Varys and the Long-Con

Spoilers for A Game of Thrones (all books, including Dance) and the HBO show…after the leap.

Spoilers ahead. I bloody warned you.

Spencer Ackerman has a long post up on Varys focusing on his brief scene at the end of A Dance with Dragons.

The epilogue scene in the fifth book of A Song of Ice and Fire confirms that the new central political question surrounding George R.R. Martin’s epic is why Pentos cares about the governance of Westeros. Assuming — for the first time — that Varys is a reliable narrator during his mustache-twirling soliloquy with Ser Kevan, his intentions are now clear: he has played a long game for Targaryen restoration, with Illyrio Mopatis as his Pentoshi agent. (Or maybe Varys is Illyrio’s Westerosi agent. Who knows.) The basic question is why. We have insufficient textual basis to answer as yet. But the game just got more fierce. 

With that reveal, Varys’ actions in A Game of Thrones now look rather inconsistent with that goal. After all, he set into motion Robert’s plan to assassinate Daenerys and her unborn Rhaegal. There’s no real textual reason to believe that he sabotaged the plan: Ser Jorah’s guilty conscience unraveled it. But Varys collaborated with Illyrio to broker Dany’s wedding to Khal Drogo, a route to Targaryen restoration that ran through Viserys (assuming that Varys & Illyrio didn’t believe that Viserys’ essential Viserysness would botch the whole thing) and not young Aegon, whom Varys tells Ser Kevan is the linchpin of his long-hidden plan for the Iron Throne.

He posits two theories about the role Varys is playing in the books.

First, that Varys is okay with any Targeryen on the Iron Throne. But then why help Robert assassinate Dany?

Second, that Varys wants Aegon on the throne since he’s the rightful heir. But then why go to all the trouble in Pentos with Viserys and Dany?

I think the second theory is correct. Varys wants the true heir, Aegon, on the throne. The rather dramatic move of sending Viserys and Daenerys off with Khal Drogo was a highly visible move as well. There was no way that the Baratheons could miss it, but also little likelihood that Robert could do much once Dany was surrounded by the Khalasar.

On the other hand, I suspect Illyrio and Varys also believed that Viserys would be killed by the Dothraki and that Dany would become a pretty little wife for Khal Drogo and never be heard from again. In other words, the whole thing would serve as the perfect diversion. The dragons were an unsuspected twist, though even the birth of the dragons only served to further divert the attention of the Westerosi away from Aegon, who was kept tightly under wraps, and toward Daenerys.

Meanwhile, Varys works to create as much chaos and war as he can in the Seven Kingdoms and does a damn fine job in that role as well. Not that the Lannisters and Starks needed much goading. Still, one wonders how much of a role Varys actually played in events such as the death of Eddard Stark – could he have planted the idea to behead Eddard into Joffrey’s brain? Is Varys possibly manipulating Littlefinger as well? Did he free Tyrion in the hopes that Tyrion would kill Tywin?

Whatever the case, the Spider is in it for the long-con. He’s moving pieces about the board and nobody sees him doing it. Meanwhile Varys has little birds everywhere, keeping their ears – and their knives – oh so sharp.

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28 thoughts on “Varys and the Long-Con

  1. Perhaps the plan was for Robert to assassinate Dany, and the Drogo would have the same reaction that he had after the attempt — thirst for revenge. And so, he goes to Westeros to kill Robert. Hopefully, Drogo doesn’t decide to stay, but after the punative expedition goes back home.

    After that, Dorne and the Golden Company are enough to put Aegon on the throne.

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  2. I just reread the part from the first book where Arya overhears Varys talking to Illyrio. It doesn’t really shed light on much, but it’s clear that they both want Drogo to come to the Seven Kingdoms, and Varys in particular is upset that he’s not moving faster to get there, given the chaos with the Starks and Lannisters.

    I don’t think all of that makes a ton of sense if he sees Dany and Viserys as merely distractions. What difference would the Stark/Lannister feud make if all he wants is to let things get crazy so Aegon can pick up the pieces?

    I think it remains far more likely that Aegon is some kind of backup plan he’s had to pull out because nothing is working properly. Maybe he even believes Aegon is real, although I still don’t see why he’d try so hard to get Drogo to Westeros if he had the proper heir just sitting around somewhere.

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      • That said, I can’t figure out what I think Varys thinks he’s doing. There are two possibilities:

        1) He thinks Aegon is real. In which case, why bother with Viserys, Dany, and Drogo? (Assuming my above arguments about why I think the distraction thesis is strained.)

        2) He knows Aegon isn’t real. In which case, why the crazy speech to Kevan? Is he trying to trick his own little birds?

        As I mentioned earlier, I just can’t figure out how to make sense of this scene.

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          • But then why is he so upset about the Starks and Lannisters fighting when Arya overhears him? That seems like something he should be supporting.

            Varys: “I warn you, the wolf and lion will soon be at each other’s throats, whether we will it or no.”
            Illyrio: “Too soon, too soon. What good is war now? We are not ready. Delay.”

            (So far, so good. They’re not ready with, say, Aegon.)

            Varys: “As well bid me stop time. Do you take me for a wizard?”
            Illyrio: *chuckles* “No less.”

            (I put that in there because it’s an interesting reveal that gets under-noticed.)

            …skipping…

            Illyrio: “We must have time. The princess is with child. The khal will not bestir himself until his son is born. You know how they are, these savages.”
            Varys: “If he does not bestir himself soon, it may be too late.”
            Then Varys describes the political situation, Stannis, Lysa, Loras Tyrell, Renly, Littlefinger, Ned and the bastards, Cat and Tyrion, Tywin and Jaime, the Lannisters moving north and the Tullys jumping into the war.
            Varys: “Delay, you say. Make haste, I reply. Even the finest of jugglers cannot keep a hundred balls in the air forever.”

            I don’t see how this supports the notion that Varys wants to break the realm apart. He seems eager to hold it together until Drogo gets there – and his talks with Ned later on confirm that, if he can be trusted – but why bother if Dany and Viserys aren’t important?

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            • Well…huh. Illyrio wants to delay because he’s not ready with Aegon. Varys wants to speed things up because he wants to be in control of the chaos, not standing on the sidelines. Obviously they’ve both lost control of the situation to some degree and have different notions on how to proceed. Dany becomes a wild card soon thereafter. I guess I’m not sure.

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            • I think they were viewing it as a window. War begins; a victor emerges; war ends; the Kingdom is generally united. If they viewed the likely war as having a relatively predictable length then they would wish to delay its onset until one of their pieces are poised to enter the stage at the point of maximal division. Arriving too soon might pre-empt the war. Arriving too late might find the Kingdom united under a new usurper.

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    • Having recently reread this, I don’t seem to remember Varys and Illyrio being identified. I suppose it would sort of make sense for the unknown men to be those two, but I never made that connection.

      Question though. What the hell is Illyrio doing in King’s Landing? Might it just be one of his agents?

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  3. I don’t entirely discount Varys’s conversation with Ned Stark in the first book, where Varys says that what he really wants is stability [1]. Robert represented stability while he was alive, which was why Varys was willing to eliminate Dany as a potential threat. Since the Lannisters have sown nothing but chaos and destruction, they need to go, and the Targaryen option is back in play.

    1. This makes Varys the polar opposite of Little finger, whose modus operendi is to create the maximum amount of chaos, assuming that’s he’ll be clever enough to take advantage of it. Which, so far, has worked quite well for him.

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  4. A few semi-random thoughts:

    – I agree that the second interpretation of Varys’ speech is likely correct; he wants Aegon, not just any Targaryen, on the throne (assuming the Blackfyre theory isn’t true). He was praising Aegon’s training for future governance very specifically as the reason he should rule, which seems inconsistent with general loyalty to House Targaryen being his prime motivation.

    – Varys almost certainly didn’t manipulate Joffrey into executing Ned. He already had things arranged for Ned to be exiled to the Wall, which would have likely defused any immediate moves to war between the Starks and the Lannisters. Joffrey screwed up that plan and precipitated war and chaos before Varys and his co-conspirators were ready to take advantage of it, hence the scene between Varys and Illyrio.

    – Varys almost certainly does have plans involving Littlefinger. Baelish was clearly a co-conspirator in book 1, and comments in Dance about nobody knowing what’s going on with the Vale or who they’re aligned with seem to foreshadow him playing a bigger part as the bigger war gets going in Westeros.

    – I have no freaking clue why he released Tyrion. I’ve seen no hints that Tyrion is part of Varys’ conspiracy, so it seems like a bad strategic move for him to release him without knowing what sort of unplanned chaos would result.

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      • Except he was already secure — he was in prison and likely to be either killed or exiled to the Wall himself for killing Joffrey. So, why release him without co-opting him into the conspiracy?

        Obviously Varys was hoping for something by sending him East to Illyrio and Aegon, but it’s not clear what. Maybe he just wanted Aegon to have an adviser who was up to date on Westeros politics and highly motivated to see the Lannister regime deposed, but it seems like a huge gamble to take with someone as smart and unpredictable as Tyrion.

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    • Tyrion’s easy enough to read and predict what he’d do. Nonetheless, if you WANTED Tyrion to go kill his sister, you’d give him the power to do so. If you wanted Tyrion sidetracked, you’d just kill him. Methinks Tyrion is being well-woven into an ongoing gambit, perhaps drafted as a Lancer, for Dany or Aegon.

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