Game of Thrones is not a series in which simple people last. Those who are purely good quickly have their intentions taken advantage of and end up dead. Those who are purely evil are quickly assassinated to prevent them from becoming as dangerous as they could in a position of higher power. If you’re too dumb, you’re dead. Too careless, you’re dead. If you want to survive, you’ll need to live in a comfortable moral gray. That, and actually be smart.
The most common example people point to is Tyrion. And for good reason. He’s got all the odds stacked against him; everyone in his family except for his brother hates him, all the people hate him, he’s small, he’s weak, and he’s inexperienced. But he gets by with his wits.
But personally? I’ve always preferred the Master of Whispers: Varys ‘the Spider’.
When we first meet Varys in the books, we do so from the perspective of the ever honest and honorable Eddard Stark. So, from that perspective, we’re lead to believe that Varys is someone who can’t be trusted. He’s eyes and ears everywhere, knows everything about everyone, and his morals are completely unknown. Of course Ed wouldn’t like him. And, since we’re following the story from his perspective, we don’t like him either.
But as the plot progresses, things get a lot worse for old Ned. All the people he put his trust in abandon and betray him. His friend and soldiers are all killed. His daughter is made a hostage and his other daughter goes missing. And to top it all off, he ends up in chains, left to rot in a dungeon beneath the Red Keep.
And who should appear before him but Varys?
Here, we get a peek at who Varys really is. He doesn’t want more power. He doesn’t want to sit on the Iron Throne. The actions he takes aren’t for himself or any ally. They’re for the people of Westeros. Out of everyone on the Small Council, only the Spider serves the Realm itself.
Over the course of the series, we see Varys take actions to protect the Realm. He aims to set the right person on the Iron Throne and the right people on the Small Council and takes every action to put them there. He believes that Tyrion is one of the only men capable of saving Westeros, so he takes drastic actions to protect him multiple times. After seeing how the Baratheons and the Lannisters have treated the throne, he decides that Daenerys, whom he’s been protecting all these years just in case she may be needed, is indeed the one they need. So on and so forth.
Varys is an expert at playing the Game of Thrones. And he’s one of, if not the, only character in the series who dedicates his efforts entirely for the greater good.
But like I said: people who are purely good or evil don’t last.
For all his good intentions, Varys isn’t exactly a saint. In fact, the dude can be downright frightening at times! He straight-up tracked down the sorcerer that cut his junk off several decades after the event, stuffed him in a box, had him shipped across the world to the Red Keep, and presumably did something incredibly horrific to him in an act of revenge. Not for the good of the Realm, but purely for his own satisfaction.
He’s a beautifully complex character. A good man who knows how the world works and makes it work for him through clever subterfuge. A man who’s subtle actions affect the world in dramatic ways. Truly a man worthy of being called Master of Whispers.
Shame they fucked it up completely in the last seasons.
Subtlety is the single most important character trait Varys has. Unfortunately, the writers sort of forgot about that. And so Varys starts loudly and openly talking to everyone he knows about his plans. Plans that, if discovered, would end in his death. Plans that he makes open information to just about everyone. The so-called Master of Whispers goes around doing just about anything but whispering.
And literally everyone finds out. Shocking, I know.
If Varys’ schemes were cleverly hidden but discovered anyways, it would have been far more effective. It would show the intellect of those he tried and failed to deceive. If Varys finally met someone who proved his intellectual superior, his defeat and death would have had some impact.
But no. His wits just vanish and he starts making dumb decision after dumb decision. Not because that’s what he as a character would do. Because that’s what the writers wanted him to do. They set out an ending for him, then just pushed the character towards it, even if it wasn’t where the character would’ve actually ended up due to their actions.
Simply put: they gave up. Just like they did with all the other characters. If ever a pair of writers did just give up on their craft, it was D&D.