Now more than ever, it’s clear that Daenerys has gone full “Mad Queen.” In Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells,” Dany took the Battle of King’s Landing into her own hands and completely threw away any counsel that Tyrion and Jon Snow gave her. Questions about Dany’s stability and ability to rule have been simmering since Season 7 as her actions became more irrational. Recent episodes, however, offered another ruler as an option as Dany’s closest advisors schemed to take her out.
In Season 8, Episode 5, Daenerys may have taken out most of the biggest threats facing her path to the Iron Throne, but there’s one loose thread that could be her undoing in the GoT finale: Lord Varys, Master of Whisperers.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5 (and probably the series finale) ahead.
The opening scene of “The Bells” showed Varys at his desk, writing what looked like one of many scrolls revealing that Jon Snow is really Aegon Targaryen, and his claim to the Iron Throne, not Dany’s, should be supported by others across the Seven Kingdoms. The scrolls look small enough to be sent by raven, so we know how Varys was planning to get the word out.
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The camera doesn’t focus for too long on the scroll, but phrases like “Rhaegar” and “the true heir to the Iron Throne” stand out. We know that Varys is ready to spill the beans after he learned about Jon’s true identity from Tyrion, who learned it from Sansa in Episode 4.
Before Varys could send off that scroll, Martha, a young servant working for Varys, comes in to inform him that Dany still isn’t eating. Their exchange seems to align with Varys’ intention to overthrow Dany and put Jon forth as the rightful king of Westeros:
Martha: “She won’t eat.”
Varys: “We’ll try again at supper.”
Martha: “I think they’re watching me.”
Martha: “Her soldiers.”
Varys: “Of course they are. That’s their job. What have I told you, Martha?”
Martha: “The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”
Varys: “Go on. They’ll be missing you in the kitchen.”
“The bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”
Certainly feels like a telling line, doesn’t it? Proof of Jon’s lineage seemed to push Varys firmly out of Dany’s camp when Tyrion revealed it to him in Episode 4. He may even be trying to poison her, as one theory suggests, though later scenes seem to indicate Varys hasn’t completely given up on Daenerys just yet.
Both options are fun to think about, but they don’t feel too Varys-y, do they? Varys has spent his life as a cog in the wheel of different rulers, helping them carry out plans that work against Westeros at large and benefit the rulers themselves. He’s also been known to betray those rulers time and time again, working to unseat them and make way for a supposedly better fit for the throne. Taking Dany out requires finesse.
In a subsequent scene, Dany’s Unsullied soldiers show up at Varys’ room to take him to his death. He’s ready to go, but not before destroying the evidence of his messages to the outside world. He burns one of his scrolls as Grey Worm comes with the handcuffs, but it’s unclear if this is the same scroll we saw earlier or another one. If it’s a separate message, then we need to consider the possibility that Varys managed to get a few of these messages out before he was executed.
Considering Game of Thrones is most interested at this point in moving the story along rather than taking time to develop its characters or investigate each character’s actions, we’ll have to do the scrutinizing ourselves. Knowing Varys can work quick, has the means to get his message out in time, and is actively scheming against Dany, the chances are good that he was planning to send those messages across the Seven Kingdoms. If enough people know the truth, there’s a higher chance that Jon Snow will end up on the Iron Throne instead.
Varys has never been much for the battlefield, so there’s no way his plan ever involved trying to kill Daenerys directly (Jon’s more equipped to do that, TBH). Making sure that the rest of Westeros knows Dany’s claim to the throne won’t take precedence over Jon’s is a big deal, especially by the end of Season 5.
It’s likely only a matter of time until everyone in Westeros finds out Dany committed war crimes and killed thousands of innocent civilians in King’s Landing. Combine that with the knowledge that she’s not even the rightful heir to the throne, and her chances of ruling the realm are all but squashed.
Hopefully, Varys’ final conversation with Jon helped convince the King in the North that he could be a great ruler. Varys has known for some time that there is a better ruler suited for Westeros than Dany. He knew she was sinking deeper into madness. And he knew it was important to back the best possible leader, not just whoever had the most firepower.
Back in Season 7, Daenerys told Varys she’d kill him if he ever betrayed her, and that’s exactly what happened in the show’s second-to-last episode. But Varys is no fool. He’s smart enough to have known what was coming, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he managed to send out a few crucial ravens before receiving his death sentence. Assuming he did, the Master of Whisperers could play a key role in Dany’s downfall from beyond the grave.
The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday, May 19 on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern.