Who said "power exists where people think it exists" in season 2 of Game of Thrones? Cersei? Or is it known if she subscribes to that line of thinking?

  • 3
    Varys (spam for length)
    – TLP
    Jul 1, 2016 at 0:07
  • 1
    I don't think I should edit this into the question, but as suggested in my answer, I;m pretty sure it was Season 2 rather than Season 1.
    – Blackwood
    Jul 1, 2016 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


In a conversation with Tyrion in Season 2, Varys says "Power resides where men believe it resides."

The following is a transcript of their conversation from Season 2 Episode 3 (What Is Dead May Never Die). It follows quite closely a similar conversation in the books (A Clash of Kings)

Varys: Power is a curious thing my lord. Are you fond of riddles?

Tyrion: Why? Am I about to hear one?

Varys: Three great men sit in a room, a king, a priest and a rich man. Between them stands a common sell-sword. Each great man bids the sell-sword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies?

Tyrion: Depends on the sell-sword.

Varys: Does it? He has neither crown nor gold nor favour with the gods.

Tyrion: He has a sword, the power of life and death.

Varys: But if it's swordsmen who rule, why do we pretend Kings hold all the power? When Ned Stark lost his head, who was truly responsible? Joffrey, the executioner, or something else?

Tyrion: I've decided I don't like riddles.

Varys: Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow.

  • 2
    Just to be clear, is this from the show? Because there was some dialogue very like this in the book too.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:49
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor I believe this is a transcript from the TV series, and that it closely follows the text from A Clash of Kings.
    – Blackwood
    Jun 30, 2016 at 23:55
  • @Randal'Thor It is just from the show. Next year, the "Mad Queen" is gonna be projecting major power with no money or soldiers to back her up. bank on it. (I sure hope the Red Women resurrects Ramsay. I already miss Iwan Rheon...) Jun 30, 2016 at 23:59
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor It seems that the text I originally quoted was not from the TV series. It may have been the dialog from A Clash of Kings presented in the form of a script. As the question appears to be about the series, I have edited the answer to include what I believe to be an accurate transcript from s02e03.
    – Blackwood
    Jul 1, 2016 at 4:29
  • @khyle it's unlikely that Ramsay will be resurrected because he does not have enough flesh because dogs ate it. And we saw that wounds can be healed, but Berric Danderion did not get a new eye. And one other book character with cut throat can't talk.
    – Schullz
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:48

As Blackwood posted, Varys said that as the answer to a riddle he asked Tyrion in S2E3.

In the books, they have a similar exchange:

“Oh, I think not,” Varys said, swirling the wine in his cup. “Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?”

“It has crossed my mind a time or two,” Tyrion admitted. “The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.”

“And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.”

“That piece of steel is the power of life and death.”

“Just so… yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, why do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father?”

“Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords.”

“Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they?” Varys smiled. “Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or… another?”

Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”

Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”

“So power is a mummer’s trick?”

“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”

Tyrion smiled. “Lord Varys, I am growing strangely fond of you. I may kill you yet, but I think I’d feel sad about it.”

“I will take that as high praise.”

The only major change in the show is that the answer is handed faster, and it seems that Tyrion gets kinda upset about the riddle, not intrigued.

  • Interesting detail! Did Varys tell "shadows can kill" before Renly's death, or after?
    – Schullz
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:58
  • 2
    @Schullz It is from the Books so Varys told this to Tyrion in Chapter 8, while Renly died in Chapter 33. So he kind of foreshadowed Renly's death. Yes Chapter can occur simultaneously but Tyrion got to know about Renly's death in Chapter 34 so It means Varys said it before Renly's death
    – Aegon
    Jul 1, 2016 at 12:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.