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Varys’ Inconsistent Motivation


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The supposed idea around Varys is that he serves the realm first and foremost. He says so when he urges Ned Stark to admit his treason and accept a position in the Night’s Watch so that open war might be avoided. Later, the plan fails because Littlefinger encourages Joffrey to have Ned executed anyway. This allegedly undermines Varys and makes Catelyn a widow.

But later, Varys kills Kevan Lannister in ADWD and explains that he wants the realm disunited and chaotic so that fAegon can sweep in and take power.

My question, though, is why would Varys try to prevent the very chaos which he benefits from later? Why not just let Ned die stubbornly and thus seal the deal for Robb to take war to House Lannister? And even if he was holding out for Daenerys (the person he helped to poison), what was he going to do with fAegon? And regardless of who he supports for real, what’s with the complete flip flop in motivation? He seems to be undermining himself as much as anyone else. Or he’s really flying by the seat of his pants, but that seems so unlike anything we’ve learned about his methods so far.

Edited by Canon Claude
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You square this as Varys initially going for the best option and then settling for a backup plan.

First we assume Varys wants a hot and fast war. He wants Ned to go take the Black, as well as Stannis and Renly to either bend the knee or die. Essentially there is no war in the Seven Kingdoms until his chosen claimant shows up. In this case his chosen perfect King (Aegon) takes power via a palace coup, whereby the ruling regime is essentially wiped out in one go and there is no plausible candidate for a rebellion to rally around. So Aegon takes the Throne violently, but things quickly settle down.

Then assume that Varys initial plan failed, and Westeros fell into a long and dirty war. In this case he still has his chosen perfect King waiting in the wings.

So he waits for the various factions to deplete themselves before parachuting Aegon in.

Now you might think that if a dirty war kicks off Varys would try to end it quickly and then go for the palace coup as per the original plan, however this would be wrong. Once wars and vendettas begin the people who fought and bled for a Lannister/Baratheon/Northern/Greyjoy/ect king would be less willing to just accept a coup. Any Northman who just fought a war for Northern independence is not going to accept a Targaryen King just suddenly appearing, so best to let them all wipe each other out and then put the new King in place when they can no longer resist.

In short, Varys wants Aegon to take the Throne either before people care about resisting (ideal option) or after people are too weak to resist(backup option). 

Edited by The Jingo
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It was simply too early in AGOT to kick things off as Aegon/Drogo wasn't ready. The realm falling into chaos then would have possibly allowed it time to deal with the internal struggle, stabalise and strengthen, and team Aegon could have missed the window of opportunity.

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No need for in-universe explanations, the real explanation is much more simple: a lot of things changed from the original plans. You can see it by reading the original plans and even if you hadn't read, there's an odd feeling in many PoVs and plotlines AFFC and onwards. I had that odd feeling the first time I ever read and after several years, reading the original draft made me realize why I had that feeling.

Jaime being the ultimate good guy turned bad? Come on, it gave me a feeling way too awful as if it was changed mid way through and guess what, it really was. Jaime was supposed to be a kinslayer, slaying everyone ahead of him to get to the throne and he would blame Tyrion for the deaths but now we learn "oh no no he's this great hero that slayed the wildfiery lords of the mad king and saved a city of near half a million". Yea, ok.

 

Aegon the Fake feels like it was added much, much later as well, so when Varys was talking to Ned, Mr. Martin didn't have him.

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One shouldn't really buy Varys' claim 'to serve the Realm'. That is a claim he makes when talking to people he doesn't exactly trust, i.e. Ned and Tyrion. It is a way for him to position himself outside the main factions so that people he works with do not view him as a potential or confirmed enemy.

Varys has to ensure that Ned doesn't view him as a Lannister lackey, for instance, just as he later has to ensure that Tyrion doesn't mistake him for Cersei's pet or a man secretly in league with Renly or Stannis. His way to convince people of that is to convince them that he serves the Crown/the Realm as such, not a particular faction. But he is lying there, of course, since he and Illyrio form their very own faction.

That Varys misdirects a lot in those conversations is also pretty clear, e.g. when he sends Ned the message that he is a loyal friend of Robert Baratheon.

Of course, as per the Epilogue speech we can deduce that Varys does indeed care for the well-being of Westeros as a whole - i.e. the Realm - when he talks about the children. But this motivation of his is tied to the Aegon plan. His way to serve the Realm/protect the children is to install a king of his making on the Iron Throne.

In relation to Ned, especially, we also have to consider the possibility that Varys wanted to recruit Ned and the Starks to his cause. Meaning he either wanted him or his family to eventually declare for/support Aegon or at least not oppose Aegon when the lad was making his move.

2 hours ago, The Jingo said:

You square this as Varys initially going for the best option and then settling for a backup plan.

First we assume Varys wants a hot and fast war. He wants Ned to go take the Black, as well as Stannis and Renly to either bend the knee or die. Essentially there is no war in the Seven Kingdoms until his chosen claimant shows up. In this case his chosen perfect King (Aegon) takes power via a palace coup, whereby the ruling regime is essentially wiped out in one go and there is no plausible candidate for a rebellion to rally around. So Aegon takes the Throne violently, but things quickly settle down.

The original plan of Varys/Illyrio involved a Dothraki invasion under the leadership of Viserys III, so we are not talking about a palace coup there.

But you are right that Varys and Illyrio wanted their own invasion to happen at the same time as a civil war in Westeros. That is why Varys wants to postpone Robert's death as long as he possibly can, why he keeps the twincest under the rug etc.

As the civil war drags on, Varys wants the faction opposing Aegon's rise as weak and disorganized as they can be ... which is why he murders Pycelle and Kevan.

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a) George probably hadn’t mapped out fAegon’s story yet. Some people think he was supposed to be Aerion‘s descendant, since Aerion was mentioned quite a bit early on (and his son was usurped by Egg). The mummer’s dragon was introduced in ACOK, but the Blackfyres weren’t introduced until ASOS.

b) fAegon is only a year older than Dany, and was therefore probably considered too young to invade in AGOT.

c) George axed the five year gap, which condensed the timeline more than it should have.

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18 hours ago, Canon Claude said:

My question, though, is why would Varys try to prevent the very chaos which he benefits from later? Why not just let Ned die stubbornly and thus seal the deal for Robb to take war to House Lannister? And even if he was holding out for Daenerys (the person he helped to poison), what was he going to do with fAegon? And regardless of who he supports for real, what’s with the complete flip flop in motivation? He seems to be undermining himself as much as anyone else. Or he’s really flying by the seat of his pants, but that seems so unlike anything we’ve learned about his methods so far.

I think it's because he needed Ned at the Wall and the north out of the war. 

I don't think Viserys was ever going to cross the narrow sea back to Westeros. When we start putting the plan together, including the parts that Jon Connington knew about, I think that it becomes clear that Aegon was also supposed to meet up with the GC and the Dothraki. I seriously doubt that Viserys was going to step down from his kingship for Aegon or anyone.

I think that Varys was a overtaken by some of the things that happened because of Littlefinger's interferences. Littlefinger's put into motion some things that Varys was unable to head, that's why the plans in Essos had to be moved along much more quickly. That's why he told the small council about Dany's pregnancy, because he knew what Robert's response to that would be. 

Now, about Varys's motivations. There's one thing that really stands out for me. And it has nothing to do with the Blackfyres. In ASoS, Varys tried to help the NW. They have been receiving messages from Castle Black and Varys finds them alarming enough that he brings up the issue in the small council meeting. Cersei wants to have the gold cloaks who left their posts during the Battle of the Blackwater executed, but Varys asks that they be sent to the Wall instead because of the disturbing messages coming from there. 

Varys wanting to help at the Wall has nothing to do with his agenda of placing Aegon on the throne. If anything people will say that the Lannisters sent men to the Wall to help hold it. So if anything, and in that moment, Varys is really serving the realm. And for the longest time, I thought that it was Tyrion who was making the suggestion to send the deserters to the Wall. It didn't matter how many times I read it, my brain always computed it as Tyrion trying to help Varys and when we attribute quotes to the wrong characters, well it changes the narrative completely.

Tyrion does end up supporting Varys in this, but it was not his idea. Tywin decides that Robb and Balon can take care of the north since it has seceded from the rest of the 7Ks and that the deserters will have their knees capped instead.

Then we have to work backward from this. Ser Alliser Thorne comes to King's Landing with the news of what happened at Castle Black with the wights. Varys is there. Ser Alliser tells Tyrion who is sitting on the Iron Throne and the small council (Varys, LF and Pycelle) that dead men are walking, Ser Jaremy Rykker was killed by one, the other tried to kill Jeor Mormont. But he is dismissed and the whole thing is turned into a joke. But Ser Alliser's parting words are that this isn't a joke, that the cold winds are rising and that the Wall must be held.

Here's the thing with this. Jaremy Rykker and Alliser Thorne are not an unknown quantity to Varys. They fought on the walls of King's Landing during the Sack and were sent to the Wall by Tywin. And now one is dead at the hands of an undead man and the other has come to town to bring news of what happened.

Same book, and four Tyrion chapters later, Varys brings news of Ser Cortnay Penrose's death to Tyrion. Through his conversation about Cortnay Penrose's death, we find out about Varys's tortured childhood and through that. He tells Tyrion that he hates magic. But the gist of the conversation is about why Varys believes in the old powers. Nobody brings this up to him. He brings it up on his own. 

Varys spent 4 or 5 years around House Targaryen, a House that is steeped in magic. I always thought that he would have hated them just based on that. But I think that the most important take away from Varys shedding light on what happened to him is because it explains why he believes in magic. Plus in the final chapters of AGoT into the early pages of ACoK, there's that red comet in the sky and the white ravens have been dispatched announcing the end of the summer and the beginning of autumn. This marks the end of the longest summer in living memory. 

So my personal conclusion on Varys and why he has been doing the things that he is doing is because he is fully aware of the Long Night and the prophecy surrounding it. As someone who doesn't buy into the Blackfyre conspiracy, I think that his whole motivation behind putting Aegon on the throne is because he believes, like Rhaegar did, that Aegon is the prince that was promised and the one who is meant to save the children from the darkness that's coming. 

And Ned on the Wall becomes a really interesting concept. 

The entire essay can be found here

Edited by Alexis-something-Rose
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3 hours ago, The Bard of Banefort said:

c) George axed the five year gap, which condensed the timeline more than it should have.

The five year gap wouldn't have worked anyway. Stannis wasn't going to just sit around for five years doing nothing, nor would his enemies give him that chance if they could eliminate him as a threat. Same with Daenerys, Littlefinger, Brienne, the High Sparrow, the Tyrells, the Greyjoys, etc.

Edited by James Steller
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9 hours ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

Yeah, it is quite confusing. First of all, why does Varys, who is from Lys, care so much about the people of Westeros? Doesn't really make sense.

Lys is a place where anything can be bought for a price, and children and slaves like Varys was are without any protection. Westeros at least aspires to be different, a place where the vulnerable, including children, are theoretically protected by laws and given justice. This ideal is what attracted Varys to Westeros, but he's also a realist, he understands that accounting for every injustice done a parentless street urchin is not within the means of the crown and is a societal work in progress. But for the murder of the royal children and failure of the crown to provide them justice there can be no excuse, at that point the sentiment becomes a farce. And so turns Varys from the loyalist servant to an active game player hell bent on putting his own man on the throne, one that will recommit the crown to attempting justice.

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16 minutes ago, chrisdaw said:

Lys is a place where anything can be bought for a price, and children and slaves like Varys was are without any protection. Westeros at least aspires to be different, a place where the vulnerable, including children, are theoretically protected by laws and given justice. This ideal is what attracted Varys to Westeros, but he's also a realist, he understands that accounting for every injustice done a parentless street urchin is not within the means of the crown and is a societal work in progress. But for the murder of the royal children and failure of the crown to provide them justice there can be no excuse, at that point the sentiment becomes a farce. And so turns Varys from the loyalist servant to an active game player hell bent on putting his own man on the throne, one that will recommit the crown to attempting justice.

But if all he wants is a stable realm, why did he help preventing Rhaegar's plans instead of supporting him?

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19 minutes ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

But if all he wants is a stable realm, why did he help preventing Rhaegar's plans instead of supporting him?

Did he prevent Rhaegar's plans, though? 

If Varys wanted to burn Rhaegar to the ground, he could have given Aerys everything he knew about what he was up to. Rhaegar was plotting right under Varys's nose. But instead of doing that, Varys just gave Aerys enough to convince him to go to Harrenhal, where all the world got to see the Mad King. 

I think that the objective of Harrenhal wasn't about Rhaegar meeting as many lords as he could. I think it was to get Aerys to Harrenhal so that all those lords could see exactly what their king had become, which would have justified Rhaegar moving against his father and removing him from power.

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44 minutes ago, Alexis-something-Rose said:

I think that the objective of Harrenhal wasn't about Rhaegar meeting as many lords as he could. I think it was to get Aerys to Harrenhal so that all those lords could see exactly what their king had become, which would have justified Rhaegar moving against his father and removing him from power.

I'm not an expert on the timeline, but I think there was plenty of time between the tourney and Robert's Rebellion for Rhaegar to make his move. Why didn't he?

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3 minutes ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

I'm not an expert on the timeline, but I think there was plenty of time between the tourney and Robert's Rebellion for Rhaegar to make his move. Why didn't he?

You're asking the question only GRRM knows the answer to. And I really hope we will find out sooner rather than later. I don't think he wasn't doing anything, though. 

I think we can build a fairly tight timeline from about the last 3 months of the year 281 AC, into the middle of the second month of 282 AC. After that, it's a little more difficult to know what happened when.

I do think that Brandon's wedding to Catelyn at Riverrun and the announcement of when it was going to happen may be really important. The wedding would have attracted some really important people in the realm. Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn possibly and if not him, then his nephew and heir. You had Hoster Tully and the man who was at the center of the so-called alliance, Rickard Stark. He was coming south for the wedding. 

If you want to remove a mad man from the throne, then I think that Rickard Stark is the man you want to meet with because of the possible sway he might have with the two lords who were going to become part of his family through marriage and the man who was his middle son's foster father.

That's my take on this, but only time will tell (hopefully).

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1 hour ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

But if all he wants is a stable realm, why did he help preventing Rhaegar's plans instead of supporting him?

He doesn't believe it his place to orchestrate the future of Westeros at this point, he believes he shouldn't have to. He simply does his role to the best of his ability and leaves the laws and processes to do their thing, and should a realm with justice in its heart have such an unjust king then the lords and subjects should rise up and prove capable of overthrowing him. It self corrected as it should, but then Tywin killed the children and Robert rewarded him for it, destroying Varys's faith in Westeros working as intended and turning him into the intervening king making conspirator he is now. The 'children' changed everything for him, hence why he keeps harping back to it whenever the facade drops.

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I personally think that events over came Varys so quickly that he had to change plans on the fly. Yeah, the goal has always been to place Aegon on the Iron throne but things changed and now the new plan is to undermine the Lannisters. 

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16 hours ago, The Bard of Banefort said:

a) George probably hadn’t mapped out fAegon’s story yet. Some people think he was supposed to be Aerion‘s descendant, since Aerion was mentioned quite a bit early on (and his son was usurped by Egg). The mummer’s dragon was introduced in ACOK, but the Blackfyres weren’t introduced until ASOS.

We don't need the Aegon plan for Varys to have ulterior motives from the beginning. In AGoT he and Illyrio definitely want the Dothraki to invade, so Varys is not 'serving the Realm' in the sense that he does everything to keep the peace. Nor is he Robert's best buddy as he tries to sell to Ned.

And what we learned about the Aegon plan so far is that Aegon's army, the Golden Company, was supposed to work with Viserys III and his Dothraki. Meaning this was all one huge plan, not two separate plans.

Although it seems clear that Varys/Illyrio wanted Aegon to (eventually) succeed Viserys III or even take the throne in his stead - say, if he were to die during the fighting.

23 hours ago, Corvo the Crow said:

Aegon the Fake feels like it was added much, much later as well, so when Varys was talking to Ned, Mr. Martin didn't have him.

Varys was still lying through his teeth to Ned at that time since the conversation Arya overhears makes it clear he worked to bring about a Dothraki invasion.

Also - AGoT makes it pretty clear that Daenerys doesn't trust Illyrio or his motivations to help her brother and notices some subtle signs that Illyrio doesn't take Viserys seriously. The question why Illyrio would back as incompetent a pretender as Viserys III is a question that's raised in the very beginning of AGoT. And the Aegon plan is the obvious answer to that question.

20 hours ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

Yeah, it is quite confusing. First of all, why does Varys, who is from Lys, care so much about the people of Westeros? Doesn't really make sense.

There are two potential answers to that:

1. Varys has some personal connection to Westeros (like family ties to the ruling dynasty or just some other folks in Westeros).

2. Varys just thought Master of Whisperer was a great job and he fell in love with Westeros and its people during his time at Aerys' court (like Rego Draz may have been while he was Master of Coin for Jaehaerys I).

11 hours ago, Takiedevushkikakzvezdy said:

But if all he wants is a stable realm, why did he help preventing Rhaegar's plans instead of supporting him?

Varys clearly didn't have the same plans back when he first went to Westeros. The Aegon plan as such only became possible after the Sack. There is no indication Varys wanted to install another pretender before or during the Rebellion.

 

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On 3/5/2022 at 8:29 PM, Canon Claude said:

The supposed idea around Varys is that he serves the realm first and foremost. He says so when he urges Ned Stark to admit his treason and accept a position in the Night’s Watch so that open war might be avoided. Later, the plan fails because Littlefinger encourages Joffrey to have Ned executed anyway. This allegedly undermines Varys and makes Catelyn a widow.

But later, Varys kills Kevan Lannister in ADWD and explains that he wants the realm disunited and chaotic so that fAegon can sweep in and take power.

My question, though, is why would Varys try to prevent the very chaos which he benefits from later? Why not just let Ned die stubbornly and thus seal the deal for Robb to take war to House Lannister? And even if he was holding out for Daenerys (the person he helped to poison), what was he going to do with fAegon? And regardless of who he supports for real, what’s with the complete flip flop in motivation? He seems to be undermining himself as much as anyone else. Or he’s really flying by the seat of his pants, but that seems so unlike anything we’ve learned about his methods so far.

Varys is not inconsistent. He adapts to the changing situations.  He wanted to delay conflict because Khal Drogo.  He wanted to put King Viserys III on the throne but that plan had to change after he was executed by the Dothraki.  Aegon the Blackfyre was the backup plan.  By the laws of Westeros, which Varys can choose to follow or ignore, King Viserys III was the true heir.  Then Daenerys the Azor Ahai hatcher her dragons and the game changed.  Having hatched the dragons and being a dragon rider puts her at the top of the list for the Iron Throne.  

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