Game of Thrones has introduced this weird foreign land populated by characters who share the names from the ASOIAF source–but very little else. In fact, these characters might reign supreme as the worst characters the TV show has debuted to date.
Originally, viewers suspected that we might be treated to a favorite of many book-readers: the distant sands of Dorne, chock full of intrigue and snark, badassery in all shapes and sizes, cunning fights and silver tongue, delicate matters handled with discreet plays, and the quiet anger that simmers constantly below the surface.
We get something that might have once resembled the sprawling arid landscape, home to Sunspear and the joyous Water Gardens, playground for the wild and deadly Sand Snakes, populated by strong and free-willed people whose allegiance to the Iron Throne is tenuous at best. But it’s not. Sure, some of the names are the same. Everything is ruled over by the benevolent Doran Martell, Oberyn’s older brother and father to Trystane Martell, the teenaged youth who managed to make the cut where his siblings–Arianne and Quentyn–were left behind. Oberyn’s daughters, known collectively as the Sand Snakes, roam the desert and prove their prowess. Ellaria Sand, who played as a completely different and far more recognizable character whilst at Oberyn’s side, returns to Dorne a bitter shell of mischaracterization.
If you’ve come to this article hoping for a comprehensive explanation that softens the devastating blow that is Dorne, making sense of the seemingly senseless direction D&D have chosen for our Martell frenemies, or even a theory that could justify the bloodbath of character both physically and mentally, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Of course, this disappointment will pale in comparison to the utter shit show that occurred on TV screens around the world as the poorly acted Sand Snakes rebelled against every shred of hope we had for Dorne. Dornish fans struggled through an underwhelming introduction only to watch in horror as their group of seriously badass folks
duked it out in the sands of Dorne made bad sex jokes and fumed while literally stabbing family members in the back.
Elaria Sand and the infamous Sand Snakes had a rough season 5. They were under-utilized, poorly written, and completely unrecognizable. Supposedly seeking vengeance for their slain father, Oberyn, as well as still carrying the insult of Elia Martell’s death, the stab-happy gals should be thrilled Oberyn’s dead–he’d probably murder them all himself were he still alive.
Seriously though. Everything they’ve done is pretty much the exact opposite of what Oberyn would have wanted. Ellaria’s descent into rampaging child killer is literally the last thing Oberyn’s closest and most beloved should assent to. We’ve missed the mark by a wide margin. Like, if the mark was Dorne, the spear landed at the gates to Castle Black.
We’ve already watched as Ellaria poisons the child Mycrella Baratheon (“We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne” echoes sadly in the distance) in a move that baffled and astounded book-readers. Dorne is in the throes of rebellion, yes, and Ellaria Sand and the cunning Sand Snakes are not thrilled about the goings-on as orchestrated by passive Doran Martell, but they’re not going around becoming kinslayers or any such bullshit. Missing entirely is fiery Arianne Martell, Doran’s eldest daughter and the woman leading the charge to crown Myrcella. Yeah, crown. Not kill. Crown. The rebellious faction of Dorne intends to declare war, alright–but not by destroying its own infrastructure in the process.
Instead, we have a straight up massacre in which these lackluster ladies take out not only the perfectly innocent–if not slightly pacifist–Prince of Dorne and his heir, the prince Trystane, not to mention Prince Doran’s best warrior. Areo Hotah. RIP, you giant ball of wasted potential. This is basically the -cue heavy sigh- moment before I just start drinking liquor straight from the bottle.
It’s brutal. Dirty. And not dirty in the sly cunning way Dornish warriors prize–completely and utterly dishonorable. The coup is little more than a massacre. And may I reiterate yet again how far off the mark kinslaying is from Oberyn’s wishes? He’s been pissed off for years because his sister was murdered–one does not address this grievance by killing his brother, too. The entire set up is nonsensical, and the motivation the writers are clinging to doesn’t fit.
If anything, it’s worth mentioning the magical powers that helped Nymeria and Obara suddenly show up on Trystane’s boat. Magic is really making a comeback in Westeros! And yeah, I’ve seen the justification that they followed him and slipped on board in King’s Landing, but you know what? No. I refuse to accept that a Prince of Dorne had no better protection or sense to notice a pair of stowaways. We can even go back and ask what the actual fuck he was still doing sailing to King’s Landing–they were not all that far out when the poison hit Myrcella’s system, and I’m pretty sure Jaime could have dumped the kid as soon as trouble reared its head. This is an even larger plot hole in the giant sink hole that is Dorne.
At any rate, it doesn’t make sense. And I’m angry about it. You’re angry about it. Your best friend is angry about it. Most of reddit is angry about it. Oberyn Martell is thanking the fucking Seven that he’s dead right now so he doesn’t have to witness the shitstorm his homeland has been unfairly thrust into.
It’s not good.
Of course, here’s the kicker…
“Weak” men have been eliminated from Dorne. And the women rise to power over the sands.
This should be a moment we can celebrate. Putting the Sand Snakes in charge of Dorne could be an interesting play–before the writers turned these ladies into rampaging kinslayers, lacking in honor and self-control, so overcome with rage that reason has left them.
It could have acted to reforge the potential alliance between Martell and Targaryen lost through the exclusion of Quentyn, the son Doran Martell secretly sends across the Narrow Sea to seek Daenerys’ hand in marriage and unite the powers of Martell and Targaryen against the Lannisters (oh yeah, remember how Doran was actually secretly planning his own goddamn series of rebellions on the DL? Everyone just needed to control their shit for a few more days). But right now, even that possibility makes no sense. There has been no indication that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have any interest in setting someone new on the throne. They just want mindless bloodshed and petty revenge. All of the intelligence they so shrewdly navigated in the novels has been stripped away. Their characterization has been so thoroughly butchered that the advancement of plot from this point out would feel forced and ridiculous. We’ve been given the characters in name, sporting outfits that the novel-counterparts would likely be found in, but lacking every whit of personality and morality in favor of hatred, rage, and a single-minded thirst for blood and sex.
Once upon a time, we were really excited to see Dorne. Readers were all ready for some kickass ladies and a new powerhouse to further complicate the struggle for the throne.
Now, we’re all wishing it had never happened. At this point, it’s not even salvageable. There is no explanation that can soften the blow, make fans feel better about the misdirection of this entire region, and make us glad to see Dorne back on our TV screen.
Can we all just agree to act like show!Dorne isn’t a thing? Like, man, I really wish we’d see Dorne in Thrones some time. They’re really missing out on some cool characters! They definitely didn’t butcher everyone and destroy our faves. The way they handled Ellaria Sand isn’t a huge slap in the face. Areo Hotah got an amazing fight scene! There is no war in Ba Sing Se.