Out of all of the seven kingdoms, Dorne is by far one of the most interesting. Widely disliked by the rest of Westeros, Dorne makes up the southernmost region of the continent. The weather is hot, the food hotter, and the people even hotter still. No matter what gender you find yourself attracted to, there’s something for everyone in Dorne. Like, for instance, the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell. And while we’re on the subject, can we talk about what a stone-cold fox Oberyn is?
Despite only appearing in one book and one season, Oberyn Martell has been one of the most popular A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones characters to date. Representing his brother, Prince Doran, on King Joffrey’s small council, Oberyn is not-so-secretly hoping to get revenge on Gregor Clegane and the Lannisters for raping and murdering Oberyn’s sister Elia and her young children. Oberyn is not entirely successful, causing his bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, to seek revenge. Their storylines and motivations diverge in the book and the show, but one common thread remains: Dorne is no longer content to suffer a Westeros ruled by the Lannisters, and they are going to do everything in their power to restore the Targaryens to the iron throne.
The following are just a few of the things we think are fascinating about Dorne. Book and show spoilers abound, so use caution when reading and sharing!
Even though Westeros is often referred to as the “seven kingdoms”, there are nine regions associated with Westeros. Dorne is technically not one of the seven kingdoms; it has never been a kingdom (unlike the North, the Reach, the Stormlands, etc.) and it was “conquered” about 150 years after the other kingdoms. The Dornish conquest was a bloody conflict that claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and even the Westerosi king, Daeron I; by the time his successor, Baelor, advanced to the throne, so many lives had been lost that it seemed pointless to continue fighting. Baelor married his cousin, Daeron (later King Daeron II) to Princess Myriah Martell; later, Daeron married his younger sister, Daenerys, to Prince Maron Martell, successfully (and bloodlessly) uniting Dorne to Westeros. Because Dorne never fully submitted to Westeros, they continue to call the Martells Prince or Princess, royal titles that the other seven kingdoms forfeited when they submitted to Aegon the Conqueror. By continuing to call the Martells Prince and Princess, Dorne is showing that they are not subjects to the Iron Throne.
14. More Technologically Advanced Than Westeros
When we’re first introduced to Westeros, it markets itself as the height of civilization, and it certainly seems that way for a while. We believe that the science, technology, and medicine in the seven kingdoms is at its most advanced. But as fans are introduced to the other countries in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, they realize that Westeros is actually not the center of scientific enlightenment it presumes to be. Technology far exceeding that of Westeros is apparent in Essos and even in Dorne. Part of this could reflect Europe in the Middle Ages, which Westeros is (roughly) meant to reflect. Europe’s “Dark Ages”–a time when society and technology essentially took a step backward while eastern countries continued to make advances, is always evident in Game of Thrones. While the seven kingdoms conquered by Aegon remained stagnant, Dorne continued to flourish in a way the rest of the continent did not. This may seem like an insignificant detail, but it may be important later in the series.
13. The Broken Arm
Though Dorne is shaped much like a boot, the “toe” of the boot is often referred to as the Broken Arm. Thousands of years ago, Westeros and Essos were once connected by a land bridge. This is the route the First Men took when they first came to Westeros, gradually traveling northwards and settling there. At the time, Westeros was inhabited by giants and Children of the Forest. The First Men cut down the weirwood trees and fought the giants, driving the children and the giants north as they settled permanently. As legend has it, the Children of the Forest gathered on the Isle of Faces and made a bloody sacrifice to the old gods, who tore and sank the arm that connected Essos to Westeros. While the maesters referenced in The World of Ice and Fire are skeptical the Children were truly involved, they do agree that Essos and Westeros were once connected and that the First Men first came to Westeros that way. The First Men were not seafarers so they did not come to Westeros after “the breaking”, but so many had already come to Westeros via the land bridge and had produced more offspring than the giants or the Children of the Forest that the giants and children soon disappeared.
Despite the fact that the First Men first entered Westeros through Dorne, few of them remained in that land for very long. As such, Dorne is the least populous region of Westeros. The people of Dorne fall into three main categories: stony, sandy, and salty. Stony Dornishmen live mainly in the mountains; they have fair hair and fair skin and are descended from the First Men and the Andals. Sandy Dornishmen live in the deserts and river valleys and are brown-skinned. Salty Dornishmen live along the coasts and are described as “dark-haired and lithe and olive-skinned.” Salty Dornishmen claim descent from the Rhoynar and as such retain many Rhoynish customs. When Princess Nymeria crossed the Narrow Sea and settled in Dorne, her people stayed close by the sea because it had been their home for so long and they could bear to part with it; even though Nymeria came to Dorne hundreds of years ago, the coasts are still populated by those of Rhoynish descent.
11. Gender Equality
Fans of the books and show alike will know that sexism is rampant in Westeros. Women in Westeros are technically the property of their male relatives and cannot inherit land or titles without a male guardian to keep it for them. The iron throne went to Tommen, even though he is the youngest child, because Myrcella cannot inherit the throne. The Northerners would rather make Ned Stark’s bastard son King in the North than Ned Stark’s trueborn daughter because they would rather have a king than a reigning queen. Dorne, true to form, does not follow Westerosi custom. The Dornish believe that women can and should inherit–something that becomes a major plot point in the book series. In a book plot that became convoluted in the show, the Sand Snakes attempt to dethrone Tommen Baratheon and replace him with his sister, who is older and who, they believe, should inherit. It doesn’t hurt that Myrcella is betrothed to Trystane Martell, which would mean that if there’s truly going to be a reigning queen in Westeros, there will be a Martell king.
10. Princess Nymeria
Hundreds of years before Aegon and his sisters conquered the seven kingdoms, a warrior of another kind came to Dorne. Princess Nymeria ruled the Essosi city of Ny Sar. Valyria conquered the cities along the Rhoyne River with their dragons, and rather than submit to their reign, Nymeria led the survivors away from Essos. For a time they lived in the Summer Isles, but the climate didn’t agree with the Essosi, so they brought their ten thousand ships to Dorne, which at the time was divided and ruled by petty lords. Nymeria struck an alliance with Mors Martell, taking him as her husband. She also burned her ten thousand ships to show her people that their days of wandering were over. Together, she and Mors Martell conquered the rest of Dorne and united the country under their leadership. Because Nymeria was a princess in Ny Sar, the rulers of Dorne honorarily keep the title of Prince or Princess.
9. Meria Martell
Nymeria wasn’t the only famous Dornish princess. At the time of Aegon’s conquest, Dorne was ruled by Princess Meria Martell, an old, fat, balding, and nearly blind eighty-year-old. She was called, by some, the “Yellow Toad of Dorne”. Aegon sent his sister Rhaenys to conquer Dorne, but the conquest was easier than anyone had anticipated; all the men of Dorne hid, leaving a clear path for Rhaenys to occupy Sunspear. Rhaenys demanded that Dorne surrender; Meria swore that Dorne would never surrender, but as there were no men to fight her, Rhaenys left peacefully.
After Aegon had successfully conquered the rest of Westeros, he turned his attention once more to Dorne. Once again, the Dornishmen fled, and Meria fled with them, so Aegon’s forces occupied Sunspear with ease. After installing Westerosi lords in Dorne’s capital city, the armies left. It was then that Dornish forces came out of hiding and killed the Westerosi lords who meant to rule them. Even 84-year-old Meria Martell threw Lord Rosby out of a window. Dorne continued to resist Westerosi rule until Meria’s death eleven years later, but while she lived, she would not let Westeros take Dorne.
8. Water Gardens
One of Westeros’s greatest wonders are the Water Gardens of Dorne. A few leagues from Sunspear, the Water Gardens are something like a beach-side resort for the royal family and for all of Dorne’s children. The resort is elegantly constructed of pink marble, terraces, pools, fountains, and blood orange trees. Children from every class, high and low, are sent to foster at the Water Gardens. Unlike the other seven kingdoms, the Dornish do not believe in segregating their classes; by fostering with children of all backgrounds, the Dornish grow to appreciate all of their countrymen, not just those of wealth and prestige. The Water Gardens were built by Prince Moran Martell as a gift to his wife, Daenerys Targaryen. Princess Daenerys invited the children of lords to stay at the palace, and later opened it to children of all status. Now that he has gout, Doran Martell spends much of his time at the peaceful seaside home.
7. House Dayne
Of all the houses in Westeros, House Dayne is one of the noblest and most renowned. The Daynes are considered “stony” Dornishmen; many of them have fair skin. Some are blonde, some dark-haired, and some are silver with a streak of black. Some of the Daynes even have dark blue or purple eyes; whether or not they are related to the Targaryens is never addressed, but it’s possible they have some Valyrian ancestry. The Daynes are most renowned because of the Sword of the Morning, a title given to a worthy knight from the House of Dayne. Whoever is the Sword of the Morning wields the greatsword Dawn–a sword believed to have been made from the heart of a falling star. Fitting, as House Dayne’s seat is in Starfall, and their sigil is a sword crossed with a falling star.
Though they don’t make any appearances in the show, House Dayne is fairly prominent in the books. Ser Arthur Dayne was the Sword of the Morning during Robert’s Rebellion, as well as a knight of the kingsguard; he was guarding Lyanna Stark when Ned came to free her, and as a result he was killed by Ned. His sister, Ashara, jumped from the Palestone Sword into the sea and died; some say it was grief for her brother, and some say it was because she had been in love with Ned, the man who had killed her brother. Arthur and Ashara’s nephew, Edric, is the current lord of Starfall (despite being only twelve) and serves as a squire to Beric Dondarrion. He befriends Arya (and tries to befriend a jealous Gendry) and tells her that his wetnurse, Wylla, is Jon Snow’s mother. Since the show has revealed otherwise, we hope that we hear more from Edric–and Wylla.
6. Elia Martell
While Elia Martell is dead long before the A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones series begin, her name is mentioned so often in the books that she seems like a living character. Anyone who has read the books will remember the frequent and graphic mentions of Elia and her fate.
For those who don’t know or remember, Elia Martell was the sister of Oberyn and Doran Martell. When she and Oberyn reached a marriageable age, their mother took them on a trip around Westeros searching for suitable matches. She proposed that they marry Jaime and Cersei Lannister, but Tywin coldly refused, saying that Cersei was meant to marry Pricne Rhaegar; he would, however, consider a match between Elia and the infant Tyrion, which Elia’s mother saw as an insult. To get back at Tywin, she instead arranged a marriage between Elia and Rhaegar Targaryen. Their marriage was happy for a time. Elia conceived almost immediately after the wedding and gave birth to a daughter named Rhaenys. The following year was the Tourney of Harrenhal, where Rhaegar crowned Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his wife. Strangely enough, no one ever describes Elia’s reaction to this.
The next year, Elia gave birth to a son named Aegon. Around the same time, Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna Stark, sparking Robert’s Rebellion. While Rhaegar hid Lyanna in the Tower of Joy and fought Robert’s forces, Aerys kept Elia and her children in King’s Landing because he believed that Rhaegar would never betray his father if Aerys held his wife and children. When Lannister forces sacked King’s Landing, Gregor Clegane, “The Mountain Who Rides”, smashed Aegon’s head against the wall and then raped Elia, finally killing her. Her daughter, Rhaenys, was stabbed by Amory Lorch after being dragged out from under her bed.
5. Targaryen Alliance
Like many noble houses, House Martell has a complicated history with the Targaryens. While initially resistant to Targaryen rule (and resistant to Westerosi unification as a whole), Dorne did eventually unite itself to Westeros through marriage. The future Daeron II married Princess Myriah while his sister Daenerys wedded Myriah’s father, Maron. This would be the last time a Martell married a Targaryen until Elia. Preferring to wed siblings, and failing that, cousins, so many Targaryens had perished by the time Rhaegar was of marriageable age that Elia was one of the few highborn ladies that met royal standards.
When Rhaegar cast Elia aside in favor of Lyanna Stark, House Martell was incensed. Doran was slow to lend aid to the Targaryens during Robert’s Rebellion; perhaps as a result, Elia and her children were murdered. Doran and Oberyn swore vengeance for their sister, but in very different ways; while Oberyn simply wanted to kill Tywin Lannister and the Mountain, Doran wants to restore the Targaryens to the throne and let them end the Lannisters. It is revealed that Arianne was once betrothed to Viserys; now that he is dead, Doran hoped to arrange a marriage between his son, Quentyn, and Daenerys. That didn’t go quite as Doran had hoped. Nevertheless, there are two Targaryens vying for the throne, and if the show is any indication, the Martells still want to be involved–with or without Quentyn.
4. Quentyn Martell
And speaking of Quentyn…
In the books, Doran Martell has two sons: Quentyn and Trystane. He also has a daughter, Arianne, but we’ll get to her in the next point. Quentyn and Trystane are two distinct individuals, but they were combined for the purposes of the HBO series. Quentyn is the second child of Doran and oldest son, and tensions arise when it appears that Doran is grooming Quentyn for ruling Dorne–not Arianne. When Arianne challenges her father, he admits that originally, Quentyn was meant to rule Dorne, because Doran had hoped that Arianne would marry Viserys and become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. When Viserys died, however, Doran decided to reverse it; he sent Quentyn to woo Daenerys and become her consort, leaving Dorne to Arianne. This goes badly for Quentyn–Daenerys is already married to Hizdahr zo Loraq by the time he arrives in Meereen, and she does not seem remotely interested in Quentyn. He decides to win her by taming her dragons. This, obviously, does not go well–Quentyn is badly burned and it takes him four days to die. Now, Arianne is really and truly the heir of Dorne.
3. Arianne Martell
Arianne Martell is the definition of “femme fatale.” A beautiful and sensuous woman, Arianne is Doran Martell’s oldest child and only daughter. Though we now know Doran meant for Arianne to become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and leave Dorne to Quentyn, his plan was a secret for many years. Arianne thought that her father was cheating her out of her birthright by giving Dorne to her brother, and as a result decided not to support her father any longer. Arianne convinces some of her closest friends to sneak Myrcella out of Sunspear and back to King’s Landing, where they intend to crown her Queen–and make Trystane her consort. Following Westerosi custom, the crown went to Tommen after Joffrey’s death, but Arianne believes that, like herself, Myrcella has been cheated out of her birthright. Arianne seduced Myrcella’s kingsguard protector, Ser Arys Oakheart, so that the plan might go more smoothly. Predictably, it does not–they are caught before they even leave Dorne, Ser Oakheart is killed, and Myrcella ends up missing an ear. Doran locks Arianne in a tower for several weeks; afterwards, he reveals his plan to her. What will happen now that Quentyn is dead, we don’t know, but it will take more than fire and blood to stop Arianne.
2. The Sand Snakes
The Sand Snakes are a force to be reckoned with. The bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell (with various women), the Sand Snakes are deadly to cross. The eldest is Obara, Oberyn’s daughter by a whore in Oldtown. Obara is nearly thirty, not very attractive, and considers herself a warrior. After Obara is Nymeria, often referred to as Lady Nym. Nymeria is twenty-five, very beautiful (which is attributed to her mother, a Volantene noblewoman), and very deadly. She is known to conceal multiple blades on herself. After Nymeria comes Tyene, Oberyn’s daughter from a septa (a story that is, sadly, not given in the books) and the Sand Snake closest to Arianne. She is fair-skinned and has golden hair and blue eyes. She looks the very picture of innocence, though she’s anything but; like her father, Tyene is an expert on poison and uses it liberally. Following Tyene is Sarella, but she’s so interesting that we’ll talk about her next.
After Sarella are Elia, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza, Oberyn’s daughters by Ellaria Sand. They are all too young to be deadly yet, but Ellaria fears that the older Sand Snakes will teach their younger sisters to be violent.
1. Sarella Sand
Of all the Sand Snakes, Sarella has what is so far the most interesting storyline. The daughter of a trader from the Summer Isles, Sarella has always been interested in facts and history. She is mysteriously not in Dorne in A Feast for Crows, and a popular fan theory says that she is actually Alleras the Sphinx, a novice at the Citadel who crosses paths with Samwell Tarly. Alleras fits the scholarly description of Sarella, and Alleras is Sarella spelled backwards. Doran seems to consider this a game, so we know that Sarella was not sent to Oldtown on Doran’s orders–nevertheless, we can’t help feeling that this is going to be very important later in the series. At the very least, we will certainly see Alleras again now that “he” has introduced himself to Sam, who is also going to be studying at the Citadel. Who knows what secrets Sarella will uncover at the Citadel–and what her family will do with those secrets.