Going into the final season of Game of Thrones, a viewer could drown in all of the fan theories spreading across the internet. However, one seemed especially fascinating amid all the “Is Bran Stark the Night King?” chatter: the possibility Varys (Conleth Hill) would kill his queen, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). The speculation brought up the possibility that Varys, recognizing Dany’s immense power and possibly Mad King-esque behavior, would assassinate the queen for the good of the “Realm,” a concept he seems especially dedicated to. Dany would win the war, but lose the Iron Throne.
It is a particularly brutal theory, which has the exact bite of a real GoT tragedy. That’s why it seemed more plausible than many of the frothy hunches brewing throughout Reddit and the Twittersphere. Now, with latest episode “The Last of the Starks,” it all but promised that theory may come true. Varys really may kill Dany (or die trying).
Thrones begins the treason-flavored drama around Dany long before Varys starts dropping loaded statements against the dragon queen. First, Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) spends the post-Night King battle feast explaining why “Jon Snow” (Kit Harington) is such a special ruler. Jon can ride a dragon. Jon came back from the dead to keep fighting. People really love following Jon. Daenerys is so hurt by the complete rejection of this conversation, she nearly breaks a wine glass.
Unfortunately for Dany, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) takes Tormund’s praise a step further. After Sansa learns Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen, trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen (Wilf Scolding) and Lyanna Stark (Aisling Franciosi), she is even less inclined to trust Dany when her brother-cousin is an option. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), unaware of Jon’s parentage, tries to get Sansa to come around on Dany-as-queen. “What if there’s someone else? Someone better?,” a stone-faced Sansa asks. Of course, Jon/Aegon is the someone else.
On the boat south to Dragonstone/King’s Landing — remember, they’re on opposite sides of Blackwater Bay — Varys takes Sansa's question a step further during a meeting with Tyrion. The Lord of Whispers starts poking holes in Dany’s future as a monarch when Jon is right there. He reminds Tyrion that Jon has a point-blank better claim to the throne as the male heir of Rhaegar, the original crown prince of Westeros. And, not only is Jon technically next in line to rule — he’s beloved. He’s a war hero. With about eight people aware of Jon/Aegon’s lineage at the time of the boat ride, hundreds will know in a matter of time.
Could the imminent calls for Jon's crowning be fixed by a Targaryen-Targarystark marriage? No, according to Varys. Targaryens may have spent their dynasty interbreeding, but Jon was raised in the North, where incest is a high transgression. Additionally, Dany does not want her rule questioned by anyone, including her prospective nephew-husband. Later, Varys will reiterate this belief, saying Dany is too “strong” for Jon.
The final nail in the treasonous coffin is hammered in after Euron Greyjoy’s (Pilou Asbæk) fleet kills Rhaegal and kidnaps Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). “I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny… And I will serve it no matter the cost,” she tells Varys amid plans to storm King’s Landing and the Red Keep. This is a very bloody idea, since Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has opened the gates of the castle to the commoners. Taking the Red Keep with fire and blood now means slaughtering thousands of innocents in King’s Landing. Varys, lover of The Realm, is against it. Dany, doesn’t care.
So, Varys approaches Tyrion in one of Dragonstone’s prime plotting rooms. He doesn’t like how convinced Daenarys is of her own destiny. He believes such blind self-confidence leads to tyranny. “And then there’s the problem of Jon Snow,” he continues, asking Tyrion, “Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn’t want to rule?” You know, someone like Jon, who apparently has all the great qualities of a Westerosi ruler. He’s calm and thoughtful and a man, which will appeal to all the lords of Westeros. Team Stark-Targaryen will need those dubious individuals to settle the continent once the fighting is over, Varys says. Then, again, there’s the whole “Rhaegar is my dad” thing.
The entire conversation is a reference to a previous one these two Targaryen advisors shared in season 7’s “Eastwatch.” It was then, directly following the execution-by-fire of the Tarleys, Varys first suggested Dany may be a tyrant. The scene reminds viewers Varys is living with the guilt of finding traitors for Daenerys’ father, Aerys Targaryen (David Rintoul). Those so-called traitors were immediately executed via wildfire burning. When Tyrion says their queen isn't her father, Varys very ominously promises, “And she never will be.” At the time he claimed Dany wouldn’t grow into the Mad King because of her advisors, telling Tyrion, “You need to find a way to make her listen.”
But now, a season later, it is clear Varys believes Tyrion never found a way to make Dany listen, and it’s unlikely even Jon could get through to her more violent, destiny-driven tendencies. That’s bad for the people of “The Realm.” That’s why Varys promises Tyrion in “Last of the Starks,” “I will act in their interest no matter the personal cost.” What happens to Dany, Tyrion asks. Varys' answer is a telling, deadly look. Tyrion knows it’s as good as a death sentence and begs the Lord of Whispers not to murder their queen. It’s unlikely he will listen.
In season 7, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) told Varys he is fated to die in Westeros. Half of that prophecy has come true. It’s looking more and more likely the other half will come to pass soon — and execution by fire for attempted regicide will be the cause.