlefingerdidntknow

Though Game of Thrones may wind up being the show for which Gillen is best remembered in the long run, it wasn’t Gillen’s HBO debut. Before he was Petyr Baelish, Gillen was Mayor Tom Carcetti on The Wire. Though the frequent comparisons made between The Wire and Game of Thrones for both featuring complex social and political machinations might be a tad reductive (they’re both brilliantly written and executed shows in their own right), the contrast between the ambitious yet … eh, emotionally forthcoming Mayor of Baltimore and the evasive Lord Baelish is a stirring testament to Gillen’s range as an actor.

Gillen has appeared in a good number of blockbusters recently such as The Maze Runner franchise and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. However, his next project will an independent film called James and Lucia set for release next year. Gillen will play the famed Irish author James Joyce as he struggles to care for his mentally ill daughter, Lucia.


For all of Petyr Baelish’s deviousness, Gillen always spoke of him with insight and empathy, even going so far as to pine mildly for the moral ambiguity of earlier seasons in which Baelish thrived, to Vanity Fair. So, I was pleased to learn in an interview with Entertainment Weekly of the memento he received from the Game of Thrones set.

I got my mockingbird pin. I had already let them know I wanted it, and I cleverly worked it so I got two. There’s one from my cloak and one from my tunic. So I got the large and the small size — one for me and one for my son.

Gillen was one of the few actors from season 1 remaining on the show, and the evolution of his performance over the years has been fascinating to watch. So, while I must admit I’m happy Littlefinger’s finally dead, I really am going to miss Aidan Gillen.

Gillen

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    1. Mr. Gillien did an excellent job with Littlefinger. I always enjoyed his scenes. As the story unfolded, his character came to have less impact but that’s hardly on him. It is just the natural flow of the story that other and greater threats came to the fore. His acting remained top notch throughout, IMO.

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    2. My favorite will always be Littlefinger’s trial scene, because we saw Aidan display so many Petyr Baelish facets. Surprised to confused, initial reaction. Then, defensive, but still self-assured. Cocky flair, when describing Lysa. The negotiator who hasn’t given up, when asking to speak with Sansa alone. Self-righteous indignation just before Bran spills his beans. Commanding mode to Bronze Yohn Royce. Finally, the bleak, pleading desperation of a man who’s lost all of his cards and is out of the game. Bravo.

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    3. It seemed like they were setting it up for Varys to be Littlefinger’s biggest obstacle to the throne so, it would have been interesting to see those two together at least one more time. I loved their scenes together.

      While his death was inevitable, he will be missed.

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    4. Gillen did a wonderful job as LF and I enjoyed his slimy performance. LF was the master of the bait and switch and others learned from him, to his eventual undoing. His influence is everywhere in the tale. Even his magic carpet ride was licensed out quite lucratively over this past season. Too bad LF didn’t have a chance to rule over the ashes. Would have been creepy fun. Thanks for playing, Aiden!

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    5. Just the right mix of unctuous and slyly dangerous, Can’t say I’ll miss the character too much but on the other hand it is another layer of intrigue gone from the show. Here’s what Aidan Gillen said a while back about his voice and accent (which took a while to get accustomed to, initially!)

      Gillen: This could be categorized loosely as a fantasy series, very loosely. It’s not set in the past. It’s not set in medieval England or whatever, but my own accent is a bit modern … I think what I was going for was a kind of patriarchal thing that something like John Huston had in China Town. I’m not saying that’s what I got or that I was trying to pull it off or I did pull it off. It’s just something different. There is something about that character that you want people to tell you things. You want to be able to make people feel relaxed or comforted or scared or whatever so you want to have some kind of a voice where you can achieve these different ends with.

      Well I think he succeeded…

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    6. My favorite GoT actor. I considered myself privileged to have him as Petyr Baelish and his scenes with Varys will always be some of the best GoT moments for me.

      I geeked out on anything Aidan for a long time from the roles he got in smaller budget / less known movies (like My Kingdom and Calvary for example) to his appearance in the larger ones (like The Dark Knight Rises). And of course, I loved his Tom Carcetti!

      I hope to see him in Peaky Blinders’ season 4 and this new movie “James and Lucia”.

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    7. Oh how I loved to hate LF! He had many great scenes and my two favorites are, early on, when he is declaring how he just likes to mess up other peoples lives (he says it so bluntly and it turned out to be so true) and his final scene that ran the gamut of LF emotions and angles. Gillian did an outstanding job playing this layered character and he added so much to the deep quality of this show.

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    8. At least part of me wanted Littlefinger to win this. To win the whole Game of Thrones (and get Sansa along, yes).
      I think that speaks of how much I liked Aiden Gillen’s performance.
      Good luck to him.

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    9. It was inevitable LF would finally meet his demise, but what a great journey we all had with Aidan Gillen over the last 7 years. HBO couldn’t have found a better actor to play the part. He was cunning, devious and didn’t care how many lives he ruined to achieve his ambitions, but his plan with Lady Olenna to remove Joffrey forever for me was one of LF’s better achievements 😛

      If I see Aidan acting in another role, I will have a chuckle and think ‘Ah, that’s Littlefinger – Lord Petyr Baelish!’ – He will never shake off that image 🙂

      Best of luck to Aidan Gillen (forever Lord Petyr Baelish) in his future roles.

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    10. A final thought – As well as asking HBO if he could keep the Mockingbird pins from his cloaks as mementos, he should have asked them for Littlefinger’s Jet Pack also 😀

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    11. I don’t think it can be overstated just how important Aidan Gillen and his performance as Petyr Baelish were to the success of Game of Thrones. Littlefinger exemplified the titular game, and Aidan Gillen played it like a master, operating effortlessly against some of the best actors in the cast. Sean Bean. Michelle Fairley. Lena Headey. Charles Dance. Natalie Dormer. Michael McElhatton. Diana Rigg. Just to name a few.

      But it was Gillen’s dynamic with two actors that really brought out his very best. The first was Conleth Hill as Varys. Their one-on-one interactions in front of the Iron Throne that truly left an indelible mark. It’s hard to believe that there were only three such scenes in the entire series because they loom so large. If “Chaos is a ladder” isn’t the single most iconic line or speech in the entire show, it’s certainly in contention. That was one of Littlefinger’s most triumphant moments, and one of Gillen’s very best scenes. He aced it in every conceivable way.

      Then there were Gillen’s interactions with Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark. I find it remarkable and worthy of celebrating that Aidan Gillen and Sophie Turner hold the distinction of being one of only two pairs of actors who shared at least one scene together in all seven seasons of Game of Thrones to date (the others are Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen). Over the years, as Sansa grew steadily in her confidence and her power, their scenes evolved and took on new shades, but they were always captivating. Sophie clearly loved working with Aidan. The way that she effusively praised both him and Littlefinger in interviews may have struck some as strange, but I always interpreted it as her gratitude for having the opportunity to work opposite such skilled and experienced actor. Few up-and-coming actors could have asked for a more valuable screen partner.

      Littlefinger could be charming, a smiling devil who would slide a knife up to your throat when you were expecting a wink. He could also be ruthless – his scene with Ros was one of the more low-key terrifying in the series. Lord Baelish wasn’t humble, but that adjective describes Aidan Gillen perfectly. He seems to be a quiet and extraordinarily professional man who would much rather talk about his work than about himself. The interviews that he gave about his character and his process were always extremely thoughtful, and I greatly enjoyed hearing his perspective.

      As this wonderful show enters its final season, we sadly don’t have that many original cast members left, so every such departure hurts. Aidan Gillen’s exit will leave a larger void than most. It was Littlefinger’s time to go, but Gillen will be greatly missed. I wish him all the best, and I look forward to seeing him on screen again soon.

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    12. Aidan Gillen was one of the most high caliber actors in Game of Thrones period.

      He was awesome, brought Little Finger to life.

      I will miss this guy but I will be following his career now forever.

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    13. The fluctuating accent aside, Aidan Gillen was simply amazing as Littlefinger. He played slimy & conniving as well as I’ve ever seen. I know many people were praying for his death… but I honestly wasn’t. Every time he was on screen, I was watching him with rapt attention. He definitely deserved to die, but I always enjoyed watching him.

      It wasn’t just the sliminess that Aidan nailed. When he was pretending to help Ned, in Season 1, before we knew what he was really like, I actually trusted him (despite him flat-out saying not to) and believed him to be a decent guy. And in this episode, when he realized he was about to die, and started crying… I felt oddly sorry for him… Well done, Aidan.

      And of course, there’s the “Chaos is a ladder” speech. I still love listening to that speech even today. Partly because of how amazingly it’s written… and partly because Aidan delivered it so well.

      As bad as Littlefinger was, he had been around since the very first Season, and Aidan always played him so perfectly. This show will not be the same without him.

      However, while Littlefinger is gone, it’s possible we may see Aidan again – Arya could get some good use out of that face.

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    14. Silent Sister,
      thorne garnet,

      Yes to both of these comments. I’ve rewatched his trial/execution scene multiple times, in part because I am fascinated by his performance. His initial response to hearing his name and having all eyes turn in his direction was the work of a master actor.

      He perfectly embodied this complex character. I truly hated Littlefinger but he was “wonderful” to watch because he was always had a plan…that is, until he met the young wolves of WF.

      A great actor and a kind man (my son met him a few years ago in London). We have lost one of the major players in GOT and the show will be less because of it.

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    15. RIP, Littlefinger, you finally got what you deserved.

      I loved Aiden from the moment I heard him say “Distrusting me…” in the build-up to the first season. Over seven seasons, he effortlessly portrayed LF as the ultimate “Daes Dae’mar” player. His interactions with Varys, Ned, Catelyn, Sansa etc. provided some of my favourite dialogue, rich in nuances from understatement to overstatement.

      I would be more than glad to see his face again next season… 😉

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    16. I think Aiden Gillen will be in season 8

      either as a white walker or in a scene similar to the Walder Frey/Arya season 7 scene.

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    17. I’ve loved his work since he played Stuart on the original British “Queer as Folk.” Apart from that, Jared said all that needs to be said.

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    18. Gillan’s ever-evolving accent was chuckleworthy at times, but I was able to rationalize the changes to myself pretty easily as part of the effort that an ambitious fellow like Littlefinger would make as part of his role in the game. When among the power brokers in the capital, it makes sense that he would try to sound more cultivated. When he went back to the Vale, near where he spent his early childhood (the Fingers) before being fostered in Riverrun, it would also make sense that he might relax a little and let his local origins show through in his speech patterns.

      As skeevy and despicable a character as Baelish was, I am sorry to see his time on the show come to an end. His schemes certainly helped to keep things from becoming too predictable. And I can’t imagine better casting for this role. Gillan will forever be Littlefinger in my mind when I reread the books in future. Well-played, sir.

      Re: other things that he has been in, Gillan was one of the better things about the indie divorce comedy The Lovers that came out this past spring, playing the boyfriend of the Debra Winger character. Not a particularly good film, but it was interesting to see him evoke a somewhat more sympathetic character.

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    19. firstone,

      I can see him returning as Arya wearing his face. Someone is going to have to keep Robin Arryn in line, and it’s been established that he trusts LF, even sees him as a fun uncle, while he was immediately willing to throw lord Royce out of the Moon Door. With only six episodes left, however, I think the show will just gloss over this.

      Returning or not, Gillen absolutely killed it as Littlefinger for the past seven seasons. I haven’t always liked the way the character was written, but his portrayal was terrific and made LF always a joy to watch.

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    20. Littlefinger was an intriguing, complex character who unfortunately became irrelevant when this show stopped being a game of thrones and became a desperate war for life. Mr. Gillen was great in this role, but as a non native speaker I must say his accent was the most difficult for me to fully understand. I’d rather listen to a Northerner or a Braavosi any time.
      All in all, I look upon Littlefinger with all the nostalgia for the early times of GOT, but I will not miss him.

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    21. Aiden certainly had the essence of Lord Baelish down to a tee. He knew exactly what would be going on in Littlefinger’s conniving mind. You could tell by the satisfied, slightly smug look on LF’s face, as he leaned against the wall, that a whole scenario was going through his head as he listened to Sansa, as though he was trying to decide if he would feign any support for Arya once Sansa accused her. Then, Sansa says “Lord Baelish.” The slightly delayed, “Wait, What?!” look on his face as the reality collided with the shady plotting, was classic.

      Then there was the look of shock as Bran lowered the boom with the repetition of his “I DID tell you not to trust me,” taunt to Ned. I never expected LF to actually cry, or beg, but Aiden had that descent handled beautifully, as well. It was exactly as you would expect a sneaky snake like Littlefinger to fall to his fate.

      I can’t say I’m going to miss the character, but he was as important a part of the fabric of the story as any character could be, and Aiden Gillen portrayed every facet of Lord Baelish masterfully.

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    22. Aidan will be missed, he had a whimsical charm in such a treacherous role, one of my favorite characters, it would have been nice to see him match wits with the night king.

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    23. Like Jack Gleeson, Charles Dance and Iwan Rheon who went before him, Gillen was so good at playing the villain that he will be truly missed. No offense to Euron and the Night King, but our best villains on this show are behind us. Thanks to Mr Gillen for bringing Littlefinger to life, and death, so well.

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    24. Littlefinger was a pillar character regardless if he had a scene or not. He was brutal and also seemed torn. Did what he thought was necessary in order to succeed. That’s quite normal in GoT and also in the real world.

      I thoroughly enjoyed his death scene and yet I was saddened by losing LF as well. I’m glad it was Arya and I’m glad we got it when we did as a lot of people were oddly confused with Arya and Sansa.

      Great article. Tis appreciated 🙂

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    25. BigMac:

      However, while Littlefinger is gone, it’s possible we may see Aidan again – Arya could get some good use out of that face.

      YES! I hope Aiden will return, to help Arya do her dirty deeds!

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    26. firstone,

      I sure hope Sansa ordered his body burned. I do NOT want to see WightFinger in S8. (Nothing against A.G.; I thonk it would cheapen his death scene if he comes back in zombified form.)

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    27. Laura:
      Like Jack Gleeson, Charles Dance and Iwan Rheon who went before him, Gillen was so good at playing the villain that he will be truly missed. No offense to Euron and the Night King, but our best villains on this show are behind us. Thanks to Mr Gillen for bringing Littlefinger to life, and death, so well.

      This.

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    28. It was a good foreshawdowing after Jon Snow choked Lord Baelish he walked out and saw Sansa standing up where she always stands and Littlefinger put his hand to his throat just like he did after Ayra did what she does best.

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    29. Ah, my heart dropped out of the Moon door for a minute there, even though I knew what was coming. Huge props to Arya, by the way – she killed him, but she did it fairly and quickly. I appreciate that. Girl has control.

      We all know my love for Littlefinger, and moreso for Aidan Gillen, so I don’t have much to add (great curtain call, Petra!) Like many, I felt he was underused at Winterfell, at least he got some good “heheheheh nyupnyupnyup” lurking in shadows moments in the last couple of episodes.

      One of my absolute favourite Littlefinger (and Cersei) scenes:

      Which spawned many a hilarious parody, my personal favourite at 1:10 and 1:54 of this video:

      Adieu, LF.

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    30. LatrineDiggerBrian,

      Well, larger than life characters do sometimes have anticlimactic deaths. In ancient history Alexander the Great died of an illness rather than falling in battle. I know his character was changed slightly in the show – I feel book Littlefinger wouldn’t have challenged Cersei openly bringing on the “Power is power” scene. Maybe Littlefinger will be “Moon Door’d” in a forthcoming book. I read somewhere that the two Ds said they didn’t have time to do the Vale plot (which I never thought was a masterful plan anyway; surely somebody would have thought of looking for Sansa where her aunt lived). Though I’d have to give Littlefinger kudos as a villain for setting up the war following Robert Baratheon’s death.

      But compliments to Aiden Gillen for bringing to life a character I hated almost as much as Joffers!

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    31. As much as I was happy for LF finally going down, I am going to miss Aidan’s amazing work. He definitely left his mark on the show, his acting was superb!

      I’m looking forward to whatever he does next! 🙂

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    32. Love Aidan Gillen in everything I’ve seen him in – I have to admit, I was hoping for one more scene with Varys. My favorites are every discussion between these two! Good luck to Mr Gillen. I will be looking for him on the marquee.

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    33. Dame of Mercia,

      And Prince Machiavelli, one of the greatest of all schemers at the end of his life was a recluse, and no longer involved himself in local politics, completely shut out by Florentine society. It seems he died from simple ill health. A “disappointing” death?

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    34. Arthur,

      He really owned the character. And the expressions that passed across his face just before his death were amazing. I had never seen him before but now look forward to catching Aidan in other roles.

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    35. Great curtain call!! Not much to add. Aidan Gillen did a terrific job portraying LF. His interactions with Conleth Hill were some of my favorite scenes of GoT (even the silent ones, like when LF and Varys compete for the closest seat to Tywin in their first Small Council meeting).

      Aidan will be sorely missed and I hope all the best for him in his upcoming projects.

      The Fingers remember!

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    36. Firannion:
      Gillan’s ever-evolving accent was chuckleworthy at times, but I was able to rationalize the changes to myself pretty easily as part of the effort that an ambitious fellow like Littlefinger would make as part of his role in the game. When among the power brokers in the capital, it makes sense that he would try to sound more cultivated. When he went back to the Vale, near where he spent his early childhood (the Fingers) before being fostered in Riverrun, it would also make sense that he might relax a little and let his local origins show through in his speech patterns.

      People have often tried to explain it that way, but his accent changes well before he leaves the capital. The biggest leap is between Season 1 and Season 2.

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    37. Gillen is a treasure. His contribution to GOT has been immeasurable. I kinda figured he wouldn’t survive Season 7 as a result of some interviews about work that he was going to be doing, and darn if I wasn’t right. Still its not like we hardly knew ye Lord Baelish, you so had it coming!

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    38. Sorry to be so late to the party but I’d just like to add my appreciation of Aidan Gillen’s work as Littlefinger, the villain we all loved to hate.

      Aidan Gillen is such a talented actor. He brought the charm and sleaze and ambition and the deviousness and chilling scaryness of this character perfectly to life. Even his one weakness, his ambiguous “love” for Catelyn and Catelyn 2.0, Sansa.

      Littlefinger’s final scene revealed the pitiful, little man he really was. What a denouement for Sansa! I enjoyed every second of it, including Arya’s quick slash and Littlefinger’s last word “… I…”

      Aidan Gillen portrayed Littlefinger perfectly.

      I won’t miss Littlefinger but I’ll miss Aidan Gillen.

      I wish Aidan Gillen all the best in all his future projects.

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    39. Sean C.,

      Not being a native English speaker, LF’s accent never bothered me. I suppose tens or even hundreds of millions of people watching GoT in about 150 non-English-speaking countries around the world aren’t that bothered either.

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    40. Aiden did a fabulous job with the man of mystery and manipulation. Unlike the uber-sadistic but gleeful Ramsay, and the sadistic but smarmy Joffrey, Gillen was an intellectual villain. It was fascinating to see how his mind worked, which must be hard for an actor to convey. I’m sure we’ll here more great things from him. Now, of the great villains, only Cersei is still standing…until we meet the Valonqar!

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    41. talvikorppi:
      Sorry to be so late to the party but I’d just like to add my appreciation of Aidan Gillen’s work as Littlefinger, the villain we all loved to hate.

      Aidan Gillen is such a talented actor. He brought the charm and sleaze and ambition and the deviousness and chilling scaryness of this character perfectly to life. Even his one weakness, his ambiguous “love” for Catelyn and Catelyn 2.0, Sansa.

      Littlefinger’s final scene revealed the pitiful, little man he really was. What a denouement for Sansa! I enjoyed every second of it, including Arya’s quick slash and Littlefinger’s last word “… I…”

      Aidan Gillen portrayed Littlefinger perfectly.

      I won’t miss Littlefinger but I’ll miss Aidan Gillen.

      I wish Aidan Gillen all the best in all his future projects.

      What an eloquent summary of a job well done by Mr. Gillen. Native english speaker or not, you put a native like me to shame. Shame. Shame.

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    42. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more enjoyable performance on television in a decade that Aidan Gillen’s Littleginger. I will miss him so very much. Thankfully, I suspect we’ll be be seeing much more of him in the years to come.

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    43. Ten Bears:
      firstone,

      I sure hope Sansa ordered his body burned. I do NOT want to see WightFinger in S8. (Nothing against A.G.; I thonk it would cheapen his death scene if he comes back in zombified form.)

      Arya could take his face and then his body could be burned.

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