In many, but not all, political realms, it’s the people behind the scenes that have the most influence. Game of Thrones is no different. Sure, it’s easy to name some important characters. Jon Snow is unmatched on the battlefield and his sense of honor has gotten him in trouble a few times, but still, it’s pretty easy to call him a hero. Daenerys Targaryen has come to power step-by-step, playing on her strengths and the loyalty of the common people — it’s easy to call her a heroine.
But it’s someone else who seems to have a true love of the entire country of Westeros, though he denies that he’s a hero. That person is Varys.
On the surface, it’s easy to see Varys as a sleazy, scheming character. After all, he has the nickname of Spider because there’s nothing in the “web” of the country that he doesn’t know. But if you look beneath the surface, you see someone who, unlike many other characters, is using his influence to help keep peace in Westeros and do what is right for the people of the country. In the first season of the show, he flat out states that the realm is his first priority and his actions thereafter seem to suggest he was telling the truth.
The first time we see this emerge is when he visits Ned Stark in the King’s Landing dungeons in season one. Refusing to free Ned may seem like the most terrible, despicable thing, but if you take a step back and think about what would have happened if Varys had done so, you start to see the logic behind his decision. Releasing Ned would not have put an end to the war; it would have escalated it. Instead of releasing Ned, he tries to get him to take a path that would lead to peace, however brief it might be.
That whole situation goes terribly wrong, of course, thanks to the young lunatic, Joffrey. But that’s not something you can really blame on Varys.
Later in the show, Varys does release someone, but it’s also for the good of Westeros. He takes Tyrion across the narrow sea because he sees Tyrion’s strengths as a great match for Daenerys and her rise to power.
When Tyrion asks him what he wants, Varys replies, “Peace. Prosperity. A land where the powerful do not prey on the powerless.”
Later in the show, Varys helps Tyrion keep the peace in Mereen, even though it involves the red priests and priestesses of the Lord of Light, whom Varys despises thanks to his prior experience with magic. Then he arranges the alliance between Dorne, Highgarden, and Daenerys, putting Daenerys in a good position for coming to Westeros.
It’s not to say Varys hasn’t had his missteps. After all, he did conspire to put Viserys Targaryen on the Iron Throne and followed orders from Robert Baratheon to hire assassins to kill the Targaryens, as Daenerys points out to him in season seven. But he doesn’t flinch when she confronts him about his loyalties. What he says to her is perhaps one of the best things any character has ever said on the show.
“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty… you wish to know where my true loyalties lie? Not with any queen or king, but with the people. The people who suffer under despots, and prosper under just rule.”
According to Melisandre, Varys will die in the upcoming season. If that’s true, I hope he’s given a meaningful death, one that illustrates just how good he has been for the Seven Kingdoms.