Dorne: All Sand and Dying Grass

Posted: April 25, 2017 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Opinion, TV
Tags: , , , , ,

If you’re unfamiliar with the land of Dorne, the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros in HBO’s Game of Thrones, then this post possibly won’t be all that interesting. It’ll also be spoilery should you wish to go back and watch the show or read the books. (You should read the books, because Dorne has a better reputation on the page.)


Television Sand Snakes: Admit that we’re cool!
Book Reader: Never! I’ll never admit to such lies!

Dorne: the region in the Seven Kingdoms that defiantly resisted Aegon the Conqueror the longest; the people of Dorne eventually joined the super-kingdom in Westeros on their own terms. It’s recognized as a pretty crazy place.

Book readers in general are down on the show’s portrayal of Dorne, and with good reason. Very little was done on the show to capture what was interesting and cool about the feisty and culturally distinct kingdom.

The show didn’t miss all of its marks on Dorne. Prince Oberyn Martell was a high point in Season Four, and the brief but action-filled sequence starring Dorne’s famous knight Ser Arthur Dayne was excellently executed in Season Six.

But otherwise, Dorne was a bit of a bummer.

Last year, I wrote an optimistic post about Season Five’s Dorne, suggesting that there might be more happening under-the-surface, waiting to be revealed in the sixth season. Unfortunately, I did not get what I was hoping for.

The opening episode of Season Six featured the surprise assassination of Prince Doran with the implicit approval of his guards, and control of Dorne apparently being conferred on Ellaria Sand without anyone in Dorne batting an eye. Most unexpected.

That took a bit of the wind out of my sails in regards to my viewpoint of the show’s adaptation of Dorne. Almost as badly as Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice kicked the legs out of my overly-forgiving Man of Steel viewpoint. But no one is here for my take on the DC Cinematic Universe, since it’s not Game of Thrones related.

(Unless anyone wants to read my recent April Fool’s Day post asserting that Superman is the inspiration for the Azor Ahai myth in A Song of Ice and Fire. Lex Luthor Means Lightbringer, yo!)

RIP, Prince Doran

Straight up: it was rough seeing Prince Doran Martell die in Season Six.

Although he’s still alive in the books, that can easily change of course with the eventual release of The Winds of Winter. But Prince Doran on the show didn’t get a chance to surprise us. Well, he surprised book readers by dying so quickly, but show watchers never got any insight into what was going on with Doran. What he had hopes for, what plans he had in motion.

For years, I had been waiting for the chance to write about a speech Doran gives in the books, one that I was expecting to hear on the show. About serpents and grass. About himself and Prince Oberyn. About how they were not so different.

Doran died before he got that chance, thanks to the Sand Snakes.


Doran: This is unbelievably ill-timed.
Ellaria: Take that, book reader!

So we can assume one of two things in regards to Doran on the show.

  1. Show-Doran is similar to Doran in the books, but it’s unlikely that we’ll learn more about that. Or…
  2. Doran on the show was exactly as the show presented him. Peaceful and absolutely unwilling to go to war.

I’d rather people who have not read the books learn the details from the source and not necessarily from my amateurish blog ramblings, so I won’t really discuss #1. And besides, it’s highly unlikely that Doran will be revealed as a long-term strategist whose plans were undercut by short-sighted opportunists. (Something that we’ve seen happen before.)

Although it’s entirely possible that the show could find some surprising way to communicate a little Doran exposition, even though he’s now dead.

***SCENE: The past***

Doran: Hotah, no one’s around so if you don’t mind, I’ll recite to you all of my complicated plots and machinations.
Areo Hotah: Crikey, my prince! You know I love this. Will you tell me again about your “serpent and the grass” situation? That’s my favorite metaphor.
Bran: *warging in from the future* Dammit, I was hoping to greensee into Tyene’s part of the palace. This is less sexy.
Me: You’re wrong, Bran. Trust me.
Bran: Aiiieeee!

The second point, where Doran is exactly as advertised, is the more-likely intent of the show runners. Dorne is vastly simplified on the show than in the books, much like the implicit and explicit political wranglings that are going on in the kingdom of the North are greatly stripped down.

(There’s a lot going on in the North in the books, with many distinctly northern houses bringing their own agendas -and specially-prepared food- to the feasting tables.)

Let’s examine Prince Doran and his politics as is, and make some observations.

The beef that the ruling family of Dorne had with the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms can be boiled down to the death of Princess Elia, the sister of Oberyn and Doran Martell. Oberyn thirsted for Lannister blood based on the suspicion that Lannister henchman Gregor Clegane murdered Elia and her children during the capture of the Red Keep.

Oberyn died in a trial by combat with Clegane, but not before grievously wounding the Mountain with a poisoned spear.



Tywin Lannister, whom Oberyn blamed as being complicit in Elia’s death, was soon murdered by his own son, Tyrion Lannister.

In some ways, the accounts have been balanced. (Although, with Qyburn saving Gregor Clegane, a fact that the show isn’t trying to hide, one could say that Elia’s death has not been avenged.) Well, they might have been considered balanced except for Oberyn’s death, which also seems to require avenging now.

But not to Doran, outwardly.

Oberyn’s children and his paramour Ellaria Sand demanded that punishment befall the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death, regardless of the fact that he hadn’t been murdered. It’s an inconvenient and overlooked fact to Ellaria and the Sand Snakes that Oberyn voluntarily entered into this battle to the death for a chance of revenge. Sometimes dying are the breaks. But Oberyn’s grieving family needed someone to target and because Princess Myrcella was nearby, she was a handy but innocent object to be hated.

Who needed to pay for Oberyn’s death? The Mountain? That sounds about right, since he’s the one that killed the Red Viper, even if it was done arguably fairly. But he’s still shambling about, so vengeance is still due for Elia’s death.

Should Tyrion Lannister also pay, since the prince was acting as the dwarf’s champion, making the little Lannister responsible in some way as well? Look, I wouldn’t be surprised by any rationale that the Sand Snakes come up with.

If Daenerys’ fleet lands at Dorne, Tyrion should watch his back.

The ironic thing is this: the Sand Snakes value Martell lives so much (in regards to Elia and Oberyn) that in seeking vengeance, they’ve killed twice as many Martells as they have Lannisters. Cersei Lannister has been more effective at killing Lannisters than Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have.

Doran’s Waiting Game

If we forget Ellaria’s plotting and her commitment to vengeance, just what did Dorne stand to benefit from Doran’s willingness to maintain peace with the Lannisters?

Tywin had offered the Martells a seat on the small council, since he was trying to consolidate Dornish interests with the rest of the realm against the threat of Daenerys Targaryen. Daenerys had three dragons, and the Dornish had previously resisted Targaryen control of Dorne despite Aegon and his dragons. (It’s not that the Dornish had magical anti-dragon powers, they were just smart enough to engage in asymmetrical warfare and guerrilla tactics against the Targaryen armies, making the control of Dorne incredibly difficult for the occupiers and easy for the locals to resist.)


Myrcella: Really? Trystane, that’s not what you told me.
Trystane: He’s lying. We of Dorne are as magical as we are sexy.

Getting some influence and an eye on the small council sounds good, but Doran was not sending his best people to the capital, really. I doubt that the otherwise inexperienced Trystane was all that savvy. Oberyn had been a good choice to send to King’s Landing, since it was unlikely that he would easily be manipulated or readily made a hostage.

Did Doran even send a support staff for the prince to Dorne? There certainly didn’t seem to be anyone assigned to act as his guards, since Obara and Nymeria just waltzed onboard Trystane’s ship (I assume they rode super-fast sea-snakes or something to catch up to the boat) killed him, and then returned unruffled. Oberyn came with a large support contingent.


It’s possible that the Dornish retinue Tyrion encountered when planning on greeting Prince Oberyn might have been updated to act as Prince Trystane’s diplomatic and security team, once he arrived in the capital. They could have provided guidance and advice for the small council meetings and King’s Landing in general. Assuming that they’d stayed around as a sort of Dornish consultate force after Oberyn’s death and Ellaria’s return to Dorne.

Podrick Payne identified several houses from Dorne in the group that arrived more or less with Oberyn. House Dalt of Lemonwood. House Blackmont. House Manwoody of Kingsgrave. If only Trystane’s voyage to King’s Landing had included his safe arrival among these loyal countrymen.

I’m curious what actually happened to the Dalts, Blackmonts, and Manwoodys. When word came to Cersei of Myrcella’s death, I’m not sure the Dornish embassy would be spared. (The Stark household in King’s Landing certainly wasn’t in Season One.) So the Sand Snakes might be responsible for causing more Dornish noble deaths than just Prince Doran and Prince Trystane’s.

Had Ellaria just refrained from murdering Myrcella and allowed Prince Trystane to arrive safely to King’s Landing, after Tommen’s suicide Trystane would have found himself betrothed to the successor to the throne. (Let’s assume that Trystane and Myrcella would have slept in late on the day of Cersei’s trial, or would have been hanging out in the Red Keep lobby waiting to go with Cersei to the Sept, when the wildfire went up.)

I think Dorne would have found a great deal more influence in the capital at that moment, although with Tommen dead, it’s hard to predict how Cersei would behave. Would she dote on Myrcella and not harm Trystane, or would she lock Myrcella away for her own safety, and imprison Trystane as a hostage?


Regardless, I just can’t believe that the Sand Snakes’ murdering spree bettered the position of Dorne, overall. On the contrary, the country no longer has a ruling house. Whenever a thing like that happens, there’s instability, or it seems that there should be, right? It’s unclear what the other great houses of Dorne are planning to do in regards to governance of their kingdom. It seems unlikely that even if bastards have a higher status in Dorne, kinslayers would not be allowed to go unpunished, especially for coup-d’etats.

On the other hand, had Ellaria not seized power and removed Doran, it’s difficult to imagine him being receptive to an overt alliance with Daenerys Targaryen, since his son and heir would effectively be a hostage in King’s Landing.

To sum up: I’m not saying that the government takeover of Dorne by the Sand Snakes was for the best, but the simplification of Dornish politics does in its own way serve the goal of getting the show towards the end. Am I happy about it? Not really… but it just is what it is.

I think I mostly regret the omission of Arianne and Quentyn Martell, but those are names that show-only watchers will have no attachment to (and some book-readers will be just rolling their eyes at me mentioning them as well. That’s fair.)

I’ll wrap this up.

It’s hard for me to imagine how I would have warmed up to the show’s version of Dorne if I had not read the books. I doubt I would be captivated by it, since there is so much weirdness involved, but I do enjoy these kind of thought-experiments: imagining rogue members of House Manwoody (that name…) stuck in King’s Landing, trying to avoid being hunted down by Cersei, and not necessarily pleased by the rumors they’ve heard of Doran’s treacherous demise.

I’m not one to encourage fan fiction, but does anyone else have any mental crutches they use to make the Dornish scenario presented by the show more palatable? Or am I alone in my madness? It just bums me out to think of Dorne as a creative wasteland.

Just endless sand, choking out the grass.


Tyene: Choking grass? How about choking –
Me: I’m going to stop you right there.

Feel free to let me know.

(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 claim to the images, but some claims to the text. So there.

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 2017 Some Rights Reserved

  1. chaddukes says:

    Well done. I like the part about Bran trying to greensee into Arianne’s quarters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bloodraven: Greenseeing will grant you access to scenes across time and space.
      Bran: wink wink, nudge nudge, eh?
      Bloodraven: I’m not your mother, Bran. No other context will be provided.

      Thanks for reading and the reply! I’m always glad when people like my oddball humor.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. writingjems says:

    In a way, this post has made me sympathize a bit with Show!Dorne. As you said, keeping to the King’s Landing plot while factoring in Trystane and Myrcella would definitely have complicated things in a way the showrunners might not have wanted to deal with. I think it could have been interesting though to actually get some meaningful interaction between Tommen and Mrycella, and Trystane could have been in the Sept when Cersei blew it up, prompting Dorne to war. I don’t know how they would have killed off Mrycella then. Two Lannister suicides may have been a but much.

    And while none of us like the way Dorne’s coup was handled, taking out House Martell helps reinforce the theme of Westeros’ wheel breaking. The Martells are gone. The Tyrells are gone. The Baratheons are gone. The Lannisters will be soon, I think, unless Tyrion is bestowed Lordship of Casterly Rock by Dany. The Freys and Boltons are finished. The Greyjoys have split. And the Starks are only just crawling back to prominence. The Seven Kingdoms all will never be the same once Dany lands, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

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