What's going on with Game of Thrones' Varys and the Red Priestesses? Here's all we know (including a very fishy rumour)

It’s the smaller characters who are becoming more interesting in season 7. Game of Thrones season 7, episode 3 not only marked one of the few occasions where the Spider himself, Lord Varys, didn’t seem in control of his own fate (as Melisandre unveiled a shadowy prophecy), but it also provided a gateway into the eunuch’s rich and secretive history. Varys has previous experience with the Red Priestesses – and whatever is between them, it’s not pretty.

The clandestine commoner turned chief whisperer probably wasn’t expecting a brief cliffside chat with the Red Woman to be quite as eventful. In it, Varys and Melisandre have a conversation which ends with the Priestess declaring, “I will return, dear Spider, one last time. I have to die in this strange country. Just like you.” We’ve come to know that Melisandre is never one to speak plainly so why would a Red Priestess serving the Lord of Light seem to have such intimate knowledge of when (and maybe how) Varys dies? Let’s rewind to Varys’ brutal origin story.

As revealed in season 3, Varys was born a slave across the Narrow Sea in Essos and later sold to a sorcerer. The sorcerer dabbled in strange magic which, to put it delicately, required Varys’ private parts. Long story (mercifully) short, the sorcerer botches the operation, tosses Varys’ genitals into a waiting fire and the Varys we’ve come to know is born. Simple, right? Not so. For one thing, Varys took a peculiar sort of revenge on the sorcerer who castrated him, revealing to Tyrion that he has him locked up in a crate waiting, plotting, and deciding what to do with him. Varys is not often one for emotion but his fuelled-up anger drives him in that scene more than at any other time. It’s an odd shift from his usual calm and control.

Better red than dead

That’s not the whole story, though. The eunuch may have shown anger at the sorcerer but it’s fear he shows in season 6 episode 5 The Door. Tyrion and Varys are visited in Volantis by Kinvara, the First Servant of the Lord of Light (remember that bit, it’s important). Varys’ previous distaste for magic is clear from his origin but it’s here that everything becomes a bit more complex. Magic may have indirectly been his creator but it may also have revealed his ultimate destiny. Kinvara bares all when she says the following:

“Terrible things happen for a reason. Take what happened to you, Lord Varys, when you were a child. If not for your mutilation at the hand of a second-rate sorcerer, you wouldn't be here helping the Lord's chosen bring his light into the world. Knowledge has made you powerful but there's still so much you don't know. Do you remember what you heard that night when the sorcerer tossed your parts in the fire? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? Should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?”

Let’s break that down, as it’s a wonderfully juicy passage. Firstly, Kinvara sees Varys as an instrument for the Lord of Light. The voice heard from the flames (not the first flame-based apparition on Thrones and it surely won’t be the last) terrifies Varys to such an extent that, for once, he is left speechless and his face twists in fear. That voice said something so important, so utterly devastating to Varys, that it has haunted him ever since. This is why Melisandre believes their fates are bound; the First Servant isn’t just a fancy title, Kinvara is the first servant of the Lord of Light and one who is bound to have intimate knowledge of the Lord of the Light’s doings. A Red Priestess roundtable is a bit of a stretch to imagine, but they surely aren’t separate entities; if one servant of the Lord of Light knows then they all should know.

If we take all that into account, it crafts an image of Varys being tied directly to the Red Priestesses and the Lord of Light. What that means for the future of Thrones is anyone’s guess. Varys may yet have a role to play in the endgame, and Melisandre won’t be far behind.

Interestingly, in the books, Varys is actually even darker. At the end of book 5 part 2 he murders both Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister himself, using a crossbow to deliver the killing blows. He claims it’s because they’re bad for King’s Landing, and others would benefit the people more if they were in power - which does support the idea that he does bad things on behalf of the general populous in Westeros. At the same time, it shows exactly how far he’s willing to go, and it hints at a fanaticism that may have very different motives behind it.

Lord Varys the merman. Really?

Want to hear something a little more fanciful? The little birds on the web have been whispering about the Spider and… there’s a suspicion that Varys is a merman. I know what you’re thinking, a show about a woman birthing dragons from flames is fine, but a bald half-man, half-fish character is taking it too far. But, like the Lord of the Light connections, there’s some compelling evidence to back this up. Take the season 6 finale, Winds of Winter, for instance. He’s in Dorne one scene and, miraculously, accompanying Dany as she sets off to Westeros the next. Like all good logic puzzles, this one can only be solved in one way: he is literally a fish. Mermen - called Merlings in the world of Thrones – have cropped up in one form or another too. Interestingly enough, Varys’ long-time frenemy Littlefinger has a ship called The Merling King in the books. Fin? Not quite: in season 4 episode 6 The Laws of God and Men, Varys tells Prince Oberyn he is separate from the desires of man and that he has invented his current persona, having lost his previous accent. You can choose to believe it or not but, hey, it’s a convincing reason as any as to why he clings so tightly to that long robe of his.

Varys may be good at keeping secrets but, from the morsels that have been revealed about him so far on Game of Thrones, it’s clear that he’s very, very adept at re-inventing himself. Daenerys even calls him out for his side-switching at the start of season 7, episode 2. Yet, there remains the tantalising possibility that his he’s consistently in league with the Lord of Light or perhaps even marked for death by the Red Priestesses. Or maybe, just maybe, Varys is just a fish-man playing it straight for once?