Study Guide

A Game of Thrones Betrayal

By George R. R. Martin


Will had to call out. It was his duty. And his death, if he did. He shivered, and hugged the tree, and kept the silence. (1 Prologue.91)

We start our betrayal early, in the Prologue. Here Will betrays both his leader and his duty. But he's not betraying these things just to be a jerk: he's just trying to save himself. Can we forgive him for this?

"Oh, I love riding," Sansa said. (16 Sansa 1.75)

When there's a chance of spending time with Joffrey, Sansa claims to love riding. But check out what she said earlier to her sister Arya: "'I hate riding,' Sansa said fervently" (16 Sansa I.20). Hmmm. So, in order to fit in with her boyfriend, Sansa is willing to lie about her own desires: is she betraying herself?

"He reports to Varys. The Spider has taken a great interest in you and all your doings." He shifted in the window seat. "Now glance at the wall. Farther west, above the stables. The guardsman leaning on the ramparts?"

Ned saw the man. "Another of the eunuch's whisperers?"

"No, this one belongs to the queen." (26 Eddard 5.74-76)

This is Petyr talking, so maybe we should, you know, not believe his lying face. But on the other hand, this is a good introduction to how betrayal and spying are pretty common in King's Landing. Up north, people worry about raiders and monsters. But down south, you have to worry about other people's schemes.

"Lord Petyr," Ned called after him. "I... am grateful for your help. Perhaps I was wrong to distrust you."

Littlefinger fingered his small pointed beard. "You are slow to learn, Lord Eddard. Distrusting me was the wisest thing you've done since you climbed down off your horse." (26 Eddard 5.81-82)

This is like the classic philosophical riddle: if a man tells you that he's a liar, can you trust him? How do you read this section? When Petyr says that he shouldn't be trusted, does that make you trust him more or less? In any case, we see that Eddard is starting to trust more, which sets him up for more (and worse) betrayal down the line.

"Tyrell had to know the mare was in heat," Littlefinger was saying. "I swear the boy planned the whole thing. Gregor has always favored huge, ill-tempered stallions with more spirit than sense." The notion seemed to amuse him.

It did not amuse Ser Barristan Selmy. "There is small honor in tricks," the old man said stiffly.

"Small honor and twenty thousand golds." Lord Renly smiled. (31 Eddard 7.89-91)

Littlefinger, Selmy, and Renly are chatting about Loras Tyrell's trick with the mare in heat that upset Gregor's horse. You can see a generational gap here, with Selmy taking the stance that you shouldn't cheat, while Littlefinger and Renly seem to believe that winning is more important, even if you have to betray your morals a bit to get there.

Tyrion shivered. Now there was a nasty suspicion. Perhaps the direwolf and the lion were not the only beasts in the woods, and if that was true, someone was using him as a catspaw. Tyrion Lannister hated being used. (39 Tyrion 5.49)

When we're talking about betrayal and manipulation, revenge is <em>not</em> fair play: the people who love doing the manipulating sure hate being manipulated. (We can easily imagine Petyr or Varys making the same comment as Tyrion here.) But this comment by Tyrion lets us know that some master betrayers might be off-screen. After all, we don't get to see Varys or Petyr through their own eyes. And who knows what else we're missing?

"Lord Baelish, what you suggest is treason."

"Only if we lose." (48 Eddard 13.120-1)

This is a classic joke about treason (ah, how we love those classic treason jokes): it's only a crime if you lose. Again, we can see that Petyr isn't really trustworthy (and yet Eddard still trusts him, ugh!). But we should also note that Eddard Stark was involved in a treason that was successful: he helped overthrow the Targaryens. This is why some people still think of Robert as the Usurper.

As his men died around him, Littlefinger slid Ned's dagger from its sheath and shoved it up under his chin. His smile was apologetic. "I did warn you not to trust me, you know." (50 Eddard 14.58)

Well, this little comment doesn't really help Ned now, does it? There's something perfectly poetic about Petyr using Ned's own dagger against him. It's similar to the way that Petyr used Ned's own principles and trust against him.

"My words lied. My eyes and my arm shouted out the truth, but you were not seeing." (51 Arya 4.11)

Very soon after Petyr's betrayal, we get a tiny lesson in betrayal from Syrio Forel. According to Syrio, words can lie, but actions can't. (In this case, he was teaching Arya that her enemies won't announce that they're trying to attack her.)

"No," Mirri Maz Duur said. "That was a lie you told yourself. You knew the price." (69 Daenerys 9.59)

Here, Mirri is accusing Dany of lying to herself. But wait a second: Mirri is one of the biggest betrayers in this book! She totally gained Dany's trust and then killed her unborn child.

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