“Ned tried a swallow. ‘Dregs.’ He felt as though he were about to bring the wine back up.
‘All men must swallow the sour with the sweet. High lords and eunuchs alike. Your hour has come, my lord.’”
In chapter 58, Varys visits Ned in his cell to bring him bitter wine and bitter news about what has happened to the Stark family and the realm at large. Varys’s words capture the abrupt and drastic changes of fortune that befall many characters throughout the story. These reversals of fortune, the novel suggests, are as inevitable as the hard times promised by the Stark words, “Winter is coming.” Varys speaks to Ned, for example, after Ned has gone from the king's Hand and one of the most powerful men in the kingdom to an accused traitor locked in a dirty cell. Robert’s fortunes also continue changing for the worse from the day he becomes king to the day a pig’s tusk impales him. Drogo takes an abrupt fall from a powerful khal to a brain-dead body. Other characters have even more frequent reversals of fortune. Daenerys ascends to power over the khalasar, descends into a miserable widowhood after her stillbirth, and then returns to power as the master of three dragons. Tyrion begins the story as a noble lord, becomes Catelyn’s prisoner, and then rises to lead a small army into battle. Life, Varys implies, is both sour and sweet. Everyone will experience both triumphs and failures, and as we cannot always control our fates, one has no choice but to accept both together.