Thursday, August 3, 2017

Varys -- Double Agent?

HBO wrapped the sixth season of Game of Thrones with a commanding image of Daenerys, her retinue of advisors and a massive armada steaming for Westeros. It was an impressive sight made all the more so by an alliance cemented by Varys in the waning moments of The Winds of Winter that brought the Dornish and the Queen of Thorns (House Tyrell) into the fold.

But what if instead of collecting what passes for a Westerosi version of the super friends, Varys was actually engaging in a deeper game on behalf of Queen Cersei? Judging from the first three episodes of Season Seven, the possibility of a mole within Dany’s circle may be the Occam’s Razor for why she is now, as The Ringer crew put it, in danger of becoming GoT’s 2016 Golden State Warriors – blowing a 3-1 lead to an inferior opponent.

Consider Dany’s military plan to conquer Westeros. It called for the siege of King’s Landing by the Dornish and Tyrells, with the Unsullied storming Casterly Rock to cut off a potential route of retreat for the Lannister army. It all made sense until Euron destroyed Dany’s fleet and captured Ellaria and Yara, Cersei sacrificed Casterly Rock (strategically unimportant) and moved her troops on Highgarden instead, not only snuffing out the Tyrell army but looting its gold to pay off the throne’s debt to the Iron Bank.

While it is possible that Jaime and Euron are military geniuses and Tyrion a fool, in this show, so pregnant with deceit and double-dealing, Varys’s position within Dany’s small council points to a different solution. After all, if Varys was working for Cersei, she could not ask for anything more than having all her enemies huddled under one tent to then be picked off one by one with inside intel on their military plans. Not only would the destruction of old houses allow her to insert new leadership beholden to her (see, Randall Tarly) but would make her rule unquestioned, with no enemies (or dragons) to deal with.

Dany sensed this in her tense back-and-forth with Varys, ticking off his prior betrayals and putting to him the question of why she should trust him. His “I choose you” declaration sounded sincere but for a show that fetishizes the idea of a man’s “word” having great value, the successful players of the game deftly sense when their allegiance should sway in order to move up the ladder. Indeed, with Little Finger ensconced in Winterfell with the Knights of the Vale at his command and always one for a heel turn when it suits his purposes, he could deliver Sansa to Cersei and be richly rewarded even as Jon is now marooned at Dragonstone – the walls of the Resistance could crumble before they even had a chance to form.

And while unsatisfying to those who see Cersei as a cruel and evil woman, it would not be at all inconsistent with either the show or the books’ idea that “good” men and women do not always triumph in this world. Indeed, it is often those who are willing to assert their power, regardless of who is killed in service of the wielding of that power, that triumph. Of course, this could also just be a massive head fake to stretch the drama, this is television after all.

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