Spoilers for "The Dragon and the Wolf" past this point!
"A Song of Ice and Fire," the series of novels written by George R.R. Martin that HBO's epic fantasy series Game of Thrones is based on, isn't really about the battle between living good and undead evil. It's not about Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) true identity (Aegon Targaryen? Really? Aegon? Really?). Heck, the books aren't even about Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) quest for the Iron Throne (and after the Season 7 finale it's pretty clear the show isn't about that, either).
No, ASOIAF is about the secret war between two men: Varys (Conleth Hill), the master of whispers and secrets; and Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), the master manipulator. And by killing Littlefinger, Game of Thrones finally, and completely said goodbye to the books for good.
In last night's (Aug. 27) episode, after a controversial season long storyline that pit sisters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) against each other turned out to be a ruse in order to trap Littlefinger, the former advisor to Sansa had his throat slit and was left to die, bleeding out on the floor of Winterfell. It was a relatively quiet, pitiful ending (he had to get one last "I loved Catelyn Stark, did you know that?" in there before he passed, didn't he?) for a character who has been in control for nearly seven seasons. It also raised a lot of questions, like, "when did Sansa and Arya discuss this exactly?" and, "did Sansa really need to be so mic droppy about the whole thing?" But it is what it is, and on TV -- until he's resurrected as a white walker, of course -- we said goodbye to Littlefinger, something that so far doesn't seem to be in the cards, on the page.
Icing (sorry) Littlefinger isn't the only difference at this point; the show lapped the plot of the books -- which are still being written -- last season. But the structure of the novels has, at its core, been about two differing philosophies. On one side is Varys, who has been manipulating events for the good of the realm, and ultimately humanity. On the other is Littlefinger, a man who has slowly and carefully built his base of power for one purpose, and one purpose alone: his own eventual supremacy.
Other characters have been caught in their webs, or caught on to their seemingly cordial battle of minds. And often the plot won't focus on either character for long swathes of the narrative. Eventually, though, things always return to Varys or Littlefinger. The latter is -- in the books -- behind the murder of King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the ascension of Sansa, and is working his way towards becoming king (though at this point in the books that hasn't explicitly been stated). The former knows that Daenerys Targaryen is the rightful Queen of Westeros, and has secretly worked to eliminate her rivals, and provide her with the best aides and advisors available -- even if she doesn't know he's helping her. Varys is also attempting to prepare Westeros for an enemy that may or may not be coming, the army of undead Others.
Sure that doesn't seem too far off from the show, but by sidelining Varys and killing Littlefinger, Thrones has streamlined the narrative to focus on epic heroes, rather than sneaky manipulators. It's about the heroic journey and spectacle, instead of quiet scenes where Varys and Littlefinger play mental chess in empty, cavernous throne rooms. Where you can expect (as much as one can predict what GRRM will do in his novels) Varys and Littlefinger to be the last two standing in the books, that's not where the show's head is at.
This is a criticism that's been thrown in general at Thrones this past season (and I'd argue it was present in last season as well): the show has moved far from the character based drama that propelled early seasons in favor of action movie filmmaking. It's a blast to watch, but is it ultimately why we tuned in, in the first place?
I'll leave that question unanswered for the moment, but it's clear that while some touch-points between the show and books will remain the same, Littlefinger's death signals that once and for all, the books won't be "spoiled" by the show; the stories are entirely different.
Or will be, if George R.R. Martin ever finishes writing them.
Game of Thrones will return for a final season, date TBA.