Lysa Tully Arryn was the instigator of the War of Five Kings. Lysa was more than she appeared. She was more than Littlefinger’s pawn. Lysa hid her evil behind a mask of fearfulness, overprotectiveness toward her son Robin and generally being pathetic. Just like her sister Catelyn Tully hid her own cruelty behind determination, protectiveness toward her family and acting like she cared for her kids. The Order of the Green Hand have created an incisive series of videos entitled Why Catelyn Sucks, about Catelyn’s real character, including her role in the Starks’ demise by undermining Ned’s plans, her viciousness toward Jon Snow, and her misleading of the reader through her POV chapters. (I highly recommend checking out The Order of the Green Hand for in-depth analysis of the A Song of Ice and Fire books and the show Game of Thrones). I’m not going to go over how Catelyn caused the War of the Five Kings and the deaths of her family, as that’s already been covered by Why Catelyn Sucks. What I’m about to explain here is how Lysa Tully worked with (and also against) Catelyn and Petyr Baelish to destroy the Starks and cause chaos.
Now, before we delve into Lysa’s murders and how she and Catelyn got Ned Stark to King’s Landing, I’d like to point out something about Lysa’s name. George R. R. Martin has stated that his characters’ names are extremely important. He can’t begin to write a character unless he knows what their name is. As The Order of the Green Hand have noted, Petyr Baelish means “devilish” or “stone demon”. The spellings of Catelyn and Lysa both reflect the word “catalyst”; putting the two names together- ‘catelysa’ would be very close to “catalyst”. Catelyn is also close to the name Cateline meaning “maiden” (as in, her personality is as if she never married into the Stark family). The two Tully sisters were the catalyst for the War of Five Kings.
The War of Five Kings was started when the Lannisters became aware of Ned’s plan to reveal the fact that Cersei and Jaime’s kids weren’t the King’s heirs. Ned discovered this because he was investigating why the Lannisters made two attempts on Bran Stark’s life; Catelyn and Ned suspected that Bran had seen something and the murder was attempted to silence him. The Lannisters wouldn’t have known that the Starks suspected anything if Catelyn hadn’t told Littlefinger (who has a place on the Small Council and is the realm’s Master of Coin) and Varys (the realm’s actual spymaster– come on, Catelyn!) that she and Ned had travelled to King’s Landing to investigate Bran’s attempted murder at the hands of the Lannisters (Tyrion Lannister becomes the number one suspect at this point).
But could Lady Catelyn simply have been naive? Not likely. First off, she was raised in the south, where schemes and betrayals are pretty much the order of the day. The northmen are an honest and possibly naive bunch, but not so the Tullys. Secondly, Catelyn’s behaviour shows how aware she was of the danger should the Lannisters discover that the Starks suspected their role in Bran’s fall. She swore her son Robb, their ward Theon, and her employees to secrecy, then journeyed to King’s Landing by sea for reasons of urgency and secrecy. She sometimes hid her face behind her hood to avoid being recognised. So telling Littlefinger and Varys smacks of at least carelessness if not deliberate provocation of war. Her seizing Tyrion is also a deliberate provocation. Catelyn probably thought that Lysa wanted to start a war and would be happy with her taking Tyrion to the Eyrie to be judged and executed.
I suspect that Lysa told Catelyn to get Ned to King’s Landing in her letter. That’s why Catelyn burned it before Ned or Maester Luwin could read it. Whether Lysa told Catelyn to provoke war is unclear, but her letter started the War of the Five Kings. Petyr Baelish lied that the catspaw dagger was Tyrion’s to further that agenda.
Catelyn listened to Lysa probably because she wanted to return south with Ned while he investigated Bran’s fall and/or Jon Arryn’s murder. She missed the events and warm weather of her homeland and the North must have seemed boring and cold to her. She may also have wanted to continue an affair with Littlefinger (Catelyn thinks “so soon” when Petyr contacts her, indicating that she was prepared for him to contact her but just not as quickly.
To suggest that Petyr Baelish, Lysa Arryn and Catelyn Stark conspired together is not the same thing as saying they were all on the same page. Petyr Baelish wanted chaos and to marry Catelyn. Catelyn wanted to return to the South, continue her affair with Petyr and have Jon Snow thrown out of Winterfell to secure her children’s claim (possibly out of fear that some of them were Petyr’s and had no claim on Winterfell). Lysa wanted to destroy Catelyn and marry Petyr.
Lysa’s evil character
Lysa has committed at least two murders, one rape, and one framing for murder. She may have deliberately started the war to harm the Starks as a revenge against Catelyn. Lysa claims to love Littlefinger, but what we have in both the books and the show is obsession. In HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s a paranoid clinginess, all the more pathetic for being unrequited. In A Song of Ice and Fire however, Lysa displays a scheming ownership of Petyr and treats him as property.
In the books Lysa often kissed Petyr even though he showed no interest in her and doesn’t appear to have wanted this. That’s harmless enough in a child or teen, but one night Lysa went much further than this. Petyr was so drunk he had to be carried to bed. Despite being fully aware of this fact, Lysa sneaked into his room (“I stole upstairs to give him comfort”) and had sex with him- even though Petyr was semiconscious and so out of it that he couldn’t even recognise her. He whispered “Cat,” indicating that he was completely unaware of what was happening and believed her to be her sister. Interestingly, we’re never told that Lysa ever attempted to have sex with Petyr except one this one occasion- the occasion on which he was vulnerable. To the present day Littlefinger believes he had sex with both Cat and Lysa that night (he found Lysa in his bed the next morning). Lysa didn’t show remorse and, judging by the fact that Hoster Tully sent Petyr away after Lysa’s pregnancy became known, she concealed her crime from her father also and that’s why Petyr wasn’t treated as a victim but instead blamed for getting her pregnant.
It’s important to note that the young Lysa may not have realised that what she did was wrong, or at least that serious. An adolescent in our world would receive a lesser sentence than an adult; judging by the Steubenville case, Lysa would get only about three years in the slammer- even in a lock-up-happy country like America. (She might get even less as she was around 14 at the time while the Steubenville rapists were 16 and 17). Teens can learn, grow and change. What’s more worrying though is that Lysa as an adult feels no remorse. She wasn’t a kid who committed one crime in her life. She’s an individual who has continued in her criminal activity well past the age of majority.
Lysa murdered her own father and husband. She says as much to Petyr Baelish in the books and the show. The murder of Jon Arryn was done at Petyr’s instigation but in our world both would be held responsible for first degree murder. How much Petyr influenced the murder of Hoster Tully is unclear but as his daughter, Lysa’s role in his death is more shocking than Petyr’s. Lysa also wrote to Catelyn framing the Lannisters for Jon Arryn’s murder which gave Catelyn leverage to persuade Ned to go to the capital and set the war between the Starks and Lannisters in motion.
These are not the actions of a helpless headcase. Lysa’s unstable, sadsack character is merely a front, just as Doran Martell’s gout is a front for his carefully calculated plots. Lysa exaggerates her emotional weakness while Doran exaggerates his physical weakness. Lysa may be a bit crazy, but it’s bad-crazy, not sad-crazy.
Littlefinger’s puppet or his puppeteer?
Littlefinger profited from Lysa convincing Jon Arryn to give him a job in Gulltown and then take him to King’s Landing. He does direct some of Lysa’s actions such as the murder of Jon Arryn and the framing of the Lannisters. He pretends to love her so he can manipulate her. He ends up murdering her in the cruellest way possible, telling her he’s only ever loved her older, prettier sister, before pushing her out the moon door.
However, Lysa seems proud and happy to have committed the murders and has always schemed to marry Littlefinger. It was she who pursued and took advantage of him when they were teenagers, getting pregnant by force. As a grown woman, she hurries Littlefinger into marriage the instant he arrives at The Fingers (the books) or the Eyrie (the show) and threatens her own niece’s life because she’s paranoid that Littlefinger will fall for her. These aren’t symptoms of love, but obsession and control. Lysa as a teenager wanted to possess Littlefinger by a physical ‘bond’ (sex), then a biological bond (having his child) and now by a legal bond (marriage). She will literally murder her own father, husband and niece to achieve this.
Littlefinger is Westeros’ arch-schemer so it’s unsurprising he has a hold on Lysa just as he influences most of the events of Game of Thrones. So it’s hard to see Lysa as being a victim of manipulation and betrayal any more than most of the characters are. Instead, Lysa and Petyr Baelish make quite a team and their relationship if anything seems more equal than Littlefinger’s betrayals of Ned, Catelyn, Stannis, Robert, Cersei, the Boltons, the Tyrells, Sansa…
In conclusion, Lysa Tully Arryn’s role in the War of Five Kings has been overlooked. Petyr may be an arch schemer but he could never have carried out his plan for chaos without Lysa’s help. He needed Lysa to get Catelyn to send Ned to King’s Landing and tell Ned to trust himself so he could lead Ned to unravel the Lannisters’ secret- which would lead to war- and lie about the catspaw dagger, which induced Catelyn to kidnap Tyrion- which also escalated tensions. Lysa Tully is the true catalyst of A Song of Ice and Fire.