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"Storms come and go, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling."

Varys, sometimes called The Spider, is a major character in the second, third, and fourth seasons. He initially appeared as a recurring character in the first season and debuted in "Lord Snow". He is played by starring cast member Conleth Hill. Varys is a eunuch and the Master of Whisperers on the king's small council. He is a skilled manipulator and commands a network of informants across two continents.



Varys was born across the Narrow Sea in the Free Cities. He was born a slave, and as a child he traveled with a troupe of actors all around the different Free Cities until a sorcerer in the city of Myr made an offer Varys' master couldn't refuse. Varys was sold to the sorcerer, who gave him a potion that made him unable to move or speak but didn't dull his perceptions or sense of pain, and castrated him (shaft and testes) to use his sexual organs in a magical ritual, burning them in a brazier. Afterward the sorcerer had no use for Varys and threw him in the streets to die. Instead Varys resolved to live no matter what: begging, stealing, and selling the sexual use of what parts remained to him, doing anything to survive. He also became an excellent thief, but soon learned that stolen information was often a far more valuable commodity than any physical goods, and he worked his way up from the slums of Myr. He became a master spy and information trafficker, and his influence and reputation grew so great that he eventually found himself as a member of the small council in the Seven Kingdoms. His experience at the hands of the sorcerer had also left him with a bitter hatred for magic and its practitioners.[1]

As member of the King's small council, he serves as the Master of Whisperers, the King's foremost spymaster and intelligence agent. He holds no inherited title or land in Westeros, but is called "Lord" as a courtesy due to his position on the council, which traditionally is made up of great lords.[2]

Varys is bald and tends towards fat, due to his castration. He often puts on the public persona of being nothing more than a pudgy man well suited to the pleasantries of court life; humble, obsequious, fawning, and a little effeminate. This is simply a facade that Varys has developed, which often leads those who do not know him well to underestimate him as a cheerful and vapid flatterer. In reality he is a cunning and ruthless manipulator of court politics, on-par with Master of Coin Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish, with whom he frequently spars. Unlike Baelish, Varys insists that his goals are to achieve what he honestly feels is best for the realm, though of course, what he and the current king feel is best might be two separate things.[3]

He is disparagingly known as "The Spider" due to his vast web of intelligence sources. His sophisticated intelligence network spans both Westeros and Essos, as far as Vaes Dothrak and even Qarth.[4][5] He refers to his agents and sources of information as his "little birds". One of his jobs is to keep an eye on the movements of Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen and ensure they do not become a threat to King Robert's reign.[2]

Season 1

The Hand of the King Jon Arryn dies unexpectedly and King Robert Baratheon rides north to ask Eddard Stark to replace him. The small council are left to run the kingdoms in his absence.[6] Eddard is summoned to the small council upon his arrival in King's Landing. Varys greets him as he enters. During Eddard's first meeting he learns that Robert has ordered a tournament to honor his appointment and that the realm has descended into debt.[7]

Varys provides Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish with intelligence that Catelyn Stark is traveling to the city incognito. She brings news of an assassin being sent to kill her son Bran. They meet with Catelyn and attempt to identify the dagger used by the catspaw. Varys is surprised when Littlefinger says that he lost the dagger in a wager to Tyrion Lannister.[8]

Varys joins the rest of the small council to discuss the rise in crime in the city as a result of the tournament. He is concerned about the capacity of the City Watch to cope. In a private meeting with Eddard, Grand Maester Pycelle implies that Varys was involved with Jon Arryn's death, poison being a favored weapon of eunuchs.[9]


Varys meets with Lord Eddard in the Red Keep.

Varys meets with Eddard Stark and frankly tells him that King Robert is a fool and likely doomed unless Eddard can save him. He confirms that Jon Arryn was murdered with a poison called the Tears of Lys and implicates the deceased Ser Hugh of the Vale in the murder, though he is unable to pinpoint who ordered the killing. He claims to be a man of honor, like Eddard, who only wants to keep the realm stable and at peace.[10]

Varys and Illyrio

Varys speaks with Illyrio

Varys is overheard by Arya Stark (who is unable to identify him) conspiring with Magister Illyrio Mopatis of Pentos during a secret meeting. Varys and Illyrio want the realm plunged into civil war to facilitate the Dothraki invasion under Khal Drogo and thus the revival of House Targaryen. However, at a small council meeting Varys supports King Robert's proposal to assassinate Daenerys Targaryen.[11]

Varys has a tense confrontation with Littlefinger. Varys reminds Littlefinger of the incriminating information he holds: Varys knows of the illegalities going on in Littlefinger's brothels and his implication of House Lannister in the attempted murder of Bran. In turn Littlefinger reveals he knows that Varys met with Illyrio for some reason kept secret from the King and council.[12]

Varys is present when Eddard is arrested for treason after trying to deliver Robert's proclamation naming him protector of the realm.[13] Varys visits Eddard in the dungeons. He is incredulous that Eddard trusted Littlefinger over him, and even more so that he warned Cersei what he was going to do. Eddard says that he wanted to extend mercy to Cersei's children, whom Robert would have killed if he'd known the truth. Varys bluntly tells Eddard that his mercy is what killed King Robert, to Eddard's shame. Varys then tells him that Catelyn also no longer holds Tyrion as her prisoner, meaning that the Starks have nothing to barter with for Eddard's life. When Eddard suggests they should just kill him, Varys says "Not today, my lord.". As he departs, Eddard asks Varys who he truly serves: Varys, in a rare display of honesty, replies "The realm, my lord. Someone must".[14]

Varys returns to Eddard in his cell and informs him that Sansa appeared before the King to plead for his life. He tells him that Robb has called up an army and is marching them south. The situations of Eddard and those he cares about are precarious. But Eddard could help everyone and calm the realm if he confesses. Varys thinks that Ned, himself, may be spared if he will acknowledge the legitimacy of King Joffrey Baratheon. Eddard refuses, saying that he cares more for his honour than for his life. Varys changes his mind by reminding him that continued defiance could endanger Sansa.[15] Varys is present at Eddard's trial outside the Great Sept of Baelor. The onlookers are stunned when Joffrey orders Eddard's public execution despite his confession. Varys, Cersei and the council try to intervene, but can only watch as Eddard is beheaded in front of a horrified Sansa and the jeering crowd. As Eddard's headless body is dragged away, Varys stares at the ground, clearly disgusted by the spectacle and later runs to aid Sansa as she faints from shock. Varys is present in Joffrey's court when the king sentences the singer Marillion to be maimed for mocking the royal family.[16]

Season 2

Main: Varys Season 2

Varys continues to serve King Joffrey Baratheon. Queen Regent Cersei Lannister orders the city closed to refugees from the War of the Five Kings. She is furious when her brother Tyrion Lannister is made acting Hand of the King by their father Lord Tywin Lannister.[17] Varys discovers that Tyrion has brought his lover Shae with him despite being instructed not to by Tywin. Varys lets Tyrion know that he is aware and Tyrion warns Varys not to threaten him.[18] Tyrion involves an unwitting Varys in a plot to test the loyalty of the small council. He gives each member a different version of a marriage alliance involving Myrcella Baratheon and waits to see who will reveal the information to Cersei. Pycelle exposes himself as Cersei's man and Tyrion has him arrested. Varys compliments him on the scheme. Varys assists Tyrion in installing Shae as a hand maid to the captive Sansa Stark.[19]

Tyrion and Varys

Varys and Tyrion on the walls

Varys helps Tyrion to plan the defence of King's Landing against an impending attack by King Stannis Baratheon. Varys disparagingly tells Tyrion that Daenerys Targaryen lives and has hatched three dragons, and that when they are grown, her enemies will have nowhere to hide. Tyrion prefers to focus on the problem at hand.[20]

Tyrion, Varys and Bronn

Varys, Tyrion, and Bronn look at maps

Varys provides Tyrion with a map of the tunnel network under the city. He warns Tyrion that their success depends on his leadership. He relays rumors of Stannis' conversion to the Lord of Light and tells Tyrion that he despises the dark arts practiced by Stannis' adviser Melisandre. The Battle of the Blackwater is won, thanks to Tyrion's ingenious defensive tactics and the timely arrival of a host of House Lannister and House Tyrell cavalry under the command of Tywin and Ser Loras Tyrell. Tyrion is betrayed and wounded by Ser Mandon Moore during the fighting.[21]

Varys attends court as Joffrey rewards Tywin, Loras and Littlefinger for their service. Varys visits the recuperating Tyrion and sadly informs him that his father is being given all of the credit for the victory and that he has relieved Tyrion as Hand of the King, that the members of the hill tribes have been paid and sent back to the Vale and that Bronn has been removed from command of the City Watch. He also suggests that Queen Cersei was responsible for Ser Mandon's treachery and leaves Tyrion alone with Shae. Varys also approaches Ros and recruits her as a spy in Littlefinger's brothel.[22]

Season 3

Tywin Lannister calls the first meeting of the Small Council since he arrived in the city and assumed his position as Hand of the King. He has the meeting place changed to a room next to his own quarters, asserting his dominance. Tywin arrives early and has all of the council members called in at once, with seats on only one side of the table, as a non-verbal test to see how each of them reacts around him. Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish ambitiously pushes his way past everyone else to be the one who sits closest to Tywin. Varys rolls his eyes at Littlefinger's naked ambition and lets him pass, content to sit in the second-closest seat (for now).

Tywin is upset with the three advisors, noting that between them, they possess the greatest number of spies in the world, yet none of them can locate his son Jaime, even though the entire Northern army has heard of his escape. Varys says they are trying but he simply cannot be found. Tywin asks what news there is of the war, and Varys reports that Robb has taken the bulk of his army to Riverrun for his grandfather's funeral, while leaving Lord Roose Bolton in command of Harrenhal. Varys makes a jab at Littlefinger's recent, titular promotion as Lord of Harrenhal, noting that this makes Roose Bolton the current Lord of Harrenhal in practice if not in name.[23]

What's in the box Varys? What's in the box?!

Varys' long awaited revenge.

Tyrion Lannister meets with Varys, who is in the middle of prying open a large wooden crate. Tyrion asks Varys to help him confirm who sent Ser Mandon Moore to kill him during the Battle of the Blackwater. Varys says he would like to help, but the most he has are whispers that it was Cersei, but only whispers, and he cannot confirm who gave the order. Tyrion wants to know with certainty if it was his sister so he can take revenge. Varys uses this opportunity to finish a conversation they were having on the eve of the battle, in which Varys promised to reveal how he was castrated. Varys says that he used to be a slave in a traveling troupe that passed through all of the Free Cities, but once when he was in Myr he was sold to a sorcerer. The sorcerer gave him a potion which temporarily paralyzed him while still leaving him fully aware and able to experience pain, and then he cut his genitals off, root and stem (shaft and testes). The sorcerer needed his genitals as a sacrifice for a spell, and he burned Varys' genitals in a brazier of fire. What Varys has had recurrent nightmares about to this day is not the sorcerer, or the knife, or the pain...but that when the sorcerer prayed to the blue flames in his ceremony, a voice clearly answered him from the flames. Whether it was a god or a demon or simply parlor tricks Varys never knew, as the sorcerer threw him out into the street to die. But he was determined to live, to spite the sorcerer, and one day get his revenge on him. Varys did whatever it took to claw his way up into a position of influence in the world: first, to survive he would beg, steal, or sell the sexual use of the parts of his body he still had. Increasingly, he discovered that stealing men's secrets was far more profitable than anything physical which could be stolen, and in time, he worked his way up from the slums of Myr to the Small Council in King's Landing. This is why Varys has always hated those who claim to wield magical powers, and particularly why he opposed Stannis Baratheon, who relies on the Red Priestess Melisandre. As Varys finishes his long tale, he finally finishes prying the last nail out of the crate and opens it - revealing none other than an elderly sorcerer, the same one that castrated Varys so many years ago. He is still alive but gagged, and was shipped to Varys in the crate. Using his own life as an example, Varys thus urges Tyrion to be patient, and his revenge will come to him in time. Varys then closes the lid of the box again, with the sorcerer still inside.

Varys then visits Ros, who has been secretly spying on Littlefinger for him. He is surprised to hear her report from the other prostitutes in the brothel on the prodigious activities of one Podrick Payne. Varys is perplexed as to what exactly happened; Ros says the girls told her he wasn't particularly large or anything, so much as what he did, but when she repeatedly asked them what exactly that was, the most they could say is that it was "hard to describe". She then reports on how frequently Littlefinger has visited Sansa Stark, and says she thinks he is obsessed with her, and wants to smuggle her out of the city. He asks why she thinks this is true, and she presents a stolen copy of the ship's manifest for the boat that will take Littlefinger to the Vale. Varys is surprised that Ros is literate and asks what obvious point it is that he doesn't see. She points out that the manifest specifies that there will be two feather beds, and Varys realizes Littlefinger would only pay the extra money for someone other than Littlefinger if it was Sansa.

Varys meets with Olenna Tyrell. They walk through the gardens, and while Olenna remains pleasant she instantly sees through all of Varys' pleasantries. Varys is verbally outmatched, for once, and she asks him to just get to the point. He says that he is extremely worried that Littlefinger is going to try to take control of Sansa Stark: with Robb Stark's younger brothers presumed dead at Winterfell, and Arya Stark missing and presumed dead for over a year, Sansa is Robb's legal heir. The War of the Five Kings is not going well for the Starks now, and if Robb were to be defeated and die, the man who marries Sansa controls the North. Varys adds that while he enjoys verbally sparring with Baelish, he is truly horrified by the man. While they are all engaged in the intrigues and murders of court politics, Baelish has utterly no limits on what he will do to achieve power: he would burn the entire realm down if it meant he could be king of the ashes. Olenna agrees and says that the solution is rather obvious.[24]

He talks with Baelish in the Great Hall about the Iron Throne, and Littlefinger's belief that the realm is a fiction. Varys says that without it, there would be chaos, which he characterizes as a pit. Littlefinger disagrees, saying it is a ladder that few are willing to climb. He reveals that he knew of Ros' agreement with Varys to spy on Baelish, and so gave her to Joffrey, who murdered her.[25]

Varys is a guest at the wedding of Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister. He stands with the rest of the Small Council near the feet of the Father's statue. Varys later attends the wedding feast and can be seen speaking with Sansa as Tyrion has another confrontation with Tywin.[26]

Varys is later present when the Small Council discusses the Red Wedding. He doesn't bother to hide his disgust when Joffrey announces his intention to serve Robb Stark's severed head to Sansa at his wedding. He also looks visibly nervous when Joffrey lashes out at Tywin and accuses him of hiding in Casterly Rock while Robert Baratheon did all the real work in the War of the Usurper. Later that day, Varys seeks out Shae and tells her that Tyrion is the last hope for the current regime, but Shae is a liability that Tyrion and the realm cannot afford. He offers her a pouch of diamonds with which to start a new life in the Free Cities, but she declines.[27]


Season One appearances
Winter is Coming The Kingsroad Lord Snow Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things The Wolf and the Lion
A Golden Crown You Win or You Die The Pointy End Baelor Fire and Blood
Season Two appearances
The North Remembers The Night Lands What is Dead May Never Die Garden of Bones The Ghost of Harrenhal
The Old Gods and the New A Man Without Honor The Prince of Winterfell Blackwater Valar Morghulis
Season Three appearances
Valar Dohaeris Dark Wings, Dark Words Walk of Punishment And Now His Watch is Ended Kissed by Fire
The Climb The Bear and the Maiden Fair Second Sons The Rains of Castamere Mhysa

​Behind the scenes

Image gallery


"Power is a curious thing...Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides; it's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."
Varys to Tyrion Lannister[src]
"Influence grows like a weed."
Varys to Tyrion Lannister[src]

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, Varys is the most enigmatic member of the small council. While Varys' own account of his past might not be fully trusted, he was apparently born as a slave in the Free City of Lys and found himself in a mummer's troupe in Myr, where he was castrated, and he later spent time in Pentos. He later found his way to Westeros and rose to the position of Master of Whisperers during the reign of King Aerys II Targaryen. After the conclusion of Robert's Rebellion Varys was pardoned by King Robert Baratheon and continued to serve him as spymaster and intelligence-gatherer. The TV series confirmed that this is indeed his true backstory, actually showing the sorcerer who castrated him. The TV series omitted the line where he stated that he was specifically born in the city of Lys, though the acting troupe he served in moved around extensively so he didn't grow up there; afterwards he spent a long time in Myr working his way up in the world, then later moved on to Pentos as an information trafficker. This seems to mean that he is ethnically a Lysene, though then again as he was born a slave, his parents may have been sold there from somewhere else.

According to the TV series official pronunciation guide developed for the cast and crew, "Varys" is pronounced "VAIR-iss", although characters in the show sometimes pronounce it "VAR-iss".

See also


v  d  e
Lord: King Tommen I Heir:
House-Baratheon-of-King's Landing-Main-Shield
Seat: Red Keep, King's Landing Lands: The Crownlands
Title(s): King of the Andals and the First Men · Lord of the Seven Kingdoms · Protector of the Realm
Current members:Queen Mother Cersei Lannister · Queen Margaery Tyrell
Deceased members:King Robert I · King Joffrey I · Princess Myrcella Baratheon
Household:Lord Mace Tyrell · Grand Maester Pycelle · Ser Jaime Lannister · Ser Gregor Clegane · Ser Preston Greenfield · Ser Arys Oakheart · Ser Boros Blount · Ser Balon Swann · Ser Osmund Kettleblack · Ser Ilyn Payne · Lord Gyles Rosby · Ser Aron Santagar · Qyburn · Septa Eglantine

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