In Defense of the Sand Snakes

Posted: August 4, 2015 in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , ,

This post will be covering details from the fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones (and therefore all the seasons leading up to that as well.) Should you be behind on your TV watching (you troglodyte) then I recommend you not read this post.

(Others might recommend you not read my posts for other reasons. I do try to be entertaining, though.)

SandSnakes

He had better be entertaining. Or a spear might be thrown into his face. Which would entertain us…

Specifically, this post will be talking about Dorne, the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms and possibly the weakest storyline in the fifth season. Or was it? (It probably was.)

I’m taking a pro-Dorne stance, or at least I’m going to try and find the silver lining in that dark cloud. It’s what I do.

In Defense of the Sand Snakes

So, why am I presenting this as a defense of the Sand Snakes, and not writing an In Defense of Dorne post or whatever? I guess the Sand Snakes are the focal point for viewer ire when it comes to the Dornish plot, but I admit that’s a sweeping generalization.

It just seemed like people were having legitimate gripes with the Dornish plot, but really piled on the Sand Snakes, including some weird comments involving how they looked (both physically and their fashion sense.)

I’ll tackle those particularly shallow comments on a backup post; this article will be focusing on the events taking place in Dorne and the Sand Snakes’ role in that plotline.


In season 4, Prince Oberyn came to King’s Landing and everyone got excited. Feel free to argue with me if you must, benighted fools, but Pedro Pascal was great as the dangerous and vengeful prince from Dorne.

OberynAndEllaria

Did you know that “Oberyn” is a Rhoynish word for “awesomely sexy?” No? Well now you do.

He showed up, he was awesome, he fought the Mountain, and crunch. Somewhere in between he mentioned that he had eight daughters, all Sands (Sand is the surname given to bastard children of high birth in Dorne, just like Snow is a bastard name in the North, etc.)

In between seasons 4 and 5, production news broke that three actresses had been cast in the roles of Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene Sand. Oberyn’s eldest three daughters and all “Sand Snakes.”

Book readers were delighted (when not complaining that Tyene’s hair wasn’t right because her mom was supposed to be from Volantis and what about the other five Sand Snakes and what about Prince Doran’s son and daughter Quentyn and Arianne, and [etc…])

There was this sense that maybe a little bit of the Oberyn magic would reappear in the show with the inclusion of his reputedly dangerous daughters, who could possibly have prominent roles. After all, Jaime Lannister was rumored to be traveling to Dorne (a departure from his published story, but he’d possibly be inhabiting the role of one or two kingsguards from the books) so excitement was a possibility. After all, exciting things happen around Ser Jaime. (Other than in season 2 when he spent most of his time locked in a cage.)

I’ll be the first to admit that on initial viewing, things didn’t seem all that engaging in Dorne.

There’s an in-depth account from Neil Miller of the Film School Rejects website, written after the Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken episode. It detailed how the show was failing at all things Dornish. It’s a great read, written by a knowledgeable Dorne scholar.

But I wondered if this was a specific book-reader problem. In truth, I had forgotten what the Sand Snakes had been up to in A Feast for Crows (the book that deals with Dorne, Myrcella, Prince Doran, etc.) I mostly remembered the events that took place in Dorne and who the major actors were. But I couldn’t remember major Sand Snake involvement.

Chris Richardson, a friend of mine who is a semi-regular guest on the Geek Girl Soup podcast (Susan, Kelly, and Amelia are nice enough to allow geek guys on their podcast) stated in GGS’ season 5 recap that he had asked his book reader friends, the ones who were complaining about the show’s adaptation of Dorne, exactly what was so interesting about book-Dorne that was missing from the show. They couldn’t actually articulate it. (Which might be their problem, because a lot of intricate and cool stuff went down.)

Interested in this, I decided to ask my friend Bob, my go-to guy for show watcher opinions (many of them wrong) what his thoughts were of the Dornish storyline.

Bob: Awful. Waste of time.
Me: Really? What was so bad about it?
Bob: It just didn’t live up to the hype. You smug book readers were going all crazy about the Sand Snakes, and they just had a stupid fight.

Fair enough. We book readers might have over-sold the importance of the Sand Snakes before the season. I went and checked my book sources.

Feel free to skip to the next section if you don’t want to know any book details, but I promise it’s not all that spoilery.


In A Feast for Crows, Prince Doran was lobbied by various Sand Snakes who wanted revenge for the death of Prince Oberyn.

  • Obara wanted war, and suggested that they strike first, to capture symbolic Oldtown and raze the border between Dorne and Highgarden (which just happens to be the closest kingdom within reach. And Obara doesn’t like Oldtown, apparently.)
  • Nymeria wanted revenge, and she wanted dead Lannisters. (Which would also be a war.)
  • Tyene suggested coronating Myrcella as queen of the Seven Kingdoms, marrying her off to Trystane, and challenging Tommen’s rule (Dornish law has succession based on age, not necessarily with male-preference.) That would probably lead to … war.

Prince Doran locked them all up. He also locked up the other five Sand Snakes (which included an infant) without concern on where they fell on the Dove-Hawk scale. He also locked up Ellaria Sand, just to be safe. Prince Doran was a cautious dude.

So, if the show had strictly followed the books in regards to the Sand Snakes, this would have been their involvement all season:

SandSnakesJail

Instead, the show did a “What If Doran Didn’t Lock Them Up?” type of storyline.

Maybe the show could have done that still, by Doran not preemptively locking them up and instead have the Sand Snakes more closely follow the Arianne Martell storyline from the books? Princess Arianne had a ton of conspirators that wouldn’t be missed if they had been replaced by her Sand cousins on the show.

Yup. But they didn’t. We didn’t get Arianne, and that was a non-starter. Am I going to defend that decision? Nope.


Okay, I’m out of book details, and back into only talking about the show. Let’s tackle a variety of complaints.

We Don’t Hurt Little Girls In Dorne. Except When We Do.

Midway through season four, Cersei Lannister was chatting up Prince Oberyn, who would be one of the judges in her brother’s regicide trial. Cersei was trying to get Oberyn’s sympathies to her plight as a mother who had just lost a son to murder, and brought up that her beloved Myrcella was essentially a prisoner in Dorne.

Oberyn: We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.

Oberyn had expressed statements like this before. At Joffrey’s wedding reception, Oberyn had had an interesting passive aggressive war of words with Tywin and Cersei, airing his grievance over the murder of his sister and particularly, his niece and nephew’s murder. How that wouldn’t be a thing where he comes from.

Viewers took this statement to heart, that Dorne was indeed unique that children might not be endangered. Cersei was not so convinced.

Cersei: They hurt little girls everywhere.

Why listen to Cersei? Oberyn is clearly a more honest and forthright character.

So, when Ellaria Sand and Oberyn’s daughters were planning to abduct and possibly mutilate or kill Myrcella Baratheon, to punish Cersei over Oberyn’s death, many viewers felt that it was an insult to Oberyn’s worldview, and inconsistent for what we knew about Dorne.

Honestly, we didn’t know squat about Dorne from what Oberyn was saying. It’s quite possible that as far as Oberyn was concerned, the Dornish did not hurt little girls. Even if they did.

Oberyn might not have hurt little girls. When he said “we don’t hurt little girls” perhaps the more honest answer would have been “I don’t hurt little girls.”

Probably the best statement on the topic would be this:

Jorah Mormont: There is a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand

The Dornish are people, not saints or ants or something. They can have different reactions to things.

For Ellaria, Obara, Nymeria, and Tyene, that beast has stirred. Cersei was right on the money.

Ellaria saw her love’s head smashed to a pulp. Oberyn’s daughters loved him and if they’re not following his inclination in regards to Myrcella’s inviolate state, they are certainly following his passion for revenge. We shouldn’t tell the Sand Snakes how to feel and react, or that they are doing these things wrong.

And isn’t it more real that they behave differently than we might expect, based on one line of dialogue from their father?

I’ve referenced Stoke’s overthinkingit.com article about Game of Thrones before, which talks about how many of the peoples who are not part of the mainstream Westerosi culture are cookie-cutter or relatively non-differentiated from one another. The Dothraki are different than the Wildlings, but one Dothraki has pretty much the same views on the world as another Dothraki.

I’m pleased that the Sand Snakes are different from their father, if only to confront our expectations.

Ellaria was clearly lobbying for revenge, but there was the implication that the Sand Snakes only got fully on board Team Vengeance when word came to them that Jaime Lannister was making a covert move into Dorne. I’m willing to suppose that the Sand Snakes were somewhat on the fence about this, after all Ellaria made a point to ask Obara if she was in or out, and Obara made a point of monologuing her backstory. Which wasn’t really related to the question at hand. (I’ll talk more on that later.)

My point is that people who say that the Sand Snakes were just one dimensional villains (villains?) should at least consider that the Sand Snakes chose their path, and not out of boringly servicing the plot. If Jaime had not tried to ninja his way into the mix, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Speaking of Ser Jaime…

Jaime’s Impossible Mission Force

We were introduced to the Sand Snakes on the show as they reacted to news that Jaime Lannister had been smuggled into Dorne. They correctly assessed that Jaime was there to spirit Myrcella away.

This info came from the ship captain who had brought Jaime to Dorne. Jaime’s fighting man Bronn had previously expressed concern that the captain might look to get paid twice, by taking Jaime’s money for silence, and taking someone else’s money to talk. And that’s just what happened.

ShipCaptain

I suppose the gag signifies that he was done talking.

But it looked like the Sand Snakes got the info by paying him with a bucket of scorpions, and then a spear to the face as a gratuity.

This entire exchange seemed to confuse readers. If the captain had brought them information, why kill him? Wouldn’t that dry up a future source of info? Or deter others from bringing intelligence their way?

The only explanation I can recall from people asking these questions was that maybe the Sand Snakes, being the daughters of honorable Prince Oberyn, felt obliged to repay the captain’s treachery by killing him. Even though he was betraying their enemy, Jaime Lannister, betrayal got the captain punishment.

That was a really weird assumption to make. I’m not saying that they’re wrong, I just think there’s a much more logical explanation.

Captain: Greetings! Forgive my intrusion, but I believe I have some information that you would greatly benefit from having.
Obara: Oh really?
Nymeria: What an interesting thing to say.
Tyene: Will it involve me taking off my shirt?
Captain: Probably not. I know that you recently lost a father, so sad, and if I am not mistaken, you feel that the Lannisters are partly responsible.
Obara: Lannisters! Ptui!
Captain: Perhaps we could come to a mutually agreeable arrangement. Since you will benefit, perhaps I can benefit as well.
Nymeria: Here’s some cash. Spill the beans, baldie.

JaimeBoat

Captain: Recently, I had the pleasure of Ser Jaime Lannister on my ship. He was traveling with me a short time, and gave me some remuneration to keep silent as to his itinerary. Knowing what a scoundrel that he is, and how his family had aggrieved you ladies, I felt it wrong for me to remain silent.
Tyene: And?
Captain: Sadly, my memory comes and goes, it’s the long nights in storms. Because he had paid me, perhaps if I am paid again, it will jog the memory of what I am to remain silent on, and I can relay it to you.
Nymeria: Your memory certainly is bad. I just paid you.
Captain: Oh, perhaps the sum you handed me was insufficient. Perhaps more would suffice.
Obara: Or maybe we can bury you up to your neck in the sand, and drop scorpions on you, until you remember everything. EVERYTHING.
Captain: I don’t see how that would be helpful.
Obara: Still, we’ll give it a shot. *Clubs captain on head*

So, the Sand Snakes might be so rigidly honor-bound that even Stannis Baratheon would say “whoa, lighten up people” or they’re just people who don’t like to be jacked around by greedy greed-heads. And since the captain had been well paid by Jaime, but just couldn’t take the cash and go his way, we can probably assume he’s driven by avarice. To his detriment.

I’m going with the latter.

The Poisonous Fight in the Water Gardens

I’m not going to try to defend the fight between Jaime, Bronn, and the Sand Snakes. Those five minutes and four seconds devoted to Myrcella’s attempted abduction (or rescue…) probably won’t be listed among the series’ finest moments.

It might have been better if the show had just shown a blank screen with lettering, breaking down the action.

  • Jaime and Bronn sneak into the Water Gardens, they find Myrcella.
  • Myrcella is not interested in leaving, Bronn knocks Trystane out.
  • The Sand Snakes show up! There’s a fight! Bronn takes a superficial cut!
  • A ton of guards show up, arresting Team Lannister and Team Ellara.
  • Whew! Exciting!

In general, the Rule of Cool is “Show, Don’t Tell” but in this case, it might have been preferable just to tell us what happened. A little post-fight dialogue maybe…

Jaime: I’m captured again? How does this keep happening to me?
Bronn: Not see why you’re crying. I’m the one that that little girl cut.
Jaime: Stop being dramatic, it’s only a scratch. And it’s fair repayment for you knocking Prince Trystane out cold.
Areo: Silence you two! Ser Jaime, you’ll be taken to quarters suitable for your station. Your man will be held in the ladies wing (we’re remodeling the men’s section and there’s really no room.)
Bronn: Noice! I bet I’ll see some skin, eh your lordship?

See? Bryan Cogman himself could do no better! (But I digress…)

I think it’s already been heavily talked about how Game of Thrones was given permission to film in the Alcazar, an 8th century fortress and royal residence in Spain. On paper, that might have seemed like a good idea, to film in an ancient and opulent real-world structure to represent Prince Doran’s Water Gardens retreat.

Alcazar-Water-Gardens

I bet there’s not much swimming that goes on in those Water Gardens, despite what Oberyn tells Cersei.

But in practice, it doesn’t seem as if the team in Seville had enough footage and time to shoot a compelling fight scene. There’s a reason the fight in Hardhome looks so great. They shot it for weeks and weeks. (Okay, they needed a lot of time because the Hardhome sequence was much more complicated than anything going on at the gardens.)

Certainly these are reasons for the fight to be choppy and uninspiring, but not excuses. Like I said, I’m not defending the execution, other than to say they probably did the best they could do with what they had at hand, and hoped it would be better?

But even if the fight between Jaime and Obara had been breath-taking, and even if the fight between Bronn and Oberyn’s daughters Nymeria and Tyene had been jaw-droppingly exciting, the questions and criticisms of the scenario would remain. Here’s much of what I heard…

  • What a coincidence! That these two groups would pick the same moment to head after Myrcella.
  • Does Areo Hotah (Prince Doran’s guard captain) have a set of Jaime Lannister trading cards or something? How did he immediately recognize Jaime?
  • Tyene had a poisoned dagger with a ridiculously slow acting poison? What the hell? Who would choose to do that?

I’ll handle these questions, more or less in reverse order.

Poison

It’s a fair question. Tyene’s dagger was coated with a slow-acting poison, that she had the antidote for. Wouldn’t it have made more sense, from a combat perspective, to have a poison work really fast? I mean, who would go into a fight with a weapon poisoned with a slow-acting agent?

Oberyn

Uh, Oberyn did.

In his fight with Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, his spear had been coated in Manticore venom, and had been prepared to prolong an agonizing death. Not a swift one.

Oberyn wanted to punish the Mountain, and so he chose something punishing and terrible. And not immediately fatal.

Tyene’s dagger that cut Bronn was coated with a slow-acting poison, although unlike the Manticore variety, did not carry extreme pain as a payload. Why would she do that?

We can assume that Tyene made a choice to have a poisoned dagger, and the nature of the poison. (We don’t know if her other dagger had been poisoned with something more fast acting.  But let’s assume that she chose daggers that carried a slow acting agent for which she carried the antidote.)

  • If Myrcella had been cut during the mission (hey, things happen) having her die immediately of poison would be bad for the whole “abduction” part of the plan.
  • If Tyrstane had been cut during the mission (hey, things happen) having him die immediately of poison would be very bad.
  • Had Tyene or her sisters been cut during the mission (hey, things happen) having them die immediately of poison would be bad in general.

I’m not saying that any of the above actions might have happened, even by accident (particularly Tyene cutting herself or her sisters) but there might have come a moment to press the edge of the blade to either Lannister or Martell flesh, and that’s when Tyene would have wanted to have all her options.

If you stab someone with a poisoned blade and then they die, that’s the end of that relationship. If you cut someone with a blade that carries a slow-acting poison, provided you have the antidote, you now have leverage over them. As Tyene demonstrated with Bronn.

So why give Bronn the antidote? Other than to establish the effects of the poison and the existence of the antidote necklaces that Tyene and Ellaria wore?

I admit, the show-necessary-reason is probably the only real reason, but I can speculate why Tyene gave Bronn the antidote. Having Bronn die would serve no real purpose, and maybe Tyene is not that cold and callous. As well, Bronn dying from poison might raise the ire of Prince Doran, since that demonstrates conclusively that Tyene had been bringing insidious weaponry into a situation involving his son Trystane.

Bronn now owes her his life. Maybe she truly enjoyed his roguish charm. Maybe she liked having her sisters watch a man begging for his life, and her literally exercising the power of life and death.

Any reason would work. It’s not inexplicable.

But what about all those coincidences? And Areo recognizing Ser Jaime?

To be fair, I don’t think anyone is really all that hung up about Areo recognizing Jaime Lannister. We could just hand wave it away, but I think it’s an important moment, and supports a theory I have that I feel redeems some of what was happening in Dorne.

We know that the Sand Snakes and Ellaria knew that Jaime was in Dorne, and was likely to try to grab Myrcella. And so they made a move to abduct her first. They knew the Water Gardens, presumably they knew when they could head in, when Trystane would likely be in the gardens making out with Myrcella. Showing up midday might have been their best move for a quick in and out, particularly if Dorne is one of those places where things shut down midday due to the heat.

I can’t reconcile the coincidence of Jaime and Bronn showing up at the same time, really. It’s as if they came to scout the Water Garden area, didn’t find any guards, went in further (Jaime likes to improvise) and boom, there was Myrcella.

JaimeBronnDorne

Seven Hells, Ser Jaime! I’ve been in outhouses with more security than this place!

It’s as if normal security protections had been withdrawn. Hmmm.

Then the Sand Snakes showed up, who possibly had an even easier time avoiding patrols since there had been none, the two groups fight, and an overwhelming number of guards, led by Prince Doran’s guard captain, appear to apprehend everyone including Ellaria who had been waiting at the get-away rendezvous but found her exits blocked efficiently.

So, this all happened by chance? I don’t think so.

It’s debatable that Doran knew about the Sand Snakes plan (I think he did, which I’ll get to in a moment) but he clearly knew Jaime was coming for Myrcella. And he made things easy for Jaime to wander in and get captured.

Areo’s immediate recognition of Jaime gives that away. Could there be any other explanation? Maybe, but Jaime couldn’t have been that identifiable. One of the complaints of the fight between the Sand Snakes and Team Lannister: it was really hard to know who was fighting who. And I’m sure we audience members have seen a lot more of Jaime than Areo has.

AreoHotah

Smug show-watchers! Maybe I’m just a well traveled individual!

But how could Prince Doran know that Jaime was in-country, and heading for Myrcella?

As usual, this is all speculation, and I really don’t even need to speculate hard. If Varys can know that Catelyn Stark’s hand was cut defending Bran from an assassin wielding a Valyrian steel blade, just because he’s Varys, then really there’s very little need to ever justify someone having up to date intelligence.

Prince Doran: You see, I knew you were coming.
Jaime: What? How?
Prince Doran: Varys told me. We’re very tight.
Bronn: Makes perhaps sense, m’lord.

But I don’t need to make assumptions like that. There are more logical and reasonable explanations that don’t have to rely on pulling Varys (or possibly Littlefinger, the other reputedly omniscient spymaster) out of a bag.

The captain who smuggled Jaime into Dorne was quick to alter his intended course to Oldtown, so he could seek out the Sand Snakes to sell them info. It’s quite possible that he also informed Prince Doran about his highborn passenger before selling that information again to Oberyn’s daughters, but I actually don’t think that’s what happened. Most likely, this is what occurred:

Sunspear Portmaster: Arrr, ye scalliwags. Yer ship ‘as been idle in me berth for days. Ye need to pay me more gold for the parking, or shove off, arrrrr!
First Mate: Now see here, my good man. This vessel will not drift an inch until our good captain returns to her. We hearty souls were ordered to await his return, and await we shall!
Sunspear Portmaster: And where yer captain be? Arrrrrr?
First Mate: Well, he was last seen going into the desert with the lovely natural daughters of your deceased Prince Oberyn.
Sunspear Portmaster: And why would ‘e be with the Sand Snakes?
First Mate: How should I know? Well, I hate to gossip, but it’s possible he planned on telling them that he smuggled Ser Jaime Lannister onto the Dornish coast some days prior.
Sunspear Portmaster: Arrrr, lets go discuss this with the authorities.
First Mate: Splendid! I’d love a spot of gentlemanly discourse!

(I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how that conversation would have gone.)

So it’s not hard to imagine that Prince Doran knew that Jaime was in-country, and like Ellaria and her team, deduced that Myrcella was his goal.

So… why would Doran let Jaime walk right in?

In general, if you suspect someone of shenanigans, it’s best to catch them with the hand in the cookie jar.

Wait! You also claimed that Prince Doran knew about Ellaria’s plot.

I did claim that! Thank you for reading that above.

It’s not hard to imagine that Prince Doran suspected Ellaria would do something like this. She’d been practically foaming at the mouth, and dropping veiled threats.

035-Olenna

What veil?

Or just plain old naked threats, rather.

But would that be enough for Doran to predict the abduction? Probably not. I assume that Doran probably had someone on the inside who tipped him off.

JaimeObara

Obara.

Obara and the Sand Snakes have been criticized by the show-watchers for being lame in combat. After all, the three of them outnumbered the two foreigners. (I actually find that an odd criticism; people we know usually triumph over people we don’t know. It’s why Grey Worm could kill a half a dozen guys in two seconds. It’s a TV thing.)

Some of its fair. Bronn was taking on two of them, and he did okay. Or did he? He got cut, with a poisoned blade. I think it’s reasonable to say that Bronn lost that fight.

But Jaime held his own against Obara, and Jaime sucks now because of his missing right hand!

Again, that’s accurate. It might have been that it took all Jaime had to survive. Although he still has fighting skills, and he spent his efforts towards defense.

But I prefer to think that Obara wasn’t so much trying to end the fight but prolong it, until Areo showed up.

Where’s the proof?

Varys told me.

I kid! I kid!

I don’t have any proof, but it makes sense to me. Of the three of them, Obara was the one that Ellaria had to inquire if she was in or out on the revenge plot. Obara made a big speech, which didn’t really address the question.

When they were captured, Obara made a big defiant speech. A totally unnecessary speech of defiance.

I am Obara Sand! I fight for Dorne! Who do you fight for?

Areo knows who she is and she should know that Areo fights for Prince Doran, OBVIOUSLY. Hell, Areo isn’t even Dornish, he’s from Norvos. Duh! (Sorry, book reader smugness revealed there.)

That speech made no sense unless she was overcompensating for tipping off Prince Doran’s men that she and her half-sisters were coming for Myrcella, and that Ellaria would be waiting in the wings to be rounded up.

Obara Sand, a Serpent among Sand Snakes

So, why would Obara reveal the abduction plan to Prince Doran?

I don’t know. (Varys kept that a secret from me.) I can make some speculations: maybe she didn’t like Ellaria (who wasn’t Obara’s mother after all), maybe she supported Prince Doran in general. But those would all be guesses. I do believe that Obara is thinking long term, though.

Obara-Sand

I think Obara is playing the Game of Thrones. (Hey, that’s the name of the show…) I’ll say more about that in a moment.

Wait! If Obara was a spy for Doran, then explain her not ratting out the last minute go-for-broke plot to poison Myrcella at the docks. Your theory is as dead as the princess!

Actually, that feeds into my crackpot theory about Obara.

Obara was willing to sabotage the plan to abduct Myrcella, but was completely on board with Trystane accompanying the Lannisters away from Dorne, with Myrcella’s minutes of life counting down to zero.

Let’s assume something bad happens to Trystane, in retaliation for Myrcella’s death. As far as we know from the show, Trystane is Prince Doran’s heir. (Because his older brother and sister are COMPLETELY ABSENT from the story, dammit!)

Who would be next in succession, assuming Prince Doran has no other children?

That would be Prince Oberyn’s legitimate children. Of which there are none.

But Obara is the eldest of Oberyn’s bastard daughters. If Doran had to legitimize one of them to re-establish the line of succession, his eldest niece would be the logical choice. Especially if she had been working with him when the rest of Doran’s niblings were working against his wishes.

I’m not at all convinced that this is what was going on in regards to the show, but until things are proven otherwise, I’m happy to imagine that these machinations will be revealed next season.


Closing Arguments

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a big show-apologist. I like the books, so I want to like the show. In general, it’s done an admirable job adapting the works. When the job it’s doing doesn’t seem to be as admirable… I try to look at it in a positive light. (Sometimes I squint, and/or hallucinate.)

At the end of the season, I knew I’d have to tackle defending the Dornish plotline, and I really wasn’t sure how. For many people (mostly book readers who were expecting the storyline from the books) Dorne was a huge disappointment. For others, it probably merely fell flat.

But, and maybe this is just a massive case of confirmation bias at work, the more I thought about Dorne and in particular the Sand Snakes, the more I felt that there might be something there. Something that might pay off next season.

Prince Doran in the books was very much on top of things, so what we see in the show works better if we imagine that Doran was in the know on both Jaime and Ellaria’s abduction plans.

The storyline in the books featured complicated co-conspirators with varying levels of reliability and personal agendas. If we can imagine Obara as not fully on Team Ellaria, and possibly more Team Obara than Team Doran, it adds depth and complexity to what might seem a very shallow and straightforward revenge plot.

So, like Fox Mulder, I want to believe. And until I see something that changes my opinion, I probably will.

Maybe there are others out there who were okay with the Sand Snakes. This is a safe place, feel free to express your opinion…

If you want to leave a non-spoilery opinion (talking about Dorne from the show exclusively, and doesn’t deal with book details) please leave it as a comment below.

If you’d like to discuss book-Dorne details, right on! But please use this link to go to my general Spoiler discussion page, so my non-book-reading friends can use the comment section of this page safely.

Here’s hoping that I won’t have to defend anything Dornish is Season Six. (And that would include the Season Five storyline. Hopefully it will be redeemed.)


Special mention goes to my blogging friend Haley of F*cked Up & Pretty. She recently made a formal request that I write an In Defense of Dorne article, because she wanted to feel better about the portrayal of the Martells and their people. This pleased me greatly since I had almost finished my In Defense of the Sand Snakes post, and I appreciated the request and the timing.

Hey Haley, here’s your post. Hopefully it’s satisfactory.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

Most images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.) 

I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. (The text I wrote, specifically, not the quotes from Jorah, Oberyn, Cersei, or Obara.)

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2015 Some Rights Reserved

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Comments
  1. Haylee says:

    I will take the Fox Mulder angle and hold out belief for better things (I’m good at this, you know seeing as I still have all digits crossed for the continued life of you know who!).

    But yes, as only a show watcher, it was a waste of time in my opinion, despite the stunning location. I remember being so excited about Jaime and Bronn pairing up for guaranteed hilarious adventures. Alas no. But never mind, even these failings don’t deter my love. Why else would I be jetting off to Ireland in a couple of weeks to hunt Kit Harington and stand in a field just to say my feet have touched the same grass as the Dothraki?! (Sooo excited!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alysonmiers says:

    You know, that DOES explain Obara’s not-answering-the-question speech, and her non-sequitur posturing of “I am Obara Sand! Daughter of Oberyn Martell!” At the time I just thought, “Child, nobody gives a fuck whose daughter you are. Take a seat.” But, yeah, her informing to Prince Doran would explain a lot.

    Of course, another explanation for her backstory speech is to establish her as a “choosing real weapons over tears” type of woman, which then sets her up to be extra-contemptuous of Ellaria when she pretends to be contrite. But, still, your theory does allow several questions to be answered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fully admit that in all likelihood, I’m giving way too much credit to the show-runners with my theories about Obara. But it makes me happy to think that this is what’s going on.

      Thank you so much for the feedback! (People, if you want to read extremely insightful Game of Thrones analysis and speculation, you should check out her blog, The Monster’s Ink)

      Alyson, I owe some Jaime speculation now that I’ve posted this article, and you did me the great kindness in reading and commenting. Thank you again!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sb2711 says:

    I just didn’t like the way the Snakes were portrayed….the seemed too weak for their roles…and so did Eliara Sand. The costumes they wore at the “farewell” gah! Ghastly. Why!!!!! Lots of questions Pat!

    The saving grace was Bron. And his song 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂

      Bronn was the best part of Dorne. I’m glad he sang The Dornishman’s Wife.

      There’s been buzz about the Sand Snakes being in Season Six, maybe they’ll take some corrective actions in their plotting and presentation.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. haley says:

    I really like your theory, Pat! This has made me slightly less cranky about Dorne, which is what I was hoping for from you 🙂 Since they seem to be going back to Spain for shooting, maybe we’ll get a little payoff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m very happy that I could reduce your crankiness, Haley!

      Some of the Sand Snake actors have been recently interviewed, implying that they’d be back next season, and like you said they’re doing more shooting in Spain, so I hope we’ll get some more Dornish action, that might have us view the Season 5 stuff differently.

      Thank you so much for the feedback, and for being predisposed for interest in a Dorne-based article. Thumbs up!

      Like

  5. Gaia says:

    Interesting theories. If somehow they are proven right, it would add much more dept and sense to the Sand Snakes’s plan. I’ll try to hold my faith in the show runners high – not the easiest thing to do, lately.

    I agree that a lot of complaint s may have sense only for the books readers, but it sort of makes it even worse, somehow, because people who haven’t read the book lost a great deal of character interactions and diverse personalities. I hope the Sand Snakes will feature in better plots and don’t get reduced to bloodthirsty warriors only, and maybe that some of Arianne’s old plot get assigned to them. I don’t think I’ll never get over how Ellaria lost all her forgiveness and wisdom.

    Off I go to read some more of your posts now :))

    Liked by 1 person

  6. joanna says:

    Ok, here’s the deal. Patrick, you’re overthinking it. The Disaster of Dorne was basically that, a disaster. How they got there (the show runners) and what went wrong? Well I have no idea. But it was silly silly silly and slightly pervy from start to finish. You want to be generous and save the situation, but I’m going with your ‘it would’ve been better with a blank screen and writing’. Kinda like an intermission card in the silent movies.

    “We don’t want to fuck it up so we’re not gonna show you anything”

    It’s a shame that the production company, having obviously spent considerable time and money negotiating with the Tourist Board and / or the Alcázar of Seville, botched ‘everything Dorne’. Whereas everything else on Game of Thrones is quite simply .. superb.

    Now I’m going to get down to the nitty gritty, an analysis of your hilarious post (more or less, less probably), throwing in my own two cents:

    1. Where were all the Dornish people? Is this a city occupied by a few members of the incumbent royal family and ten very well dressed villagers? It looks huge from a distance. Up close nobody seems lives there. I think this was to down to how populated the shoot could be, permissions given etc. But it did look unrealistic. The consequence being that Jaime and our Bronn, supposedly incognito, stuck out like sore thumbs.

    2. Jaime and Bronn are ridiculous in Dornish ‘camouflage’ garb. Everyone else looks fine, especially the Andalusian and / or Friesian stallions. I’m going with Andalusian since they’re Spanish.

    3. Supposedly inconspicuous but with the opposite effect (Pink Panther – Peter Sellers style), they all steal into the Water Gardens in the midday sun instead of waiting for nightfall. Ok, maybe it would’ve been late to grab Myrcella but far more interesting. And what’s with the ‘pull a flimsy part of my Dornish garb over my face, and nobody will recognize me’?

    4. Everything is visible from the upper balcony, Doran and Areo’s perch. That’s how the Prince and his sidekick knew the conspirators were there. They had a bird’s eye view – of everyone. But I loved your creative conversation between the captain and the silly girls’ brigade. I don’t think there was any kind of super spy network set up. And Varys is on his way to Meereen.

    5. Slow Poison – more or less agree with your analysis. I could also go with ‘Tyene’s way of flirting, submit and conquer victim, saved ya at the last minute, you are now my love slave’.

    6. Jaime Lannister, one of the most recognizable faces in Westeros. Bronn said it on the ship – “Why are you here? Why not send a bunch of me?” So why and how Areo knew Jaime was Jaime – well, think Obama, no, not really.

    7. Bad bad bad: script in general, boob zoom shots, Tyene’s parting ear gift to Bronn, clumsy fight choreography, amateur editing, over-lingered shots etc etc.

    Oh Dorne, I need a stiff glass of something to recover. But Game of Thrones, I still love you.

    p.s. I am dying to find out Trystane’s fate. Will Jaime do the right thing and return him to Dorne, thereby saving young Tryst from the clutches of his evil twin? The game will be up for Ellaria Sand and I doubt Doran will forgive her a third time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, your analysis and feedback is great. Bravo! You are probably right on all of your points, and I’m probably wrong… but I’m still hoping at least that Obara is working for Prince Doran. (I assume your Obama reference was for Obara.)

      I will not argue with you that the desire to film in the Alcazar was a poor idea. It totally was.

      Your question about where are the Dornish people is an interesting one, and I’m happy to address it, but it won’t necessarily be to the show’s credit.

      The location is the Water Gardens, which is not a city, it’s basically a resort for Prince Doran and the Martell family. So I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have a huge amount of extras or feature a large urban setting.

      But that’s a bummer, because the source material in A Feast For Crows is pretty sprawling, going from Doran’s Water Gardens (which I envisioned being on the beach, with the water gardens being tide pools and so on among palm trees) to Sunspear, the capital of Dorne with various plots and plans, to a desert location among ruins. All of which would have been super cool to see.

      Sadly, as was detailed in the Film School Rejects post, weirdly the show’s opening credits didn’t say Water Gardens, or Sunspear, but said Dorne. That’s kind of like going to Winterfell and having it say The North.

      So I really can’t defend the show and its decisions entirely, and I appreciate you calling me out.

      But thank you so much for reading my post (it was long, so you get extra credit as well) and thank you for saying that it was hilarious.

      I can’t always be right, but I do try to be funny. Usually.

      Again, I’m very pleased that you took the time read, analyze, and respond to my post.

      Right on!

      Like

      • joanna says:

        I meant to say Obama, it wasn’t a mistake – i.e. face known to everyone. Regarding the Water Gardens, I got that it is a summer resort. My beef was “where is the rest of Dorne”. Like when they showed us Volantis and how Tyrion and Varys entered the city. That’s what was needed. Oh well, and this shall pass ..

        Liked by 1 person

        • Aha! The first time I saw “Obama” I assumed the well-recognized face. But then as I read on more, I remembered that I was implying Obara tipped off Doran in my head-canon, so I assumed you we refuting that.

          I apologize for the confusion on my end.

          I will say, that even if Bronn says “hey, everyone knows what you look like” I’m fairly skeptical. Jaime did do a lot of tournament fighting, so it’s possible that more people in the countryside knows what he looks like than the average Joe, but I’d assume he’d be more recognized by his armor, sigil, and Lannister trappings. They don’t have television or newspapers in Westeros, so it seems unlikely that a random blond guy would look sufficiently different than Jaime. So I still feel that it’s significant that Areo identified Ser Jaime unless he knew he was coming.

          Areo was Doran’s bodyguard, and Doran famously does not travel due to his gout, so Jaime would have had to come to Dorne previously, and I think of the pair of them, Bronn was the one who had been to Dorne.

          Please don’t think I’m arguing with you, or saying that your take on the show was wrong, I’m just laying out what I think. Clearly, the Dorne plot was a huge mess, and there’s no way I can argue out of it.

          Like

          • joanna says:

            Re: Doran’s ‘no can travel, I have gout’ problem. Correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t know if it mentioned as a backstory in the books. But Rhaegar and Elia got married in King’s Landing, right? Which was many years ago and presumably attended by all the Dornish Royal family members old enough to travel. I remember Oberyn’s conversation with Tyrion in King’s Landing. And Areo must have accompanied Doran as his faithful bodyguard of many years. This could explain them recognising Jaime. They already knew who he was.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yeah, but that was something like 25 years previously. Areo might not have been Doran’s bodyguard then, and Jaime would have been just a young punk kid. Okay, a young punk kid in the kingsguard, so he could be more memorable, but memorable for his youth, beautiful Lannister hair (which was covered up in Dorne.)

              In fairness to your point, I do have Areo’s caption suggesting he might be a well traveled individual, so I’m not completely closed to what you are saying. Your point about the wedding of Rhaegar and poor doomed Elia is an excellent point.

              Like

          • joanna says:

            Forgot to say that I doubt Doran had gout in those days. Because quite simply, he would be dead by now.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Very good article. I actually have more to say than I will type here, but I am very tired at the moment, so I will return to this later. However, I’m very glad I read past the Headline. You really have proposed some intriguing ideas about Obara. It will be very interesting to see if any of it pays out this season. And, of course, the actress who plays Obara and the actor who plays Prince Doran or two of the best they hired for the Dorne drama IMO.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! I am just hoping hoping hoping that season 6 will provide a more complicated and compelling story. If so, the show experience will have somehow duplicated the emotional of experience of reading the book (hear me out…) but with we viewers and readers somewhat being Arianne stuck in the tower. Upset that things didn’t go as we’d expected.

      It all depends on what we get out of Prince Doran this season, since he is the character in the books on which everything turns.

      I look forward to hearing more from you. (People, Blackeyedlily is one of the hosts of the excellent Podcast Winterfell podcast, and she’s a big deal. Her Game of Thrones cred is solid.)

      Like

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