In last week’s post, I talked about the critical backlash against the season five Winterfell storyline, and about how the decision to move Littlefinger and Sansa from the Vale to the North created a host of narrative problems. Now it’s time to get into what those narrative problems are.
The next two seasons (five and six) of this storyline are kicked off by a typical Littlefinger scheme: he plans to marry Sansa Stark to Roose Bolton’s newly-legitimized son Ramsay, thereby securing an alliance with the new Warden of the North. This is the sort of thing we expect from Petyr Baelish, who’s always angling for his own advantage. In fact, the show portrays him so clearly as the “wily schemer” type that it’s possible not to notice that…
Littlefinger’s “plan,” to the extent he even has one, is completely bonkers
His accent is also completely bonkers.
Littlefinger’s “plan,” to the extent he even has one, is completely bonkers. Let’s take a look at the backdrop here: first, Sansa was recently married to Tyrion Lannister, who is believed to have poisoned the King, and Sansa is suspected by many, including Cersei, to have been his accomplice.A suspicion reinforced by the fact that she abruptly vanished from the capital immediately after Joffrey’s death. So for Sansa to be in Littlefinger’s company at all would raise highly uncomfortable questions for him.
Second, consider that while they make a token attempt to conceal her on the roadWhich doesn’t stop Pod from recognizing her anyway., once at Winterfell her presence will be known to all, since this is supposed to be a highly publicized wedding – and Littlefinger, who made no attempt to conceal his presence at the castle, will have been seen there by dozens if not hundreds of people. Both he and Roose admit that this marriage will scupper both of their alliances with the Lannisters.Later, we’ll learn that this is not necessarily true for Littlefinger, who is banking on everyone he deals with remaining completely oblivious to what’s happening around them. But more on that later.
Third, this deal is hilariously one-sided in favor of the Boltons. They get the legitimacy of a marriage to what is, as far the public knows, the last remaining Stark. Littlefinger gets… well, I’m not sure. He and Sansa are not blood relativesHe’s her uncle by marriage, which in terms of succession means approximately zilch., so there’s no dynastic tie being formed here. Once they have Sansa in their possession, the Boltons can (and do) simply make a captive of her, and are perfectly free to tell Littlefinger to go pound sand if he wants their help later. And remember that Roose Bolton is one of the co-orchestrators of the most famous betrayal in the entire series, so he’s not exactly known for his trustworthiness.
So in short, Littlefinger is willing to poke his finger in the eye of the Lannisters and the Crown, implicate himself in a regicide, and bargain away a valuable political asset in exchange for a flimsy alliance with a famously untrustworthy Lord that he expects to shortly be deposed anyway. Oh right! I hadn’t even gotten to that last bit. See, Stannis Baratheon has an army at the Wall and intends to march south, and Littlefinger predicts that King Stannis will defeat Lord Roose. And then, as he explains to Sansa, “Grateful for your late father’s courageous support for his claim, he names you Wardeness of the North.”
You might be forgiven for thinking that Littlefinger has rather too much confidence in the gratitude of the not-exactly-magnamious Stannis Baratheon. You might also be forgiven for thinking that the whole Stannis thing obviates the need for a marriage at all – in fact, by bolstering Bolton legitimacy among the Northern lords, isn’t Sansa just making Stannis’ job harder and torpedoing his opinion of her before the two even meet? You might also be forgiven for thinking that if events play out the way Baelish thinks they will, he loses both Sansa and the support of the Lannisters and gains nothing in return, so why is he doing any of this at all?Stannis is not likely to thank him for brokering an advantageous marriage for his recently-defeated enemy. You might be forgiven for thinking these things, but I suggest that you avoid thinking about this whole mess anyway, because the more you do the likelier you are to develop a pounding headache.
I suppose you could interpret the marriage as a hedge on Littlefinger’s part, just in case the Boltons do win. But Sansa could just as easily – and much more safely – be married off after the Roose/Stannis battle instead of before. Even setting that aside, he has no discernible plan for a Bolton victory – he tells Sansa to “take this Bolton boy, Ramsay, and make him yours.” He’s unperturbed by the fact that she says she doesn’t know how to do that and is visibly uncomfortable at the thought of trying. Even if she can, what next? What is she supposed to do with him once he’s “hers”? Littlefinger never explains, which is why I used quotation marks when I referred to his “plan” in the section title. I like to think of a “plan” as something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end – but this one doesn’t even have an identifiable middle, let alone an end, and the beginning makes no sense.
One possible defense of Littlefinger’s actions is that complicated schemes aren’t actually his M.O. – instead, he prefers to stir up chaos and then improvise to his own advantage. But, as we’ll see going forward, he never really does that either. Two seasons’ worth of shenanigans later, he won’t have improved his position in any measurable way, and will arguably have made it worse.
“A hardened woman making a choice”
See how hardened she looks?
The writers’ pet description of Sansa during this time was that she was “a hardened woman making a choice” – a description that doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny at all. You can believe them or your own lying eyes – if you have an HBO subscription, or a copy of season five on DVD lying around, go ahead and watch the scene (it’s in episode 3, “High Sparrow”) where the “choice” is made. Ask yourself afterwards if that looked more like “a hardened woman making a choice” or “an older man browbeats a teenage girl into doing something she clearly doesn’t want to do.”
I remembered the reasoning Littlefinger gave as being a little silly, but upon rewatching the scene I realized that it was in fact completely ridiculous. Here is his final line: “You’ve been a bystander to tragedy from the day they executed your father. Stop being a bystander, do you hear me? Stop running. There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family. Avenge them.”
A revenge marriage! It’s brilliant! There is the niggling question of how on earth marrying a man’s son, and in the process doing him a significant political favor, constitutes anything resembling revenge. But Littlefinger addresses this question by never even attempting to explain. If, at this point, you still have some lingering trust in Littlefinger (and, by extension, the writer), you may expect that the full brilliance of his scheming will be revealed later. Well, something will be revealed later, that’s for sure. Your mileage may vary on whether it’s brilliance or more head-scratching unlogic, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
The galling thing about this is that despite its absurdity it might have even worked. At the end of season four the show debuted the brand-new “goth Sansa,” who wore dark clothing and smirked a lot and who, for all her cheesiness, might have been up to the task of somehow manipulating Ramsay. But that character was abandoned by the start of season five and hasn’t been seen since.
The potentially interesting character direction they of course abandoned.
She’s replaced with do-nothing Sansa, who never even attempts to get her hooks into the man she’s supposed to make “hers.” It’d be one thing if she tried and failed, but she never even tries. There’s never any equivalent of Margaery snuggling up to Joffrey and faking a convincing interest in crossbows. Instead, she spends her time in Winterfall launching passive-aggressive barbs at the only other women she comes across. (One thing you’ll notice about this show as we go on is that the women in it are nearly always hostile to each other, regardless of whether they have any reason to be.)
In summary, herding Sansa and Littlefinger into Winterfell requires them to embark on a mission that’s almost indescribably stupid and only gets stupider the more you think about it. Sansa’s rape at the hands of Ramsay, far from being the innocent victim of narrative inevitability, was in fact the deliberate product of an entire assembly line’s worth of clumsy contrivances. Benioff and Weiss wanted a rape-revenge storyline, and they got one.
However, there’s one thing the two of them weren’t counting on: the Gitchy feeling. Stay tuned to learn what the Gitchy feeling is, and how it made itself known during season five.
 A suspicion reinforced by the fact that she abruptly vanished from the capital immediately after Joffrey’s death.
 Which doesn’t stop Pod from recognizing her anyway.
 Later, we’ll learn that this is not necessarily true for Littlefinger, who is banking on everyone he deals with remaining completely oblivious to what’s happening around them. But more on that later.
 He’s her uncle by marriage, which in terms of succession means approximately zilch.
 Stannis is not likely to thank him for brokering an advantageous marriage for his recently-defeated enemy.