Few storylines – not even Jon Snow’s! – have caused more controversy or hand-wringing amongst both the novel and television fandoms, and this week’s season premiere, “The Red Woman,” didn’t help things: the wholesale slaughter of clan Martell marks not only a huge divergence from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, it also leaves the character of Prince Doran Martell woefully underdeveloped as compared to his literary counterpart.
There’s actually a lot of factors to take into consideration with this scene, and it raises even more questions about the future of both Martin’s novels and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss’s HBO series. It’s a good thing we have a veritable brain trust here at the Wall to tap into.
Let’s discuss Dorne: what transpired all throughout season five, and what just went down last weekend. There’s a lot to unpack, including:
- Is there still the possibility for any of the original Dornish storyline from the novels to somehow be incorporated?
- What does this mean for the books’ future narrative?
- How many of these developments will remain unique to Game of Thrones, and how do they serve the show’s overarching themes?
- What should Benioff and Weiss have done differently?
Thanks to Dorne, I’m not sure we can read too much into the show anymore, as far as the novels go. Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire, for a long time, have been assuming we can infer certain things about future events in the books based on how the plot of Game of Thrones shakes out. I do still think a small handful of major GOT characters will have the same endgame points as the novels, based on Benioff and Weiss having discussions with George R.R. Martin. But when it comes to most of the plots and characters, we are completely clueless now when it comes to the books. I’m okay with that.
I think the original Dorne storyline of the books is completely gone and has nothing to do with the show. Arianne Martell [Prince Doran’s daughter] was the heart of that plot – her ambitions, charisma, and mistakes – and scattering it across Ellaria (who became a Darkstar/Obara hybrid) and the Sand Snakes was a rather large error. I think the showrunners underestimated the audience’s ability to care about and follow a new female character who wasn’t so closely tied to Oberyn, though she was family. Though Dorne isn’t the best loved of all book plots, it has its positives, and the story we’re seeing onscreen lacks subtlety. The women are empowered solely through violence, rather than politics, which is a rather narrow take on things.
Increasing the role of the Sand Snakes or condensing them into one character would have been acceptable to me if we had Arianne as a balance. Instead, in the story, we had tepid Trystane and a sorely underused Doran.
Book wankery aside: as I said in my “Red Woman” recap, even show-Oberyn would hate these people, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes on Game of Thrones. I feel like Benioff and Weiss are cleaning house – they’re done with the Dorne experiment, and if we see more of this story, it’ll just be to kill off more characters.
I agree with Sue – I don’t think what’s happening on the show, Dorne-wise, is any reflection of what will happen in the books. The storylines have taken off in a completely different direction. Generally speaking, I don’t mind it when the show does that, as long as it does it well. Unfortunately, Dorne has not been handled at all well. Rather than the more subtle, female-driven plot of the novels, we’ve ended up with a bunch of two-dimensional Sand Snakes who are really only differentiated by which weapon they’ve got and an Ellaria who started well in season four and has somehow evolved into a murderous stab demon.
I am interested in where the show will take Dorne now they’ve essentially got a clean slate. It seems clear to me that D&D, on seeing that Dorne wasn’t proving as popular as some of the other storylines, decided to literally shank it in the kidneys rather than build up the characters. But I really feel like Alexander Siddig and DeObia Oparei, who are both wonderful actors, were completely wasted. Oh, and young whathisface who played Trystane, but I was only really interested in him because he had some nice outfits.
If the show really wanted to remove a core character like Arianne and still have the Dorne plot work, then they really should have injected a bit of soul into the characters beyond the random boobs, slapping games, and bad pussy. Still, there’s always my theory that this has all just been a really weird holodeck adventure for Dr. Julian Bashir.
I’m grateful for the fact that we cannot infer too much about the future books anymore; it will make the reading experience that much more enjoyable for me.
Dorne on the show was, as Sue said, an experiment. A failed one, sadly, as I don’t think it achieved much dramatically or otherwise. The premiere has seen a total reset that wiped the slate clean; this bait and switch, on top of other problems, has made the Dorne subplot very weak, independently of any book consideration. I’d be happier with any Dornish shenanigans necessary for the story to happen off-screen in seasons five and six.
One thing where the show may still align with the books is a future Dornish alliance with the Targaryen bloodline.
Agree with Sue, Geoffery, and Marko. Though I don’t know much about the book Dorne storyline, I do know a bit about Arianne, and I’m disappointed the show didn’t use her. Oberyn was such a presence in season four, and I felt cheated that he left so soon and was replaced with such underdeveloped characters. That’s not to say the actresses themselves aren’t talented – they’re just not given much to work with. D&D would’ve benefited from bringing on some new staff (Moira Walley-Beckett from Breaking Bad would’ve been my top choice, seeing they also borrowed Michael Slovis for season five, and director Michelle MacLaren, who recently left Wonder Woman) to develop the Snakes and Ellaria before throwing them into a whirlwind of murder and madness.
I’m not even sure Dorne serves a narrative point now (in the show), and my thinking is D&D only brought it into the fold to kill Myrcella and further Cersei’s prophecy. I actually thought the scenes in “The Red Woman” were the best of Dorne yet (which isn’t saying much). The location itself is stunning, but the writing feels half-assed a lot of the time. Trystane’s death, I was pretty satisfied with. He was weak, just like Ellaria said, and deserved a bloody end. Doran was definitely underused and wasn’t portrayed as even half the mastermind he was in the books (from what I know), but, rather, as reluctant and withstanding. Reducing the Snakes and Ellaria to violence and vengeance furthers the themes of GOT, but the end effect isn’t what the showrunners expected for the audiences.
To begin with such a bloody opening, I can only expect we’re in for our most violent and vengeful season yet.
As for the continued drift away from the books, I agree it will make for a more enjoyable reading experience after.
Here’s my take on Dorne:
I think the Dornish rebellion storyline falls to Ellaria, as there is no Arianne to seed it. Prince Doran is clearly a different (and, subsequently, weaker) character than he was in the books. There is no “long game” for him to play – no daughter to wed to Viserys, no son to wed to Daenerys. So this Doran is weak and clearly needed to go if Dorne is going to rise up in rebellion… which it obviously is. (Other than loyal Hotah, it seems obvious to me that all the guards are siding with Ellaria over the perceived weak Prince Doran – probably in the name of their beloved Prince Oberyn.)
As for future narratives, so long as Dorne rises in rebellion (which will clearly happen in the books, as well), I think it works. Would Daenerys be more willing to work with Ellaria than Doran? Maybe. I can’t really say. We only know she turned down Quentyn [Prince Doran’s son in the novels].
What should Benioff and Weiss have done differently? As gorgeous as that Spanish palace is, I think it hampered what they could do – at least outside (all the interiors were gorgeous). They couldn’t film at night, which made last season’s infiltration feel like Keystone Cops, and the fight scene between the Sand Snakes, Jaime, and Bronn was probably the worst we’ve seen on the show (short or Arya and the stable boy). Maybe part of the problem was an extremely limited area in which to film, but they at least should have used stunt people. Nikolaj looks terrible using his left hand, and two out of three of those girls do not make believable fighters at all (and the third just had a whip). It just looked bad.
(Aside: was Nym really intent on using a whip to try and kill Trystane in his cabin? Wouldn’t a knife be wiser? And why – because a whip is “her weapon of choice”? Is this show suddenly becoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Are we eight-years-old again and collecting the action figures? I assume the Nym figure comes with a whip. Absurd.)
I would have killed Hotah more believably. He looks too sturdy to have been taken down by a single knife to the back. I would have made it nine or ten stabs in quick succession, kidney, liver, spleen… then have her quickly get away while he bleeds out. One blow to the back? Felt cheap. But I guess that’s symbolic of the show’s Dorne storyline.
I would have also at least given some sort of lip service as to how the Sand Snakes caught up with Prince Trystane’s ship. Even though logic tells me that it was obviously a smaller (and probably faster) ship, couldn’t they have shown it next to Trystane’s ship? And what happened to Bronn? Are we led to believe that the Sand Snakes boarded Trystane’s ship (even with the crew and guards on their side) and simply ignored Bronn?
We may still get the answers in episodes to come, but last season doesn’t give me a swell of confidence that anything Dornish will end satisfactorily.
I agree with Sue that the show and books have diverged to the point where we can no longer use the events of one to make predictions about the other, except perhaps in very general terms (i.e., going by the trailer, it looks like Theon will reunite with his sister this season, as he does in the books, but under completely different circumstances).
I think it’s safe to say that in both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, the hostility between the Lannisters and the Martells will reach some kind of culmination. Beyond that, much like Jon Snow, we know nothing.
The one positive thing I have to say about the Dorne plot is how it serves the show’s theme of the cycle of violence: characters’ fixation on “justice” is the cause of so much misery that it saps all the romance from the notion of righteous anger.
What should Benioff and Weiss have done differently?
This is one of those times when I really do think that sticking to the source material would have fixed everything. Personally, I’m not over the moon about Dorne in the books, but I really like Arianne and her quest to crown Myrcella. That’s what the Dorne plot should have been in the show. It’s a storyline about women trying to empower other women (and start a war and avenge dead family members), and it was adapted into a subplot about two men trying to rescue a princess. I get that the show didn’t want to jar us by transplanting the audience into a storyline with totally new characters and landscapes (ergo the inclusion of Jaime and Bronn and the emphasis on Oberyn), but if seasons three and four had followed Myrcella as she adapted to life in Dorne, then we could have moseyed into the Feast for Crows storyline organically.