“He smelled as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.”
This is the Spider
Telling the history of this man is a difficult task as most of it comes from his own mouth. And excuse me if I’m hesitant to believe much that comes from the Spider for the difference between truth, exaggeration, and lie is often not so clear. You also can’t talk about Varys without talking about his natural born chessmate, Littlefinger. I said before that I think Littlefinger plays the game slightly better than Varys, but when you get to the core of things, Varys seems to have none of the small shortcomings that Littlefinger does. That makes him more dangerous.
Or does it? I know what Littlefinger wants, but what does Varys want? I think it’s fairly clear the man has no desire to sit the throne himself. Does he want power, wealth, to choose who sits the throne, etc? If fans aren’t trying to turn every character into a secret Targaryen, they’re making theories about Varys. So many theories. So so many. So what does Varys want exactly? What is his endgame? Is he a secret Targaryen? Is he a merman? Since A Dance With Dragons came out we know more, but not everything is completely clear yet. As usual, my answer is let’s look at his past to see if we can get some answers.
Varys was born in Lys. He didn’t have parents growing up, being born right into slavery. He traveled the Free Cities in a mummers group, basically a group of actors. He was born into a life of masks and secrets, it’s no wonder he picked up a few things along the way. It wasn’t a bad life by any means, especially for a slave. Of course it didn’t last long. During a tour in Myr, a man offered Varys’ master an offer he simply couldn’t refuse. A sizable amount of money, maybe more than made sense for a mummer boy.
Of course this man was the sorcerer that made Varys a eunuch. He was made to drink something that paralyzed him, but took none of his feeling away. The man then cut Varys and burnt it on a brazier in some kind of ritual. We’ve seen something similar before.
Varys was thrown out on the streets, and when he asked the sorcerer what to do, the man told him to die. Varys, instead, swore he would live. The mummers were long gone by then though, he was on his own. To survive he did what he needed to do, which included some very unpleasant things. Varys mostly turned to thievery though, and soon he was masterclass.
Varys fled to Pentos, forced to by a rival thief. And, yet again, Varys was back to square one. He was recognized as a eunuch and he was beaten consistently. He began to only come out a night, sleeping in the sewers during the day. It was there when he meant another poor man. A sellsword by the name Illyrio Mopatis. They began a partnership where Varys would steal things and Illyrio would sell the items back to the owners. They quickly became rich off of this scheme and became somewhat famous in Pentos. Thieves either wanted to be them or kill them, and many tried.
Varys eventually realized that money was one thing, but the real potential was in information. You could steal a lord’s vase and make some gold, but to know a lord’s deep dark secret… That was something else entirely. Varys began building a complex network of spies. He would buy children and teach them everything they needed to know, including to read and write for they had to copy information from documents. Stealing them would alert the owner, so they simply made copies on the spot.
This became so successful, it was said to increase Varys and Illyrio’s wealth by ten.times the amount from just stealing. This operation became so legendary in status, it eventually made it’s way to the ear of the Mad King in King’s Landing. Varys became Aerys’ master of whisperers. He moved to King’s Landing and away from Illyrio, but needless to say the two didn’t lose contact.
“Varys has ways of learning things that no man could know. He has some dark art.”
Aerys became Varys’ spying enabler, and the Spider didn’t raise any questions or concerns with that. Aerys began to distrust everyone and everything around him and he turned to Varys to learn as much as possible about everyone. Aerys didn’t even trust his own son it became so bad. Little birds whispered in Varys’ ear and Varys whispered in Aerys’ ear. In truth, Varys was incredibly faithful to his King. He gave good council and protected him at every turn.
This all came to a head during Robert’s Rebellion when Varys was the only one to caution the Mad King on Tywin. Varys advised to keep the gates closed, but Aerys ordered them to be opened due largely to Pycelle’s urging. Varys’ King was slain, but the Spider wasn’t going anywhere. He continued to serve his position under Robert’s rule.
His network always continued to grow and Varys turned gathering information into an art. Everyone knew his name and the Spider had quite the reputation in Westeros. Varys would go so far as to disguise himself in costumes to gather information or do certain things. He mastered the use of the hidden tunnels beneath King’s Landing, perhaps the only person to do so. This gave him unfiltered access basically anywhere, which he took great advantage of. He could pop up anywhere at any time. Hell, he could come to your bedchamber and kill you with a crossbow if he wanted.
He seemed to be absolutely loyal to the new King and his court, but his game was always afoot.
“You think you’re the only one he whispers secrets to? He gives each of us just enough to convince us that we’d be helpless without him. He played the same game with me, when I first wed Robert. For years, I was convinced I had no truer friend at court, but now …” – Cersei
Varys juggled everyone in the court. He would feed information to every ear, turning enemies on each other and manipulating them in just the way he wanted. However Littlefinger always claimed to have some sort of control over Varys.
“I hold the man’s balls in the palm of my hand … or would, if he were a man, or had any balls. You see, if the pie is opened, the birds begin to sing, and Varys would not like that.” – Littlefinger
We can only begin to guess exactly what that means.
Here’s where it gets slightly tricky. To keep things straight, I’ll just do this –
BOOK CANON ONLY: Rhaegar and Elia had two children together, both slain at the hands of the Mountain during the Sack of King’s Landing. However, in A Dance with Dragons, it’s revealed that Varys managed to make a switch and that Rhaegar’s baby, Aegon, actually survived that day. A peasant baby was killed instead. Aegon was sent off with Rhaegar’s friend, Jon Connington, to be cared for and taught how to be a ruler with the intention that someday a Targaryen would sit the throne once again.
SHOW & BOOK CANON: Viserys and Dany were smuggled away from Dragonstone after the war. Viserys made it his quest to avenge his father and take his rightful place on the throne. He got no help for years until he found an unlikely friend in Illyrio Mopatis in Pentos.
So it’s clear Varys wants a Targaryen to sit the throne. But why? Well we don’t know. It could be as simple as Varys is a Targaryen loyalist just like the Dornish. Targs have always been good to him so he wants to be good to them. Always more questions raised though including the obvious one. Why help Viserys and Dany at all if their main goal is getting Aegon on the throne? And why not help sooner? They wandered from city to city with no help for years. I’m afraid there’s no answers here for us book readers. It’s a little easier on the show with Aegon’s absence. Varys wants Dany on the throne. But we still have the ultimate question. Why?
“Tell me, Lord Varys, who do you truly serve?” – Ned
“Why, the realm, my good lord, how ever could you doubt that? I swear it by my lost manhood. I serve the realm, and the realm needs peace.” – Varys
Varys claims he just wants the best for the Kingdoms. He wants peace and prosperity, but is starting another war really what’s best for the Kingdom?
“Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?” – Varys
In fact it seems like Varys is a bit of a hypocrite. Perhaps it’s just that permanent mask on his face from years of being an actor. It seems about as hard to find Varys’ motivations as it is to find a use for nipples on a breastplate.
So this is the part where we look back on his past, most notably his encounter with the sorcerer. One of the more common theories is that Varys himself is a Blackfyre, a direct descendant from the Targaryen line. Why else would the sorcerer specifically want Varys if not for him having royal blood for a ritual? This would explain a lot and why he seems to be only faithful to the Targaryens. So far it might be the best guess we have.
One thing is clear to me though. Varys isn’t what he claims to be. Simply a protector of the realm who wants peace. His actions go against his words too often and I don’t buy that for a second. Littlefinger wants as much peace as Varys does and both have taken direct action to start wars. Varys with the Targaryens at his side and Littlefinger with Sansa at his (at least eventually). Varys even protected the Mad King who was the direct antithesis of peace.
So his game seems to be about returning a Targaryen to the throne, perhaps because he thinks it will bring peace, or perhaps because he has blood ties with them. Varys is two faced though and caution should always be taken when trusting the man. Even Tyrion’s relationship with the Spider is a little more cautious than it sometimes seems.
“Lord Varys, sometimes I feel as though you are the best friend I have in King’s Landing and sometimes I feel you are my worst enemy.” – Tyrion
It seems Tyrion was also manipulated in every way by Varys. Who better to help a Targaryen to the throne than a sharp man such as Tyrion? Varys knew this and took direct steps to get Tyrion on that ship to Pentos. The game is always afoot with him.
The word ‘answers’ and Varys go together as well as honey and acid. Questions and Varys though? Like two peas in a pod. Always more questions and theories, but that’s the joy of this entire series. It doesn’t hand you everything and you have to try to fill in some of the blanks yourself. So we wait for the new season and the new book less than patiently. Meanwhile go read about how Varys is a merman.
As always thanks for reading!
All information comes from the ASOIAF series and the GoT television series.
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