Castrated “root and stem” as a young boy by a heartless magician and left on the streets to die, he clung on to his life by begging, stealing and selling “what parts of my body still remained”, before transforming himself into one of the most influential figures in the Seven Kingdoms. Varys, the so-called Spider and Master of Whisperers to multiple monarchs, is one of Game of Thrones’s most compelling creations, and one of few truly low-born characters to establish himself as a main player in the HBO series.
In earlier seasons, it was often difficult to tell what the endgame of the bald eunuch, played to slippery perfection by the Northern Irish actor Conleth Hill, would turn out to be. Like Aidan Gillen’s Littlefinger, who boasts a similarly sharp set of scheming skills, he clearly had a Long Term Agenda. Unlike Littlefinger, however, who craves power for himself, Varys has repeatedly claimed that he is working only for the good of the realm, and for the ordinary, innocent people who live in it. He will lie, and betray his “betters” – but it’s all to make sure that the right person sits on the Iron Throne. Littlefinger might crave chaos (he thinks it’s just like a ladder, did you know?) but Varys, ultimately, wants stability.
It just needs to be the right kind of Varys-approved stability.
Challenged by Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who questioned his flickering allegiances earlier this season, the eunuch launched a passionate defence of himself.
“When I was a child I lived in alleys, gutters, abandoned houses. You wish to know where my loyalties lie? Not with any King or Queen, but with the people,” he told her. “The people who suffer under despots and prosper under just rule. The people whose hearts you aim to win! If you demand blind allegiance, I respect your wishes. Grey Worm can behead me, or your dragons can devour me.”
In this respect, Varys is one of the most forward-thinking characters in the Game of Thrones world. Yes, others have challenged the show’s rulers in the past (Robert’s Rebellion, which took place long before the events of the series, was prompted by the actions of a tyrant) but only Varys is enlightened enough to regard unquestioning loyalty as a flaw in itself, rather than something to be overcome in extreme situations.
Of late, he certainly seems to be wavering in his feelings towards Daenerys, understandably perturbed by her penchant for Drogon-assisted punishment (aka burning people alive). Because of this, many have speculated that he could abandon her after all, possibly even aligning himself with the annoyingly noble Jon Snow, whose claim to the throne, it was subtly revealed in Eastwatch, could well be the strongest of all.
Of course, Daenerys’s decision to support Jon in the battle against the army of the dead, coupled with the fact that the two leaders appear to be growing closer (some are convinced they’ll be hooking up by the end of the season), could mean that Varys won’t have to choose between them after all.