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Last night’s Game of Thrones was a “breather” episode, but it was also a belter, bringing unlikely characters together for a death-defying mission and threatening to drive wedges between others. One of those wedges involved a secret letter obtained by Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish – a letter that was found by Arya Stark and whose contents remain a mystery.

Well, sort of. This is the internet and this is Game of Thrones, so of course everyone figured out what the letter says and what’s going on here. In fact, those with long memories will know exactly what this note says. But if you’d rather discover what’s going on in the context of the story, consider this your spoiler warning.

The Letter

First of all, here’s the text of the letter in its entirety, as transcribed by the always useful Game of Thrones subreddit and user Opa1979 (via Mashable):

Robb, I write to you with a heavy heart. Our good king Robert is dead, killed from wounds he took in a boar hunt. Father has been charged with treason. He conspired with Robert’s brothers against my beloved Joffrey and tried to steal his throne. The Lannisters are treating me very well and provide me with every comfort. I beg you: come to King’s Landing, swear fealty to King Joffrey and prevent any strife between the great houses of Lannister and Stark. Your faithful sister, Sansa.

How long ago was this letter written? Long enough that every individual referenced in it (Eddard Stark, Robb Stark, Robert Baratheon, Joffrey Baratheon) is dead and has been dead for years. Many of you may even remember when this letter was written and why it was sent in the first place: this was part of the Lannister scheme to cover their tracks after launching a silent coup in the wake of King Robert’s death, a coup that left House Stark damaged and Joffrey, the demented product of incest, on the throne. Sansa Stark, hostage to the crown, wrote this letter home under duress to convince Robb, the newly minted “King in the North,” to bend the knee. But as we saw ourselves, Sansa was not treated well, nor was she provided with every comfort. These were Lannister words placed in the mouth of a Stark to undermine their rebellion.

But you probably forgot about this letter. Everyone forgot about this letter. Except Littlefinger, a man who remembers everything because everything is a possible weapon or escape or avenue toward power. As we saw during the events of “Eastwatch,” Littlefinger knew that Arya Stark was spying on him and knew very well that she would break into his room and find the note he’d hidden in his mattress. It was all part of this plan. He wanted her to find it. Arya may be really good at killing folks, but she’s still a piece on the game board Littlefinger knows better than everyone else.

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The Background

So let’s address the big question: why did Littlefinger want Arya to find this letter and what does he hope to gain from this situation? First, let’s remember how Petyr Baelish got to be where he is right now. The lowborn former Master of Coin at the Red Keep schemed his way into a lordship following the Battle of the Blackwater, a position he used to wed Lysa Arryn. One quick shove later, Littlefinger was Lord of the Vale, commanding a sizable military force and living in an impregnable castle. Not bad.

Later (after selling Sansa to House Bolton and making her life a living hell for a long time), he rode to the rescue during the Battle of the Bastards, breaking the Bolton forces and saving the day. He may be the reason Sansa was so badly abused, he’s the source of much of her misery and trauma, but he still came at her request. He’s the reason Jon Snow is alive and the reason Winterfell is held by the Starks again. Once again: not bad.

And now, with Jon off negotiating with Daenerys and Sansa in control of Winterfell, he’s had the ear of the most powerful woman in the north for the bulk of the season. Let’s say it together: not bad. Littlefinger is exceptional when it comes to climbing a pile of corpses to the next rung on his chaos ladder.

Then a wrinkle entered Littlefinger’s perfectly starched plan: the arrival of Arya Stark, who was supposed to be dead. After all, little girls who vanish into the wilderness are supposed to die, not return home as skilled assassins. So with a new wild card in play, Littlefinger had to change the game.

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The Fallout

I’m not going to pretend to know the specifics of Littlefinger’s plan, but we can see something taking shape here. Both Sansa and Arya have both changed dramatically in the past six seasons, but when they last saw each other, Sansa was a spoiled princess and Arya was an over-eager tomboy. They are literally different people now, reshaped by their experiences. They are, in so many ways, strangers. The Sansa that Arya knew couldn’t wait to marry Joffrey. The Sansa that Arya knew (or at least thinks she knew) could have, possibly, written this letter from an honest place.

But they’re still sisters and they’re still loyal to each other by default. Simply put, the Stark sisters are stronger together. Littlefinger knows this and he’s doing everything in his power to drive a wedge between them. If Sansa can be “his” and his alone (and his creepy infatuation with her is well-documented), the north is that much closer being under his secret, or maybe not-so-secret, control.

Of course, even if the Stark women see through Littlefinger’s plan, it’s not like they can just get rid of him. The north owes him a debt and his army is vital to all of their plans moving forward. Plus, what are they are going to say? That they broke into his room to ruffle through his personal property to find a letter that has nothing to do with anything of consequence? Win or lose, Littlefinger comes out of this one unscathed. The bastard.

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