In the Game of Thrones season opening episode “The North Remembers” there is a scene that is not from the book. That is not to say it did not happen; the Point of View writing of A Song of Ice and Fire leaves plenty of room for such scenes to occur, just we the readers do not witness them. This is going to happen more in Season 2 as the show’s producers are expanding Richard Madden’s role as Robb Stark; most of what we know of Robb’s adventures in A Clash of Kings is second-hand knowledge via other point-of-view characters.
The scene to which I refer is between Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the realm’s Master of Coin and Queen-Regent Cersei Lannister. Baelish is approached by Cersei, accompanied by four Lannister guardsmen, as he walks through the Red Keep. The missing Arya Stark weighs heavily on Cersei’s mind and she entreats Baelish to use his resources to find her.
Littlefinger points to Varys, the Spider, as a better source of information. The conversation rapidly takes a nasty turn, as Baelish tries to press home the point that “knowledge is power” and that he knows all about the affair between Cersei and her brother Jaime (and the result who sits upon the Iron Throne) and Cersei uses brute force to make her point that “Power is power.”
On first viewing, I did not like this scene. Littlefinger in the books is a strategic thinker, listening carefully and speaking only with purpose. He is a true player of the game. However TV Littlefinger seems more blaise about his own place and what he knows, willing to risk Cersei’s wrath to make a point that really, does not need making since Stannis Baratheon has told the realm of Joffrey’s incestuous parentage. Book.Littlefinger plays his cards very close to his chest; TV.Littlefinger is more of an open book.
On second viewing, however, I changed my thinking. Cersei, frustrated at the loss of Arya and upset by her brother Tyrion, is looking for someone she can bully. Littlefinger gives her an opening with a gentle nudge about her position:
Some people are fortunate enough to be born into the right family; others have to find their own way.
Cersei, never known to take things lightly, pushes Littlefinger’s buttons; first by backhand insulting his newly created sigil, then insulting him more directly with regards to his poor beginnings, his luck at being raised by a well to do family, and finally a stab at his love for Caetlyn Stark:
…a boy of modest means, found his way into the home of a very prominent family. He loved the eldest daughter. Sadly she had eyes for another.
Baelish sees red. How dare she prick at his deep love for Cat? So he ripostes with an attack of his own:
When boys and girls live in the same home, awkward situations can arise. Sometimes I’ve heard, even brothers and sisters develop certain affections. And when those affections become common knowledge, well… that is an awkward situation…especially in a prominent family.
Littlefinger is then lost in the smirking love of his own cleverness, not paying attention to the look on Cersei’s face. Otherwise, he may have stopped himself. Instead, incensed by her stab at his love for Caetlyn, he plows on:
Prominent families often forget a simple truth… knowledge is power.
Cersei is raging, barely controlling herself. She can’t let this smirking upstart think he’s upstaged her. She lets rip, ordering her guards to seize Littlefinger and slit his throat.
At the last moment she orders them to stop and release him. It’s a demonstration, she explains:
Power is power.
And don’t you forget it, Littlefinger! Cersei puts him in his place and, we hope, he learns a lesson that Book.Littlefinger learned a long time before: play your cards more carefully, lest you lose your head.
Power – who has it, who wants it, and how it is used – is one of the central themes of Game of Thrones. As with the riddle Lord Varys relates to Tyrion in the next episode, power is a trick, a shadow on the wall, and resides only where people believe it resides. Had Cersei’s guards been city watch Goldcloaks, the scene may have been quite different, given Baelish pays their wages. I like this scene now, if only that it displays more of Littlefinger’s humanity and reminds everyone that the small council still schemes and plots against each other. Cersei may hold the sword, but men like Littlefinger and Varys hold knowledge. The big question is which will be victorious: brute force or information?