(Spoiler alert for, well, Game of Thrones TV show up to Season 5 Episode 6, obviously.)

This question is about the events in the show, not the books (in which things happen very differently) - although answers based on book information not presented in the show, and which does not contradict what we know from the show, are acceptable :-)

So after the Vale affair, Petyr Baelish offers Sansa to the Boltons as a wife, despite saying he expects Stannis to beat them and take Winterfell.

That in itself does not make much sense, but his motivation seems to be revealed in this episode: He can make the Boltons look like traitors to Cersei. Truth be told, that's rather lame, since if Qyburn is doing any sort of work as Master of Whispers, he should have informed Cersei that it was Lord Baelish who offered Sansa, pulling the rug out from under his argument at the tete-a-tete with the Queen Mother.

But, let's put this contrivance aside and assume he had Sansa marry Ramsey Bolton for this purpose.

Well, what does this get him, exactly? I mean,

Cersei does not give him troops, nor money, nor does she get Lannister allies to act in any way. He's been promised to get to be 'Warden of the North' if he wipes out Stannis. Is he really in a position to lead the Vale to war against Stannis in support of the Lannisters? Even with a royal decree, I don't see how that's happening. Maybe he can manipulate lords who owe him money or something; but even then - it's not just Stannis, it's Stannis and the Iron Bank. Seriously, I don't see that happening. Even if he had pulled this off - who said he would win? Petyr Baelish never led men into battle in his life, and now he's to carry out a foreign invasion against a seasoned and accomplished military commander? Who will likely enjoy some support from the surrounding population? Finally, Baelish has a fixation on Sansa, why would he put her head on a spear for Cersei, especially having invested so much effort in getting her out of King's Landing?

I must be missing something. How are all these Sansa-centered machinations of any utility to Lord Baelish?

Edit following Episode 7:

So now Baelish and Tyrell have sprung the trap on Cersei. This makes the request of sending armed men up north even more ridiculous, since even if he'd gotten her to accept that, she wouldn't get around to arranging it. Also, it's not even clear whether or not he's going to have that royal decree of his. This leads one to believe that everything he told Cersei was essentially babble to keep her distracted. That's fine, i.e. makes Baelish seem less of an idiot. But then, the question remains: What's the use of sending Sansa over to marry Ramsey Bolton?

Edit following Season 5 Finale:

Looks like whatever it is Baelish was planning, it isn't quite working out. He should probably have kept her in the vale - unless he has some fiendishly-clever idea I can't even fathom.

  • 3
    I think it boils down to four little words: Littlefinger is a weasel.
    – Omegacron
    May 18, 2015 at 21:22
  • 4
    "if Qyburn is doing any sort of work as Master of Whispers" I don't see him having a vast network of spies. Don't forget that Varys had that role for eons, and I doubt that just fell into his lap. His title seems to be more a result of Cersei's cronyism, since he's more interested in doing his "experiments".
    – BCdotWEB
    May 19, 2015 at 12:34
  • 3
    I have to agree with @BCdotWEB. There is no indication that Qyburn is at all a capable "master of whispers". Qyburn is a sadistic experimenter and a disgraced maester, expelled by the Citadel. He is probably clever, but hasn't proven himself a capable spymaster. Also, there is no indication Varys' network of spies belonged to the Crown.
    – Andres F.
    May 19, 2015 at 22:10
  • 1
    @AndresF. The Network of spies belongs to the person establishing it. Now if that person isnt in the employ of the Crown anymore... Qyburn has no clue as to how to do the Spymaster thing outside of Court maybe. You need to engage people and give them what they want. You need to have some kind of goal or ambition to be an effective spymaster. The only thint Qyb wants is to experiment on the dead. So the Crown is totaly blind to what Littlefinger is doing.
    – Cherubel
    May 20, 2015 at 9:37
  • 2
    @Cherubel The "purpose" of the scene, I guess, is to subvert expectations and common fantasy tropes (just like they did with Ned and Robb). In this case, the expectation that the damsel in distress will be rescued at the last moment from a horrifying fate. This is true to GRRM and his books, though it doesn't make me like the scene. Sometimes too much is too much.
    – Andres F.
    May 20, 2015 at 13:01

4 Answers 4


In my opinion, this was a situation which the TV-Show's writers had to create in order to reconcile the need for a "Stark" marriage to Ramsay Bolton.

See, as you probably already know, in the books, Ramsay is set to marry Jeyne Poole (henceforth referred to as fArya, for fake Arya). But in the show, with their restrictions for number of important characters, this seems to have been retconned to real Sansa.

It sort-of doesn't make sense, but looking at it from a show watcher's perspective, it has:

  • Limited number of extra characters to remember
  • Has a strong tie-in and connection to Reek / Theon
  • No one really cares about fArya, but people are already emotionally invested in Sansa

  • When Reek ends up saving her (which may or may not happen), it will make it all the more satisfying for the viewer (why should I care that Reek saved fArya?

  • Littlefinger needs support; both with The Vale and The North; he seems to want to be Lord Paramount of everything!
  • Here Cersei is just another ploy for Littlefinger to get what he wants - more power, through acquiring more lands
  • Does Littlefinger actually care about Sansa? Maybe, maybe not; he definitely cared about Catelyn, and in a way Sansa is a reminder of her, but it seems to me that he is more interested in power than anything else
  • 11
    dim fArya as new Float()
    – Telestia
    May 19, 2015 at 15:56
  • 15
    @Telestia - Get that damn Dothraki notation out of here! We use DragonCase here. May 19, 2015 at 17:53
  • 1
    So, the first part of your answer tells me it's just a plot device, without Baelish having any particular benefit necessarily from this Sansa maneuver. But then you claim Baelish carries this out to get more lands. Well, he's not getting any lands out of it, just some pie in the sky. Not to mention the fact that becoming Warden of the North by Lannister-royal decree is not a very stable basis for power in the North. Plus, IIRC Baelish tends to act in back rooms, not in the forefront of political events, charging at the head of armies.
    – einpoklum
    May 19, 2015 at 20:11
  • @Telestia More like: Dim fArya as new Imposter()
    – Möoz
    May 19, 2015 at 22:39

In the behind-the-scenes short right after the episode, Executive Producer David Benioff says this of Littlefinger:

"...He managed to find a way to get into the circles of these powerful families. He's also realized that the only way he's going to be the most powerful of them is if he somehow plays them against each other and induce them to destroy each other."

This jives with how Littlefinger describes himself in the books to Sansa:

"Always keep your foes confused. If they are never certain who you are or what you want, they cannot know what you are like to do next. Sometimes the best way to baffle them is to make moves that have no purpose, or even seem to work against you. Remember that, Sansa, when you come to play the game."

Littlefinger wants to become the most powerful man in Westeros. Having no money and power of his own, the only way for him to rise to the top is for everyone else to topple down around him. His plan with Sansa seems to be setting up for a three way war between the Lannisters, the Boltons and Stannis Baratheon, which suits his plans just fine. He doesn't want one side to win. He wants all sides to lose.

  • Stannis was already at war with both. The Lannisters and Bolton were allies but I don't think the Lannisters were coming to the Boltons aid (were would the money, troops, and General come from?). So effectively he's telling Cersei to do what she was going to do anyway, and risking his most valuable asset (Sansa as the last remaining Stark) to do it. It makes a lot more sense before the power vacuum that was left when Tywin left, but it's still a dumb move.
    – kuhl
    May 19, 2015 at 18:21
  • 1
    Well, if that was his plan, it failed miserably, since Cersei would not entertain his request of troops for one second. However, that's quite unlikely to have been the case - since anybody in Westeros who has not been living under a rock would tell you there is absolutely no way that Cersei would send an army up North. Her position is weak, the crown is deep in debts, it's trying to parlay with the Iron Bank, house Lannister is also dire financial straits IIANM, and even the last war required massive Tyrell support which will now not be extended.
    – einpoklum
    May 19, 2015 at 20:15
  • @einpoklum - Early days still. With the TV show forking off, there's really no way to tell either way. May 19, 2015 at 23:06
  • 1
    @SystemDown: Well, I might upvote you later in the season then :-)
    – einpoklum
    May 20, 2015 at 19:29
  • "[T]he only way for him to rise to the top is for everyone else to topple down", or... you know... gain money, armies and land. Say, the money he made as a whore monger, the army of the Vale under his belt, and isn't he officially the lord of Harrenhall?
    – user46271
    Jun 18, 2015 at 9:56

We don't know yet, but I suspect you're underestimating how much he gains from this (and overestimating how much he intends to keep his word).

  • He gains an army and stronger control of the Vale
    • Before, he was nominally lord protector of the Vale, but disliked and mistrusted - narrowly escaping blame for Lysa's death thanks to Sansa, little more than tolerated. With some skilful manipulation he'd pricked Royce's pride to make him inclined to support Sansa, but there's still a lot of reluctance to rebel. If he tried to call in the lords and knights of the Vale to fight for him, they'd likely refuse, and/or depose him as lord protector.
    • After, he has a royal decree giving him strong authority to call them to his side. He has an enemy and mission they can all unite around (saving Sansa from the hated Boltons), and their prior reluctance is turned on its head - not marching North against the Boltons is now the option that risks looking like rebelling against the crown. Baelish has never had an army of his own before...

A compelling point in favour of this is its convergance with the story in the books:

Both Season 5 and ADWD end with him just one step away from being able to influence the Knights of the Vale to mobilise, ride north against the Boltons, and take Winterfell. In fact, when persuading Sansa to go along with his plan in AFFC, he explicitly mentions having an army march North: "...every knight in the Vale will pledge his sword to win you back your birthright. So those are your gifts from me, my sweet Sansa... Harry, the Eyrie, and Winterfell."

  • He can mobilise troops without suspicion
    • Before, if he started marching armies around, he'd instantly arouse suspicion and mark himself out as a threat. One of his strengths is that everyone thinks he's a useful ally, and no-one sees him as a direct threat (until it's too late)
    • After, he can move troops without arousing suspicion - it'll just look like he's innocently, obediently following orders. He doesn't necessarily even need to take them north straight away - any diversions he has planned could be explained as obtaining supplies or allies for his mission. For example, he and his army could take a detour to pay a certain Walder Frey a visit, nominally to seek more troops, but actually to trick him into saying or doing something stupid that gets himself executed, leaving Baelish a) a hero to the North and b) with the riverlands added to his empire... at least, that's what I'd do...
  • He suddenly has power over the Boltons
    • Before, they owed him a favour - but that counts for almost nothing. He had no sway over them.
    • After, at the point in time when Baelish does these shenanigans, the Boltons are preparing for an attack from Stannis and know they can't fight a war on two fronts. He doesn't need to actually attack or lead troops in battle. He could choose to all but guarantee that the Boltons lose to Stannis, and because he could do this, he has power over them. The Boltons will know that to stop this happening, they'll need an offer that's worth disobeying a royal decree for.
  • He kept his options open, whoever won between Stannis and the Boltons
    • Boltons: it doesn't have to be obvious that he told Cersei about Sansa. He left the Boltons saying he was called away on urgent business - he can make it look like Cersei called him south because she had already been informed. He could confidentially warn the Boltons about the orders Cersei has given him, leaving them suspecting they have a spy among their ranks and that Baelish is informing for them. Then he could agree to disobey the order in return for some valuable concession. If they beat Stannis, he'll still be in a position of power over them for as long as they have Sansa - who they need to keep the North...
    • Stannis: If Stannis did crush all before him, Baelish is not too proud to bend the knee in return for, for example, holding the North while Stannis marches South. Stannis will mistrust him, but not significantly more or less than Stannis mistrusts anyone else.
    • Neither: If they both annihilated or fatally weakened each other, he could mop up, take the credit, and then kick back and enjoy watching the Lannisters and Tyrells destroy each other from a safe distance. Both sides think he's their ally, and he could sit tight, waiting for the perfect moment to take the south.
  • He's in a better position to deepen and profit from chaos
    • He's still at arms length from the conflicts he's helping to deepen - but this time, with an army
    • He's still got the most secure region in the land to retreat to if things got really out of hand, and now holds it more securely
    • He's still in a position where the most powerful people see him as a useful ally, not a threat - and has fresh examples of his usefulness
    • He's still got less to lose and more to gain than everyone else in this game

Of course, it might not play out like this. There might be nothing more to it than the producers trying to bodge together a new storyline for Sansa that involves her doing more than just argue with Robyn Arran about lemon cakes then walk down a hill. But I find it more enjoyable to give the benefit of the doubt this way.

As for the "But he loves Sansa!" theory - Baelish certainly is aware of a pattern of behaviour that humans call "love", which causes them to make predictable, exploitable mistakes. But I'm not convinced he's ever actually had any love for Sansa - at most, he's been enjoying the satisfaction of manipulating the daughter of the woman who eluded him.

Maybe he believes he loved Cat, but I think the actual emotion he felt was one a non-sociopathic human would more likely call "frustrated obsession".

He won't see Sansa's head on a spike in King's Landing - at least until she's no longer useful to him.

  • I'm unconvinced... 1. Gaining an army: he gained a royal decree, not an army; if he can use one, he already had one. Also, Baelish using an army is out of character and disadvantageous to his usual approach to politics. 2. Mobilize without suspicion: If he tried to mobilize the vale to invade the north, he's going to face opposition far greater than suspicion. 3. Power over the Boltons: The Boltons are probably going to get beat by Stannis. 5. I wouldn't say that. He's not going to get the Vale to invade and he's just going to have a royal decree about a vanquished house.
    – einpoklum
    May 20, 2015 at 7:26
  • Following Episode 7... no army and no mobilization. Maybe even no royal decree. But I guess your fourth point, of hedging for the off chance the Boltons make it on top, is a good point.
    – einpoklum
    May 26, 2015 at 19:40

After watching Season 5 Episode 8, it looks the benefit to Petyr Baelish is irrelevant, and this was done since it is simply too compelling plot-wise:

  • Sansa can play the part of fake Arya.
  • Sansa can learn of Bran and Rickon's being alive.
  • Brienne "meets up" with Stannis.
  • Theon/Reek can have some more storyline.

So, rather than "chaos is a ladder" we have "chaos is a plot device"...

  • 1
    Chaos is a ladder on which the plot progresses.
    – user46271
    Jun 18, 2015 at 9:20

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