Who needs Westeros when you’ve got wags? Game of Thrones fans have been understandably in a bit of a funk since their favourite swords ’n’ skulduggery saga petered out with the mother of all bum notes this year. But if Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen ultimately dropped the ball, one semi-mythological figure has lived up to her billing: Coleen Rooney.
As you will know if you have been communing with the lord of light (ie browsing Instagram), Wayne Rooney’s other half has just pulled off biggest switch and bait since Tyrion Lannister hoodwinked Grand Maester Pycelle. What’s more she has employed precisely the same mixture of cunning, courage and steely resolve that we have come to associate with the notorious imp (Tyrion, not Wayne).
Suspecting someone in her inner circle was leaking Coleen’s private information to the wildings beyond the wall (ie, the media) she laid an elaborate trap. And now she claims to have unmasked fellow footballer’s wife Rebekah Vardy as the One Blabbermouth to Rule Them All. Vardy has denied being the leaker, but that hasn't stopped “Wagatha Christie” trending on Twitter.
The “canary trap” is a staple of fiction but will be most familiar today from season two of Game of Thrones and Tyrion’s Machiavellian tenure as Hand of the King. The idea is that you pass personal information you know to be fake to a particular individual (whom you suspect of loose lips). Should that juicy gobbet duly find its way to the public realm – then, presto, guilt has been established and it’s all over bar the shame-walk.
Rooney claims she had an inkling a close friend was serving as a conduit to the press. One suspect apparently loomed especially large. So she posted irresistible– and completely spurious – tit-bits to her private Instagram, tweaking the missives so just one of her followers could read them. One tall tale had her and Wayne flying to Mexico for gender selection fertility treatment. Another claimed she was pondering a twirl on Strictly Come Dancing. A third had it that the Rooney’s mansion had flooded.
This will set a bell chiming for GoT fans (no, not that bell). Ahead of the Battle of the Blackwater Tyrion becomes aware hated sister Cersei is being passed crucial info, which she will inevitably use to undermine him. So he pulls off the low fantasy equivalent of leaking a story about going to Mexico for a gender selection procedure.
His plan, all along, is to strengthen Lannister ties with the other royal houses by strategically marrying off one of Cersei’s children. Being Tyrion he also lays a trap for those members of the Small Council potentially in cahoots with the Queen.
Tyrion tells slippery Littlefinger that he is sending niece Myrcella to the Vale to be raised by Lysa Arryn (and betrothed to weedy Robin). Varys, Master of Whisperers, is informed Tommen Baratheon, Myrcella’s younger brother, will be married to the Martells of Dorne. Finally, he tells Grand Maester Pycelle that Myrcella is to be wedded to Prince Tyrstane Martell.
This proves a perfect trap. Quicker than you can say “subverting expectations” Cersei confronts Tyrion over his proposal to dispatch her precious Myrcella to Dorne. Pycelle is the leaky vessel and Tyrion threatens him to ensure his silence. If anything he is less ruthless than Rooney, who called out Vardy on social media rather than in a decaying dungeon (then it's been years since the Rooneys have visited Old Trafford).
Tyrion, as we’ve pointed out, didn’t invent the canary trap. First coined by Tom Clancy in his book Patriot Games, the trap was used by Jack Ryan to close a leak in the Pentagon.
“The reason the summary paragraphs are so lurid is to entice a reporter to quote them verbatim in the public media,” says Ryan as he reveals his masterplan to a colleague. “If he quotes something from two or three of those paragraphs, we know which copy he saw and, therefore, who leaked it.”
There are lots of real world examples, too. When Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was eased out of the franchise, a canary trap was laid for him. He was found to have indeed beamed crucial nuggets down to Trek fans (e.g. the plan to destroy the Enterprise in Star Trek III: Search for Spock).
Anything Tom Clancy and Tyrion can do, the White House can easily match. Barack Obama’s administration famously/notoriously attempted to weed out a leaker who went by the Twitter handle @natsecwonk by disseminating inaccurate information. It is unclear if they were successful – but the twitter account was deactivated soon afterwards.
And last year it was reported that a senior aid to Donald Trump was feeding misleading information down the food-chain in an attempt to flush out disloyal staffers. Quite how successful that gambit will be remains to be seen: unlike Game of Thrones this is a story set to run.
Rebekah Vardy is unlikely to be clanked in chains and paraded to the stockades – though with social media you can never be sure. The “canary trap” proves rather more punitive for Pycelle. He is thrown in a cell by Tyrion and, though subsequently released, denied his place on the Small Council.
Alas, the joke is ultimately on the Imp as his father, Tywin swoops in to save the day, steal all the glory and restore Pycelle to his former prominence. Who's the football world’s equivalent of Tywin? That might be a question best not pondered too deeply.
Coleen Rooney was clearly glued to GoT back when it was good as she’s just pulled off a Tyrion-worthy manoeuvre of her own. To be fair to the pregnant Vardy, she has pleaded her innocence, pointed out that others have had access to her Instagram. And she has taken to social media to ask why Rooney didn’t raise the matter with her privately. She has also pointed out that, as a wealthy celeb, she hardly needs the Sun’s money.
Still, just as in Game of Thrones, this is all about the journey rather than the destination. Coleen Rooney has proved herself a mistress of the dark arts. Maybe HBO should have hired her to write Thrones’s final season. It might have spared them, and us, the own goal that was the disastrous Mad Queen storyline and Bran the Broken’s iffy ascent to the Iron Throne. What do we say to the God of Tabloid Leaks, Coleen? Not today!