Game of Thrones has changed drastically from its first few seasons. While at its core the show is still about two people having conversations, the show has finally reached its endgame. In its first few seasons, the show didn’t have the budget to be anything more than a political thriller mixed with some violence. But the big battles were almost always off-camera, the dragons were rarely seen, and the White Walkers popped up maybe once per season just to remind you they were an incoming threat.
In this climate where conversation was king, a character like Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish thrived. He ran a brothel, but he was also on the small council. He was a top-notch schemer, and even after he left the small council to become Lord of Harrenhal, he was still scheming off screen, working to depose Joffrey, abscond with Sansa, and take over the Vale. In the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, he was quietly one of the most dangerous players. He didn’t have a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne, but he was able to play at the level of kings. The only thing that “humanizes” him (and I don’t mean that as a compliment) is his infatuation with Catelyn Stark, an infatuation that has now moved to her daughter, Sansa.
And yet as we’ve seen in Season 7, Baelish is no longer a serious player, or if he is, he’s playing it so quietly that his moves would be imperceptible and thus unrewarding. His forces helped win the Battle of the Bastards, but no one treats him with any respect. If we assume Baelish only has two major objectives—win the Iron Throne and marry Sansa—he is no closer to achieving these than he was three seasons ago. If anything, Sansa is wise to his game and he doesn’t have the military might to take on Cersei or Daenerys. His best hope is to get Sansa on the Iron Throne and marry her.
With only ten episodes left in the entire series, however, that seems unlikely, and it’s because Baelish’s small ball approach no longer matters in the scheme of the series. Unlike Tyrion or Varys, who have used their talent at talking and manipulation to actually take a side in a war that matters, Baelish has shown that he’s too clever for his own good. He’s a piece in a game where he’s irrelevant. In a conflict between Daenerys and Cersei, one having dragons and the other having a massive army, and then a secondary conflict involving the White Walkers, where does a slimy guy fit in? Westeros is still populated with bad people, but they’re bad people who take actions, not people who are playing the long game.
Baelish’s approach—to play the long game—has simply run out of time. While it’s possible that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are purposely diminishing the character to make an eventual strike more effective, at this point, such a turn would come off as cheap and comical. The cards are on the table, and so to try and turn back time and say, “When Baelish was leaning against the wall smirking and irritating Sansa, he was actually masterminding the takeover of Westeros,” seems misguided. He’s a supporting character who’s borderline deadweight, but the show keeps him around because he informs Sansa’s character rather than vice-versa.
I’m not sure how much longer Baelish is going to survive because the show isn’t quite sure what do with him. Maybe he tries to take over Winterfell by murdering Sansa, but he’s already made a similar move before and Sansa is aware of all his tricks. If anything, she’s more likely to murder him for taking up space and being smug all the time. For a character like Baelish who apprises people and situations based on how useful they’ll be to him personally, he’s a character who has exhausted his usefulness to Game of Thrones.