(Major spoilers ahead for the “Game of Thrones” Season 7 finale.)
There hasn’t been anybody better at manipulating and backstabbing on “Game of Thrones” than Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen). All his work, including turning people against each other and getting plenty of people killed, has been part of a plot to get himself on the Iron Throne.
In the end, though, he went up against an opponent he couldn’t beat: One he made himself.
The Season 7 finale sees all of Littlefinger’s treasonous backstabbing come to an end when he goes up against Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). For years, Littlefinger has kept Sansa close, hoping to use her as a replacement for Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), the woman he loved for years. He taught Sansa his manipulative ways while also trying to manipulate her for his own ends. But, apparently, he taught Sansa too well — and didn’t expect Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) to be so smart.
Littlefinger’s end came after he tried to pit Sansa and Arya against each other in Season 7. He spent the whole season poisoning the two sisters against one another as part of his larger plan to get Sansa to take over the North. As the Lady of Winterfell — and with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the King in the North, spending most of the season at Dragonstone with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) — Sansa proved herself an able ruler and garnered the loyalty of the lords of the North.
Littlefinger hoped to use that to his advantage — let everyone else fight each other and the Night King, while the armies of the North waited for the dust to settle. Then, he seemed to figure, he and Sansa could take the Iron Throne with the only remaining solid army in the land.
But Littlefinger knew he needed to eliminate Arya, who was loyal to Jon and distrustful of him. Knowing Arya was spying on him, he planted evidence against Sansa: a message she wrote to Robb Stark (Richard Madden) years earlier, imploring him to pledge fealty to the Lannisters in order to save the life of their father, Ned Stark (Sean Bean). Arya seemingly saw that letter as a betrayal of the family, playing into her earlier dislike of Sansa for seemingly picking the Lannisters over the Starks, back in Season 1.
But while it looked like Arya and Sansa were preparing to go after one another, they were both manipulating Littlefinger. For all his successful machinations, he taught Sansa too well: She learned what he was really like, and was able to see through his manipulation. Together, Sansa and Arya executed Littlefinger.
It’s the final end to a series of moves that were behind most of the strife that’s befallen Westeros throughout the run of “Game of Thrones.” Nobody was as good at reading people, manipulating them, and turning situations to his personal gain than he was. Littlefinger was behind the chaos that started it all, in fact: He convinced Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie), Catelyn’s sister, that he was in love with her, and got her to poison her husband, Jon Arryn, the Hand of King Robert (Mark Addy). That caused Ned to head to King’s Landing, where he found out the truth about Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), and the fact that Robert’s heirs were actually Jaime’s kids.
Meanwhile, Littlefinger created more animosity between the Starks and the Lannisters by framing Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) for an assassination attempt on Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). He told Catelyn that the dagger used in the assassination attempt belonged to Tyrion, and that caused Catelyn to capture Tyrion and put him on trial.
When Ned tried to rally the Small Council to take the throne from the Lannisters, Littlefinger initially claimed he supported Ned, but betrayed him at the last moment. Though he might have backed Ned under the right circumstances, he saw the Lannisters in a stronger position at the time, and instead allied himself with them. King Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson) wound up having Ned executed, an act that started the War of the Five Kings, and got tons of other people killed.
Littlefinger helped Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) poison King Joffrey during his wedding, and then helped Sansa escape to help make Tyrion look guilty of the murder. He claimed he loved her, and took her to Lysa in the Vale. Littlefinger married Lysa, but when she threatened Sansa, he tossed Lysa out the Moon Door. With Sansa’s help, he was able to claim Lysa killed herself and got the loyalty of the Knights of the Vale behind him.
During their time together, Littlefinger mentored Sansa on how to manipulate people, while revealing to her what he really wanted. She learned a lot from watching him work on people during that time. She also learned a lot about who Littlefinger really was — more, it seemed, than he realized.
Next, Littlefinger tried to maneuver Sansa toward being in power in the North again by wedding her to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). He seemed to think it would be a conduit to growing his power in the North, but it actually turned Sansa against him, since Ramsay was incredibly abusive.
Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) helped Sansa escape Ramsay and Winterfell, and she was able to reunite with Jon. Littlefinger started trying to manipulate Sansa again immediately afterward, and seemingly re-won her trust when she smartly called for his help to retake Winterfell during the Battle of the Bastards. Jon would have lost the battle, but the Knights of the Vale showed up at the last second and defeated the Boltons.
While Sansa knew Littlefinger was a useful ally, she also was keeping an eye on him. He immediately started setting her against Jon, who repeatedly failed to listen to her counsel, and when Arya showed up, he recognized she was a threat as well.
While Littlefinger might have been right to play on the fears of his allies and enemies, he did something with Sansa he didn’t do with anyone else: He showed her who he really was. And that allowed Sansa to see through him in a way no one else could.