Season 7 of Game Of Thrones continues to call back to the show's beginnings in surprising ways. Not only did the fifth episode, "Eastwatch," feature the return of long-lost fan-favorite character Gendry, but it also reintroduced a letter Sansa wrote in Game Of Thrones Season 1. The episode uses the letter as evidence that Littlefinger is manipulating Arya, setting up a conflict that will divide the newly-reunited Stark sisters… but what if it's actually the other way around? Is Arya playing Littlefinger by pretending to let him play her? How deep do the layers of deception go?
The letter in question is a pretty deep cut for viewers not accustomed to poring over every single episode multiple times looking for clues and details that may or may not become important later. The note was written in the Season 1 episode "The Pointy End," between Ned's arrest for treason and his beheading at the Great Sept of Baelor. Cersei coerced young Sansa into penning the missive to her brother Robb, King in the North, ordering him to come to King's Landing and pledge fealty to King Joffrey. Sansa acquiesced, both out of fear for her own safety, and out of a misguided assumption that following the queen's instructions would help protect her father.
It read in full:
"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."
Obviously the letter did nothing to help anyone in the short term — Ned was beheaded regardless, Robb refused the summons, and the War Of The Five Kings broke out in earnest — but, in the long run, it seems like Littlefinger thinks it can help him sow discord within the Stark camp, the better to help him climb the ladder of the ensuing chaos. By pitting Arya against Sansa by making the younger Stark think her older sister was and has always been a Lannister pawn, Littlefinger can then alienate the sisters and remain Sansa's sole true confidante.
If you're confused about how Littlefinger knew of the existence of this letter, there's good reason for his knowledge; he was in the room when it was written, alongside his fellow Small Council members, Lord Varys and Grand Maester Pycelle. But it's a bit unclear why exactly Littlefinger think this scheme will work. Upon receipt of the letter back in Season 1, Robb immediately saw through the ploy and recognized the letter for what it really was: a blatant manipulation of his innocent young sister by the unscrupulous Cersei. ("It is your sister's hand, but the queen's words," Maester Luwin confirmed.) And, apologies to the Young Wolf, but Arya is quite a bit smarter than her brother Robb. Surely if he could recognize a Lannister deception, then so can she.
And even if Arya doesn't yet know that Littlefinger betrayed her father back in Season 1, there's another reason why she should know better than to trust Lord Baelish. In Season 2, while a disguised Arya was serving as Tywin Lannister's cupbearer at Harrenhal, she overheard a meeting between the Hand of the King and the Master of Coin, in which the pair plotted the death of her brother Robb by uniting the houses of Lannister and Tyrell against him. It was unclear at the time whether Littlefinger recognized Arya at Harrenhal or not; but she certainly recognized him back then, which you might think would make her disinclined to fall victim to his schemes now.
(Actor Aidan Gillen has also since confirmed that, in his opinion, Littlefinger did recognize Arya at Harrenhal… which once again just brings into question why exactly Petyr Baelish thinks this plan of his will work, if he knows Arya has literally witnessed him plotting against her family before.)
So, if Arya should be smart enough to realize the truth about Sansa's letter, and aware of Littlefinger enough to see through his schemes, then how is she falling into his trap so easily? Hopefully the answer turns out to be… because she's setting a trap of her own. While the twist of the episode appeared to be that Arya was playing directly into Littlefinger's hands, there could easily be a second twist coming, in which it turns out that Littlefinger was actually playing into Arya's hands the whole time.
By letting herself appear to be manipulated by Lord Baelish, Arya could be biding her time, waiting for Littlefinger to slip up and reveal something that will incriminate himself, and gathering enough evidence to bring to Sansa to convince her of his treachery. (Not that Sansa should need much convincing of that at this point, TBH.) When this finally comes to pass, it will be so satisfying to see the schemer be out-schemed, and to see the Stark sisters team up against the liar who betrayed their family and directly caused so much of their misfortune.
For now though, this game of cat-and-mouse — or game of cat-and-also-cat, more accurately — between Arya and Littlefinger is likely to continue throughout the last two episodes of Season 7. Lord Baelish may have been successfully climbing the ladder of chaos for years now, but one day soon his ambition is going to come back to bite him… and send him plunging into the pit that awaits all those who fall from that ladder.