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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Will Varys’s Distrust of Magic Affect the Endgame?

When the former Master of Whisperers was castrated as a child, he heard a voice that has haunted him ever since. Soon, the world will need magic to defeat the White Walkers. How will Varys respond?

Varys in ‘Game of Thrones’ HBO/Ringer illustration

In 27 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.


The Loose End

In the middle of Thrones’ third season, Tyrion opens the door to Varys’s quarters in King’s Landing to find the Master of Whisperers bent over a wooden chest. Tyrion is visiting the Spider in an attempt to find out whether Cersei is planning to kill him; Varys, on the other hand, is just trying to pry off the top of the chest with a crowbar. As he does, he launches into the story of how he was castrated during his youth in Essos.

Varys was born a slave and was made part of a traveling group of actors that performed in various parts of Essos. During some part of his early adolescence, as the group traveled through Myr, Varys’s master sold him to a sorcerer who gave the boy a potion that temporarily paralyzed him. The sorcerer then castrated Varys and threw his severed genitals into a fire.

“The flames turned blue and I heard a voice answer his call,” he told Tyrion. “I still dream of that night. Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade. I dream of the voice from the flames. Was it a god? A demon? A conjurer’s trick? I don’t know. But the sorcerer called and a voice answered, and ever since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it.”

He goes on to tell Tyrion that his lifelong disgust with magic played into his decision to help the Lannisters during the Battle of the Blackwater; by defeating Stannis and Melisandre, he felt he was striking back at the sorcerer and his flames. Varys then pries the top off of the chest and opens it to reveal the sorcerer, bloodied, bound, and gagged.

We don’t hear or see much more about Varys’s relationship with magic until three seasons later, when he and Tyrion are again together, this time in Meereen as part of Daenerys’s group of advisers. The pair, discussing how to preserve peace in the city, meet with Kinvara, a Red Priestess of Volantis, who believes that Daenerys is the reincarnation of Azor Ahai. While Tyrion is generally respectful to the Priestess (even as she says the dragons will “purify the nonbelievers by the thousands, burning their sins and flesh away”), Varys is hostile.

Melisandre believed Stannis to be the Prince That Was Promised, Varys notes, and Stannis is dead. “Men and women make mistakes, even honest servants of the Lord,” she replies. “Everyone is what they are and where they are for a reason. Terrible things happen for a reason. Take what happened to you, Lord Varys, when you were a child. If not for your mutilation at the hand of a second-rate sorcerer, you wouldn’t be here, helping the Lord’s chosen bring his light in the world. Knowledge has made you powerful, but there’s still so much you don’t know.

“Do you remember what you heard that night?” She continues. “When the sorcerer tossed your parts in the fire? You heard a voice call out from the flames. Do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?” Varys, visibly shaken, relents.

HBO

A season later, Varys confronts Melisandre on the cliffs of Dragonstone while Daenerys and Jon meet inside the castle. He needles her—pointing out that she won’t allow Jon to know she’s on the island, hinting that he knows Jon banished her from the North after Melisandre burned Shireen. When Melisandre tells Varys that she is leaving Westeros for Volantis, he replies, smugly, “I don’t think you should return to Westeros. I’m not sure you’d be safe here.”

“I will return, dear Spider, one last time,” she says. “I have to die in this strange country, just like you.” Varys, again, seems shook.

HBO

As we enter the final season, Varys’s role in the endgame is unclear. It seems safe to assume at this point that he is not a secret Blackfyre or a, uh, secret merman. We know that he “serves the realm,” but what does Varys believe serving the realm entails? How will he react when Melisandre returns? What is the Master of Whisperers going to use his stockpile of knowledge to buy? In short: What is going on here?

Why This Loose End Matters

Varys is a wild-card going into Thrones’ final season. He’s not going to be on the front lines in the war with the White Walkers, but his relationship with magic, or the Lord of Light, or whatever it is he heard in the fire seems like it could play a critical role.

To this point, Thrones has made us into increasingly sure believers in the Lord of Light, even if Melisandre has looked, at various points, to be a true prophet, a charlatan, and everything in between. The influence of the divine in the world of Ice and Fire has seemed to grow over time; if Jon’s resurrection isn’t an indication that Azor Ahai has been reborn, then all of this seems to be a damn strange coincidence. But Varys’s experience with the voice from the flames could more directly tether the events of the series to the world of prophecy. What did Varys hear, and from whom? If Kinvara had continued her monologue, what would she have revealed?

Varys is one of the only characters whose arc has been catalyzed by the supernatural; he has lived his life parallel to the divine. Melisandre has the capability to use magic; Varys, though, is propelled by magic. He is, unwillingly, its vessel. It seems clear by now that Varys isn’t really the one pulling the strings; whether he likes it or not, he’s a significant part of the Lord’s larger plan.

How Season 8 Could Address It

Varys wants to serve the realm, but that doesn’t mean that he is always of sound judgment. In the final season, it is likely that whatever silver bullet humanity will use against the White Walkers will involve the supernatural. If that’s the case, will Varys’s fear of magic prompt him to oppose the tools that may save Westeros? We know Melisandre will return, and when she does, will Varys try to undermine her?

Jon’s resurrection, too, is a secret from Varys and many of the other major players. When that is revealed, will Varys change his stance on magic, or will he end up changing his stance on Jon? It all seems to depend on exactly what he heard come from those flames.

Disclaimer: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.