Ned, Littlefinger, and the Advantage of the Home-Court

Ned and Littlefinger

by Joe Buckley

In Game of Thrones, many characters are used to represent many themes. We have our warriors, our lovers, our mothers and our brothers. Thanks to the excellent writing of the characters, some represent multiple factions at once. But every so often, there is a character who is undeniably representative of a theme or idea.

Two such men would be Lord Eddard Stark and Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. Ned is the epitome of family, honour and solemness, he is the patriarch of the main family of the series and the physical embodiment of the unique culture of the North.

Littlefinger is the flagbearer of perhaps the biggest message of the series: the underhanded, two-faced nature of politics. In many ways, Petyr is representative of the game of thrones (and its best player to boot).

These two characters are undeniably linked through their major roles in the inciting incident of the entire series, Ned’s death. While he obviously perished back in Season 1 and Baelish lived to the end of season 7, their interactions are constantly referenced by characters and fans alike. The actions undertaken in King’s Landing all those years ago still have ripples being felt today. Despite Petyr’s longer life, there is a mirror to be held to their timelines, and especially in their deaths.

While Eddard essentially failed on all accounts in the south, and in a relatively short amount of time, Baelish enjoyed a long string of successes. He danced through the politics of Westeros, jumping from victory to victory. The Tyrells. Joffrey. Harrenhal. The Vale. Baelish was the owner of an impeccable track record.

Until he made the exact same mistake Ned did: he left his home-court.

Ned and Littlefinger Walking Together

In season 7, with Jon’s multiple journeys, much has been made about the poor decisions of Ned and Robb Stark to travel south, and the horrors they met there. In Ned’s case, there is room to discuss whether he really had any choice in heading to King’s Landing, but it was bad news regardless.

Lord Eddard is the reader/viewers’ introduction into the ways of the north, of the aforementioned duty and honour. He is a northman if we ever knew one, and the contrast between him and the world of King’s Landing was brazenly displayed throughout season 1/book one, A Game of Thrones. Baelish himself is the antithesis: slight where Ned is broad, silver-tongued to Ned’s slowness, well-groomed compared to Ned’s simplicity, before even thinking of their personalities.

In King’s Landing, we see Ned’s great mistake. It’s made painfully obvious how out of his depth he really is. The world of politics is a mystery. Subtext, ulterior motives, the suspension of honour for personal gain: these were all foreign concepts to a man like Ned. He was simply unequipped to contend with Cersei, Varys and especially Petyr Baelish. Ned was barely playing the same game. The city was so vastly different from the arena he’s used to that he could never find his footing.

Littlefinger betrays Ned in You Win or You Die

King’s Landing, however, was the ideal setting for a man like Petyr Baelish. Using his tongue, his coin and his constantly-thinking, suspicious mind Littlefinger had essentially made himself something from nothing. In a world defined by masculinity and brute strength, it’s almost admirable what he was able to do, and the amount of power he was able to gain whilst also holding onto the image that he wasn’t a true threat to anybody.

It’s fitting then, that Baelish is the one who exposed Ned’s ineptitude when he finally betrayed him in the throne room, a decision that kicked off Baelish’s victory tour. Though King’s Landing is the ultimate, much of Westeros plays by the same rules. Littlefinger was able to manipulate and cross-talk his way through the Reach with the Tyrells, King’s Landing with the Lannisters, and the Vale with Lysa Arryn. He seemed unstoppable, until he made the exact same decision as Ned.

He left home-court.

By leaving the south, Baelish abandoned his advantage, and came up with trouble almost immediately via his mistake with the Boltons (if you would like to believe it was a mistake). Roose was able to intercept Petyr’s messages with Cersei, whereas Ramsay was able to completely pull the wool over his eyes in terms of Ramsay’s nightmarish personality. Given that Ramsay, by this point, wasn’t a terribly big secret in the north, it goes to show that Petyr was not truly aware of his surroundings. Perhaps he should have taken that as a sign. But with success comes over-confidence, even to someone like Petyr Baelish.

Though he experienced triumph with the Battle of the Bastards, and his mission to get closer and closer to Sansa, at first, we now know it was not to be everlasting.

Petyr tried to ply his trade, his well-tested strategies of twisting families against each other and the now-famous ‘chaos theory’, in a land defined by honour and family. He tried to corrupt the house that Ned Stark built, and he failed. The bond between Arya, Sansa and Bran was found to be too great. They valued their family more than what Petyr could dangle in front of them, and especially in the case of Sansa, were able to see through his veils. Like she herself said, Sansa learned. Littlefinger found he was playing a game where others were not playing by the same rules, exactly the same as Lord Eddard Stark found all those years before.

In the end, it carried the same end result.

Littlefingers end

Both men, invariably different, met their deaths because they left the lands that shaped their approach to the world.

If we want to examine their downfalls further, there are even more reflections between them. Both stood in a throne room, on the brink of success, before having the tables suddenly turned. For Ned, he was stood before the new king Joffrey, about to take Cersei and her children into custody, before Baelish and Janos Slynt turned on him. For Petyr, he stood in the quaint hall of Winterfell, about to rejoice in the execution of Arya Stark, when Sansa flipped it all around with two damning words.

To go one final step in comparison, there is this: both men were killed with their own weapon.

While it may be Ned and Petyr who perfectly mirror each other in their respective demises, it was not only the father who Petyr betrayed. He was obsessed with Catelyn for his entire life, so much so that his fixation transferred over to her daughter and allowed her sister to become some sick compensation. That makes it all the more terrible than Baelish’s actions were what brought Catelyn out of Winterfell, tore her family apart, and were the source of so much pain.

Perhaps it is fitting then that Littlefinger was killed in the exact same fashion as his beloved Cat.

arya sansa stark episode 707

Obviously, Baelish’s death has the most effect on the two Stark daughters. We’ve already seen that it has gone some way to heal their much-maligned rift (such as it was), and it is likely almost cathartic for them. Sansa may have escaped Cersei and killed Ramsay, but Petyr has always been looming out of the shadows behind her. Finally, not only has she ended that connection, but has gone some way to repaying her own part in Ned’s King’s Landing failures. For Arya, she is able to continue the physical vengeance she so greatly desires. The two architects of her parents’ respective deaths have now both had their throat sliced open by the younger Stark daughter.

This is the final, true recapture of Winterfell. There are no more enemies within (as far as we know), and more importantly the Stark family has taken large steps in healing their broken relationships. The two sisters will always be different- one tall, one short; one dark-haired, one auburn; one is even starting to resemble Ned while the other is the spitting image of Catelyn. One is now a dangerous killer while the other is a budding politician; one kills with blades, one does so with words; one will live in court, the other in shadow, and both are horribly scarred. But their wonderfully framed scene atop the Winterfell walls showed genuine affection that we haven’t seen before.

Ned is such a critical memory to the pair and their relationship. It was him they were with when their family split apart, his death they both had to cruelly witness, his statue they stood in front of when they were reunited, and him they quote now they are friends again. Both sisters have spent so long simply trying to survive, it is only now that they are able to actually do what they want, and their first choice was the vengeance for their father, and teaching a lesson to Petyr Baelish: don’t underestimate home-court advantage.


Joe Buckley is a British writer who was a show-watcher first, and was even late to that game. Thankfully all caught-up now (and then some), Joe writes on Game of Thrones, the NBA and is trying his hand at sci-fi writing. Contrary to news reports, he is not a real knight (so far). You can find him on Twitter at @serbuckley.

42 responses

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    1. That was a beautiful analysis. Thank you! I hadn’t thought about how they were killed with their own weapons. And the whole concept of Baelish being out of his environment–brilliant!

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    2. Littlefinger wasn’t defeated by the bond between the siblings. Indeed, he expertly played them against each other. Seemingly the only thing that caused Sansa to see through him was his suggesting that Arya wants to be Lady of Winterfell. That doesn’t have anything to do with trust or family bonds. Sansa and Arya were otherwise totally prepared to fight each other.

      The idea that Littlefinger was defeated by cultural differences isn’t borne out in other aspects of the narrative either. In particular, if Ramsay fooled him, that merely reflects Littlefinger’s own stupidity at not making basic inquiries. If you define the North versus South deductively as places where people say what they mean versus scheme (which isn’t true, in any event), then the Boltons are themselves “southern” in aspect. And Sansa is obviously schooled in that style of thinking (by him, even).

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    3. From Variety :

      Despite all the plot developments, there were still some scenes that ended up being cut from the finished product. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, revealed a deleted scene that would have answered a big question about the sequence of events that resulted in thebond judgment of Littlefinger:

      We actually did a scene that clearly got cut, a short scene with Sansa where she knocks on Bran’s door and says, ‘I need your help,’ or something along those lines. So basically, as far as I know, the story was that it suddenly occurred to Sansa that she had a huge CCTV department at her discretion and it might be a good idea to check with him first before she guts her own sister. So she goes to Bran, and Bran tells her everything she needs to know, and she’s like, ‘Oh, shit.’

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    4. Good observations between 2 characters who’s traits had advantages between both, IF Ned remained in the North, everyone loved him and respected Ned, he would’ve never faced betrayal, if the locations were reversed, Littlefinger would’ve been ratted out fairly quickly, but then again, we wouldn’t have had the Game of Thrones today 🙂

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    5. LF was such an important character in this story. Since S1 I was waiting for his death and I think it was one of the better death scenes this show had.

      I was imagining his death in my head for years, but it was better than that. I liked that he died like a little bitch he always was. Humiliated and defeated.

      Together with Tywin’s death scene, this could be my favorite.

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    6. But I hope Cersei’s death scene will be the best. Her character is really larger than life, she deserves great and tragic death scene. That’s the only death left that I have been waiting since S1.

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    7. Ryan,

      That’s good to know. I had a problem with how it shifted so quickly. Would have been nice if they had left it in. I do think they are rushing downhill to the finale and a lot of little things are falling between the cracks.

      I also love the article and I too believe that Ned should have stayed in the North. He was so out of his depth, and in the long run I agree that sometimes playing the game of thrones isn’t easy when you are out of your arena and you know your players well. He obviously underestimated the Stark bond.

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    8. Some great observations like their own weapons killing both Ned and Baelish. But this analysis is just a little too neat and checking of the boxes, and ignores the extraordinary contribution made by the hidden tapes……. errr… Bran’s visions, where they all finally get a crystal clear picture of what happened in the past. Take away Bran’s 3-eyed powers, and neither Sansa nor Arya- especially not Arya – would never have known the truth. Of course, the home turf conclusion still holds, because LF would never have encountered the 3-eyed raven down south. 🙂

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    9. Elizabeth:
      Ryan,

      That’s good to know.I had a problem with how it shifted so quickly.Would have been nice if they had left it in.I do think they are rushing downhill to the finale and a lot of little things are falling between the cracks.

      I also love the article and I too believe that Ned should have stayed in the North.He was so out of his depth, and in the long run I agree that sometimes playing the game of thrones isn’t easy when you are out of your arena and you know your players well.He obviously underestimated the Stark bond.

      I think they should have left it out because it made the plot twist more satisfying. If we had seen an earlier scene of Sansa going to Bran, it would have lessened the impact of her turning to LF and seeing the panic on his face. From that point it’s not hard to deduce how they arrived at all that information. Plus we’ll see the deleted scene later.

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    10. mau:
      But I hope Cersei’s death scene will be the best. Her character is really larger than life, she deserves great and tragic death scene. That’s the only death left that Ihave been waiting since S1.

      I wonder how they would do that….. you’d have to assume it would be Jaime or Tyrion, but you also have to assume the Mountain would be gone for that to happen…maybe Cleganebowl then Cersei’s death?

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    11. Thanks Joe Buckley for this very interesting article about Ned Stark and Petyr Baelish, I am always amazed at how situations, decisions are mirrored in Game of Thrones.

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    12. Ryan,

      After the victory against the army of the dead, the living led by Dany will attack King’s Landing (Golden Company or not) and could sack KL… There would be deaths by thousands, Sandor would kill Gregor, Jaime would kill Cersei… or is it too easy?

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    13. Sean C.,

      I agree about the Boltons. I don’t think it’s so much that the Northerners are all ill-equipped at dealing with the higher political machinations that are at play in the South. If that were the case, then they’d barely be on a better lordship mentality than Wildlings. Yes, honor and stoicism are more valued in the North than ulterior motives and sneaky dealings. I think to an extent it was Ned’s refusal to bend the rules in King’s Landing or “stoop to their level” so to speak, that caused a lot of his problems. If he wasn’t smart enough to play the game, he wouldn’t have been the Guardian of the North to begin with. The Boltons would have found a way to overthrow the Starks way earlier because of their willingness to play dirty.

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    14. The Het:
      Ryan,

      After the victory against the army of the dead, the living led by Dany will attack King’s Landing (Golden Company or not) and could sack KL… There would be deaths by thousands, Sandor would kill Gregor, Jaime would kill Cersei… or is it too easy?

      I’d be shocked if their is a conflict AFTER defeating the NK….win or lose, I think that’s the ‘final battle’.

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    15. At first I was not happy that too many things had gone on off-screen in the Winterfell story but upon reflection, I think it worked best. We will never know exactly which Stark sister figured it out first, who went to whom first, and if Bran’s input was the deciding factor. It will have to suffice that the Stark kids worked together and won! They put loyalty to family above personal ambitions and old grudges. Ned would be proud.

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    16. Ryan,

      I’d try to be prepared if I were you: in the end, it will all be about fighting for the throne (I mean, politics, alliances, and a battle in KL if the city still exists), the night king is a kind of distraction that will be dealt with early in season 8, with probably a battle in winterfell, it will only decide who the good guys and the bad guys are really (obviously, we already know, but… who knows?). My guess is by episode 4 we’re done with the army of the dead. Then the real game will start!

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    17. Sean C.,
      You need to go back and re-watch the last 2 episodes, The Stark girls are better players at his game than he was. End game, Liars and Cheaters Always get caught.

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    18. Excellent article! As the show gradually built towards Baelish’s demise, I certainly appreciated a lot of the parallels that the writers were drawing between him and Ned, and how being drawn out of their respective elements led to each of them to their downfall. But this essay pointed out several ways in which that connection ran even deeper than I realized. I’m very much looking forward to going back and rewatching Season 1 now with the knowledge of Littlefinger’s ultimate fate in mind.

      Also, I adored that scene with Sansa and Arya standing on the Winterfell battlements – a mirror image of Jon and Sansa’s scene from the Season 6 finale. It was great to two sisters united and speaking warmly to one another, but my favorite part was beautifully underplayed, whispered exchange at the end.

      Arya: “I miss him.”

      Sansa: ”Me too.”

      The parallels between Ned’s downfall and Littlefinger’s render that particular moment all the sweeter.

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    19. The Het,

      I concur. Now Cersei works as an unconscious ally or the fith column to NK – she is like Saruman to Sauron in the LOTR novels. So, ep 4 or 3 will be victory against the NK, and ep 5 would be for Cersei. However, it would be interesting, if the NK flew directly to KL, raised all the dead there, made Cersei his queen, and then she backstabbed him with a dragonglass dagger taking control over the army of the dead including Viserion. Then Jaime could kill the dragon, and Tyrion could smother Cersei in a very satisfactory way.

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    20. Thanks for this thoughtful article, which I endorse in virtually all its aspects.

      I think that (finally) teaming up to rid Westeros of LF is also an important part of their individual narrative arcs,. They each have been through traumatic experiences that have left each of them unwilling to trust anyone else. Even Sansa’s arc with Jon left her trusting him but not his political instincts. Their teaming up has led to them seeing that they have to trust each other (and in other people more generally) in order to survive. And the battlement scene is not only about healing their relationship but perhaps (at least for Arya) allowing them to truly mourn their so loved departed father, humanizing each of them after their most dehumanizing experiences. But their stories are over yet!

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    21. The only thing I wish was different in the Littlefingers trial was that it was in the God’s Wood in front of the Heart Tree. It is the North.

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    22. KL,

      No, Littlefinger was winning until his final conversation with Sansa. See Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s recent interview about the deleted scene. And the realization in that scene had nothing to do with a sisterly bond.

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    23. As it turns out, in the show, as you mention, Littlefinger’s actions did lead to Catelyn leaving Winterfell, as Sansa does point out that it was his dagger.

      Although, in the books, he had lost the dagger to King Robert in a bet, and Joffrey stole it and gave it to the catspaw.

      The question is how and why did Baelish cause the catspaw’s attack on Bran from King’s Landing, in the show’s version?

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    24. I enjoyed this article, as it aligns with some of my own observations as well! Thanks for pointing out that both Ned and Littlefinger were executed with their own blades. I was still focused on relishing the fact that Peter was brought down with his. I’ve always viewed Ned’s beheading with Ice as the upmost insulting cruelty, but Peter’s end with the Catspaw dagger felt like justice. Funny, that.

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    25. Flayed Potatoes:
      Ned will posthumously end up winning the game of thrones. Cheers!

      I hope so. Ned and Catelyn’s children avenging their parents’ deaths brings me a great deal of joy. It has been the most satisfying death in the show so far for me.

      Jared:
      Also, I adored that scene with Sansa and Arya standing on the Winterfell battlements – a mirror image of Jon and Sansa’s scene from the Season 6 finale. It was great to two sisters united and speaking warmly to one another, but my favorite part was beautifully underplayed, whispered exchange at the end.

      Arya: “I miss him.”

      Sansa: ”Me too.”

      Agree. Beautifully done. Sansa and Arya needed that moment to savor their victory.

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    26. Sansa admitted to being a slow learner, however without Bran’s abilities, OF would be putting around Winterfell for a very long time yet. As for Arya and Sansa being friends, that is never likely to be the case. Family they are. A little more respect, yes.

      Littlefinger’s downward spiral started when he truly (according to showrunners) did not know about Ramsay. And most of us thought that was pretty darn odd. Was that a genuinely huge oversight by the actual character, who had so far known every detail of what went on, or just an easier way for the show to get the train rolling on his eventual end? I don’t know.

      I was sad to see Littlefinger go. Mainly because I love Aidan, but not in small part because I kind of wanted to see him mess with the Night King. 😜

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    27. Underestimating Bran is part of why Littlefinger was out of his element. Southerners don’t believe in wights, white walkers, giants, children of the forest, wargs, and greenseers. The south is like the real world, whereas the north is fantasyland. The same thing happened to Renly. Stannis didn’t outscheme or outmaneuver him. Stannis just had magic on his side and Renly didn’t believe in magic.

      For all the years we’ve had to hear about how this story is different from other fantasy because of how much realer it is, in the end, the Cerseis and Littlefingers of the world, people who would absolutely win in any real world scenario, are not going to actually win. Either the ice demon with the power to control the dead, or the prophesy couple with dragons and magical resurrection priestesses on their side, is going to win.

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    28. mau,

      I agree! Cersei is larger than life. Ever sinceshe blew up the Sept I keep thinking she’ll do herself in with Wildfire. My theory is that rather than surrender King’s Landing to Dany she will blow it up.

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    29. Eddard Stark was a politician of the same calibre of some other southern lords — Jon Arryn, Hoster Tully, etc., balanced between being honorable and pragmatic without being utterly Machiavellian. It was love and PTSD that killed him, not stupidity.

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    30. mau,

      I agree! Cersei is larger than life. Ever since she blew up the Sept I keep thinking she’ll do herself in with Wildfire. My theory is that rather than surrender King’s Landing to Dany she will blow it up.

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    31. It was a very interesting and well-written article. Thanks a bunch to the author !

      However, if I may be a tad cynical here (as per my usually annoying self), I cannot help but point out that, given how the Winterfell storyline played out, home-field advantage did not play that important a role in Littlefinger’s ultimate demise, Bran did. Be it in the North or in King’s Landing, having an omniscient demi-god playing for your team and telling you all about your opponent’s secrets helps. A lot. 😛

      Had Littlefinger had such a thing at his disposal back in season 1, he would have found out about Ned’s treason (the secret of Jon’s true lineage) and could have had both uncle and nephew executed by Robert Baratheon himself (and I doubt the North would have risen up to avenge its fallen Warden).
      Knowledge truly is power ^^

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    32. Sean C.,

      KL,
      You need to go back and re-watch the last 2 episodes, The Stark girls are better players at his game than he was

      No, Littlefinger was winning until his final conversation with Sansa. See Isaac Hempstead-Wright’s recent interview about the deleted scene. And the realization in that scene had nothing to do with a sisterly bond.

      Even without the scene, we know Sansa got those specific, factual charges from Bran. But we don’t know the intent of that scene, when it would have been slotted in, or even if Sansa came alone. In another interview, Isaac says “the sisters”. As Brienne has said, it’s the person who gets in Arya’s way (LF) who needs protecting. Arya knew he was trouble from the moment she learned he was there. And her stare after the sparring was a declaration of war. She had no job at Winterfell or anyone to talk to, plus she had all that surveillance and intelligence training. We know Arya takes action, that she’s not the type to sit around her room weeping over loneliness or dreaming of Nymeria. She looks for trouble. So right after she determined that Sansa was loyal to Jon, Arya focused on LF. And as Polliver, the Waif, the Freys, and others have found out, Arya is relentless.

      Arya was onto LF, but whether she told or included Sansa now seems unlikely. Maybe he conned her over the scroll, maybe she conned him because it did give her something material to ratchet up the conflict with Sansa. As long as Sansa kept running to LF with her fears, everyone was safe because he thought he was in control. Finally, Arya lets Sansa find the Faces, openly explains them, and at the moment Sansa realises what Arya is capable of, gives her his dagger (She switches from point to hilt which recalls LF switching the dagger’s orientation as it lay on Ned’s desk in Season 1). BTW, Arya had left it lying on the table, which means it was available to Sansa when she walked in the room. My guess is that Sansa realises that Arya is the the threat, and takes the bull (dagger) by the horns and goes to Bran for a data search. Possibly by then she is also playing LF and lets him try to brainwash her into executing Arya. And then she presides over the trial, which all three Starks are in on.

      joseph:
      The only thing I wish was different in the Littlefingers trial was that it was in the God’s Wood in front of the Heart Tree.It is the North.

      Think of the weather and those whinging lords! But I agree, that would have been SO appropriate. And the heart tree would have lapped up the blood.

      Pigeon,

      I was sad to see Littlefinger go. Mainly because I love Aidan, but not in small part because I kind of wanted to see him mess with the Night King. 😜

      I would have liked to see the Night King mess with him! 🙂

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