Curtain Call: Indira Varma

Ellaria

There were undoubtedly many watchers who celebrated Ellaria Sand’s demise on Game of Thrones in “The Queen’s Justice.”  With that said, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone unmoved by the final moments of a character that was often the steadying back-bone to the Sand Snakes’ flailing antics. Confirmed to not be returning to the show, Ellaria Sand was brought to exceptional life by Indira Varma.

We first meet Ellaria in Season Four, in an introductory scene that swiftly lays out much of her character.  She’s unashamed of being a bastard, she’s a fierce defender of her lover Oberyn Martell and she’s a passionate woman whose tastes lie in both directions.  It was the first time we’d had a female bisexual character in Thrones, and having someone who took women for her own pleasure rather than while Littlefinger was giving a monologue was like a breath of fresh air.  Even more impressive is the way she holds her own against Cersei when she and Oberyn attend Joffrey’s ill-fated wedding together. Ellaria knows her origins and she has no shame.

Cersei Lannister: Can’t say I’ve ever met a Sand before.

Ellaria Sand: We are everywhere in Dorne. I have ten thousand brothers and sisters.

However, her most memorable Season Four appearance might just be that scream  You know the one I mean.

Ellaria

I mean, her boyfriend’s head did just get obliterated.  All of her shock, all of the hurt, all of the anguish is written clear on her face in that one shot. It’s sublime.

Ellaria Sand

Oberyn’s death is not without consequence.  When we next see Ellaria she’s a changed woman.  Her hair’s been shorn, the yellow robes have been replaced with black ones and vengeance is one thing on her mind.  She makes a pact with the Sand Snakes and together they launch an ill-advised kidnapping of Myrcella.  Defiant even in defeat, Ellaria refuses to acknowledge Tommen as king and mocks Jaime Lannister for his…family situation.  Slippery as ever, just when we think Ellaria has complied with Doran’s request that she pledge allegiance to him she poisons Myrcella.  It’s a horrible moment; Ellaria herself admits Myrcella is an innocent and yet as a Lannister she believes her death is justified.  It’s a sleek, twisty performance from Varma; we never quite know what Ellaria is going to do from one moment to the next.

Her character is hardened further in Season Six, as she dispatches Doran and arranges the deaths of Areo and Trystane, before forming an alliance with Olenna Tyrell and Team Daenerys.  It looks like things might finally be looking up for Ellaria, especially when she gets to share a cosy moment with Yara Greyjoy (although, you know this show: when two good characters get canoodling it’s only because one of ’em’s gonna die!).  Sadly it’s not to be.  Although Ellaria pleads for a quick death, this is rejected in favour of a humiliating walk through King’s Landing and finally, in a cruelly ironic twist, being forced to watch her daughter die from the same poison they used to kill Ellaria.  Even though her fate was arguably deserved after the number of deaths she was responsible for, it’s still an utterly heartbreaking scene.

MV5BMTg1NjYyNDE0Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjY3MTk4MjI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,666,1000_AL_

Indira Varma took the character a long way from her frolicking days in the King’s Landing brothels, and kudos to her for taking one of the less developed characters from the novels and making her such a tour-de-force on the screen.  Never less than engaging, whether it was watching her spiral into a dark quest for vengeance, or one of her softer, more human moments with Oberyn or the Sand Snakes, Varma’s presence on our screens will certainly be missed.

Away from thrones, Varma has clocked up numerous theatrical credits and is well known for appearing in films such as Bride and Prejudice, Exodus: Gods and Kings and Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, as well as HBO’s very own Rome series.  She can currently be seen as DS Nina Suresh in Netflix’s Paranoid and has up-coming TV show Melrose (with Benedict Cumberbatch) in the works.  We all wish her the best with future projects and look forward to what characters she’ll bring to life next!

48 responses

Jump to (and Always Support) the Bottom

    1. I remember her from her Rome days and What a beautiful lady! She will be greatly missed. I hope great new projects for her!

        Quote  Reply

    2. Varma is a wonderful actress, I’m so glad she was cast in the part. She did more with it than anyone could have. I’m so glad to see she’s involved in Melrose, I’m looking forward to that one.

        Quote  Reply

    3. I saw her earlier in the year in Paranoid and she was excellent amongst an excellent cast. Her last scene in GOT was wonderful without any dialogue, all in the eyes. She is a good actress and I wish her well in the future.

        Quote  Reply

    4. I like that she got bigger role in the show, there was always something so magnetic about her.

      On of her first scenes was a scene with Cersei. It made sense that that will her last.

        Quote  Reply

    5. Kudos to Indira Varma for a great run on GOT! She played a wide range of emotions with conviction and I will never forget that scream for Oberyn or the heartbreaking look in her eyes for Tyene. Looking forward to her other projects.

        Quote  Reply

    6. I liked her short scene with Jaime in S5. She was one of the most manipulative characters. Dangerous and beautiful. Truly a snake.

        Quote  Reply

    7. She will be missed, I thought she was wonderful on the show and in a way personified her book character in a very relatable way for the small screen. I wish her the best of luck in all of her future endeavors.

        Quote  Reply

    8. Yet another great casting and quality performance, as mentioned most especially during the Oberyn v Mountain fight and her final scene. Thanks and best wishes for the future Indira!

        Quote  Reply

    9. Loved watching her, she never disappointed, That final scene was heartbreaking, no matter how you felt about her characters actions. Looking forward to seeing her acting with Cumberbatch, and hope to see her in other shows and films.

        Quote  Reply

    10. I always have a special love for actors who elevate the material they’re given and indeed, who can ever forget that scream?! I will miss her performance on this show but look forward to her future projects.

        Quote  Reply

    11. I think going back and watching the Dornish plot line will be far better now we know how it ends.

      I loved Indira Varma and her character is a perfect foil for Cersei — she’s a mirror image of her: she has illicit sexual interests, a passionate true love, great love for her children, and a frustration with how her sex keeps her on the outskirts of power until she seizes it for herself through violence. Except all the things that Cersei hides, she flaunts.

      Truly brilliant final scene without a word spoken.

        Quote  Reply

    12. I’ve always loved Indira Varma as an actress, and I genuinely love what she did with the character of Ellaria Sand. I’m so glad that she became such a major part of Game of Thrones in its later seasons, and that the writers expanded her role to make her a central player. Every time the camera turned its lens to her, I was captivated. That’s partly because she’s a stunningly beautiful woman, but more importantly, it’s because she does so much with her gifts at every opportunity.

      During her time on Game of Thrones, Indira got to display a wide range of emotions, motivations, and interpersonal dynamics, all while weaving them together into a single complicated, fascinating character. Initially, Ellaria was in love, at peace, and brimming with a desire to enjoy every moment of her life. In those early appearances, Varma gave the character an easy, almost languid presence. She was the perfect complement to Oberyn, who matched her joyful hedonism but was tempered by the ever-present hatred that drove him. In those scenes, Ellaria was his ballast, pulling him back in his darker moments. Thanks to Varma, I fully bought into the idea that she and she alone could reign in Oberyn’s fire – if only temporarily.

      Ellaria and Oberyn don’t often get mentioned as one of the more romantic effective couples on the show (understandably, perhaps, given the tragedy of their ending). But during their time together, Indira Varma and Pedro Pascal effortlessly portrayed two characters who knew each other intimately, understood one another perfectly, and were totally at ease with sharing every aspect of their lives with one another. As Cersei would later tell Ellaria in “The Queen’s Justice”, what she and Oberyn had shared was true love. Cersei used those words to torment her captive, but her cruelty was so effective and the emotional payoff was so resonant because it was real, and everyone knew it.

      Once Ellaria lost Oberyn, his burning desire for vengeance became hers, and we got to see Indira Varma display a different side of the character – one that showed her to be every bit as cunning, dangerous, and obsessive as her infamous lover. Her easy physicality now resembled less that of a common snake sunning itself on a rock and more of a poisonous viper in a loose coil, superficially at rest but with every strong muscle in her body tensed and ready, poised to strike at a moment’s notice.

      In this new world, Varma proved herself capable of displaying a frightening level of intensity. In the space of a few moments, her eyes could flash with incandescent rage before simmering down to a slow-burning, white hot stare intense enough to burn skin, and then – in an instant – her gaze would become as cold and hard as diamonds. The venom that she could inject into her dialogue was unmatched. She became a monster in many ways (especially when she murdered Myrcella, a death that devastated me), but she never lost my sympathy. That’s mostly because Indira Varma was just so magnetic – my eyes and my heart could never stray far away from her for long.

      One overlooked scene of Ellaria’s that I absolutely love takes place in “The Dance of Dragons” when she goes to see Jaime and talks to him about how the ideas about who people in this world are supposed to love are always changing, but what never changes is that people want who they want. She’s being deceptive, here, of course – she still intends to carry out her plans to assassinate Myrcella, but the sentiments that she’s expressing here are grounded in truth – as all of the most effective deceptions are. Much like her sworn enemy Cersei, making honest feelings do dishonest work was one of Ellaria’s many talents, and Indira excelled at playing that side of her character. It takes a great actress to strike that balance, and that descriptor describes both Ellaria and Indira Varma perfectly.

      Speaking of Cersei and Ellaria, I can’t stop thinking about how phenomenal Indira was in that scene where she has to watch Cersei condemn her daughter to death. Lena Headey was superb as well, delivering all of the excellent dialogue, but Indira was her equal in that moment, even though Ellaria was unable to speak, The scene doesn’t work nearly as well as it does without Indira holding up her end, which she did tremendously well. She conveyed such real palpable anguish using only her eyes, her body, and her increasingly desperate and strangled sounds of despair. It was haunting. A week removed from watching it for the first time, I still haven’t stopped thinking about it. I genuinely think it may be one of the best acted scenes in the entire show, on all fronts. And given just how many incredible acting moments we’ve seen over the course of the past seven seasons, that’s remarkable. Cruel and haunting though it was, I found it to be an extremely elegant, fitting, and indelible payoff to Ellaria’s story, and to Indira Varma’s time on Game of Thrones. I couldn’t have dreamed up anything better.

      I’m glad that the writers gave Ellaria such a challenging and memorable showcase for her final scene, and she knocked it out of the park. I’ll miss having Indira Varma on the show. Regardless of what anyone else thinks of her character or the path she was set upon, my own opinion will remain unchanged. I loved watching Indira portray Ellaria Sand over the past four seasons, and I’ll always be grateful for the role that she played on the show. I wish her all the best with what comes next!

        Quote  Reply

    13. While I never much liked Ellaria, Indira’s performance was incredible.

      In season 4, she took a bit of a backseat to Oberyn, so it was a little difficult to get a fix on her personality, but it was clear from Indira’s acting that she was a prideful woman and that she truly loved her husband. And that scream… oh man, it still haunts me. Just amazing.

      Some complain that her character was completely changed after season 4, but I don’t agree. She became much more hateful and vengeful, but I think you could see some aspects of this in season 4, with her facial reactions to Tyrion, and her love for Oberyn.

      And of course, there were her final moments. What can be said about that scene? She absolutely killed it, and all without any lines. Simply incredible. It actually made me feel for her, which is something I never expected.

      Whether it was her pride in her bastard status, her vengeful anger, her softer moments with Oberyn and Tyene, or her desperation while watching Tyene die or submitting to Doran, Indira pulled it all off excellently. Best of luck to her.

        Quote  Reply

    14. Also… the fact that we’re getting a CC for a character who is technically not dead, made me think of something – I know this is still a long ways away, but, when the entire series is over, will there be CCs for all of the actors whose characters didn’t die?

        Quote  Reply

    15. BigMac,

      Looking down the road and speaking only for myself, I’d love that. The Curtain Calls are probably my favorite regular feature that WOTW does, and it would be great to have a formal opportunity pay tribute to those phenomenal actors who achieved the herculean distinction of making it to the end of this epic story. It would be a lot of work, obviously (or maybe not, depending how many characters actually survive), but after the series finale airs in a year or two, we’ll have plenty of time for such tributes, official or not. What are we going to do once the show ends- not talk about Game of Thrones anymore? Screw that! I’m going to need a long course of Westerosi methadone to manage my addiction when the time comes. 😉

        Quote  Reply

    16. BigMac:
      Also… the fact that we’re getting a CC for a character who is technically not dead, made me think of something – I know this is still a long ways away, but, when the entire series is over, will there be CCs for all of the actors whose characters didn’t die?

      ALL the characters? Even in this show I think there will be dozens whose fates are unknown or aren’t killed off…

        Quote  Reply

    17. I’ve tended to cut the two Ds a fair amount of slack in their adapting of the source material but Ellaria Sand is one instance where I much preferred the book character – well season 4 Ellaria WAS book Ellaria. Having said that Indira Varma is a consummate actress and I did find myself feeling sorry for non-book Ellaria in the cell scene.

        Quote  Reply

    18. Leaves me wondering if – since, as Bronn says: “the Dornish are crazy” – kidnapping, torturing, and murdering the women that Dorn stood by and ‘allowed’ to overthrow their lord may STILL rally them to Dani’s cause…

      After all, it’s nearly as bad as the crimes against Ella Martell and her children for which the Dornish have always hated the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms.

        Quote  Reply

    19. mau,
      We shouldn’t derail the thread but where would we draw the line? Hot Pie? What about a relatively minor character such as Anguy, whereabouts unknown, last seen in season 3? The contortionist at Littlefingers brothel and Joffreys wedding?

      Don’t get me wrong though, I’d love to see ALL the characters and actors lauded here on an individual basis for their contributions and I’m sure the WotW team are up to it! 😉

        Quote  Reply

    20. Sammy,

      By that same logic, Olenna and the Blackfish aren’t dead either. This show has had its share of off screen-deaths. The whole “they’re not dead unless you see them die” rule isn’t a rule that GoT strictly follows, though they did of course have fun playing it straight with the Hound.

        Quote  Reply

    21. Indira Varma brought such fire and passion to the character of Ellaria. She was perfect as the mother snake. To this day I hear the ominous sound when she watches Myrcella and Trystane and curls her fingers in impotent rage.

      Languid, proud in S4… and that scream! It was loaded with such anguish and passion that her reincarnation as the vengeanceful viper in S5 was believable… Though, as a book reader I did initially do a double-take. In the books,

      she’s a voice for ending the cycle of revenge, a voice for the futility of revenge, a voice to moderate the Sand Snakes and (unbeknownst to her) Doran’s convoluted plans for revenge.

      Jared and Dragonwolf have greatly explored Ellaria book vs. show in the comments of a previous post, The Writing on the Wall: The Dornish Rose (sorry, can’t do a link, but it was just yesterday.) Basically, book and show Ellaria fulfill the same purpose. Book Ellaria says it, show Ellaria demonstrates it.

      I watch so little TV or movies that I haven’t seen Indira Varma in anything else, but, boy, did she act her heart out in that final scene! Not a line of dialogue but even with a gag effectively taking the lower part of her face out of action, her body language, her eyes conveyed so many thoughts and emotions. Brava, Indira Varma! and all the best in future projects!

      Oh, and Jared, what an amazing write-up on Ellaria and Indira Varma!

        Quote  Reply

    22. The Molehill that Rides,

      Good point, but the show doesn’t have any identifiable Dornish characters any more. Dorne seems leaderless ATM. Even if lesser Dornish lords/ladies support Dany’s cause, I’d expect it to only be mentioned in passing (too late in the story to introduce new characters), or they might be vaguely seen in the background of a council scene or a battle of something.

      (Your nic gave me a nice chuckle :-D)

        Quote  Reply

    23. Caveat: I hated Dorne so much in the books that it made me a non-fan for many years, and I though that Dorne on TV was only a bit better. But….

      …. I’ve been a fan of Varma ever since Rome, and I thought that she did a magnificent job of embodying that sort of geopolitical rage and resentment that we’ve recently seen corrupt our own world. Her character was never more than a foil for Jaime: but what a foil she turned out to be! It was a great compliment to the populist anger that puts the High Sparrow into place: showing the powers-that-be underestimating just how much the common people can do in two different ways was a powerful message. Or, as we saw both figuratively and literally the next season: if you don’t toss your dogs some bones, then they will bite off your face!

      If only she’d knifed a certain Gilda Radner character-alike after staking Doran….. 😛

      [scurries back to places where I cannot possibly see any leaks! 😀 ]

        Quote  Reply

    24. Jared,

      I sometimes wish you could just ‘like’ a post or ‘up vote’ or something! So I just want to acknowledge that your post was beautifully written, insightful and on point. Thank you!

        Quote  Reply

    25. When I heard Indira was going to be in GOT, I was thrilled. I loved her in Rome and could not wait to see her in Dorne. Much thanks to her for her gifted acting in this role and best of luck to her in her future endeavors.

        Quote  Reply

    26. Brilliant stuff

      Not always a fan for how her part was written in S6 and early S7 given its OTT Misandrist nonsense and not to mention the gaping plot holes but that all comes down to the writers and showrunners

      As for Indira Varma, she did a fantastic job with what was given to her, the “scream” when Oberyn was killed was obviously memorable and nothing short of iconic but she did all the small things perfectly like backing up Oberyns little jibes (eg fighting pits and Tyrion) with the slightly contemptuous looks in support etc and of course she was able to play the witheringly angry lover out for revenge look very well too

      And of course that last scene was terrific acting on her and Lena Headeys part

      All the best to Indira in her future roles

        Quote  Reply

    27. Jared,

      That’s actually a real good idea. I don’t want to veer too far off topic, but at some point I’d like to see a pseudo curtain call for Roy Dotrice (Pyromancer Hallyne). He was only in two episodes, including briefly in “Blackwater”, but had that amusing exchange with Bronn and Tyrion about the properties of wildfire. I know he also narrates some of the books, and knew GRRM from their days working on “Beauty & The Beast” TV series. But I liked him best as the Russian figure skating coach in “The Cutting Edge” (25th anniversary this year).
      Roy Dotrice is about 94 years old. Might be nice to recognize great actors like him who’ve contributed to GoT, even if they’re not given a “formal” send-off.

        Quote  Reply

    28. I wonder what their original plans for the Martells were and were they altered by the lame fan outcry after S5?

        Quote  Reply

    29. Ten Bears,

      Thanks! I appreciate that, though of course I would love to hear your thoughts on Indira Varma as well! 🙂

      I’d definitely be interested in paying tribute to the survivors and smaller players such as Roy Dotrice once the show ends, even if it’s informal. But fortunately, we still have a while before that happens.

        Quote  Reply

    30. I loved Indira Varma’s Ellaria in season 4, then really disliked what she was given to work with in 5/6. But that last scene in season 7 really displays what a great actress she is. Sheer genius (without a word).

        Quote  Reply

    31. I love GoT so much, even the Dorne plot never bothered me and that’s partially thanks to Indira.
      She showed so many emotions, from hatred to true love, especially in her last scene, she conveyed so many things only through her face, eyes and body language.

      Thank you Indira, I wish you all the best !

        Quote  Reply

    32. Dorne wasn’t at all perfect, but it was still watchable at least. Thankfully I ended up loving the sand snakes when S7E02 came around, so to me they redeemed their storyline and made Dorne from the previous seasons feel less cringy.

      Not seeing Ellaria die in her cell made me think we’d see her again, but knowing that Cersei’s the one that imprisoned her, and knowing her condition that she’s now “Mad”, made me rethink that: Yep, time for Ellaria’s Curtain Call, indeed.

      Amazing death.

        Quote  Reply

    33. She first came to my attention as Suzie on Torchwood, who you were led to believe was to be part of the main cast. Let’s just say she wasn’t. Although she’s featured in one of the best titled episodes in any series: “They Keep Killing Suzie.”

        Quote  Reply

    34. Could someone please correct Ellaria To Myrcella in this sentence:

      Although Ellaria pleads for a quick death, this is rejected in favour of a humiliating walk through King’s Landing and finally, in a cruelly ironic twist, being forced to watch her daughter die from the same poison they used to kill Ellaria.

        Quote  Reply

    35. An excellent job of a complex supporting character. She will be missed.

      Come on, Dany, after torching King’s Landing, send a few soldiers down into the cells and bring her back up!

        Quote  Reply

    Jump to the Top

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *