Varys plays a mostly benign ‘Game’ in HBO’s blockbuster fantasy
“Big, bigger, biggest” seems to be the motto for the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones,” which premieres Sunday, April 14, on HBO.
The epic fantasy blockbuster has just six more episodes in which to wrap up its sprawling storylines, although the last four of those will clock in at 80 minutes each instead of the usual hour’s duration.
The Season 7 finale teed up some jaw-dropping cliffhangers, including the relentless march southward by the army of the dead, led by the Night King perched atop a flying zombiedragon.
But the other big shocker in that finale was more personal: Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was revealed to be, not the illegitimate son of Ned Stark, but a royal descendant of the Targaryen line and, as such, the true heir to the Iron Throne.
It’s a development that is sure to have head-spinning implications for some of the show’s power players and underthe-radar manipulators alike, including Varys (Conleth Hill), the cunning spymaster with a knack for moving human chess pieces to ensure the most favorable results for Westeros.
“If you notice, most of the negative things that are said about Varys are said about him by those who don’t like him or trust him, but I always have believed he’s a good man,” Hill says. “He does his best. He’s not as self-centered as Littlefinger was, who was both egotistical and wanted everything for his own good. I believe Varys when he says ‘for the good of the realm,’ which he says so often it’s almost his hashtag. I’ve certainly seen nothing to contradict that.”
In a memorable Season 3 scene with Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister, Varys revealed details about the brutal life that had taught him survival skills, but also the value of kindness.
“Varys sees that kindness can be as effective as cruelty,” the actor says. “I loved a scene in Season 6, I think, where you saw him actually interrogate someone, and it was the opposite of what you may have been expecting. Instead of ‘I’m going to torture you and you’ll tell me what I want to know,’ it was ‘Why don’t I give you lots of money and get you and your son out of here?’ He knew what appealed to people, what buttons he could push to get information that would be useful to anyone, not just himself.”
The first time he had to shave his head for this role, a colleague helped him maintain perspective.
“Rory McCann, who plays The Hound, could tell I was unhappy and asked what was wrong,” Hill recalls. “‘I’ve sold my soul to HBO,’ I said. ‘Shut up and get in your Bentley,’ he told me.”
Conleth Hill plays the clever Varys in “Game of Thrones,” premiering Sunday on HBO.