The second episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season begins in Dragonstone, where Daenerys is standing in Stannis Baratheon’s old war room with Tyrion Lannister and Varys.
[Warning: The following contains spoilers for the second episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season.]
After proclaiming that Dragonstone doesn’t feel like home — despite it being the place of her birth — Daenerys turns to Varys to grill him with a series of questions that have been on her mind for quite some time. After her father, King Aerys II Targaryen (also known as the Mad King), was killed, Varys began to serve his usurper, King Robert Baratheon. During that time, Robert — seeking to wipe out the Targaryen line — ordered the assassination of Daenerys. With the exception of the late Ned Stark, no one tried to prevent it.
Not even Varys.
This is where Daenerys begins to shine in this episode. She asks Varys why she should trust him — after all, he’s served the Lannisters and the Baratheons for quite some time. Despite Tyrion’s helpless pleas to trust the one person he’s put his faith in over the years, Daenerys continues to drill Varys with question after question.
“Who gave the order to kill me?”
“How can I trust you?”
Varys’ response is one of the few times we’ve seen him get emotional. He tells Daenerys that, after being born into poverty and scrambling to stay alive, he pledges his allegiance to no queen or king, but rather to the people of Westeros. He affirms that he believes Daenerys is the only person who could bring peace to King’s Landing and Westeros. But he also tells her he won’t stand for a ruler who isn’t best for the people.
“Incompetence should not be rewarded with blind loyalty,” Varys says to a smirking Daenerys.
Daenerys, staring at a slightly ruffled Varys, asks him to pledge one thing.
“Swear this to me, Varys: If you ever think I'm failing the people, you won’t conspire behind my back.”
While Daenerys seems to inherently know she can’t trust Varys, she’s keenly aware of his singular talents and perspective. She knows how important Varys is to knocking Cersei Lannister off the Iron Throne and she’s not willing to give that up, but it also speaks to a much larger theme on Game of Thrones.
Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen Daenerys learn what it means to be a strong and empowering ruler, someone who cares about the people she’s been tasked with leading and protecting. Asking Varys for his true opinion about her leadership skills — in particular, asking the man who was tasked with counseling her sadistic father — to ensure that she can be the queen she imagines herself to be is a big step for the character.
Daenerys accepting Varys in her inner circle after her interrogation of his character is just another example of Daenerys mastering the game. She has the army — and the dragons — but she’s also embracing the political game that comes with taking a shot at the Iron Throne. Daenerys has become more skeptical, and that inability to trust anyone — but still see the potential in their value — is only going to help her ascend to the throne. She’s aware of the change she’s undergoing, too, and that’s why the scene where she asked Varys to keep tabs on her once she has the throne is so important.
Daenerys and Varys’ scene wasn’t just one of the best that this emotionally packed episode had to offer; it was one that people have been waiting for since the first season. So far, this season has been about realizations and pieces coming together. The Daenerys and Varys conversation is a perfect example of everything that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have worked on since 2011, coming together in near-perfect fashion.
Cold first scene with Varys and Dany. Dany ain’t playing any games now. #GameofThrones— Evan Barnes (@evan_b) July 24, 2017
10 min into Episide 2, Conleth Hill just gave what will likely be the best monologue of Game of Thrones Season 7. Great Lord Varys moment.— Adam Best (@adamcbest) July 24, 2017
As Daenerys plans to meet up with Jon Snow and figure out the best plan of attack on Cersei, it’s become more evident than ever that Varys and his little birds will play a big role in figuring out what to do next. No one has the information that Varys does and, as we’ve seen now, there is no one whom Daenerys will rely on more to keep her in check if she does win the throne.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.