We sang his condemnations in our “6 Most Vile Characters in Game of Thrones”, and wouldn’t you know it?  He’s the only one from that list still alive and kicking.  We’re talking about Lord Protector of the Vale, Petyr Baelish, AKA Littlefinger.

To call Littlefinger duplicitous, manipulative, Machiavellian, shrewd and cunning — would be a vast understatement, because he’s the most in all these categories.

But now that he’s in Winterfell among a more vigilant Sansa, a Bravoosian water-dancing uber-assassin Arya, the White Wolf and an all-seeing Bran (and without George RR Martin writing him) — are his days numbered?

“Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind,” Littlefinger tells Sansa in Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 3. Proof that the schemer has one last trick up his sleeve? Or will these be his final words of wisdom with the odds stacked against him in Winterfell?

Compared to previous seasons, it seems like Littlefinger has fallen off. He’s been relegated to mostly lurking in the background like a creeper quietly observing the ins and outs of Winterfell politics under the newly restored Stark regime. So it would be easy to think Littlefinger, meticulous planning notwithstanding, might be fading into irrelevance at this point. But if this series has taught us anything, underestimating the Lord of Harrenhal is a fatal mistake.

One must never let their guard down when Petyr Baelish is concerned, and it’s when he seems most harmless that you should worry most. Baelish didn’t gain his own castle or become the Lord Protector of the Vale without being a true master manipulator. And, because his power derives from knowing just how to seize opportunities in the midst of chaos, he can expertly adapt to the constantly changing factions in Westeros.

Littlefinger has stuck with Sansa for the latter chunk of the series because of his creepy infatuations with the Tully-est Stark women but also because she provided him with his easiest route to controlling The North, and eventually the Iron Throne. Only Littlefinger had the foresight to see so many steps ahead even back when Sansa was a helpless prisoner in King’s Landing.

When the Boltons took The North, marrying Sansa to Ramsay suited his plans. When that plan fell apart and Sansa and Ned’s bastard set out to retake Winterfell, Jon became a threat to the Sansa’s claim to The North. So Littlefinger began to subtly paint Jon as an unqualified usurper in Sansa’s eyes. His provocation of Jon in the tombs was likely an attempt to push Jon into paranoid, over-protective brother mode, likely to create even more friction between the two.

When Jon left, putting Sansa in charge, this further played into Baelish’s hands since he needed Jon out of the picture to maintain Sansa’s claim. Also, the fact that Jon was allying with Tyrion Lannister of all people may also play into Littlefinger’s hands.

The return of Bran and Arya complicated that plan but not much since Arya is younger and Bran immediately abdicated his claim to Sansa. A piece from Nerdist speculates how gifting the dagger to Bran may be the first step in a manipulation that would have Bran use the dagger to kill Jon as Baelish tries to turn Jon’s siblings against him. After all, Littlefinger has been trying to link that dagger to Jon’s Lannister buddy for the entire run of the series. Though now that Bran hinted he knows too much, that’s a definite loose end Littlefinger will want to tie up.

But, even as Baelish has never seemed further from reaching the top of his chaotic ladder to The Iron Thrones, we can’t assume he doesn’t have his own pawns in place in The Red Keep ready to move when the time is right. In A Clash of Kings, book Tyrion observes the ways Petyr has his little fingers into everything in the palace:

And in the process, he moved his own men into place. The Keepers of the Keys were his, all four. The King’s Counter and the King’s Scales were men he’d named. The officers in charge of all three mints. Harbormasters, tax farmers, customs sergeants, wool factors, toll collectors, pursers, wine factors, nine of every ten belonged to Littlefinger.

No one had ever thought to question the appointments, and why should they? Littlefinger was no threat to anyone. A clever, smiling, genial man, everyone’s friend, always able to find whatever gold the king or his Hand required…

Book Tyrion intended to replace Baelish’s men with his own but may have been removed as acting Hand before ever doing so. I suspect TV Littlefinger likely installed his own people in key positions in much the same way as his book counterpart. And that’s why I think Littlefinger will find his way back to King’s Landing soon enough and will be present when the war between the Dragon and the Lion reaches optimal chaos. That’s when I think one word from Littlefinger will initiate a coup that successfully places him on The Iron Throne.