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In the “chaos is a ladder” exchange between Varys and Littlefinger in season 3 episode 6 this line came up in the dialogue:

Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish: You're so right. For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells, if I'm going to be honest, I did feel an unmistakable sense of enjoyment there. But your confidant, the one who fed you information about my plans, the one you swore to protect... you didn't bring her any enjoyment, and she didn't bring me any enjoyment. She was a bad investment on my part. Luckily, I have a friend who wanted to try something new. Something daring. And he was so grateful to me for providing this fresh experience.

Lord Varys: I did what I did for the good of the realm.

I'm curious, what was Varys referring to by that?

My question is, specifically, what action is Varys referring to here? It seems as though it's something unlawful or immoral that he has to excuse his actions to someone like Littlefinger. In the end justifies the means sort of way, if you will.

  • 1
    Is the question whether Varys is telling the truth about his motives, about why he says this in his conversation with Petyr, or about which specific action he is singling out as being "for the good of the realm"? I think the three options can have potentially different answers. – Andres F. Jan 18 at 13:34
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    @AndresF. Yeah, the last one. "Which specific action is he singling out" here? I edited my question. – nospyrin73 Jan 18 at 22:51
17

Varys serves the realm and its people, even the poor, rather than serving the King/Queen and the rich. He does what he does for the whole of Westeros rather than a small portion of it. We actually get a little more insight into this in Season 7 when he has a little chat with Dany:

TYRION: Lord Varys has proven himself a loyal servant.

DAENERYS: Proven himself loyal? Quite the opposite. If he dislikes one monarch, he conspires to crown the next one. What kind of a servant is that?

VARYS: The kind the realm needs. Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty. As long as I have my eyes, I'll use them. I wasn't born into a great house. I came from nothing. I was sold as a slave and carved up as an offering. When I was a child, I lived in alleys, gutters, abandoned houses. You wish to know where my true loyalties lie? Not with any king or queen, but with the people. The people who suffer under despots and prosper under just rule. The people whose hearts you aim to win. If you demand blind allegiance, I respect your wishes. Grey Worm can behead me or your dragons can devour me. But if you let me live, I will serve you well. I will dedicate myself to seeing you on the Iron Throne because I choose you. Because I know the people have no better chance than you.

DAENERYS: Swear this to me, Varys. If you ever think I'm failing the people, you won't conspire behind my back. You'll look me in the eye as you have done today, and you'll tell me how I'm failing them.

VARYS: I swear it, my queen.

Game of Thrones, Season 7 Episode 2, “Stormborn”

To address the clarification that this is about the specific action Varys is referring to it can only be one of two things.

  • The plan to give Sansa to the Tyrells

    Petyr: For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells.

    Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 6, "The Climb"

  • Using Ros to spy on Petyr

    Petyr: But your confidant, the one who fed you information about my plans, the one you swore to protect... you didn't bring her any enjoyment, and she didn't bring me any enjoyment.

    Game of Thrones, Season 3 Episode 6, "The Climb"

Given that Varys reply is "for the good of the realm" he almost certainly means the plan to give Sansa to the Tyrells as that has more of an impact on the realm than just spying on Petyr. Using Ros as a spy is also part of the plan for giving Sansa away as that means he can try and stay ahead of Petyr. Although it is left slightly ambiguous as to what it means so we can't be sure.

8

What did Varys mean by 'I did what I did for the good of the realm'?

Given the context:

  • Petyr is sarcastically taunting Varys, at first gloating about his victory:

    "You're so right. For instance, when I thwarted your plan to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells, if I'm going to be honest, I did feel an unmistakable sense of enjoyment there."

  • Then goes on to hint at a rather horrible fate that Ros suffered:

    But your confidant, the one who fed you information about my plans, the one you swore to protect... you didn't bring her any enjoyment, and she didn't bring me any enjoyment. She was a bad investment on my part. Luckily, I have a friend who wanted to try something new. Something daring. And he was so grateful to me for providing this fresh experience.

  • A wiki of Ice and Fire describes her fate thus:

    Joffrey used Ros as a live target, brutally killing her by shooting her and pinning her to his bed with multiple crossbow bolts.

  • Enjoying any discomfiture that Varys suffers at this, and finishing with "so grateful to me" - a reference to his favour with Joffrey and a reminder of his power and riches:

  • Petyr's gloating about, pain he has caused, the power he has and his implied riches all reveal his motivations, and his need to lord it over Varys for the sake of his own ego.

  • Varys's response is simple, that his own motivations are pure (and in the TV episode delivered with a degree of disgust at Petyr, and perhaps at himself for what he had to do):

    I did what I did for the good of the realm.

Unlike Petyr, who did what he did for the good of himself only.

  • Just because Varys claims that he did it for the good of the realm, doesn't mean he's telling the truth. – alexgbelov Jan 18 at 1:14
  • @alexgbelov Hell yeah, true, we won't know till the last season how far he's prepared to go in what direction, they (the screenwriters) specifically sewed doubt at one point too, in that moment when Varys, explaining what's left after desire is absent, glanced at the throne - how do we take this!! Damn I can't wait. – We are Monica. Jan 18 at 1:19
  • I understand the characters' motives. Varys says "I did what I did" followed with "for the good of the realm". He sounds as if he's clarifying his actions, what he did, with his motivation, the good of the realm. His tone implies that the action in question is seemingly immoral enough that he feels the need to provide justification. Now I know Varys took on Ros as one of his spies, for which Littlefinger gives her up to Joffrey to be tortured to death. But I find it hard to believe Varys feels guilty for indirectly causing her death. I'm thinking he's referring to something else that'srelated? – nospyrin73 Jan 18 at 2:40
  • @nospyrin73 Unless the writers or the director have made a specific statement regarding motivations - we can pick apart carefully what we hear and see - but anything more would be speculation surely. That being said, you gave me an idea for an edit about the disgust in Varys's voive maybe in part being directed towards himself/ccircumstances that forced his hand. – We are Monica. Jan 18 at 11:43
  • @alexgbelov But is the question about "what did Varys mean" or whether he's telling the truth? If the former, this question answers it. – Andres F. Jan 18 at 13:33
1

Varys is always referring to what is "best for the realm" as "what will get fewest people hurt or killed", or rather, best for the masses of people and not just the current ruler/noble

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After going through the third season again, I believe I reached a reasonable cocnlusion. At the start of the season, Ros is seen reporting to Varys that she's helping Littlefinger depart to the Eyrie. And that she's found his shipboard inventory that shows he's bringing two feather beds along in his cabin. This leads Varys to believe Littlefinger is taking Sansa with him. Varys then meets with Olenna and tells her about Littlefinger's plans to steal Sansa away.

Now Sansa, who's practically a hostage of the crown, holds the key to the north. If Littlefinger was to marry her he would have the north in his pocket. Varys views Littlefinger as a dangerous man. And his rising in power would be unfavorable to the good of the realm. Lest that happens, he suggests that Sansa should be wed to Loras instead.

Littlefinger finds out about Varys and Olenna's scheme. As well as the fact that Ros has been spying for Varys (possibly because she's the only other person with access to the manifest?). For this, he gives her to Joffrey who then torments her to death.

So by "I did what I did for the good of the realm" Varys is referring to his conspiracy with Olenna to snatch Sansa, a valuable hostage to the crown, from Littlefinger, the man who "would see this country burn if he could be king of the ashes". Hinting at a slight guilt or disapproval that it indirectly led to Ros' death on Joffrey's hands.

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