While the big talk of the season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones was Melisandre getting all freaky with her magic once again, there was something even more shocking that happened a lot further south in Westeros. Dorne, the site of the much maligned plot line of season 5, started off season 6 with a huge bloody bang.
Ellaria and her fellow Sand Snakes put into action a huge coup, killing every ruling male in sight and claiming Dorne for their own. It’s a big move for an unpopular storyline on the show. Game of Thrones obviously hoped Ellaria’s actions would save the Dornish plot but it is possible that it made the story even bigger mess.
It’s hard to find a fan of Game of Throne‘s interpretation of Dorne. Oberyn Martell was a very popular character and readers of the book love parts of Dorne but TV Dorne was a huge misfire in season 5. The story (and land) started with a lot of potential but it just became a huge mess with underdeveloped characters and a lame twist. The entirety of the Dorne story in season 5 seems to have been to kill Mrycella. This “twist” could have happened in so many different ways and didn’t need to involve a brand new culture and set of characters.
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Perhaps the weirdest thing about Dorne was that Game of Thrones cast the very talented Alexander Siddig as the leader and did nothing with him. It’s not that Doran Martell was weak as Ellaria claimed after she stabbed him to death. It is the fact that Doran was never allowed by Game of Thrones to be weak or strong. He wasn’t a weak leader, he was a quiet leader who didn’t want to stab everyone who moved. There was something interesting in Doran Martell but Game of Thrones had no interest in exploring his character. It’s not a shame that Doran was killed off. It’s a shame that the audience never got to know Doran before he was killed off.
The fact that the Sand Snakes are left to rule Dorne doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. The Sand Snakes should have been some of the show’s most fascinating characters (based on the books). Yet they were the primary reason that Dorne was such a huge mess in season 5. The Sand Snakes have no real character traits other than the fact that they like to stab people, place and things a lot.
Of course that being said there is something mildly interesting about Dorne being ruled primarily by women. The Sand Snakes and Ellaria are not the best written female characters ever but they do serve to balance the Game of Thrones scales a bit. The show has been (rightfully) criticized for embracing the misogyny of George R.R. Martin’s world a bit too much. The critique reached a fever pitch in season 5 following the rape of Sansa Stark by Ramsay Bolton. The Sand Snakes taking over Dorne does feel like a reaction to the criticism that only terrible things happen to women in Westeros. However you feel about the Sand Snakes (and you probably don’t feel that great about them) you can’t deny that there is something new and fresh about women orchestrating a successful violent coup on Game of Thrones.
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For all the negative things that can be said about the Sand Snakes and/or Ellaria, they are not hopeless characters. Game of Thrones could have done something interesting with Doran. Doran’s son Tristan was so ungodly dull though that there was nothing saving that character. The Sand Snakes are somewhere in between the failure of Tristan and the waste of Doran. The Sand Snakes’ biggest problem is that they are very loud characters, not in the sense of volume but more in actions. The Sand Snakes are borderline campy with their whole gang nickname thing, propensity for violence and the fact that each is defined by their choice of weapon.
The thing with loud and melodramatic character is that they can be whittled down and refined. The Sand Snakes are now the only characters of note in Dorne. Ellaria’s actress Indira Varma is still a starring member of the Game of Thrones cast. This means the show will go back to Dorne again for whatever reason. Now that the story doesn’t have to juggle the Martell family and the Lannisters like they did in season 5, perhaps the audience will get to know the Sand Snakes and Ellaria better. Now that their mission of revenge is taken care Ellaria and the Sand Snakes should be able to move and become more complex characters.
Game of Thrones has really lowered the bar for Dorne but there is a silver lining in that fact. Expectations are so low for Dorne that Game of Thrones doesn’t have to try too incredibly hard to impress people in season 6. Perhaps Dorne and its new female rulers will become so important that it will make the mess that was season 5 worth all the trouble.
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But what do you think? How did you feel about Ellaria and the Sand Snakes taking over Dorne? Where do you think their story is heading in season 6? Do you care where their story is headed?
Game of Thrones season 6 airs Sundays at 9pm on HBO.
(Images courtesy of HBO)