*Spoilers up to and including the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones*
Okay. So my title is misleading. There are the big characters that everyone loves – you have your Jons, your Tyrions, your Daeneryses, and Aryas, the ones everyone loves – and then you have your fan favorites, the personal favorites, the lesser known names that you’re really rooting for. That’s what Varys has always been for me.
Let me get the obvious counter-argument out of the way. He couldn’t save Ned. Yes, he did go to the prison and warn Ned, whom he probably could have saved just as he would later save Tyrion, but he didn’t. In this video, after Joffrey sentences Ned to death, we see Varys run to Joffrey and attempt to reason with him. And the only reason why he saved Tyrion and not Ned is because he wasn’t ready to leave Westeros. Before then, the conditions weren’t quite right. In the Season 5 opener we learn that Varys didn’t just leave the Capital so he could escape with Tyrion, but he has a specific goal of aiding Daenerys, who has grown more powerful over the past few seasons.
But Varys has always been the selfless servant of Westeros, and this is highlighted in the Season 5 opener. Varys says that all he wants is “Peace. Prosperity. A land where the powerful do not prey on the powerless.” He’s such a gentle-hearted man. Well… Except for one incident.
There is some evil in Varys, (as there is in every character in Game of Thrones) but rarely do the viewers see it. The only scene where we see his darker side is when he confronts the man who cut him as a child, and some might say that this revenge is justified.
There is a cultural notion, seen in many stories from Star Wars to Julius Caesar, that power corrupts the powerful. (Other examples: Joffrey or Congress.) This man has a network of spies all over Westeros and Essos, yet still tries to do what’s right. Most people would assume that working with all the world’s secrets would make one evil, but he really just wants what is best. (It’s almost subversive. We don’t see too many of Varys’ spies throughout the show, [which means they’re good spies] but on the rare occasion we see them, they mostly seem to be normal people, spying on the nobles of Westeros.)
One of Game of Thrones’ biggest strengths is that the show really knows how to pair characters together. It is astounding that there are so many character duos that just fit so well together. Tyrion and Bronn, Jaime and Brienne, Arya and the Hound… The list goes on, and this is one of the biggest strengths of the show. And this is especially the case with Varys: Take a look at how Varys plays against Littlefinger and against Tyrion, both his intellectual equals.
The scenes with Littlefinger and Varys are so fascinating. Check out this one and this one. It’s neat to see the parallels of these two men with such great intelligence and such varying goals. It might be kind of simple to say that one is good and one is evil, but that is basically what the audience is lead to believe. Varys says things like “[I serve] the realm. Someone must,” whereas Littlefinger gives long and sprawling speeches about chaos. (I could [and might just] argue that, by way of his elaborate plans, Littlefinger is the best and most interesting character in Game of Thrones, much in the same way that Iago is best character in Othello; however, they’re certainly no one’s favorite.) Varys schemes, but his schemes are for the good of everyone. Littlefinger’s schemes are for the good of himself.
Tyrion and Varys rule King’s Landing together throughout the second season. They control the city, prepping for Stannis’ invasion. They’re working together for what’s best for the people of Westeros (as much as they can under Joffrey). And they’re just fun to watch: two brilliant men who can’t quite trust each other, but are both working towards the same goal.
This has a point to it: think of season 5. Varys is bringing Tyrion with him to serve Daenerys, all for the good of Westeros. Here, Varys is trying to unite the best minds of the land in an attempt to put the best ruler on the throne. It feels like he’s building a team, basically like a white, impotent, Nick Fury.
Here, we have a character who is intelligent, resourceful, wants the best for everyone, and doesn’t ask for the glory of ruling. And yet viewers remember him for having no dick. GRRM and the showrunners are often accused of killing the best characters, but the viewers perhaps should think about all the characters they haven’t quite come to love just yet.
Varys’ plotline is easily the one I’m most excited for this upcoming season, except perhaps Bran coming back, but this is perhaps because we know the most about it. (Jon? He’s maybe dead but probably not. Arya? Life as a blind woman. Brienne? Bumbling around the North. Cersei? Facing some kind of consequences. Daenerys? Who the hell knows?) But with Tyrion and Varys, we’re returning to a formula we saw in Season 2. Just two good-hearted men, ruling a turbulent city together. This is a story with a lot of potential.
It almost feels as though we’re building to who will take the Throne at the end of the series. Will it be Littlefinger, greedily ruling over what he has taken? Or will peace and cooperation prevail? I, for one, hope to see Varys and Tyrion guide Daenerys back to Westeros.
Tinfoil Fan Theories: Is Varys a mermaid? (I know this theory probably isn’t true, but it’s fun to think about.)