Now that Game of Thrones is back to politics as usual, the key players and betrayers who defined the game are back in a big way. And episode 4 of Season 8 set up a double cross from one of the best: Varys.
But you don’t even need to take the spider at his word when he told Tyrion a whopping two times in the last episode that he’d betray Daenerys. The precedent for Varys committing treason against his Queen is not only established in his character, but also predicted in an old prophecy many have forgotten about.
Back in Season 2 when Daenerys was in Qarth, this weird lady kept following Ser Jorah around to deliver cryptic warnings about Daenerys being in danger. While her role was severely minimized in the show, book readers know this powerful shadowbinder as Quaithe. She’s a mysterious, looming presence throughout Dany’s journey, giving her prophecies that have almost all come true in some capacity.
The prophecy that’s most relevant to the upcoming episodes of Season 8 describe the major trials and betrayals she will face:
Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame,lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.
While some of these are book-only characters and events, the most recent episode seems to confirm that the oft-debated identity of the last figure is Varys. And, based on context clues from the book’s plot, even indicates that the lion who will also betray her is Tyrion.
The perfumed seneschal is almost for sure Varys because: 1) Seneschal is another word for advisor, and 2) heavy perfume smells are often used to describe Varys in the books.
The less certain reference is the lion and griffin. In the book, Tyrion is wrapped up in a plot cut from the show involving the Golden Company (yes, the same one Cersei hired), which supports the claim of a “secret Targaryen” named Griff. But because of show changes, the lion could easily implicate other Lannisters instead, like Cersei or maybe even Jaime.
But prophecy aside, Varys betrayal was laid out clearly all the way in episode 2 of Season 7.
In the heated exchange last season, Daenerys (understandably) questions Varys’ loyalty. She lays out how his loyalties have flipped on a dime in the past, with him changing support from her father Mad King Aerys, to Robert Baratheon, to her brother Viserys Targaryen, then finally to her.
“If he dislikes one monarch, he conspires to crown the next one,” she says, describing Varys very accurately.
Varys doesn’t deny it either. But after establishing that his loyalty ultimately lies in serving the people and whichever monarch helps them most, Daenerys softens slightly. “Swear this to me Varys: If you ever think I’m failing the people, you won’t conspire behind my back. You’ll look me in the eye as you have done today and you’ll tell me how I’m failing them,” she says.
Varys even references this Season 7 conversation in the latest episode of Season 8, when Daenerys and her counselors are deciding how to respond to Euron’s surprise attack on Dragonstone.
“Your Grace, I promised you I’d look you in the eye and speak directly if I ever thought you were making a mistake. This is a mistake,” he says of her plan to Dracarys King’s Landing. “Do not destroy the city you came to save. Do not become what you have struggled to defeat.”
Daenerys doesn’t listen to him, and as the final shot of the episode implies, intends to go full steam ahead with the plan to Light King’s Landing The Eff Up. And if you analyze what Varys swore to her, it’s clear he feels as though he’s fulfilled the duty he promised to her in Season 7. He told Daenerys to her face how her actions would fail the people — and now he’ll go forward with conspiring behind her back in to fulfill his larger duty to the people of the realm instead of her.
It’s uncertain exactly how Varys will betray Daenerys. But we can make a few educated guesses.
In the books, he’s also wrapped up in the Golden Company plotline, which is headed to King’s Landing with the intention to contest Daenerys’ claim to the throne with an alleged male Targaryen heir instead. In the show, that other Targaryen is Jon Snow (a.k.a. Aegon Targaryen).
So one potential surprise twist is that the Golden Company — which has a long history of being Targaryen supporters — will ultimately betray Cersei with the help of Varys’ scheming. But they’ll betray her for the preferred male Targaryen heir of Jon rather than Daenerys.
But it doesn’t need to even be that elaborate. With just a simple whisper about Jon’s true lineage to the right person, the Spider could sabotage Daenerys’ claim without revealing himself as the culprit. Remember that Daenerys doesn’t know yet that either Tyrion or Varys (or Arya or Sansa, for that matter) know the truth about Jon yet.
Tyrion remains a wild card in all of this. But one thing is for sure: Daenerys may be paranoid after losing so much — but who can blame her when she’s almost certainly right?