27

So it's been a few years since I last read the books, but watching the television show has made me think about the overall story once again. Generic spoilers to follow.

A big theme in the book is that things are getting "worse" for the people of Westeros (this is echoed in the sentiments of one of the series' few savvy master manipulators: Varys). This isn't a big surprise, as it's common to give a "build-up" to the climax. In Game of Thrones (TV-Show), this means that:

  • The kingdom is splintering,
  • Debt to the Iron Bank of Braavos is mounting, and
  • Various cells within and without the kingdom are generally becoming less content with the ruling party.

Now, at the beginning, things weren't all that bad; there was relative peace in the kingdom - even though the leadership (King Robert) was a bit apathetic. After his death, things are tense, but under control... and then Ned's death sets off a massive civil war. The North just wants to be free, Renly just wants to be a king cause it's cool, and Stannis wants to be king because *that's how inheritance actually works, Renly.*

After a lot of bad stuff happens, things eventually calm down. The North's rebellion is effectively suppressed, Renly is dead, Stannis has lost the vast majority of his military power, Joffrey has choked on his reign of terror, the Lannister's strongest personalities are dead (Tywin) or gone (Tyrion), Myrcella's presence is soothing Dorne, and the Throne has been stabilized by the wealth and power of the Tyrell house.

So why is Varys officially giving up on the Seven Kingdoms? Kevan Lannister, a man who could only help stabilize the kingdom is intentionally killed. Varys claims to serve the people of Westeros, yet he's turning his back on it as soon as things have a chance to be the best they've ever been. To illustrate:

  • Margaery is strongly implied to be the power behind the Throne, and has demonstrated herself to act with the social cunning and political skills of anyone in King's Landing, without the trappings of insanity that most of them have. She's shown herself to be far more generous and well-liked than her predecessor, Cersei, in only a few years.
  • House Tyrell has just overshadowed the Lannisters - the previous ruling party - which would pacify the North as well as Dorne.
  • Let's not forget too, that the last Targaryen whom Varys saw was the one who is universally recognized as a monster and tyrant.

Things are great now, yet Varys - the man I identify as the voice of many of the readers' sentiments - has officially abandoned it.

Why?

  • 2
    It's a difficult one, Varys explains his motives very clearly to Kevan Lannister in Kevan's last chapter in A Dance With Dragons --> It is all about Aegon (or in the shows, Daenerys)! It doesn't matter if it's a Tyrell, Lannister, Stark or Baratheon on the Throne, none are good enough as they don't have the magical Targaryen name. Beyond that, we don't know what Varys and Illyrio's intentions are. – Möoz Apr 30 '15 at 22:41
  • It's not about the magical name (in the books), it's about the strong position Varys & Ilyrio will have when their man is on the throne. They've advanced as far as possible trading and spying in Pentos, their next step up is to become the powers behind the throne of an entire continent. That's in the books - in the TV show, however, he does appear to be a genuine idealist – user568458 Apr 30 '15 at 22:46
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    You forgot thing #4 that is getting worse: Winter is coming :-) – Bergi May 1 '15 at 1:36
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    Nothing strange here, that's just how people's minds work. Often one knows already who they will be siding with, for their own personal reasons or taste, and then they try to justify their choice as "it's the best thing for the kingdom". Arguments and evidence won't change their mind. – Federico Poloni May 1 '15 at 15:20
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    @Bergi at this point we've been waiting for so long for winter that I'll welcome it. – MikeTheLiar May 1 '15 at 16:06
25

From what we know, Varys might simply be a loyalist.
He might be totally loyal to the House Targaryen and when he says he has the best interest of the Seven Kingdoms at heart, he might not be lying. He might simply think that the Targaryens are the only truly worthy rulers.

You should not forget that while Aerys was a madman there were many other Targaryens who were good leaders. The dynasty remained in power for over three centuries. And while dragons surely played a role in securing their rule, the Seven Kingdoms would not have put up with them if all of them would have been crazy or bloodthirsty.
The Targaryens made the Seven Kingdoms and Aerys son Rhaegar was well loved. People were probably looking forward to him taking the throne. So Aerys is not the last Targaryen Varys has seen. He knows that they can do much better than the last king.

Daenerys is showing particular promise. While she's still young and learning she is also pretty moderate and seems to be a rather fair ruler. The fact that she brought dragons back into the world is probably also seen as a sign by many that she is destined to be a great leader.
Daenerys is told several times that if she were to return to Westeros, a number of people would rally to her banner. So Targaryen loyalist apparently still exist in Westeros and Varys might be one of them. Already working towards the return of a Targaryen to the throne from behind the curtains.

Of course it could also be ambition. He apparently did all he could to protect Aerys and warned him especially about Tywin Lannister - who then turned on his king exactly as Vayrs had said he would. And then he did all he could to keep the last survivors of House Targaryen alive and give them a chance to reclaim their birthright.

This would also guarantee him a place in the history books as the kingmaker who returned the rightful rulers to the Iron Throne and brought peace to the kingdoms. He might also become the secret power behind the throne. But who knows what secret ambitions he really has.
Of course he would not want to see all he's worked for be for nothing, even if an acceptable alternative for peace in the kingdoms has already presented itself.

I suspect it's actually a mixture of both, his loyalty and ambition that keeps him following the path he's chosen for himself. For better or worse.

  • 6
    "From what we know"? And I say, like Jon Snow we know nothing. There are hints that Varys was/is actually working against Targaryens. Look what Stanis said about Varys - "Ser Barristan once told me the rot in King Aerys's reign began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned". Also it is believed that - 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. Varys tried to set Father Targaryen against Son Targaryen. And still he's Targaryen loyalist? – Nika G. May 1 '15 at 8:22
  • @NikaG. Well, I didn't say that what we know (or presume to know) is actually the truth. I only depicted a possible conclusion. And I also said that Varys own ambitions surely plays a role as well. I do believe that he wants to be a puppet master and he might have started when he came to Aerys's court. As for Ser Barristan, while an honorable knight there is still the possibility that he simply didn't like Varys or his rise to power. He might have tried to set father against son, but we don't know that for sure either. Even then, there must be a reason why he still sticks with the Targaryens. – Sebastian_H May 1 '15 at 10:52
  • exactly, there's something that motivates Varys to act like he does, but we don't know yet the reason... All we know about Varys and Aegon is that - Varys said he supports Aegon. But this leads to a question is Aegon realy Targaryen? maybe Aegon's Blackfyre pretender or Velaryon (why not) or just a boy from any Valyrian family that was raised as a (fake) Targaryan. – Nika G. May 1 '15 at 12:30
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    Reading through all these answers is enlightening... and after all of them I was content with "Varys just wants the best for the kingdom, and that means the Targaryeans - and then you mention the quote where Varys ruined Rheagar's (awesome-maybe-Jon's-dad-Targ) chance at usurping Aerys (super-terrible-Targ). I just want some consistency here, George! – WannabeCoder May 1 '15 at 12:44
9

We know this much:

Varys thinks his plan is best for Westeros.

The trouble is, we only have vague hints and clues as to what the plan is or why Varys, and his partner Illyrio, think it is best.

Taking the "what" first: Varys wants his chosen Targaryen on the Iron Throne, and is prepared to start or prolong a civil war to achieve it. (The candidate is Dany in the show, possibly Aegon in the books.) Other than that, the details are vague and Varys himself may not be certain of them.

As for "why": Varys appears to genuinely believe his plan is the only way to bring peace and prosperity to Westeros. Varys is an extremely rational and calculating individual, and unlike, say, Littlefinger he does not have much personal vanity. So, it seems unlikely to just be delusion or personal ambition on his part.

In the short term, overthrowing a competent ruler such as Kevan Lannister will cause a lot of death and destruction. Varys must believe the gains are worth it. What does he think these gains will be? Some possibilities are:

  • A great ruler. Kevan is a good, capable ruler, but not a great one. King Tommen may or may not grow up to be a good ruler. By contrast, the Targaryen candidates are exceptional -- Aegon because Varys has carefully influenced his upbringing, Daenerys because of her experiences as khaleesi and later as ruler of Mereen (which could not have been foreseen by Varys, but he is nothing if not adaptable). In the longer term, Varys must want to direct the upbringing of their heirs as well.
  • A stable government. Kevan is in his fifties, so at best he will have about twenty years in power. Well before then, Tommen will come of age, and we (and Varys) have no idea if he will be a good ruler. Moreover, plenty of factions have grudges against the Lannisters and are waiting for a chance to take revenge. Conversely, Aegon and Dany are only in their teens, and could easily have fifty or sixty years on the Iron Throne. They also might benefit from nostalgia for the relative peace under the later Targaryens (Mad King Aerys notwithstanding).
  • Long-term planning. As it stands, the government of Westeros all depends on one individual -- the King or Regent. If that individual is cruel or incompetent, so is the government. (As a close advisor to Mad King Aerys, Varys knows this better than most.) He may have some sort of long-term plan, to build up institutions which can ensure more stable and enlightened government.
  • Winter is coming. We don't know how seriously Varys takes the threat of the White Walkers. However, if it does concern him, he may believe his Targaryen candidate would be the best choice to fight it off.

One theory we can discount:

  • Loyalty to the Targaryens. There is no reason to suppose Varys believes in supporting the Targaryens blindly. As I've noted, he is well aware Targaryens can be insane and destructive rulers. He is not even from Westeros, and has no personal connections to the Targaryen dynasty that we know of. For him, restoring the Targaryens is no more than a means to the end of better government.
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    About the Winter: It's not only about the White Walkers, but also about years without fresh food. And the stores for these years seem to be mostly empty. – Martin Schröder May 1 '15 at 15:12
9

There will never really be peace until a Targaryen sits the throne.

If you forget for a moment the people who are trying to claim the iron throne, then in the few years since Robert's uprising there have been two factions that have tried to secede from the seven kingdoms, Robb Stark and Balon Greyjoy (twice).

Both of these people (or their supporters), justified this by saying that they only ever agreed to kneel before a dragon.

You may take my head, but you cannot name me traitor. No Greyjoy ever swore fealty to a Baratheon.

Balon Greyjoy to Robert Baratheon after the Greyjoy Rebellion.

It was the dragons we married, and the dragons are all dead.

Greatjon Umber whilst proclaiming Robb Stark as his king.

Perhaps after some years of peace without the Targaryens the seven kingdoms could have been stable and unified (Robert managed to get a few peaceful years), but throughout the course of ASOIAF (except maybe the first book/series) the kingdoms have been unstable, and appear to be staying that way for the foreseeable future.

Stannis is still in open rebellion, and all of the now ruling houses (Freys, Boltons etc.) are all failing to keep their own houses under control. People reference several times that the Eyrie is almost impenetrable, and Dorne is a wildcard, how long until they oppose the crown?

My thoughts are that Varys is thinking of the long game, sure he is upsetting things now but the less stable things are when Daenerys/Aegon returns, the easier they can reclaim the throne.

Varys likely would have been content with Robert staying as king for a few more years because things were relatively peaceful, until one of the surviving Targaryens could supplant him, but now things are not peaceful. Now he is trying to get things moving much quicker to return peace sooner.

He likely knows about the things going on North of the Wall, and he wants things to be in as good a position as possible before the Long Night creeps upon them again. Whilst most dismiss this as an old wives tale, he has seen magic himself, and is likely aware of the threat of the White Walkers.


To summarize: in Varys' mind, no matter who controls the throne, be it Lannister, Tyrell or Baratheon, they will not be as good as a Targaryen. Only they can unite the kingdoms in order to prepare for the war to come. Robert's justification for claiming the throne in the first place was because he was a quarter Targaryen.

You may say that things are great now Kevan is in charge, but the war is still going. And every day that the war continues the Kingdoms get weaker, and the war would not stop whilst people are trying to grab power from each other by playing the Game of Thrones (Roll Credits).

  • 1
    I think you're onto something here, in that the Targaryens can unify Westeros. But Varys was not content with the situation under Robert -- while Robert was still alive, Varys and Illyrio were raising Aegon to become King, and marrying off Daenerys to Drogo. Before then, Viserys and Daenerys were protected by Varys' partner Illyrio. Varys was plotting against Baratheon/Lannister rule almost since the day Mad King Aerys was killed. – Royal Canadian Bandit May 1 '15 at 11:50
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit oh yeah, I forgot about that. But I meant that he wouldn't have intervened so much as to go and shoot King Robert with a crossbow. By this point he is actively trying to destabilize the kingdoms, whereas previously he was only doing so covertly. – Mike.C.Ford May 1 '15 at 12:30
  • I think that's a key point. My presumption was that Varys was "okay" with Robert - and if he was okay with Robert, he should definitely be "okay" with things now since, in my mind, it's pretty much all-around better in terms of leadership. But he seems markedly less "okay" with things now, regardless of how he ever felt about Robert vs Aerys. – WannabeCoder May 1 '15 at 12:46
  • @WannabeCoder but if we look at the state of the kingdoms now compared to when Robert was rebelling, things are much worse. Whilst a lot of the ruling houses (Starks/Tullys/Baratheons) were rebelling against the crown, now the lesser houses are opposed to their own ruling houses (Bolton/Freys) that the Lannisters put into power through their scheming to keep the throne. Also Cersei has put people she trusts, but are not up to the job onto the small counsel, and weak people she can manipulate as Wardens of the West and Castellan of Lannisport. The Kingdoms are weaker than they've ever been. – Mike.C.Ford May 1 '15 at 12:55
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    @WannabeCoder no you're right, in the books there is a power struggle between Cersei and Margaery. However the books leaves it more to the readers imagination over how much of it is true and how much of it is Cersei's paranoia. My point is that even if the Tyrells do have control, Cersei will never stop trying to get control back, and could weaken the Kingdoms further. And as stated in my answer, things being peaceful now doesn't mean they always will be. The Targaryens would have a much better chance of stopping houses dissenting than the Tyrells. – Mike.C.Ford May 1 '15 at 13:15
7

The problem with Varys in the book is that his cunning far outmatches Littlefingers'. However, that being said, he is still blinded by the fact people are waiting for the return of House Targaryen. This has been stated by him many times over, that the people will rejoice and be happy and proud they are able to fly the Dragon banner. There will be a magnificent display of wonder and awe. Parades will be marched, songs will be sung, and all will know that House Targaryen is the one true symbol of peace and hope where none can match.

This is stated by him on many occasions in all the books at some point, an idealist follower of the Targaryen house, to believe that only the Targaryens can bring such a peace back, either because of how long their rule has been, or because he is an undying loyalist.

Either way, in both book and TV, he has made it clear that the Lannisters have no loyalty past those outside the family name, the Starks are stern but too nice and too forgiving, the Baratheons are warmongers, eager to start war at a moments notice without considering all sides.

  • He never explicitly says that he is a Targaryen supporter until the last Kevan chapter in A Dance With Dragons. – Möoz May 1 '15 at 2:32
  • Your right, he doesn't. He before then always made very subtle hints about his true feelings about House Targaryen. – Virusboy May 1 '15 at 15:43

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