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SPOILERS ahead up to and including Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5.
Varys was a sneaky spider, but he tried to make it clear his priority was never power like Littlefinger, it was keeping peace in the realm. He put the people first. He backed Daenerys Targaryen -- who was also seen to put the people first across the Narrow Sea -- but grew to distrust her, and turned on her after Tyrion gave him the news about Jon Snow's true claim.
Dany did as she had warned Varys and punished him for betraying her. Conleth Hill said he was "inconsolable" about Varys dying and he took it very personally.
It seemed to sting that actors in previous seasons were taken out for a meal or at least got a phone call when their characters were being written out, but Conleth Hill had to read about Varys' fate in the scripts. That was a consequence of the sheer number of deaths this season. He understood the reasoning, but told EW "it added to the personal temporary ill feeling."
In retrospect, Conleth Hill thought the way Varys was written out was "great," but he wanted to continue on the show till the end, so his overall feelings were bittersweet.
Conleth Hill also shared candid feelings on Varys' story being sidelined in the past two shortened seasons, with the seven rather rushed episodes of Season 7 and only six in Season 8. He was particularly upset to have not had another reunion with Petyr Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), after they spent so much deliciously witty time together in the early seasons in King's Landing:
I was very bummed to not have a final scene with [Littlefinger]. I was bummed not to have any reaction to him dying, if he was my nemesis. That’s been my feeling the last couple seasons, that my character became more peripheral, that they concentrated on others more. That’s fine. It’s the nature of a multi-character show. It was kind of frustrating. As a whole it’s been overwhelmingly positive and brilliant but I suppose the last couple seasons weren’t my favorite.
He has a lot of company in saying the last couple of seasons weren't his favorites. Conleth Hill continued on the same note to EW, although seeming to fight a tug-of-war with himself to not make it sound like a pity party. He knows he's lucky to have been able to have this experience, and Varys did get to have a significant part to play in the overall story, even getting some added scenes that weren't in the books. Still, the actor can't help but feel some frustration:
It just felt like after Season 6, I kind of dropped off the edge. I can’t complain because it’s six great seasons and I had some great scenes these last two seasons. But that’s when It changed for me a little. There was that Magnificent Seven trek up north to bring a white walker back. It makes total sense that Varys wouldn’t go. But the human in you is like, 'I want to go.' It made perfect sense. He’s not a hero, he’s not a fighter. And even when they went back to King’s Landing a couple times they sneaked him in there. They had set it up that he knew the city like the back of his hand so I guess he was just … I dunno. I’m not dissatisfied on the whole. It sounds like I am. But it’s been brilliant.
I think it's safe to say we all get what he's saying. That's the bittersweet part of Game of Thrones for an actor -- you have to be grateful for the wonderful scenes they gave you, and try not to get upset when you don't continue to get the best scenes. (At least he's not in Emilia Clarke's shoes.)
It sounds like he just wanted to be part of the action in any capacity, but there were just so many characters to balance in Season 7-8, there wasn't time for much character development. If Game of Thrones had more episodes in Season 7 and Season 8, maybe Varys would have time for better scenes. He did have a lovely goodbye scene with Tyrion Lannister in the May 12 episode. Hill said he especially loved Varys' previous scenes traveling with Tyrion. When talking about that, he couldn't help but segue back into his frustrations:
Last season and this season there were great scenes and then I’d come in and kind of give a weather report at the end of them — 'film at 11.' So I thought he was losing his knowledge. If he was such an intelligent man and he had such resources, how come he didn’t know about things? That added to my dismay. It’s now being rectified with getting a great and noble ending. But that was frustrating for a couple seasons.
Yes, at least Varys did get a strong ending, sticking to his beliefs, and many fans are lauding him for being "right" about Dany. Lena Headey said she had "mixed" feelings about how Cersei Lannister's story ended, hoping for something a bit different. I have a feeling that's going to be the case for many people. Only a few stars seem to be getting out of this with their characters unscathed. This is not a show about happy endings. We were certainly warned about that.
Game of Thrones fans are busy debating the merits of Episode 5, but we only have a few days now until Episode 6 ends the entire series. Varys may have been right that Dany would turn, but that doesn't mean he's also right that Jon Snow should be king when Jon has made it clear he's not interested. (Plus, Jon Snow was stabbed to death by his own people as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. We're all just going to ignore that as maybe a hint to bad leadership on his end?)
The Game of Thrones showrunners are going into hiding for the finale, but the rest of us can watch it Sunday, May 19 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. In the meantime, light a candle for all the surviving little birds out there who used to serve Varys and will now have to find another way to get by.