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.
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.
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.
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!