Friday, December 21, 2012

Biting the feeding hand

When Sandor Clegane rode on the tourney ground in "A Game of Thrones" Tourney of the Hand, Renly Baratheon and Petyr Baelish make a wager: 100 golden dragons on the winner. Renly calls out, cheeringly, that "the Hound looks hungry today", to which Littlefinger only replies that "he knows better than to bite the hand that feeds him". The result is known: Sandor unhorses Jaime Lannister, and Littlefinger loses the money. Sansa then tells him that she knew it would end that way, and Littlefinger asks her to tell him beforehand next time. This little episode tells us quite a bit about Renly and Littlefinger and their approach on politics. 

Ready to bite.

Littlefinger at one point tells Sansa that you are either a player in the Game of Thrones or a piece on the board, and that's how he views people. Sandor Clegane is clearly not a player, therefore he must be a piece. Clegane's affiliation is Lannister, therefore he will obey the rules and let his master win. Renly, on the other hand, judges people on their character traits (although his priorities are not exactly the best serving for his purposes). He doesn't care much for previous loyalties if the person in question has something he wants (love, affection and splendor, mostly). 

Showing some love and passion.
It so happens that Littlefinger is out off. Sandor doesn't want to be the piece the people imagine him to be. He fills out his role as Joffrey's hound well enough, but it seems he does so out of a lack of other possibilities and because it suits his life style and his sub-conscious desire to kill his brother Gregor. Littlefinger fails to see that, as he fails to see that people are their own agents from time to time. His masterpiece, marrying Sansa to Harry the Heir to claim the North, doesn't take into account that Sansa might be an agent of her own will, neither. 

Who would ever attribute agency to a girl like that?
This might also be the reason why Littlefinger inspires no loyalty on his own. He has to buy them (them = the pieces on the board). His approach is very unpersonal. He has exactly two servants he seems to trust a bit, and both of them date back to his youth: Lothor Brune and the old Kettleblack. Renly, on the other hand, used his personal charms and empathy to bind people to his person. He fell when he misjudged a person he thought he knew his whole life - Stannis, who would murder him in the night. It's a common mistake. Littlefinger will fall because it doesn't even occur to him that someone he regards as inferior is able to make decisions for themselves. He proved it with Sandor, the "Hound" that bit the feeding hand, and he will from Sansa, I'm certain of it.

I'd guess that's how she'll look at Petyr when she finds out what he's done in the past.


  1. I don't want to slam this, but you are wildly off. Littlefinger understands human agency, their desires and wants and what drives them. Hes not ignoring this fact, hes not oblivious to this fact, he is not wrong in any systematic way, hes just wrong about what drives that one single person. Plus you are taking Littlefinger at his word in a single offhand comment, he might have just thought Jaime Lannister was better with a lance.

    1. Slam away, I do so too with other theories.
      And I fear you are right, and I jumped to conclusions a bit. However, I want to emphasize that when I talked about agency I meant that he attributes these people the power and self-awareness to make their own decisions.

    2. Well, EVERYONE makes their own decisions...but they become pieces on the board once you understand their motivations and the way their minds work well enough to manipulate them into serving YOUR desires instead of their own. He misjudged Sandor, but that's just because he didn't fully understand how Sandor thinks.

  2. I think this makes sense for Littlefinger's view of the world. He's pretty much cyncism made flesh as a character and Martin gives him a common cynics' beginning-crushed idealism.

    I think he views only a few people as even capable of playing the game the way he does and does see most people as pieces. This also has the effect of buttressing his massive ego. I really love that character in the he's both insanely talented and probably overrating his abilities. That's like half of all U.S. presidents right there.

    I tend to agree with Stefan's diagnosis of Littlefinger's failure to understand Sandor here. Littlefinger only gives the respect of imagining complex human emotions and motivations to people like him who are playing the game. Which Sandor is most assuredly not. Now, it's probably not that big of a problem because most people are as simple for him to read and use as Lyn Corbray is. Sansa sure does seem like a prime person for him to underestimate.

    But I wonder what's going to happen when Littlefinger becomes aware that the Others* exist. Then, we'll see how much of a pragmatist he really is.

    * This assumes the Others are going to interact with Westeros as the sort of implacable, otherworldly (heeheee) and elemental force that they seem to be. I personally sort of doubt it, especially given Martin's comments about another fantasy series that inspired him and which was distinguished by having more complex and relatable antagonists than a fantasy epic would usually feature. Small spoilers, it's The Dragonbone Chair books by Tad Williams.

    1. The Littlefinger you just described would be as incompetent as Cersei, and hopelessly incapable of doing all the things he has done in the books so far.

    2. I don't see how he'd be so incomptent. I think Littlefinger is a.) awesome at reading people and their motivations b.) able to take advantage of that talent because he's ruthless and amoral, as well as brilliant and c.) really arrogant about his abilities to do that. And I think the view as most people as not really "playing the game" ie thinking as far ahead as he is and willing to do the kind of things he's willing to do is mostly correct. Most people are not good at seeing the big picture. Ned Stark isn't some kind of idiot, for example, but he didn't see things in Kings Landing as clearly as Littlefinger did.

      He's probably going to underestimate someone at some point to his major detriment and it really seems like it's Sansa. She now knows so much dirt on Littlefinger that if he had any sort of sense that she was a threat, he'd have to kill her forthwith. But he doesn't, presumably because he has some kind of mix of feelings for her as Catelyn's daughter and because she's valuable as a heiress to the North, or something near enough for Littlefinger's purposes. He's let her know that he was in on the murders of the the King and the Hand of the King. And, unlike his underlings that know about what he's been doing, Sansa Stark is a witness that important people are more likely to listen to. And, unlike his co-conspirators like Oleana Tyrell, she can plausibly claim to have not been involved, so might be more easily able to tell, be believed and escape punishment. And he didn't need to tell Sansa what was up. He could have just kept her in the dark about most of it and fed her some kind of bullshit.

      And he could have, y'know, not kissed her and been forced to murder Lysa Arryn in front of her, though I suppose Lysa was almost sure to shuffled off at some point.

  3. You are forgetting another Littlefinger quote. He tells Sansa, "In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them. Mark that well, Alayne. It’s a lesson that Cersei Lannister still has yet to learn." Of course, whether he will adhere to his own lesson in all cases remains to be seen. But he is absolutely aware of the possibility that "someone he regards as inferior is able to make decisions for themselves."

    1. Ok, that quote officially kills my little theory.

    2. No, it doesn't, not really.
      As I have pointed out before, Littlefinger shows the primary symptom of Antisocial Personality Disorder - inability to empathize with other human beings even on so basic a level as to understand that they actually have personalities as complex as his own.
      This is a good description of that. Littlefinger had to acknowledge that the pawns have wills of their own out of personal experience. That means he is neither blind nor stupid, but we knew that already.
      It does not mean, however, that he actually percieves his pawns as human beings who maybe have human desires, goals, flaws, and most of all, weak and strong points that HE, Littlefinger, MIGHT NOT ALREADY KNOW.
      Because they're just pawns, right? Sometimes they don't do what you want. But it's not like they're HUMANS or anything, pfff!
      In Littlefinger's mind, he is actually the only human being in the world, as in the mind of everybody with APD (that's why the prisons are so full of them). And yes, I do think that will be his downfall. With or without help of Sansa.