If you’ve been watching “Game of Thrones”, then you know that this week’s episode, “You Win or You Die”, is when a lot of the planted seeds from the previous six episodes began to bear fruit. King Robert dies. His mandated assassination attempt on Daenerys Targaryen fails and enrages her husband, Khal Drogo, to the point that he’s swearing on his gods and children to cross oceans to reclaim the Iron Throne for her. Ned Stark reveals what he’s found – that the Queen’s incestuous relationship with her twin brother has led to a little blonde bastard as heir apparent to the throne – and it does him a fat lot of good to stand on honor.
And yet, the number one talking point has been two naked women going at it in a brothel as a character talks about his life.
No, the scene in the brothel is not in the books. In fact, I can’t remember if Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish is ever a point-of-view character in the books at all. All you learn about him, you learn from others’ recollections of him or what he tells characters he’s trying to convince, cajole or coerce – information that is extremely biased.
But what I think the show’s creators and writers have done is given a juxtaposition of one of the men playing the game of thrones who so often remains an enigma in the books. Heck, even through Book 4, Littlefinger’s endgame is uncertain because he’s orchestrated so many things and what he tells one character cannot be taken as gospel truth.
So let’s analyze the scene and see what we can gleam from it:
As the scene starts, Littlefinger is in his brothel. He closes a window as we hear a woman moaning. It’s Ros, the whore from Winterfell that Theon Greyjoy so fancied, with another woman orally pleasing her. She’s in the apparent throes of passion when Littlefinger blurts out “No! No! No!” to stop the two women. He chastises their apparent lack of knowledge and demands they change roles. As they restart, he begins to instruct them: they’re not fooling anyone. The john that paid for their services is fully aware that they’re whores. Their job, he states, is “to make them forget what they know. And that takes time. You need to ease into it.”
You would expect a man that owns brothels and is, in the traditional sense, a pimp to know a thing or two about human thinking and how to extract the last coin from every one of his clientele. In a twisted sense, he is reprogramming his hookers to better serve their johns by deconstructing them and then reconstructing them to his way of thinking. And that is:
“He’s winning you over in spite of yourself. You’re starting to like this. He wants to believe you….He knows he’s better than other men. He’s always known it, deep down inside. Now he has proof. He’s reaching something deep inside of you no one even knew was there; overcoming your very nature.”
Littlefinger is no fool. In a city with hundreds of brothels, any man willing to pay for sex will go where he can get it cheapest. So how can he get his clients to come back again and again? Offer up more than just sex. Offer up a fantasy. A dream that the rendezvous between his whores and their clients have nothing to do with the money they just paid and everything to do with the clients’ prowess as lovers. His whores are not selling sex; they’re selling a fairy tale that his clients are desperate to believe.
How is that different from how he leads Ned Stark to believe he can trust him? Or how he apparently has the Small Council certain he can generate the income it needs – specially when juxtaposed with the obvious financial mess the Crown is in?
When Ros invites him to join their escapade, he turns away and states that he’s saving himself for another. Ros tries to goad him by saying “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her” which he shoots down by stating that it’s the other way around – it’s the things we don’t know that kill us. Given what we’ve seen of the court at King’s Landing, this is no surprise. Nor is it that Littlefinger is always certain to be a step or two ahead of all at King Robert’s court – all save the Spider, Lord Varys.
Ros asks if the woman he’s saving himself for is beautiful and he responds with, “No. Not Really. Impeccable bloodlines though.” Ros then states that she thinks he’s in love and Littlefinger says that he has been for many years, since childhood. He then goes on to talk about this relationship while commanding the girls. He says she could tell him anything at all, her deepest secrets included. He describes himself as “her plaything.”
This is all an obvious reference to his childhood years spent at Riverrun, growing up alongside the Tully sisters, Catelyn and Lysa – now Lady Catelyn Stark and Lady Lysa Arryn. It’s interesting that his affection for Catelyn has little to do with his physical attraction to her. This may just be a boastful reproach of Catelyn meant to hide further shame, but it’s doubtful. He’s being far more open in this one scene than he’s been in any before it. In any case, the idea of “impeccable bloodlines” leads to the next part of his story.
Littlefinger starts discussing how he lost Catelyn to another, bigger, stronger man (Brandon Stark). He talks of his duel. “I read all the stories. The little hero always beats the big villain in all the stories.”Instead, his paramour insults him by pleading with her betrothed to spare his life. “He’s just a boy.” In the end, he gets a scar for his actions and the woman he loves marries the brother of the man he dueled. “An even more impressive specimen. She loves him…and why wouldn’t she? Who could compare to him? He’s just so…..good.” As he finishes, Ros makes the other girl climax. Littlefinger stands impressed.
He didn’t lose Catelyn because he was unworthy. He lost Catelyn because he was not the right specimen. He wasn’t of a renowned family, whose wealth and prestige might have earned him Catelyn’s hand outright. He wasn’t of a powerful clan and thus never got the martial training that someone like Brandon Stark (or his brother Ned) had obtained since childhood. What’s worse: Catelyn knew it far better than he did. While he fell into the trap of believing in fantasies, she was brutally honest in her assessment and sought to prevent his death. It seems he’s never forgiven her for her kindness.
Petyr ends by revealing what he learned from his duel: “I learned that I’ll never win. Not that way. That’s their game, their rules. I’m not going to fight them. I’m going to fuck them. That’s what I know. That’s what I am. And only by admitting what we are, can we get what we want.” When pressed with what he wants, he responds: “Oh, everything. Everything there is, my dear.”
Here lies the crux of the scene; his motivation for how he acts. He is no warrior. He lacks the size and the strength to wear armor and head into battle. Unlike Jamie Lannister or Robert Baratheon, he has no skill with sword or spear. Even if he did, his low birth grants him no loyal lords to call upon for an army. At best, he’d be a mercenary like Bronn, hoping to one day attach himself to a great house or do some great deed that may see him rise to something.
But as master of coin, he is immediately plugged into the innermost workings of the Kingdoms. He has a seat at the table where decisions are made. He can size up rivals or allies and know that, because of his status as a pimp and money man, he will never be seen as a threat by noble fools like Ned Stark or Cersei Lannister. This gives him almost limitless space and opportunity to do as he wishes and to whom he wishes.
More importantly, Littlefinger is far more aware of his limitations than anyone else is of theirs. Robert is king because Jon Arryn and Ned Stark said he should be – in spite of any aptitude to leadership. Ned Stark is leading an investigation into conspiracy and murder when he clearly lacks the skills to be deceptive. Lysa Arryn sits as Protector of the Vale and yet everyone can see is batshit nuts. The noble lords and ladies of King’s Landing have inherited their castles, lands and positions and been groomed for them. Whether they should have them is apparently not an important point.
Petyr Baelish is a man who is cold, ruthless and calculating. How cold is he? He has two beautiful, naked women completely desperate to do whatever it takes to please him and he sees them as nothing more than potential monetary gain. He sees Catelyn Stark as nothing more than a way to ascend the social ladder of Westeros – something nearly impossible for most.
What that scene reveals is the amount of pent-up rage Littlefinger has inside him. He hates the Starks and hates the world of Westeros because it doesn’t matter what his talents are — he’ll always be second to someone of the right lineage and title. So rather than play that game, he’s playing his own game. One in which none but him can win.
So the big question: why have this scene play out while two women were going at it?
It’s easy to dismiss this as HBO’s pandering to their male audience. Two attractive young women, nakedly engaging in sapphic lovemaking is enticing. What was the only thing people spoke of when talking of Black Swan? That’s right, the make-out session between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. It’s no secret to say that many enjoy watching beautiful women going at it.
I think that is dismissing the larger point. These two women aren’t engaged in sexual activities for their own enjoyment. This isn’t two lovers looking to please one another. On the contrary, they are sex workers looking to prove their skills to a prospective employer. And this employer is dispassionate in his assessment of their charms. He’s not turned on by their actions. He’s turned on by other things.
What the scene reveals is that Littlefinger is someone who sees people as things to be used. Ros and her partner will get him coin. Catelyn Stark will get him position. Ned Stark or Cersei Lannister will help him rise in society. Each member in the game of thrones is but a rung in a ladder for him to step on towards his ultimate goal. And he doesn’t care what they feel physically, mentally, emotionally or any other ways. He will have everything. And everyone will pay for it.
What better way to show his greed and his drive than by having him focused on his goals even in the face of such rampant sexuality?