It is not a secret the upcoming eighth season of Game of Thrones there will begin calling back to the initial grand political moment seen in the show’s first episode, when King Robert Baratheon’s entourage descended on the home of the Starks and unpredictably upended their fortunes. This season the royal procession will include the freshman King in the North returning as a king who knelt – to Daenerys Targaryen. Daenerys is arriving with foreign troops and winged monsters in the hopes of keeping Winterfell secure, which hopefully will cause less havoc than did Robert’s job offer to Lord Eddard Stark.
For the second time in the series, Winterfell is playing host to representatives from each of the four families who have largely framed the political dynamics of the show: Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens, and a Baratheon bastard will be behind the same ancient walls. (Previously, it had been Starks, a Baratheon, Lannisters, and at least one secret Targaryen.) But this time the royal party includes a newcomer to the North with some issues with fairly important (and potentially vindictive) Starks.
This person is Varys, the Master of Whisperers. A Spider with some explaining to do.
VARYS THE COLLABORATOR
Soon after Cersei Lannister executed her coup against rightful regent Ned Stark to secure her son Joffrey’s position as king, the Lannister queen ordered the frightened and helpless Sansa Stark brought before her and steamrolled the child into sending dictated terms of surrender to her mother and brother. Essentially a “come to King’s Landing and capitulate [or else…]” letter.
Assisting Cersei in her manipulation was a supporting cast of theatrical cronies, including good cop Baelish, bad cop Pycelle, and bald cop Varys. Together they reinforced Cersei’s subtle and insidious bullying to compel Sansa’s compliance.
“A child born of traitor’s seed will find that betrayal comes naturally to her,” said Grand Maester Pycelle. “She is a sweet thing now, but in ten years, who can say what treasons she may hatch?”
“No,” Sansa said, horrified. “I’m not, I’d never … I wouldn’t betray Joffrey, I love him, I swear it, I do.”
“Oh, so poignant,” said Varys. “And yet, it is truly said that blood runs truer than oaths.”
— A Game of Thrones, Sansa IV
Seeing Varys in Winterfell might remind Sansa of the role he played in her gaslighting, an unwelcome reminder of the beginnings of her abusive experience.
The timing could not be worse for Varys, arriving in Winterfell so soon after his colleague and co-manipulator Petyr Baelish’s execution.
Varys: Colleague? I hardly knew the man. Aside from seasons of monologuing at each other in front of the throne. And harmlessly scheming to pass the time.
To be fair to Varys, he’s been in tighter spots and talked his way out of them – like he did when Daenerys confronted the wily eunuch about his part in the Baratheon reign’s efforts to assassinate her.
The Spider might be able to hand wave away any concerns Sansa brings up by insisting that he was as powerless as she was to act contrary to Cersei’s wishes at court. Varys talks a good game, that’s a given. But Sansa is not the only daughter of Ned Stark likely to regard Varys with suspicion.
VARYS THE CONSPIRATOR
“The gods alone know,” the first voice said. Arya could see a wisp of grey smoke drifting up off the torch, writhing like a snake as it rose. “The fools tried to kill his son, and what’s worse, they made a mummer’s farce of it. He’s not a man to put that aside. I warn you, the wolf and lion will soon be at each other’s throats, whether we will it or no.”
“Too soon, too soon,” the voice with the accent complained. “What good is war now? We are not ready. Delay.”
“As well bid me stop time. Do you take me for a wizard?”
The other chuckled. “No less.” Flames licked at the cold air. The tall shadows were almost on top of her. An instant later the man holding the torch climbed into her sight, his companion beside him. Arya crept back away from the well, dropped to her stomach, and flattened herself against the wall. She held her breath as the men reached the top of the steps.
“What would you have me do?” asked the torchbearer, a stout man in a leather half cape. Even in heavy boots, his feet seemed to glide soundlessly over the ground. A round scarred face and a stubble of dark beard showed under his steel cap, and he wore mail over boiled leather, and a dirk and shortsword at his belt. It seemed to Arya there was something oddly familiar about him.
“If one Hand can die, why not a second?” replied the man with the accent and the forked yellow beard.
— A Game of Thrones, Arya III
Arya Stark was just a child and lost in the dark corridors under the Red Keep when she overheard two people plotting and mentioning attempted murder, war, and dead Hands. At the time, she didn’t recognize the one vaguely familiar conspirator as Varys, but she is not the same Arya now. Trained by the Faceless Men to discern truths that are shrouded in lies, Varys might find his presence in Winterfell’s court jogging old memories in the small assassin. Varys can talk a good game, but if Arya lures him into the game of faces, whatever secrets he is holding onto might be exposed.
(To clarify, the game of faces is not Arya cutting off Varys’s face – but rather asking questions and knowing which answers are true or false. Then, depending on what secrets Arya can divine, face cutting might happen.)
Unfortunately for Varys, his usual trade in secrecy and spycraft is overshadowed by other factors in the North.
VARYS THE FISH OUT OF WATER
When Catelyn Stark arrived in King’s Landing to warn Ned of the attack on Bran, she was surprised that Lord Varys already seemed to know the details – that Bran had been attacked and that her hands had been injured in fending off the dagger-wielding skulker. At the time, Varys humble-bragged that he had spies pretty much everywhere.
But his intelligence network in Winterfell probably fell into disarray when Ramsay Snow slaughtered all the residents of the castle when freeing it from Theon’s disloyal ironborn, before setting the ancient structure on fire. When Bolton forces moved in to rebuild Winterfell, Varys was a fugitive on the run to Meereen, escaping with Tyrion Lannister.
Varys is most likely entering Winterfell without any intelligence apparatus in place – although he might be savvy enough to pick up on the network that Baelish had been developing before his sudden reversal of fortunes. This is a troubling situation for Varys, since his intelligence operations were really what gave him value to whatever monarch he was serving, as well as giving him an edge on his competition, whomever that may be. (For years, that competition was Baelish.) Without a network to leverage, he’s just a rather unctuous guy who had better get a furry hat or else lose his ears to frostbite.
Varys: This seems like another reference to my fashionably smooth head.
But Varys might want consider a different way to become useful, since trying to get into the local Winterfell intel game will bring him up against a competitor that vastly outclasses Varys’s reputedly wizardly abilities.
As the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran Stark has a tremendous advantage in this domain. The limits of Bran’s extra-sensory power aren’t defined, but he can warg (or skinchange, if you’re a book reader) into animals, but he can also send his consciousness into the past. Is he omniscient and knows everything? No, probably not. Bran hasn’t made that claim – although he’s said that he remembers everything. But he does seem to be able to consistently pull up information about his family, the Starks: He’s viewed his father’s generation as children in Winterfell; he’s seen his father as a young man during Robert’s Rebellion; and his aunt Lyanna’s marriage ceremony to Rhaegar Targaryen.
If Bran has any interest in Varys, it’s fair to assume he’ll be able to see Varys’s interactions with Ned when he was Hand… and when he was in the Black Cells.
Ned studied the eunuch’s face, searching for truth beneath the mummer’s scars and false stubble. He tried some more wine. This time it went down easier. “Can you free me from this pit?”
“I could … but will I? No. Questions would be asked, and the answers would lead back to me.”
— A Game of Thrones, Eddard XV
Eavesdropping on these past conversations between Varys and Ned, Bran would not only witness the Spider’s unwillingness to assist Lord Eddard, but also the ultimately empty assurances in exchange for Ned’s agreement to falsely confess to treason.
“I want you to serve the realm,” Varys said. “Tell the queen that you will confess your vile treason, command your son to lay down his sword, and proclaim Joffrey as the true heir. Offer to denounce Stannis and Renly as faithless usurpers. Our green-eyed lioness knows you are a man of honor. If you will give her the peace she needs and the time to deal with Stannis, and pledge to carry her secret to your grave, I believe she will allow you to take the black and live out the rest of your days on the Wall, with your brother and that baseborn son of yours.”
— A Game of Thrones, Eddard XV
None of this should play well with Bran or with his sisters should he share that info with them. (With the Three-Eyed Raven, it isn’t easy to peg his motivations or future actions.)
All in all, it would serve Varys best to keep his mouth shut, his shiny head down, and try not to be noticed. To maintain such a low profile, there are more people than the Stark children that he would have to avoid. Tyrion Lannister has relied on Varys in the past, and since Tyrion is doing some longer-term thinking, he’d want to discuss ideas and make plans with his former confidant. This would serve to raise Varys’s exposure since Tyrion himself has a complicated relationship with the lady of Winterfell.
Ser Jorah Mormont might naturally sidle up to Varys just to have someone to talk to. Having been exiled from the North for selling poachers into slavery, Jorah might be feeling uncomfortable among his countrymen. With disapproving eyes following Jorah, the more he spends time with his former handler, the more of this attention will also be focused on Varys. Unless the Spider can keep scuttling away from Jorah’s company.
Jaime Lannister, arriving at Winterfell with his own dark history, could easily try to use Varys to deflect attention away from himself.
Jaime: I’m just saying, if you aren’t throwing creepy, skeevy Varys into a cell, no one should be saying “boo” to me.
Varys: I’m not entirely sure what you’re implying.
Tyrion: I’m entirely sure that you’re entirely sure what he’s implying.
Varys: This conversation sounds familiar.
It would certainly serve Jaime’s interests and survivability to not to be the most untrusted individual within the castle.
But would it serve the story for Varys to be a source of friction and conflict with a horde of wights on the horizon? No. And Yes.
Any kind of conflict going on might be considered a distraction – because the stakes are so high for humanity that distrust and suspicions among the living seem to be so low on the priority list that they shouldn’t even surface. But hand waving away the human interactions flattens things down into simply a conflict of good versus evil, the living versus the dead. There is some discussion about that in the show – the undead Lord Beric said as much to the undead King in the North. That this was a war of the dead versus the living. (Ironic considering the two characters involved in the discussion.)
But that’s a bit too simple.
VARYS AND VALUE
It’s clear that Cersei Lannister has different priorities that don’t include supporting the Stark/Targaryen alliance against supernatural evil. Her choosing herself rather than endorsing full support for Team Still Breathing is an interesting wrinkle for the final season. The viewers have had very little insight into the motivations of the White Walkers, and have to accept at the moment that the northern monsters are operating under some straightforward “kill, reanimate, kill some more” programming.
Since the White Walkers are a straightforward, uncomplicated foe, the narrative richness of the final season will have to come from those sheltered at Winterfell. Caught between the White Walkers in the North and the self-centered lioness in the South.
The show has been praised for the character drama and complex personal conflict, with some aspersions cast on the occasional spectacle of battle or similar grand cinematic scene, but with the final season on the horizon, it seems as if there should be more opportunities for spectacle and less for character drama. However, the best of the spectacles on Game of Thrones are always rooted in character drama. To ignore that element of the show is to make the spectacle hollow.
Varys isn’t a fighter. He’s not going to be useful on the battle (the recent trailer shows him sheltered with the non-combatants in the crypts.) It’s extremely unlikely that he has any knowledge or insight on the political situation happening among the White Walkers.
Varys: I wager they’re operating under some kind of “kill, reanimate, kill some more” directive.
Bran: Thanks for catching up to the rest of us.
So Varys’s value as a character can be summed up as follows:
- To the Starks and Targaryens, Varys might still have viable operatives in King’s Landing that he could leverage, when the time comes to look to overthrowing Cersei. After the White Walkers are dealt with.
- To the story, Varys provides drama with characters who have reasonable grounds to distrust having such an opportunistic and inscrutable character around. This is not overly manufactured drama (unlike, say, the Arya-Sansa conflict last season.)
And Varys provides another point of value. He can validate Ned Stark’s philosophy.
THE MADNESS OF MERCY
“What strange fit of madness led you to tell the queen that you had learned the truth of Joffrey’s birth?”
“The madness of mercy,” Ned admitted.
“Ah,” said Varys. “To be sure. You are an honest and honorable man, Lord Eddard. Ofttimes I forget that. I have met so few of them in my life.” He glanced around the cell. “When I see what honesty and honor have won you, I understand why.”
— A Game of Thrones, Eddard XV
When Ned Stark realized that Cersei’s children were not Robert’s, he was in a position of strength. He was Hand of the King and when the king returned hale and whole from his most recent hunt, Ned could reveal the information to Robert without giving warning to Cersei. Instead, Ned gave Cersei the opportunity to flee, because of mercy for Cersei’s children, since Ned reasonably feared for their lives in the face of Robert’s wrath.
Varys took the opportunity, with Lord Eddard in chains in the black cells, to chide him for this act of mercy. Varys suggested that Ned’s warning to the queen somehow doomed the king on his hunt (which is a statement that might not withstand close examination.) It might be more fair to say that Ned’s mercy doomed Ned.
But now Varys is at Winterfell, where the rulers have reason to treat him as they did Littlefinger. What might save Varys would be the recognition from Arya, Sansa, and Bran that they have larger concerns than dealing with Varys.
When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm.
— A Game of Thrones, Arya II
Winter has come, and any political machinations that Varys were involved with were summertime squabbles. Varys might have his own mysterious agenda, but it is the White Walkers that mean Winterfell harm.
But it’s important for these squabbles to be considered and addressed on the show. Important for Varys to be in jeopardy, and for Arya, Sansa, and Bran to choose to set the squabbles aside. And exercise mercy, the madness of mercy. In this way, they can honor their father who tried to save the children of his enemy.
Varys should be grateful that Ned could set such an example. And after the White Walkers are dealt with, to repay the Starks against his former employer, Cersei.
Varys getting to this position, facing and acknowledging his own web of misdeeds and schemings, rather than just having his support taken for granted, would be much more satisfying than just rushing along in the last season of Game of Thrones.
Varys: When you play the game of thrones –
Melisandre: You die. I’ve already told you that.
Thanks, Patrick, interesting article.
This “good cop Baelish, bad cop Pycelle, and bald cop Varys” made me laugh.
Thank you, I am glad that line worked 😁
So bald cop = ugly cop? 😉
> It might be more fair to say that Ned’s mercy doomed Ned.
Yes, that as well, but that was only possible after Robert died, because he would have defended Ned. And after Ned had threatened Cersei to tell Robert if she would stay in King’s Landing, I think she realized that fleeing to Casterly Rock wouldn’t save her from Robert’s wrath either (as if Robert wouldn’t ask someone, why did the Queen leave with my heirs, so eventually he would find out, then calling his bannermen for revenge — which would have been difficult for Tywin to resist either military or politically). So she had to get rid of Robert as soon as possible after she knew that Ned had found out.
Other than that, though Varys his role is different in the books than the show, I expect his ending may more or less be the same, so maybe he ends up backing another Targaryen, and forgets (in the series) to tell to Daenerys in her face that he disagreed with some of her actions (e.g. the Tarly’s) — his complaints in S7E5 were already bordering on her warning in S7E2. In the books I think she’ll revenge herself right away when she finds out he backed fAegon and sold her to the Dothraki. Maybe it’s foreshadowed too heavily last season to happen like this, but though Sansa/Arya may have reasons to be wary of him, I think they can only act if Daenerys would agree, because she is his overlord. (In practice, Arya could of course do what she wants, but let’s hope the Starks still want to follow some formal rules)
Ok, but I was hoping for some knowledge of intrigue rather than a recanting of what we already know is Varys’s position and the overall mood at Winterfell. I’m not sure I read anything to ponder in this piece.
My Fish Out of Water title was a nod to Merling Varys. 🙂
Thanks for reading. I have reasons for writing this post, mostly because of the end segment, talking about people complaining about the idea of character drama in this final season, with it’s six episodes.
Varys to me represents the ultimate aspect of a non-spectacle character. He’s all intrigue, he’s not going to be able to contribute to some grand epic moment. It’ll be a personal moment. And we should be happy if the show makes time to deal with that.
If you came to this post hoping for any “Varys is a secret Targaryen” stuff, I am sorry.
Great article! There are a few other mysteries related to Varys that I’m hoping we’ll get some resolution to in S8:
1. Whether he knows of Jon’s true lineage. I’d be amazed the spider does not know, especially as he was around at the time of the rebellion. In fact- I’d say he had an active part on some events we’ve yet to understand. Maybe Jon is a backup king, like Dany was a backup to Viserys and Aegon in the books?
2. What are his connections with Jaqen H’Gar and the Faceless men? At the very least he must’ve known JH was in the black cells and why, and given his regular visits to those cells, he’ll at the very least have had some dialogue with him. Did he deliberately place a faceless man in those cells? Did he despatch JH to the wall? Why?
3. What did that voice in the flames say. What was the name that’s was uttered? And is this connected with questions 1 and 2?
HOW DARE YOU! (Just kidding, I still have a little bit of my hair left.)
I’m totally on board that Ned acted with the idea that Robert would be coming back okay. Just like Cersei was acting with the knowledge that Robert was not going to come back okay.
These are all good mysteries that the show could explore. I think the show has more heavily leaned in on #3, having Kinvara bring that up again. The show might punt any Faceless Men involvement (even though I want them to show up and tell Arya to cut all that shit out or else) – I would not be surprised if the show did the
Bran: You’re a Targaryen.
Varys: It’s true. I actually have the birth certificate.
Howland Reed: Sorry I’m late! I have some mind blowing news about Jon!
Varys: Verrrry late to the party, Reed.
“Madness of mercy”
Very good and very true. I would love it if it would play out like that with Varys. In my mind a confrontation is inevitable.
There was a post, I can’t remember where, which said that at the end of GoT we will find out if there is such a thing as a capable and fair leader on the throne (or something like that ). After I read that my immediate answer was: monarchy never could be fair. And this imagined quip dialogue pointed me to that again.
When you play the game of thrones you die.
You never win, not really.
I didn’t read The World of Ice and Fire or Fire and Blood , but I heard that the story behind Aemon Taegaryen even getting the chance to become king is supposedly pretty murderous…
Robert’s story speaks for itself.
The right of conquest, the Sword of Damocles.
Plus all the other rabbit holes that you can think of.
A.k.a. the book origins of Arya’s list of names.
I still think back to Daenerys vision in the House of the Undying and the camera pans onto the damaged ceiling and to what looks like a spider in a web. Also recently watched the episode where Kinvara speaks of the night he was cut and I got the impression she was speaking about Daenerys’ voice in the flames (Dracarys)????? As she talks of serving the same queen and betrayal.
Not murderous per se. Aemon realised (when they offered him the crown even when he was a sworn maester) that as long as he lived he would be a beacon for those who didn´t want Aegon in the IT (Aegon was despised by the nobles because he grew up amongst the commoners squiring for a hedge knight). So he went to the Wall, to the middle of nowhere, so nobody could use his claim against his younger brother.
I put the blame on Roberts Small council for all that westeros had gone through..
If anyone of them did their job right then westeros would not have been in this condition..
Varys being master of whisperors is the most important of them all and know every secrets that is going on and should have helped the king to overcome all the conspiracy..
Instead he himself turned out to be a conspirator and had ulterior motive in his mind..
I see varys and LF in the same league and give more credit to LF at least being honest about his intentions ..whereas Varys hide behind the mask of good for the realm and seeking the perfect the ruler..
If he really cared about the realm he should have helped Robert or any other king for that matter to improve the kingdom instead of being idle and let the Kingdoms rip apart .
The whole thing about making a perfect king is most idiotic thing because it’s my belief no ruler will be perfect..
And IMO varys description of perfect ruler is nothing but the one who will act as his puppet .
So i hope Varys gets the same ending as LF did and I just hope it doesn’t happen in a way that is being questioned or conflicting if it was dany who gets to kill him..which iam very afraid of how the show will go..
The Kingdom was unified with dragons, so the Targaryen’s flaw was to create an absolute monarchy highly dependent on them, with the small council not designed to be a real check and balance. So, without dragons it took a sneeze, a wildly incompetent and megalomaniac king, a love struck prince, a brutal civil war, a dissolute king that didn’t really know what to do with the throne and then chaos.
George R R Martin
O/T: Kit H’s SNL monologue with questions from the “audience” – including Emilia, John Bradley, Night King, and the always delightful Rose Leslie.
I’m very happy you liked that Cliohna
I just saw that, and it was hilarious. (Particularly the Harry Potter aside.)
I am not arguing with anything that you’re saying Eonwe. To Dragonbinder’s point, Varys was looking to destabilize the realm in a conspiracy with Illyrio, so his position on the Small Council facilitated that.
But you are correct that the Small Council was not a good check on a bad (or mad) king.
When Targaryens on power I would accept that..
Here I need to remind you that Targs had ruled nearly more than 150 years without dragons and we see lot of examples how the lords and members of small council had made a impact…
If Varys was indeed about a man of duty and is for the good of the realm like he claims then he should have gone to Jon Arryn and Robert with the information he had..no matter what the consequences instead he chose not to..
My point is that Varys is no better than LF and in fact he is way worse than LF because he hides behind a mask of caring for common folks and a noble guy..
Here is a guy who holds a grudge against someone who harmed him when he was a child and when he finds him after many years he keeps him in a box and tortures him …here is a man who cuts the tongues of the children to make them stop from spilling the secrets to others and he is offended by a dragon queen killing with Dragon.. it’s very ridiculous IMO
This is super true.
Somehow I feel like all the valid points you mentioned for conflict won’t be brought up at all when Varys gets to Winterfell. If anything, we’ll probably get more useless Stark drama and Varys banter with Tyrion about balls.
What you are saying is not an unlikely scenario. But I have to be the harbinger of hope.
It’s much appreciated 🙂
Actually, it would be kind of hilarious if Varys killed a wight by accident. XD Maybe the show will make use of his crossbow skills 😛
Not ridiculous but full of hypocrisy and bullshit, specially it´s book counterpart.
This is the guy who fed Aerys paranoia whispering to his ear.
This is the guy who did nothing when Aerys wanted to burn KL. It was a kingsguard who wasn´t a moral coward who saved the people.
More like bad writen drama than useless. The dick jokes enter the category of bad writing junk. Remember how season 7 finale opened? Jaime and Bronn making dick jokes while KL is besieged by dothraki and unsullied.
Holy cow. You are right. Or despite my assertions that Varys’s particular set of skills won’t matter against the White Walkers, this happens.
Night King: *shows up, is silent*
Varys: Not so fast. You wouldn’t want these lithographs I have to get out. It might be of interest for your lieutenants to know what kind of creature they’re serving.
Night King: *silently orders his forces to withdraw.
Tyrion: Seven Hells! What incriminating evidence did you have on that monster?
Varys: Oh. I just bluffed. Everyone has something to hide.
The word is mightier than the sword.
The kingdom was forged by tyranny and absolute rule over a subject population – it is inherently unstable.
Use of terror by the dragons led to institutional arrangements that lasted for years after dragons died. (The houses that became powerful because of the Targs would have kept these in place.) But they were surely going to crumble. It only needed the right triggers for a military challenge.
So when the Starks made their mistake with Lyanna and mad Aeyrs responded with imperial cruelty – there was the first war. Then another period of “thin” stability when a weak ruler came into place.
Perhaps Varys saw the situation as a pile of tinder. Ned Stark threw a match on the tinder and caused a fire. This is what I think Varys was pointing out to him.
Only when you have a good communication system – printing presses or the internet. Ravens? I suppose.
Can the WW read?
“Ned Stark” is a weird way to spell “Littlefinger”
You are right in how the play worked out.
Littlefinger set up Ned to throw the match on the pile of tinder.
A wiser man with a more generous world view, an understanding of the human heart, and a mature consideration consequences for the nation would have acted differently. But LF knew exactly who to play.
“Ned” is a really weird way to spell “Joffrey”
LF was the one who killed Jon Arryn using Lysa. Then he used her again to blame the Lannisters. Ned only accepted to be Hand of the King after Lysa letter.
Also it is implied in the books that someone made Joffrey order Ned´s execution knowing that it would make peace between Starks and Lannisters imposible.
Guess who may be?
Gods, I want Martin to finish the books to read the execution of this bastard.
You are on fire today!
When you think the match was thrown depends on your judgment – when Ned confronts Cersei or when he sent the letters out. Robb had already declared war before Ned was separated from his head, thanks to Joffy, the Terrible.
Yes, others already suspected and Stannis may have been mobilizing but Ned’s best option for the country was to quash the war. A few people told him that – Renly, LF, Varys. All grey folk but with a better understanding of the situation than Ned.
Ned spent more time investigating Cersei’s sex life than he spent when a frightened man told him (as warden of the north) that he had seen the Others. Even if this was a one in a trillion chance of being true, his responsibility was to explore it with at least the verve he had for Cersei. Just think if he used his power as hand like this – GOT would be a one season series.
That would be an interesting question to know the answer to….we know that Tywin nor Tyrion nor Cersei wanted Ned to be dead. They all understood that war was not the way to go. Ned, however, seemed to think that Tywin’s only daughter and one of his sons could be chased out of their country to become exiles and that this would not have any consequences. Tywin’s kids!!! Geez, dude. Without Tywin, Robert may have been out of that stupid metal chair long ago. That “filler scene” in which he and Cersei discussed that their marriage was holding the kingdom together was perhaps the truth as the story goes.
I suppose marriage to Margery would have brought the Tyrells into Bobby’s support if that plan worked out….
I count Jon arryn death as part of the LF set up of Ned…
It wasn’t Ned’s job to investigate the word of a Night’s Watch deserter. From Jeor Mormont’s lack of interaction with Ned, all around, the responsibilities of the Warden of the North and the Night’s Watch were very clear, and very defined.
Ned bringing his accusations to Cersei was nothing. Cersei was already plotting to kill Robert, Tywin had already prepared for war by invading the Riverlands when Robert was still alive (because, I don’t know, he wasn’t worried about anyone enforcing the king’s peace.)
Ned telling Cersei was just more kindling, but it wasn’t the match. It’s okay if you have a spin on this analogy that I don’t agree with, but trying to blame Ned for igniting the war of the five kings is willfully ignoring all of the larger issues that caused the war. Ned came in to a woodpile that already had a lit fuse heading to it. He just didn’t see the fuse to extinguish it.
Well, at least you see he failed to defuse the situation.
Ned as Warden of the North did not sufficiently consider the risk to the North if the report was true. He needed to at least make serious inquiries. Did he contact Joer?
Responsibilities of leadership are usually diffuse and about the anticipation of challenges and making good judgment calls. If Others were back and the Joer/Watch was failing or struggling in their responsibilities – then the northerners would be the most exposed (then Westeros as well). Ned could have made a difference if he had his priorities straight – especially when he was hand.
To be fair he did try and save Sansa from LF via the Tyrells, though that was more about stopping the king of the ashes from getting a win. And he wasn’t the one who mentioned killing Ned. That was Illyrio. I believe he genuinely tried to save Ned and have him sent to the Wall.
Varys is still interesting to me. I don’t think I have him entirely figured out at all.
I think back to Jaime’s story in the bath. Varys was pleading with the king along with Jaime not to open the gates to Tywin. Pycelle was Lannister’s man.
So even though the king was mad and dangerous for the realm, Varys was trying to protect him.
Then he pays Jorah Mormont to keep an eye on Dany. Varys is too good at reading people not to know what kind of man Jorah is. A knight who made poor choices for love, but a Mormont with honor and a conscience who probably wouldn’t be okay with killing innocent girls, even for a pardon. And he’s working with Illyrio to take care of her and get her on the throne. He even handpicks Tyrion to help her.
Sure, he’s not that happy with some of her decisions, but he seems to be more team Targaryen than anything else. Good of the realm second.
I’m not sure what he’ll do in Winterfell. Maybe when he finds out who Jon is he’ll lean more in his direction-since Jon is the best possible combo of Targ/Stark. Or maybe he’ll uncover some interesting info in the crypts. He does love other people’s letters…
I will add that he’s had three scenes that still intrigue me. The one with Oberyn where he’s found staring at the throne and Oberyn guesses his accent. The one with Kinvara and then what he said to Melisandre about craving power. Those are tiny moments where a different kind of Varys comes out. Hopefully they’ll bring his character full circle and not just leave him snarking in the corner about the weather.
Off topic, but Emilia’s behind-the-scenes photos from Season 1. The one with Iain has me ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤!!!!!
Ned is bad at politics. There is no denying it.
Men ran away from the wall a lot, and I’m sure a few of them used white walkers as an excuse so we can’ t really blame him for that-even though he did double check with his brother Benjen about the guy at the party. I doubt he would have sent Jon to the wall if he’d believed it for a second.
And we know Ned warned Cersei because of Jon. Thinking about Lyanna in a bed of blood begging him to keep her baby secret from Robert. “If Robert finds out he’ll kill him, you know he will.” So here is Ned, sucky at political games, now knowing his volatile best friend had a fiance and a wife who both had babies with different men, and he goes into automatic protection mode. It was a HUGE mistake on his part, but it is emotionally understandable for his character. How was he to know events to get rid of Robert were already in motion?
I agree that he was bad at politics – unfortunately, this seems to be an essential requirement be a successful Hand of the King.
One might think that, when faced by an army of men without genitalia, a conversation about dicks (or the lack thereof) might logically ensue.
I don’t see the problem. Nor do I see how it would be bad writing.
Well about Ned.
In the books it is stated that Ned had already executed several deserters in a year. But he didn´t believe in the others. And since they were defeated 6000-8000 years ago and nobody has seen them. Well Ned is skeptical. But he knew about Mance Rayder and was seirously thinking on calling his banners to fight him.
Remember that Jeor Mormont didn´t take the others threat as real until a wight tried to kill him.
I think that Tywin gets more credit than it´s due as a general. Tywin against a North, Riverlands and Stormlands coalition doesn´t stand a chance. Try to picture Tywin fighting against an army commanded by Ned, Stannis and Robb. If the Tyrells side with Robert you have the Reach manpower and Randyll Tarly. It is one thing to crush two rebellious houses. It is another fighting against another kingdom. Besides Martin´s himself for plot reasons gave Tywin all kind of advantages throught Robb and cya mistakes (Ironborn, letting Jaime go, Edmure unwillingly floundering a perfect ambush, etc…) while the Lannisters get a very convenient alliance in the nick of time with the Tyrels.
But not only LF was plotting to spread chaos. Varys and Illiryo were plotting too. Only they wanted a war much later. A little bit before a dothraki invasion.
King in the North East,
The problem is when you have to appeal to dick jokes several times episode after episode. We came from an episode were we had bad dick jokes. And then we enter the final episode with another bad dick joke, specially since the unsullied are the smallest part of Dany´s army since the bulk are the 80000 dothraki.
King in the North East,
Because the “jokes” were not funny.
Well, obviously the Unsullied were there first. Hence the conversation. Seems natural enough to me for them to talk about it. And can you name a single conversation where Bron ISN’T being sarcastic or flippant? Regardless of the subject matter?
I doubt it.
And then there’s the Hound and Tormund having a 30 second scene which could be considered a dick joke, yes.
Other than that, I don’t remember any other dick jokes.
Unless you count Euron taunting Theon a ‘dick joke’.
Or unless you count Tormund talking about fucking people/things, which is also something he’s done since his introduction, a ‘dick joke’.
So when you say “several times episode after episode” what other dick jokes were you talking about? Except for those 2?
Eye of the beholder.
King in the North East,
The one-eyed trouser trout? Still not funny.
Respectfully, can we move on? Genital mutilation is not humorous.
King in the North East,
Don´t mention the TV Kingsmoot. It was painful to watch show Euron talking (and D&D had book material for that part). And then there is the finger bit in S7 (how I hate show Euron).
I thought we were talking about what was or wasn’t bad writing?
Also, I entirely disagree.
Either anything can be humorous, or nothing can. Murder isn’t funny either. Yet there’s plenty of good jokes about killing and death.
Again, eye of the beholder.
But feel free to move on if it bothers you too much.
I can’t see there being any issue between the Starks and Varys. Their interactions with him were too minor to refer back to at this stage. They might not trust him, but I can’t see them being particularly concerned with him.
Varys has two major plot points to resolve:
1. His efforts to crown a queen/king that is good for the Realm. Will he stick with Daenerys till the end? 2. We need an answer to his questions about the voice in the flames.
Melisandre has predicted his death, which will probably come to pass on-screen next season. So it’s possible he will commit some significant act that will lead to his death.
I’d be interested to see how Varys reacts to Bran’s powers. It’s possible that Bran could give him the answers he’s been seeking.
With Jon’s parentage, the overt introduction of the possibility of him betraying Dany and his distaste for magic (which will probably play a pretty big role next season), there’s still a lot of potential for Varys to play a significant role in the political drama of the final season.
Ramsay’s 20th Good Man,
He was deeply disturbed by the Tarlygate. So Varys switching sides for another to sit on the IT is realistic.
GRRM has a major predilection for genital discussions, jokes and descriptions. The books are full of em. Just saying…
Yet people (book purists) riot when D&D dare insert any of them in the script. Truly hilarious.
The Kingsmoot was the only time I didn’t like Euron. I enjoyed his scene on the bridge with Balon and I liked him throughout season 7. I much prefer Euron as a supporting antagonist, rather than trying to make him into a main antagonist, like Martin is attempting to do in the books.
Well we both like something about show Euron. The bridge bit.
King in the North East,
Yes. I agree. Comedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you find humor in mutilated and amputated genitalia, far be it for me to criticize it. I just don’t think it’s funny. But that’s just me. I wouldn’t deign to look down on anyone who laughs at “cockless”, “no cock”, and “without a cock” punchlines. (I just thought the introductory scene to S7e7 between Bronn and Jaime went way beyond witty and into wince-inducing.)
I’ll say no more on this subject.
I mentioned weeks ago that Arya & Varys may have some tension from when she heard him plotting with Ilyrio in the tunnels under king’s landing back in season 1. Now with the talk of all of these callbacks to season 1, that moment could very well be one of them.
Yes, I agree. Even Arya’s frantic running in the trailer seems like a small callback to her running after the cats and ending up in the dungeon to overhear Varys in season 1. I’m not sure though if Arya will put it all together from way back then. In season 1, she kept telling Ned she heard something about “the savage”.. Varys was talking about the Dothraki, but Arya didn’t know that at the time. But if Arya figures out that it was Varys down in the dungeon and he had something to do with her father’s demise, she’ll at least be very suspicious of his motives if not just add him to her list. FM usually observe their target for awhile first, so she may just keep a very close eye on him either way.
That’s what I’m expecting too. I don’t think she’ll kill him because technically he didn’t get Ned into his predicament. And he actually did try to arrange for Ned to get to the Wall. Cersei, Tywin, & probably everybody with good sense recognized the value of Ned as a hostage and bargaining chip except Joffrey.
Can’t fault Varys for that little psycho. I do expect Arya to let Varys know that she knows he’s a schemer though and the last schemer who fucked with House Stark got his throat cut. So he better watch the plotting and late night sneaking around because No One is watching…
Aegon the IceDragon,
Yes, she should realize that many many years ago, he was scheming and spying on behalf of Daenerys but will that matter now when he turns up alongside Daenerys. It will be interesting what implications it has at WF but I am not sure what harm he did to Ned. I suppose we will find out.
Absolutely. As Dany said, “If he dislikes one monarch, he conspires to crown the next one. What kind of servant is that?”
Varys’ reponse? “The kind the Realm needs”.
He supported Viserys because Robert was a reckless, disinterested king, bankrupting the Seven Kingdoms. Neither Joffrey nor Stannis were satisfactory heirs. Tommen proved himself too weak.
In the end he understandably stumped for Daenerys.
I don’t see why he wouldn’t still consider changing allegiances, even this late in the game, given that he has already expressed doubts about some of Dany’s decision-making.
“Ned” is a really weird way to spell “Joffrey”
I’m 99.9% convinced that Littlefinger insinuated the idea to Joffrey, perhaps even writing Ned’s humiliating speech. LF certainly had means, motives, and opportunities. On re-watch last year I noticed that during the execution bait and switch, LF is down in the left corner, stock still and smirking. Everyone else remonstrates with Joffrey when he springs his surprise. Recently YouTubers Order of the Green Hand found a GRRM annotation on ASoS: “Litttlefinger’s secret influence on the king may provide an answer as to who whispered in Joffrey’s ear and convinced him to execute Eddard Stark.” I don’t think even Varys had that that kind of influence or realised how much LF did.
I’m glad you wrote this essay, Patrick. It’s badly needed. Varys did so little last year we all tend to overlook him. Your analysis shows he is finally going to have a reckoning for so much he has done. I do think he told Ned the truth–that he works (very indirectly) for the good of the realm or peace, but always keeping himself safe first. Other than his Little Birds, he also seems to look after children (from having been a molested child?) like Sansa to some extent.
One possible relationship most fans overlook is Varys and Gendry. Someone had to pay Tobho Mott well to raise the royal bastard to a trade that would let him advance in smallfolk life. It could have been Jon Arryn, Jaime, some anonymous soldier, but it just seems like a task made for Varys the mummer. And much later someone would have told Mott to sell Gendry to the Nights Watch to get him out of town before Joffrey and co. massacred Robert’s innocents. Perhaps more intriguing is the possibility that Cersei is Gendry’s mother, making him the legitimate heir. While I doubt that theory, certainly some members of the GoT community have espoused it. If in the event it is revealed to be true, Varys could confirm or deny it. In Winterfell, he and Gendry may come face to face.
“(In practice, Arya could of course do what she wants, but let’s hope the Starks still want to follow some formal rules)”
Actually, she couldn’t. Last season, she wanted Littlefinger dead but apparently felt obligated to work through Sansa and the justice system. And now Varys, like LF before him, is under Guest Right. He too would have to be tricked into committing a crime against his hosts to void that. And he is Dany’s responsibility. Arya wouldn’t interfere.
He sent word to Lord Mormont via Benjen.
Noted. Good… and then he assumed that Mormont had….
The issue is relative effort and deciding what is important to attend. Then how to handle a volatile situation when your focus is peace and the well being of the country.
“Seeing Varys in Winterfell might remind Sansa of the role he played in her gaslighting, an unwelcome reminder of the beginnings of her abusive experience.”
Then might we see a little spider squashing courtesy of ASNAWP?
At this point, I would be surprised if Varys didn’t betray Dany. She made the threat to him in Season 6, and he’s been clearly uncomfortable with some of her actions. When he finds out Jon’s parentage, he might just switch sides. Plus, there is that bit in the trailer where a dragon is burning someone…
GoT Oreos are now available (April 8). Like an Orson, I saw them on Amazon – 12 packages for $55 – and clicked “Order Now”, because I’m sure my supermarket won’t have any by the time I get there.
I’ll either have ten or so packages of Oreos as gifts for fellow GoT fans – or hoard them all for myself and gain ten pounds in a week. Probably the latter. 😁
Stark Raven’ Rad,
Someone (please) help me out here. As a non-book reader I sometimes get confused between book! canon and show! canon:
I thought Yoren was present at Ned’s public confession because someone (Varys?) paid or arranged for Yoren to be there to take Ned with him on the NW caravan to the Wall – until things went sideways and Joffrey upended the exile plan.
Is that what happened?
Yes, Miss Stark. I do believe you’re onto something. Varys “Mr. Targ Restoration” is bound to see Aegon/Jon “the Great Conciliator” Targaryen as the best hope for the realm instead of Daenerys “Firebug” Targaryen.
If only Ned had listened to his little girl – about the schemers in the dark, about the evil of Joffrey….
It is alluded to that it was Varys. Yoren tells Arya that a man approached him and told him to stay and wait for Ned. The man brought a boy with him (Gendry). Varys tells Tyrion later that he saved one of Robert’s bastards (Gendry).
And Stark Raven’ Rad is also correct that it is alluded to that it was Varys in disguise who paid Gendry’s training. But as far as I know that is only in the books. (?)
I do not remember if it was specified who was paying for Gendry.
However, I speculate that either Jon Arryn and/or Varys would have taken on the responsibility to provide care for Robert’s children. Did Gendry say Jon Aryyn had come by? The King whored around relentlessly and Maggy said he would have 20 children. I think that the Hand of the King and the Masterspy would cleaned up after him and ensured the children ate and had some training. Nothing special, just mop up operations.
As for Cersei’s set, nothing was needed as these were formally Robert’s and they would be protected as the royal kids. Well, I suppose they had to keep her affair secret – like everyone else did.
Thank you, Patrick, for this article. A nice summation of where Varys stands in the show, and possible roads his story could go.
Since the show didn’t include a character/storyline in the books, of which Varys is a vital part, I’ve felt the show has kind of had him in a holding pattern. But D&D have kept Varys. Maybe because he’s just such a delicious character, maybe because in S8 he’ll fulfill a similar role he’s likely to have in the future books, i.e. Dany vs. purpoted son of Rhaegar.
I like the analysis of the Stark siblings (Sansa, Arya, Bran) each having reasons to distrust Varys, even be vindictive; and I especially like the idea of Ned’s “madness of mercy” coming shining through. Children of Ned’s having learned and internalised the lessons of their father – although hopefully being a bit smarter about it! (Although, at least until quite recently, Arya seemed to have a rather warped idea of “mercy”, due to her harrowing experiences and her subsequent misinterpretation of her inculcation in the Faceless Men cult. But hopefully that’s mostly over now, since the Sansa/Arya reconciliation scene in S7.)
I agree that Varys might still have some value as regards the situation in the south with Cersei, with some information channels, or just plain information, that could prove useful. So, don’t let the murder child kill him before he can be useful.
He’ll die, of course. Unless Melisandre interpreted also that vision wrong, haha!
Two more observations about Varys: Thanks to Michelle Clapton, he always wears costumes he can hide his hands in. Go check it out. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence.
Secondly, after Varys actor Conleth Hill’s appearance in the Seth Myers show – with his full head of luxuriant hair – someone here in the comments (sorry, I forget who of you it was 🙁 ) commented on how Aidan Gillen also has luxuriant hair and concluded:
Chaos is a hair salon.
Jon Arryn didn’t know about Gendry or his placement at Tobho Mott’s workshop before he came to visit himself – with Stannis – shortly before his death. Many clues point to Varys having Gendry placed as an apprentice there and then also being the man “buying” him out to send to the Wall (=safely out of KL). Tobho Mott’s description of the events, the generous payment both times etc. create enough reasonable doubt.
Why would Varys protect Gendry? To humour Ned’s idea of protecting Robert’s children? Or as some sort of a backup plan if the Targaryen restoration fails? But Gendry is just some smallfolk bastard – skilled blacksmith and all, a very respected trade, but still a bastard son of some barmaid in the eyes of the world.
Gendry claiming his father’s heritage is even more tenuous than Jon Snow claiming his. Jon was at least raised in a castle, as a noble, an acknowledged bastard son of his high nobility father Ned Stark. Gendry was just an apprentice blacksmith with no family apart from his “disreputable” smallfolk mother.
Oh, one thing I find irksome is some of the fandom willfully misinterpreting a S3 line by Gendry. Arya, desperate for family and a pack, pleads, “You could be my family.” Gendry answers, “No, you’d be m’lady.”
He doesn’t say anything romantic like she’d be his lady love. He’s telling her the social truth that he’d always be subservient, a servant to the nobility like Arya or her brother. Smallfolk adress their social betters as m’lord or m’lady. Social equals among nobility have “better diction” and say my lord or my lady – Tywin in Harrenhall caught out Arya on this. So, no, Gendry wasn’t declaring love for Arya there, he was pointing out the huge social gap.
Now, since Melisandre told him about his heritage, Gendry might think differently. But his line in S3, “No, you’d be m’lady,” is shorthand for Gendry gently telling fierce little Arya some home truths about the society they live in. He’s a realist, even a conservative, she’s a firebrand, unconventional. We’ll see what happens.
I know this is a website for the show, not the books, but I know a lot of the ATL writers and BTL commentators have read the books and it informs their views, speculations etc. as regards S8 of the show.
Varys is one moving part we have to place. There are the show clues but deep down, we might think some of the book stuff might come into fruition. I don’t know how, but the mere fact that D&D have kept Varys this long, without his book storyline… There’s got to be something there.
He’ll be important somehow before he dies, is how I think/feel about our favourite unctuous eunuch.
I agree with you. Varys would likely have taken care of Robert’s bastards. But I think it is just moping up and monitoring. Bastards can get ideas and challenge successions.
Robert had many bastards to pick among so I am unsure why Gendry vs another would be his backup plan to the restoration. A younger child may have been better and then Varyrs or another could be regent. Gendry was grown enough to be a wildcard if he was put up for the throne. Plus as you say his claim was weak.
I am not sure what to speculate about why Gendry was being sent to the Wall. Maybe because Ned had used him as evidence to uncover the secret, Varys thought it best to move him to lessen the chance that another person would be able to pursue this investigation.
And no, there is no romance between Arya and Gendry up to this point. Arya was child and Gendry would either be molesting or grooming her if he were giving her the eye at this point. She may (?!!!) have been looking at him with a little girl’s crush – but from his side, he was just telling her how the world works.
I just kind of find it interesting why Varys apparently saved Gendry, not his other bastard children. Was it because Gendry so obviously looks like his father, that he could be useful at a later date?
Varys would not be doing it out of the kindness of his heart. Varys does not have kindness of the heart, however much he tries to project that idea.
Maybe Varys and Gendry, quite side characters for the past few seasons, could become important?
Or maybe not, and it’s all Jon/Dany/Arya/Sansa/Bran rah rah rah. (Gods, I hope not.)
I especially agree with the hope below…..
“Or maybe not, and it’s all Jon/Dany/Arya/Sansa/Bran rah rah rah. (Gods, I hope not.)”
Because it would make for a much weaker Season 8 than could be had with all the other great actors and potential storylines. My best hope is that at least half of the S8 focuses on the Lannister kids, Varys, Davos, Theon etc.
I want the last season to be fulsome. Rich. Textured. Heartbreaking, epic, bloody manic battles, bittersweet character moments. Everything they’ve been building up to for the past decade.
Haha, I love how you said “the Lannister kids”. Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion are not kids, they’re fully adult, even middle-aged. But yeah, I’m as interested in their fate as the Stark kids.
It all started with a Stark/Lannister conflict, it should end with a resolution of it. If it takes an AOTD zombie invasion, so be it.
Yes! I agree.
I want all of that – rich, textured, emotionally complex, adult. And I worry about these most because the series has the potential to degenerate into a children’s tale.
And I think it needs the talent to deliver the goods on screen. That will need big segments for the Lannister middle-agers, lol!
For me, Varys is the most intriguing character on the show and in the books, so I very much enjoyed this article. Thanks again, Patrick.
Thank you very much, Catspaw. I appreciate the feedback and glad you liked it.
Another fascinating article as always Patrick. I’m currently re-watching the earlier seasons and finished S4 yesterday, what strikes me is just how much foreshadowing there is for later events, some of it is subtle whilst others smash you on the head (like Bronn describing the Mountain vs Viper fight two episodes prior). Anyway where I am going with this is that I’m convinced the S7 foreshadowing of Varys confirms to me he will not make it out alive, when Melisandre tells him he will die here it will happen in S8. Almost certainly Dany will be the one to kill him, I just don’t see the Starks doing it despite Arya over hearing him and Illryio talking back in S1. My best guess is he turns against Dany and supports Jon as a more fair ruler, this ultimately leads to his demise. I don’t see any other scenario for his death as he will not be involved in the fighting as we see in the trailer him hiding in the crypts with women and children in episode 3.
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