In the opening episode of Game of Thrones‘ second season, “The North Remembers,” there’s a scene that’s absent from the book. While the novel’s point of view narrative allows for such scenes, they’re not directly witnessed by the readers. In the TV series, we see more of these as Robb Stark’s role, played by Richard Madden, is expanded, providing a more firsthand experience of events that are only alluded to in A Clash of Kings.
The particular scene I’m referencing involves a tense exchange between Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the realm’s Master of Coin, and Queen-Regent Cersei Lannister. As Littlefinger strolls through the Red Keep, he’s confronted by Cersei, who is flanked by four Lannister guardsmen, concerning the whereabouts of the missing Arya Stark.
Littlefinger suggests Varys, the Spider, might be a more fruitful source of information. However, the dialogue quickly sours as Littlefinger implies his awareness of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime, signifying “knowledge is power.” In a stark contrast, Cersei demonstrates her own interpretation of power by using brute force to silence Littlefinger.
Initially, I wasn’t fond of this scene. The Littlefinger from the books is a calculated, careful speaker and a mastermind in the game of thrones. However, his television counterpart seems recklessly open, flaunting his knowledge and underestimating Cersei’s response. Yet, upon a second viewing, I reconsidered. Cersei, grappling with Arya’s disappearance and familial tensions, is looking for someone to dominate, and Littlefinger provides her the opportunity.
The exchange escalates as they delve into personal attacks, with Cersei mocking Littlefinger’s origins and unrequited love for Catelyn Stark. Littlefinger retaliates, alluding to the Lannister siblings’ taboo relationship. The confrontation peaks when Cersei, incensed, orders her guards to feign executing Littlefinger, only to stop them at the last moment, proclaiming, “Power is power.”
The scene is a stark reminder of the central theme of power dynamics within Game of Thrones. Varys’s riddle to Tyrion about power being an illusion reflects this scene’s essence. If the guards had been Goldcloaks, under Littlefinger’s payroll, the outcome might have differed. I’ve come to appreciate this scene for its exploration of Littlefinger’s character and the constant machinations of the small council. It raises the question of what ultimately prevails: brute force or cunning?