The Book That Was Promised

Winds of Winter can fix Game of Thrones’ biggest Varys failure

Varys deserved better, and George R. R. Martin make it up to him.

Originally Published: 
Conleth Hill in Game of Thrones

One of the most disappointing parts of Game of Thrones’ final seasons was watching some of the show’s smartest characters make decisions far less intelligent and compelling than they’d been known for making in its early years.

That was certainly the case for Littlefinger, whose arc came to a logical end through disappointing and frankly outlandish means. Tyrion was similarly stripped of his intelligence and strategic capabilities in the series’ final two seasons.

However, few of the show’s characters were handled as poorly by those final two seasons as Varys. Played brilliantly from beginning to end by Conleth Hill, the character ceased to act like a powerful political tactician after Thrones’ fourth season, which was undoubtedly disappointing given how formidable of a figure he’d proven himself to be up to that point.

Fortunately, author George R. R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter already has the potential to give Varys the send-off he deserves.

The Master of Whisperers — At the end of A Dance with Dragons — the fifth and most recent installment in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series — Varys makes his intentions explicit. Killing Kevan Lannister with a crossbow (and the help of his little birds), Varys reveals that he intends to allow Cersei to weaken the Lannisters’ hold on the Iron Throne so that Aegon Targaryen, the (allegedly) still-living son of Rhaegar Targaryen, will have an easier time taking the throne for himself.

It’s a stunning, fittingly brutal note for the book to end on, and it opens the door for Varys to continue serving as a major ally for Aegon in The Winds of Winter. That’s fascubatubg for a number of reasons, but none more notable than the fact that it ensures Varys will continue to be a masterful and important political figure for longer than he was on Game of Thrones.

Conleth Hill as Varys in Game of Thrones.


Varys’ Allegiances — By making Varys an ally for Aegon, George R. R. Martin had already placed the character in direct opposition to Daenerys Targaryen. That’s important, given how Game of Thrones used the character in its later seasons.

The HBO series notoriously chose not to use the Aegon character from the books, which resulted in the show’s writers making Varys one of Daenerys’ advisors for (most of) its last three seasons. That was a disappointing decision for a number of reasons, mainly because it took Varys away from King’s Landing, where he was most effective as a political manipulator.

Consequently, Varys became a background player for most of Thrones’ fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth seasons — right up until the point when he orchestrated a half-hearted and unbelievably transparent assassination attempt against Daenerys.

Martin isn’t going to make those same mistakes with this character. Instead, he’s already established Varys as being one of Aegon’s greatest political allies. Therefore, when Aegon makes what many fans believe will be a successful bid for control of the Iron Throne, it won’t just be Aegon standing in Daenerys’ way when she arrives in Westeros, but also Varys.


The Inverse Analysis — There are still dozens of ways for George R. R. Martin to surprise Game of Thrones fans in both The Winds of Winter and its planned sequel, A Dream of Spring. However, the HBO series’ final seasons make it a lot easier to identify some of the seeds the author planted in his books that Thrones overlooked and failed to water.

For instance, the introduction of Aegon, an ambitious and powerful political figure who may also be a Targaryen pretender, is a character whose importance to the series’ overall story has now become inescapably clear. Not only can Aegon single-handedly fix so many of the issues with Daenerys’ Game of Thrones storyline, but Varys’ allegiance to him has the potential to make him an unpredictable and active political figure right up until the series’ conclusion.

Plus, Varys being at Aegon’s side means his death can still come at the hands of Daenerys and her dragons in the books — just like it did in Game of Thrones.

The Winds of Winter will be released whenever George R. R. Martin finishes writing it.

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