Varys Portrait by Amok©
|Alias|| The Spider|
|Title||Master of Whisperers|
|Book(s)|| A Game of Thrones (appears)|
A Clash of Kings (appears)
A Storm of Swords (appears)
A Feast for Crows (mentioned)
A Dance with Dragons (appears)
|Played by||Conleth Hill|
|TV series||Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 | Season 4 | Season 5|
Varys, called "the Spider", is an enigmatic member of the small council and the master of whisperers, or spymaster, for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. In the television adaptation Game of Thrones he is played by Conleth Hill.
Appearance and Character
- See also: Images of Varys
He prefers comfortable clothing, fine silks (often in outrageous colors), velvets, the richest damasks, and soft slippers that allow him to walk without making any sound. His outward manner is obsequious, mysterious, and squeamish. He is a master of disguise and can easily change his appearance, gait, smell, and costume to become unrecognizable.
Secrets are Varys’s trade, and his skill at acquiring them has earned him a reputation for being seemingly omniscient. Crucial to his trade is a spy network of children that he refers to as his "little birds".
His history of providing information to all sides, of aiding enemies, of pitting rivals against one another, and of manipulation to achieve his ends has earned him a reputation of being distasteful and untrustworthy amongst the nobles at court. In private, however, he claims to value order, stability, and peace above all, and professes loyalty to those who work for those goals as well.
According to Grand Maester Pycelle, Varys was born a slave in Lys. Varys himself says that he was orphaned, and was apprenticed to a traveling folly, a troupe of mummers who worked the Free Cities, Oldtown, and occasionally King's Landing, by means of a fat little cog owned by the troupe's master. During their stay in Myr, a man offered a large sum of money for Varys, an offer his master found too tempting to refuse. The man gave Varys a potion that made him powerless to move or speak, but did nothing to dull his senses as his manhood was cut off at the stem, then burnt in a brazier in a Blood Magic ritual. Varys claims to have held a hatred for all things magical ever since.
With the ritual complete, the man had no further use for Varys and tossed him out on the streets. Varys asked the man what he should do, to which the sorcerer replied he supposed that he should die. Varys to spite him vowed to live.
By that time the mummers had sailed and Varys was left alone. He resorted to begging, prostitution and thievery and soon was as good a thief as any in Myr, eventually becoming recognized as the best thief in the city until a rival forced him out and he fled to Pentos.
In Pentos, Varys was marked by his accent, and once it became known he was a eunuch, he was despised and beaten. Varys was poor, and slept in sewers during the day, whilse prowling the rooftops at night. He made an agreement with a poor sellsword named Illyrio Mopatis, and together they started a business, where Varys would steal objects from lesser thieves and Illyrio would get the objects back for their original owners for a small fee. Soon, everyone in Pentos who ever had valuables stolen from them knew who to ask to get their valuables back. In addition, the thieves in Pentos soon began to seek Varys out, half to try (and failing) to kill him, the other half to sell him the objects they had stolen in order to prevent Varys from stealing them back. This way, Varys and Illyrio grew rich.
Varys came to the realization that information was much more valuable than gold and gems and began training his spy network, then known as "little mice", to acquire the information, letters, ledgers and charts of the wealthy and powerful. The "mice" were orphans purchased by Varys; he chose those that were small, quick, and quiet, and taught them to read and write, as well as the skills required for sneak thievery such as climbing walls and slipping down chimneys, so that they might copy the information Varys desired without disturbing or alarming their targets.
These secrets increased Varys and Illyrio's wealth tenfold, and in time Varys became so infamous that word of his talents reached the ears of King Aerys across the narrow sea, who in his growing paranoia no longer trusted his son, his wife, or his Hand.
As spymaster in King's Landing, Varys's influence grew with Aerys's paranoia, as he was quick to point out traitors and schemers to his liege. Varys mastered the secret passages within the Red Keep and made good use of them with his spy network, who became known as his little birds. He had them memorize the passages and come to him whenever one discovered something of importance. Notably, Varys alerted Aerys to the possibility that his son Rhaegar was using attendance at the Tourney at Harrenhal as a pretext to rally Lords to his cause in removing Aerys as king, causing Aerys to attend the tournament, the first time he had left the Red Keep in years since the Defiance of Duskendale.
Following the Battle of the Trident during Robert's Rebellion, Varys counseled Aerys to close his gates to Tywin Lannister, as he could not be trusted. Aerys, however, listened to Grand Maester Pycelle and opened the gates to the Lannister forces, who proceeded to sack the city and kill the remaining Targaryens present.
Though he continued in his post for King Robert, Varys's loyalty seemingly remained with House Targaryen. He kept a secret arrangement with Illyrio Mopatis, who seeks to put a Targaryen back on the Iron Throne. In fact, it was revealed that Varys switched the baby Aegon with that of a peasant baby. With the realm and Robert falsely believing him dead, Varys had Aegon smuggled across the narrow sea to be raised by Rhaegar's friend and exiled Hand of the King, Jon Connington. To conceal Connington's activities, Varys concocted the false story that Connington had drunk himself to death after being caught stealing from the Golden Company.
A Game of Thrones
After the Hand's Tourney, Varys disguises himself and comes to meet the Hand of the King, Lord Eddard Stark, at his chambers. He warns Eddard that Queen Cersei is trying to kill King Robert. He states that his goal is peace and stability and professes to assist Lord Eddard in his investigations against House Lannister. Varys also reveals that the former hand, Jon Arryn, was poisoned with the Tears of Lys for the crime of "asking questions".
Varys brings Ser Jorah Mormont's report of Daenerys Targaryen being pregnant to the small council, which results in King Robert's command to assassinate both her and her unborn child. He meets Illyrio below the Red Keep where they discuss how to delay a war between Stark and Lannister until the right time.
When King Robert is slain, Varys remains master of whisperers for King Joffrey. When Joffrey demands that someone take blame for his father's death, Varys suggests Ser Barristan Selmy. Joffrey and Cersei dismiss Selmy, a move many outside the council saw as a folly. Selmy later joined Daenerys Targaryen in the east as a result of his dismissal (this was most likely Varys plan the whole time). 
After Eddard Stark is imprisoned, Varys visits him disguised as a jailor. When tells Ned that his blood is that last thing he desires Ned points out that Varys stood by the queen, watched and said not a word as his personal guard was slaughtered. Varys replies that he was unarmed, unarmored and surrounded by Lannister swords. He then looks a Ned curiously, tilts his head and tells him,
|“||When I was a young boy, before I was cut, I traveled with a troupe of mummers through the Free Cities. They taught me that each man has a role to play, in life as well was mummery. So it is at court. The King's Justice must be fearsome, the master of coin must be frugal, the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard must be valiant … and the master of whisperers must be sly and obsequious and without scruple. A courageous informer would be as useless as a cowardly knight.||”|
Varys persuades Ned that for the sake of his daughter Sansa's life he must falsely confess to treason so Cersei will allow him to take the black, thus delaying a war between Stark and Lannister. When Ned shows reluctance, Varys insinuates that the Lannisters will kill Sansa if Ned continues to defy them. Ned asks who Varys truly serves, and Varys claims that the purpose of his machinations is not for personal power, honor, or loyalty, but simply the best intentions for the realm as a whole.
Despite Varys's intentions to spare Eddard Stark's life, Joffrey goes against the council's wishes and decides at the last minute to have Ned Stark executed instead of allowing him to take the black much to the shock of Varys and the other onlookers.
A Clash of Kings
Tyrion returns to the Broken Anvil after breaking the news to Cersei that he is acting Hand of the King to find Varys there with Shae, much to his dismay. After some veiled threats between them, Varys asks if Tyrion has seen the Red Comet, and Tyrion replies he is not blind; on the Kingsroad it had seemed to cover half the sky. Varys tells Tyrion that on the streets it is called the Red Messenger. “They say it comes as a herald before a king, to warn of fire and blood to follow.” Before Varys leaves he poses a riddle to Tyrion:
|“||In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me-who lives and who dies?||”|
An uneasy alliance formed between Varys and Tyrion, with Varys providing Tyrion with information as to the goings-on in the city and the capital. Varys assists Tyrion in gaining control of the city watch and informs him that Ser Lancel Lannister was sleeping with Queen Cersei.
Varys assists Tyrion in protecting Shae, setting a up a secret route through which he can visit her and keep her true identity secret from Cersei. During their work togther, Varys reveals to Tyrion the origins of how he became castrated. It is also revealed that Varys was the one who sent Gendry with Yoren to join the Night's Watch, so the boy would not be killed by Cersei's agents simply for the crime of being Robert's bastard.
A Storm of Swords
After Tyrion Lannister's recovery following the Battle of the Blackwater, he seeks out Varys and seeks to resume their alliance, which includes his assistance in continuing to facilitate his trysts with Shae. Varys obliges him, though when Tyrion is put on trial for the murder of King Joffrey, Varys testifies against Tyrion, providing notes on conversations between the two and a great deal of seemingly damning evidence.
After Tyrion is condemned to die, however, Varys is forced by Jaime Lannister, at swordpoint, to release Tyrion. He does so, and on the trip through the secret tunnels beneath the Red Keep leads Tyrion past a ladder that the dwarf recognizes as leading to the chamber of the Hand of the King, leading him to inquire how to access his old quarters to seek out his father. Varys makes a curiously weak and obligatory protest against this course of action, advising him to make haste and flee...while also giving precise directions on how to reach Tywin. Tyrion then ascends the ladder to kill his father Tywin. With this outcome and his subsequent arrangement for Tyrion to fit in to his master plan, it is very likely it was more than the threat of violence from a crippled Jaime that caused Varys to release the dwarf. As a loyalist, and knowing Tywin's threat to a Targaryen restoration, plus the fact he attempted to prevent rectification of Cersei's grievous errors, it is most likely he purposefully arranged Tywin's murder, but which strings he pulled and how are currently left unclear as Varys is a master of obfuscation.
Meanwhile, encamped outside Meereen, Ser Barristan Selmy reveals to Queen Daenerys’s horror that Ser Jorah Mormont has been spying on her on behalf of Varys and the small council for gold and in hopes of gaining a royal pardon. Barristan tells her that she is watched and since the day of her wedding to Khal Drogo there has been an informer at her side  – Dany knows that it can only have been Jorah.
After Meereen is taken Dany confronts Jorah in the Great Pyramid with regard to his spying on her on behalf of Varys. He confesses that he took the eunuch's gold and learned some ciphers and wrote some letters.  He admits to her that that he suspected that the wine intended for her in Vaes Dothrak had been poisoned after reading a letter from Varys brought there by caravan. He tells her that Varys wanted her watched, but not harmed. Dany banishes Ser Jorah for his betrayal.
A Feast for Crows
After Varys's part in Tyrion's escape and Tywin's murder, he vanishes without a trace. A dungeon turnkey named Rugen disappears as well. In Rugen's living space a Tyrell coin is discovered and shown to Cersei, increasing Cersei's already-abundant mistrust of House Tyrell. Rugen is one of Varys' disguises.
Cersei, now ruling in King's Landing as Queen Regent to her son Tommen, appoints Qyburn to fill the position of Master of Whisperers. Qyburn notes that many of Varys's spies came to him with secrets to sell, reinforcing Cersei's belief that Varys had always oversold his value to make people dependent on him and more vulnerable to his schemes.
Jaime Lannister also starts to suspect that maybe Varys had a hand in Tyrek Lannister's disappearance during the Riot of King’s Landing, his reasoning being that Tyrek as the late King Robert's former squire would have had a deal of knowledge about the king's activities including his death and knowledge like that was always valuable, a fact which Varys knew better than anyone else. In addition, Varys did not go down to the docks with the rest of the court the day Myrcella was sent to Dorne, nor did he give Cersei any warning of what was about to happen, and it would have been a easy thing for Varys to spark a riot and have agents of his snatch Tyrek in the confusion. 
Readers also speculate that Varys was behind a puppet show in King's Landing that had become quite popular among the population. The show was about the kingdom of the beasts was ruled by a pride of Lions that grew arrogant and began to devour their own subjects, when the noble Stag makes objections they eat him too and state that it is their right as the strongest of beasts. At the end of the show a Dragon hatches from an egg and devours all the lions. When Cersei Lannister learned about the show from Qyburn she ordered the puppeteers put to death and those who watched it were to lose half their wealth if they were rich and to lose an eye for watching treason if they were poor. 
A Dance with Dragons
Varys employs the secret passages to enter the chambers of Grand Maester Pycelle and kill him. He then dispatches one of his "little birds" to fetch Kevan Lannister, now Lord Regent after Cersei's disgrace, under the pretext that the Grand Maester has a message for him.
Upon his entering the rookery, Varys shoots Kevan with a crossbow, going on to apologize and note that his actions are not out of malice but rather because Kevan's competent leadership threatened to undo Cersei's follies and years of Varys's careful planning. He explains to Kevan that Aegon Targaryen is still alive, and notes the preparations being made to make him the true leader, noting that his death will sow further dissent between the Lannisters and Tyrells, making the realm easy prey for Aegon to arrive and be proclaimed King, for the good of the realm. Varys then summons several of his "little birds" to end Ser Kevan's suffering.
Varys employs the use of various disguises to go about unnoticed. Upon seeing one of the disguises Tyrion remarks,
|“||A different look, a different smell, a different way of walking ... most men would be deceived".||”|
- As a stout man in a heavy brown robe in roughspun  – in cracked, mud-caked boots smelling of sweat. His face hidden by a cowl, hands drawn up into voluminous sleeves. At first he speaks in a strange low voice. Ned Stark is astonished to realize it is Lord Varys. Ned notices his usual cloying tones are gone and his voice is a thin and sharp as a whip.
- As a begging brother – in filthy patched robes, bare feet crusty with dirt, a bowl hung about his neck on a leather thong where a septon would have worn a crystal. The smell of him would have gagged a rat. He has a mouth full of rotted teeth.
- As a woman  – plump, soft, matronly, with a round pin moon of a face and heavy dark curls. For one horrid moment Tyrion thinks its Lollys.
Quotes by Varys
|“||Ser Barristan loves his honor, Grand Maester Pycelle loves his office, and Littlefinger loves Littlefinger.||”|
|“||A eunuch has no honor, and a spider does not enjoy the luxury of scruples, my lord.||”|
|“||There is no creature on earth half so terrifying as a truly just man.||”|
|“||Eddard: Tell me, Lord Varys, who do you truly serve?
Varys: 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.
|“||Why is it always the innocents who suffer most, when you high lords play your game of thrones?||”|
|“||The storms come and go, the waves crash overhead, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.||”|
|“||Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.||”|
|“||Secrets are worth more than silver or sapphires.||”|
|“||Ser Kevan. Forgive me if you can. I bear you no ill will. This was not done from malice. It was for the realm. For the children ... There are many like you, good men in service to bad causes ...||”|
Quotes about Varys
|“||He smelled as foul and sweet as flowers on a grave.||”|
|“||But Varys has ways of learning things that no man could know. He has some dark art, Ned, I swear it.||”|
|“||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.||”|
|“||I blame those jackanapes on the council—our friend Petyr, the venerable Grand Maester Pycelle, and that cockless wonder Lord Varys.||”|
|“||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.||”|
|“||There are things I might tell you of that eunuch that would chill your blood ...||”|
|“||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 ...||”|
|“||Ser Barristan once told me the rot in King Aerys's reign began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned.||”|
References and Notes
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Appendix.
- ↑ HBO: Game of Thrones: cast and crew
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 3, Tyrion I.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 30, Eddard VII.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 25, Eddard V.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 44, Tyrion X.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 5, Tyrion II.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 67, The Kingbreaker.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 32, Arya III.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 57, Sansa V.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 63, Daenerys V.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 58, Eddard XV.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 65, Arya V.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 8, Tyrion II.
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 29, Tyrion VII.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 57, Daenerys V.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 71, Daenerys VI.
- ↑ 18.0 18.1 Game of Thrones, Season 1, "The Pointy End", DVD Commentary.
- ↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 27, Jaime III.
- ↑ A Feast for Crows, Chapter 24, Cersei V.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Epilogue.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 12, Tyrion II.
- ↑ A Dance with Dragons, Epilogue.
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 24.2 A Game of Thrones, Chapter 20, Eddard IV.
- ↑ A Game of Thrones, Chapter 69, Tyrion IX.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 15, Tyrion III.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 25, Tyrion VI.
- ↑ A Clash of Kings, Chapter 54, Tyrion XII.
- ↑ A Storm of Swords, Chapter 36, Davos IV.
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- See also the article on Varys on the Game of Thrones wiki.