I’ve been meaning to do this for some time: just a look back, from a distance of some months, at the Dorne plotline from Season 5 of Games of Thrones. But every time I sit and open the doc and try to answer the question; “how the hell could they ever think this would be successful?” I just get overwhelmed and end up writing bullshit instead.
But no more Martell-like conflict avoidance and procrastination, this will get done! We will put on our latex gloves and perform this autopsy, no matter how gross and rotten the corpse is!
I’m going to try to structure this around answering a series of questions:
- What was the story they were trying to tell?
- Whose story was it?
- What was the result of this story, from a thematic and character perspective?
- What adaptational choices were made?
- Why did they make the adaptational choices they did?
- How did those choices change the story?
- What was the story they were trying to tell?
What was the story they were trying to tell?
Let’s start at the very beginning. I’m going to TRY to look at the storyline just by itself, as though I’ve never read the books and am coming to this season completely Unsullied. This is an impossible task, obviously, but I will do my honest best. I won’t even use the snarky character names.
The first scene involving Dorne this season is in the second episode, “The House of Black and White” where Cersei calls Jaime into her solar to show him a disturbing package she got. Inside the package is a taxidermied red snake with one of Cersei’s distinctive lion necklaces in its mouth. She claims only two of these necklaces exist. One is hers and the other belongs to her daughter Myrcella, who was sent to Dorne when she became betrothed to Prince Trystane, back in Season 2. This is disturbing to Cersei.
As she patiently explains to Jaime, this is obviously a threat from the Dornish, who are angry about Oberyn’s death. She assumes that it came from from Doran, the Prince of Dorne, which is a reasonable assumption; Myrcella is his ward and he would have easy access to her stuff. Cersei is very reasonably concerned that Myrcella is no longer safe in Dorne.
Jaime says that he’ll get her back. Cersei reasonably points out that if they go to Dorne with an army it will start a war. Jaime says he’ll go himself. Cersei, again, reasonably, questions this, saying that Jaime is now physically disabled and that Prince Doran isn’t just going to hand over his hostage just because Jaime asks him. Jamie says that he “won’t ask.”
The next scene we see is Ellaria Sand standing on a balcony at the Water Gardens, looking very angry. She’s watching two young people, who I think most people would realize are Trystane and Myrcella, on what is obviously a romantic walk through the gardens.
She then walks over to another part of the gardens where Prince Doran is hanging out, staring into space. She has an encounter with his Captain of Guards, Areo Hotah, which further adds to this idea that she is very angry, and also determined to be heard.
Doran lets her enter his princely presence and she immediately begins reminding him that both she and the common people want him to go to war as revenge for Oberyn’s death. Doran is visibly disgusted by this idea. He points out that, legally, Oberyn’s death was not murder and therefore not any kind of causus belli. He says that her opinion doesn’t matter… that this isn’t a democracy. He says that he loved his brother and will mourn him, but nothing more.
This makes Ellaria even more angry. She says that the Sand Snakes, Oberyn’s bastard daughters, are “with” her. She expresses disgust at the idea that Myrcella is still their guest after Oberyn’s death. She asks Doran to let her do horrible things to her.
This visibly angers Doran. He tells Ellaria that there will always be a place for her in his heart, since she made his brother happy when he was alive, but that he will not harm Myrcella under any circumstances. As Ellaria leaves, she threatens him, implying that if he continues acting this way, he won’t be Prince of Dorne for much longer.
Also in the same episode, Jaime finds Bronn at Stokeworth. Bronn continues to display his ruthless and socially ambitious nature, implying to his intended bride that he’ll kill her older sister so that he can rule her land. Jaime tells him his engagement is off, and convinces him to come to Dorne with him, with the promise of more Lannister gratitude.
The next episode with Dornish content is episode 4, “Sons of the Harpy”. On the ship, Jaime explains to Bronn that they’re going to be dropped off close to Sunspear. Bronn talks about his previous experience in Dorne, saying that “all the Dornish want to do is fight and fuck”. He say that they’ll be angry when they “steal” their princess. Jaime says they’re not stealing her, they’re “rescuing” her. He doesn’t want to start a war.
Bronn questions Jaime’s motives. He makes it clear he knows that Myrcella is his daughter. He intuits that Jaime is feeling guilty for releasing Tyrion and wants to make it up to Cersei.
Later in the episode, they leave the ship in the dead of night and take a boat to an abandoned beach. Jaime is woken from sleep by Bronn killing a snake that was near his head, emphasizing how dangerous this environment is. They have it for breakfast, though Jaime’s not into it. Bronn again reveals that he’s a bit of a social climber, saying he wants to die rich with his own castle. Jaime says he wants to die in Cersei’s arms. Bronn questions if she wants the same thing.
The two men start walking down the beach and Bronn asks why Jaime is so sure that the ship’s captain won’t betray them. Suddenly, four mounted spearmen show up. Bronn and Jaime try to hide in some grass, but they’re seen. The spearmen question them, but seem unconvinced. A fight ensues and they manage to kill all four of the spearmen. They bury the bodies and take the horses to ride to the Water Gardens.
Elsewhere, Ellaria rides on a beach to meet the three Sand Snakes. She tells them that Doran won’t act, and that if they want revenge for Oberyn they’ll have to do it themselves. She says “you don’t need an army to start a war” and she reminds them that they have one of Cersei’s children.
Nymeria says they have a problem. She reveals the ship’s captain buried in the sand under a barrel. Obara explains that he came to her in Planky Town [sic] offering to sell information about Jaime Lannister. Ellaria guesses that he’s come to Dorne for Myrcella and that if he gets to her before they do, they’ll lose their only chance for revenge. She asks the Sand Snakes if they’re with her, even though it will mean going against Doran. Tyene, her daughter, agrees without hesitation. Nym shows some hesitation, but she agrees.
Obara takes this opportunity to explain about how Oberyn took her from her mother when she was a child. He had told her to chose her weapon, tears or the spear. She picks up the spear and throws it at the ship’s captain, impaling him through the head and killing him. She says she made her choice long ago. Ellaria and her sisters seem quite pleased, and we’re left with the idea that they will do anything to reach their goal.
The next episode is the one with the Dornish name, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” the words of House Martell.
We start with Trystane putting a flower in Myrcella’s hair and telling her that he’ll speak to his father about them getting married soon. Myrcella asks if he only wants to marry her because it’s what their families want, but he silences her with a kiss. When she objects to this public display of affection, he says that she’ll be his wife so it’s allowed. They share some lighthearted banter.
We pan to where Doran is sitting with Areo Hotah, watching them. Doran says that the young people don’t know how dangerous a Martell and a Lannister being together is. He says they must protect them. He asks Hotah if he still remembers how to use his axe, and he replies that he does.
Bronn and Jaime are riding their stolen horses through some grassland and Bronn is singing a song called “The Dornishman’s Wife”. They come across a group of people going to the Water Gardens. When Bronn asks Jaime what they’ll do when they have the princess he says he likes to improvise.
They follow the caravan into the Water Garden and break off as soon as they’re through the gates.
Meanwhile, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are in a dark room. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” she says, “For Oberyn!” The Sand Snakes repeat the line, then run out of the room carrying weapons. They make there way through the Water Gardens as Bronn and Jaime, now on foot, do the same.
Bronn and Jaime come across Myrcella and Trystane kissing. Jaime calls Myrcella name and she asks him why he’s here. He’s hesitant to say anything in front of Trystane and asks to speak in private. Trystane intercedes and Bronn and Jaime are rather condescending at him. He notices the blood on their stolen spearmen uniforms and draws his sword. Bronn strikes him and he falls unconscious.
Jaime tells Myrcella they have to go, but she refuses. At that moment, the Sand Snakes attack the two men. A fight ensues and in the midst of it, Bronn is injured by Tyene, and the Sand Snakes attempt to take Myrcella off at knife point, but are stopped by Areo Hotah and some Dornish guards. Obara is resistant, but eventually complies. Jaime has to be threatened by Hotah. He tells him that they could have had a sweet fight when Jaime was whole. He surrenders.
Ellaria is also arrested.
In the next episode, “The Gift” , Jaime is imprisoned in a comfortable looking room and Areo Hotah brings Myrcella to him, saying that the prince hopes seeing her will reassure him. Jaime tells Myrcella that her mother is worried about her and he’s come to take her home. She refuses, saying that Dorne is her home, she loves Trystane and wants to marry him.
Jaime says he doesn’t understand, and Myrcella says it’s her he doesn’t understand, or know. She leaves.
In a less fancy prison the Sand Snakes and Bronn are in adjoining cells. He’s singing a song, and Tyene claps when he finishes, saying that he has a nice voice. Obara says that Bronn sings better than he fights, but Bronn says it’s against his code to hurt women. They scorn him for this.
Tyene asks him how his arm, which she cut, is feeling. He says he wouldn’t feel right leaving Dorne without a new scar. Obara implies he won’t leave, and Bronn says he’s not in a hurry, since Dornish women are the most beautiful in the world. Tyene thanks him, but he says he didn’t mean her.
Tyene is visibly offended. She asks him to name one woman more beautiful than her, and begins to expose her breasts and thighs. Her sisters roll their eyes at this behaviour. Bronn seems quite aroused. She asks him about his arm again. Bronn’s visions becomes blurry and his nose starts to bleed. Tyene explains that her dagger was poisoned and Bronn is dying. She dangles the antidote in front of him, demanding that he admit she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. When he does, she throws him the antidote.
In episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons” Jaime is lead by Areo Hotah to a room where Prince Doran, Ellaria, Trystane, and Myrcella are sitting. The first thing Jaime comments on is Myrcella’s revealing dress. He sarcastically asks her if she’s cold, but she says the climate in Dorne agrees with her. He asks Prince Trystane about his jaw, but the young prince calls it a “flea bite”.
Ellaria asks him what he’s doing in Dorne. Jaime says he’s looking out for his niece. Doran asks him why he didn’t send a raven or deal with him directly, instead of sneaking in.
Jaime explains that they received a threatening message, Myrcella’s necklace in a viper’s mouth. Myrcella says that necklace was stolen from her room. Ellaria’s expression make her guilt obvious.
A servant puts some food down in front of Jaime, and he asks if this is his last meal. Doran says he can’t kill him; many in Dorne want war, but he’s seen war and he has no wish to see it again. Ellaria scorns him, saying he would rather break bread with Lannisters.
Doran agrees. He lifts his goblet and toasts King Tommen. Trystane, Myrcella, and Jaime return the gesture, but Ellaria ostentatiously pours her wine on the ground.
Doran seems to want to ignore that. He asks if the king insists that Myrcella goes back to King’s Landing, and Jaime says that he does. Doran says he must obey his king’s command. This visibly upsets both Myrcella and Ellaria.
Doran continues that Prince Trystane will accompany Myrcella and Jaime to King’s Landing, saying that their engagement must stand, if the alliance between Dorne and and Iron Throne is to continue. Trystane will take also take Oberyn’s place on the Small Council. Jaime agrees to all this. He says, “you have my word.”
Ellaria is clearly very angry, she accuses Doran of completely capitulating. She says, “No wonder you can’t stand, you have no spine.” He grabs her arm as she attempts to storm out. He tells her that she’s the mother of four of his nieces and he hopes she’ll live a long life for their sake, but she won’t if she speaks to him in that way again. She leaves.
Jaime asks what happened to Bronn. Doran asks him what happens in King’s Landing to commoners who strike princes, but Jaime says he takes full responsibility. Doran lets Trystane decide what will happen to Bronn, since he has to learn how to rule. Trystane says he’ll be merciful, he’ll set Bronn free on one condition.
In the cells, Tyene and Nymeria are playing a game that involves slapping each others hands. This escalates into an argument until Tyene slaps Nymeria across the face. As they prepare to fight, Areo Hotah appears. He takes Bronn out of his cell under guard. Tyene calls after him to repeat that she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, which he does. Obara says, “slut”.
Bronn is brought before the prince and the others. Bronn is awkward around the high-born men and apologizes for hitting Trystane. Jaime tells him Trystane had granted him his freedom on a condition. Areo Hotah then punches him in the face.
Later in the episode, Doran is in his wheelchair with Ellaria standing before him. The Sand Snakes are standing nearby with their hands bound. Doran tells Ellaria that her rebellion is over, she can swear her allegiance to him, or die. Tearfully, Ellaria bows down before him and kisses his hand. The Sand Snakes look on, very angry.
Doran says he believes in second chances, but not in third ones.
Ellaria goes to Jaime’s room where he’s writing a letter. After some lighthearted banter Ellaria brings the topic to how Cersei will be thrilled that Myrcella will be coming home. She says that Jaime must love her very much. He thinks that she means Myrcella, but she clarifies that she means Cersei. She says that, in Dorne, they’re more accepting of relationship that they disapprove of elsewhere. She says that his relationship with Cersei would have raised no eyebrows if it were a hundred years ago, and their name was Targaryen. She says that standards of decency change, but the one thing that doesn’t change is that “we want who we want”.
Ellaria tells Jaime that she knows Myrcella had nothing to do with what happened to Oberyn. And that maybe even Jaime is innocent of that. Then she leaves.
In the final episode “Mother’s Mercy” we meet up with everyone at a small dock where Myrcella, Trystane, and Jaime are about to get on a boat and leave. Doran kisses Myrcella goodbye and wishes Jaime a safe journey. Ellaria comes forward and takes Myrcella’s hands, telling her she wished her every happiness. She kisses her on the mouth. She and Jaime smile and nod at each other.
Bronn says goodbye to Tyene. He tells her that maybe he’ll come visit her. She says she may come to him, but he tells her that he has a “noblewoman” waiting for him. She leans into him and says: “You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy.” She bites his ear. He takes his leave.
On the ship, Myrcella and Jaime are alone in her cabin. He returns her necklace to her, and she says she’ll never take it off. Jaime says he’s glad she’s coming home and that Trystane is coming, since he seems nice. He tells her she’s lucky that her arranged marriage was so “well arranged.” They discuss whether Cersei will like him and Jaime says that she doesn’t like anyone but her children. Myrcella replies that she likes him.
Jaime tries to broach the topic of his relationship with Myrcella’s mother but he’s very nervous. He repeats Ellaria’s words about how you don’t choose who you love, then says he sounds like an idiot.
Myrcella tells him she knows what he’s trying to say, that she knows about Jaime and Cersei’s relationship, and that she’s glad that he’s her father. They embrace. Myrcella smiles at him but her nose starts to bleed. Jaime calls her name and she collapses in his arms, seemingly dead.
Back at the dock, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are watching the ship. Ellaria’s nose starts to bleed. Tyene hands her a handkerchief and she wipes away the blood and the paint from her lips. She throws the handkerchief into the sea, then takes a vial from off her necklace and drinks it. This is the same antidote that Tyene gave Bronn in a previous episode.
She and the Sand Snakes walk off.
Whose story is it?
Again, I’m going to try to remain objective here. Who was the protagonist here?
I think we can immediately discount Doran and the two lovebirds. None of them have anything resembling an arc. Doran is for peace from start to finish, and Trystane and Myrcella are in love.
Are the Sand Snakes the protagonists? I don’t think so. The arguably have an arc: they want revenge for their father, they face obstacles in the way of their goal, and then they overcome them. But in terms of agency in the story, they have little. All the narrative decisions were made by Ellaria, and they consistently follow her lead.
So Ellaria, is the protagonist? I think a good argument could have been made for this before the final episode of the season. But the seeming change in the character, where she repented her desire to seek vengeance through violence, was a ruse. Her desire for vengeance and her willingness to kill Myrcella remains the same for the entire story. Ellaria is not a protagonist, she’s an antagonist, she is the one who creates the conflict.
So that only leaves Jaime and Bronn. The closest thing Bronn has to an arc is his relationship with Tyene, and how she’s a foil for Lollys Stokeworth. But Bronn trying to figure out what kind of woman is his type is clearly not the heart of this story. Bronn is there to support Jaime, to provide action back-up and comic relief.
So Jaime is the protagonist. This is quite clear. The plot line begins with him telling Cersei that he will rescue Myrcella, and ends in his failure. The antagonist, Ellaria, spurs him to action, then reacts to the actions he takes. His motivation is a desire to make up for his mistake of releasing Tyrion by saving his daughter/niece, to prove to Cersei that he cares for their children and their family, and therefore for her.
It’s clear, this is Jaime’s story.
What was the result of this story, from a thematic and character perspective?
If we accept that fact that Jaime is the protagonist, this plotline becomes one about him coming to terms with, and atoning for, his past failures and neglect as a father. Cersei accuses him of never being there for their children and criticism his overly practical approach to the situation, that he did it to keep them safe. And Jaime, already feeling guilty about his culpability in the death of their father and regretful of what it cost him in terms of Cersei’s respect and affection for him, determines that rescuing Myrcella will go some way towards healing this rift.
At a couple of points during their journey, Bronn serves as a sounding board for Jaime’s feeling about this.
Myrcella’s conversation with her father also re-enforces this. She says that he “doesn’t know her,” he has always distanced himself from his children, and even though this was for their safety, it’s still a rift that causes him pain.
Jaime’s conversation with Ellaria convinces him that his feelings for Cersei shouldn’t be a source of shame. He begins the process of reconciling with her by revealing her true parentage to Myrcella. Her acceptance of it is the closure of Jaime’s arc.
Myrcella and Trystane’s relationship also shows this “love conquers all” theme. Dorne is characterized very strongly as a place that’s uniquely hostile to Jaime. As Bronn says more than once, his family (and him in particular) are especially hated there. Yet the young people’s relationship is able to overcome that.
This is contrasted to Ellaria, who, despite being reminded of the daughters she should be caring about and even despite the offer of forgiveness, is unable to overcome her hatred and need for revenge.
What adaptational choices were made?
(Since I’ll now be comparing GoT to aSoIaF, I’m going to be using the fandom nicknames for the show characters, as compiled in The Book Snob Glossary, in order to make which plot I’m talking about more clear.)
It’s very difficult to talk about adaptational choices in this plot line, because so little was adapted. Really, all that can be said is that they retained a setting (Dorne) from the source material, while filling it with a completely original story with more or less entirely original characters. I really do think this is a fair and objective assessment.
In terms of characters, well, I’ve discussed this at length elsewhere. The Sand Fakes have little to do with the Sand Snakes, either in terms of personality or function within the story. Faullaria is also, quite literally the opposite of Ellaria Sand’s characterization in A Dance with Dragons.
The other Dornish characters are also VERY different. Trystane and Myrcella were aged up considerably. While they are betrothed in the source material, they’re both too young for any physical relationship or talk of “love” to take place. Neither of them have any agency in story or are anything but secondary characters.
Doran’s ACTIONS are arguably in character. He’s always very cautious and reluctant to use force, especially because of the consequences he know war will have for his people. However, his motivations could not be any more different.
I see no evidence whatsoever (and I’ve looked) to support the idea that Prince Bashir is anything less than sincere in everything he says. He holds no resentment against the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death (Elia wasn’t even mentioned this season, was she?) and he trusts Larry and his good intentions. Doran’s driving motivation is his hatred for the Lannisters, even though other aspects of his personality prevent him from ever fully committing to “getting revenge”. He would certainly never trust them enough to place one of his children in their hands.
But really, in terms of characters, the giant fire breathing dragon in the room is an omission. The Dornish arc in A Feast for Crows had a clear protagonist, Princess Arianne, who was entirely omitted with VERY far reaching implications.
Since Arianne is the protagonist, the entire plot line services her, naturally. She’s the main actor in the plot. Her decision to crown Myrcella makes it possible, her asserting herself makes the resolution possible.
I’ve seen a lot of comments about how Faullaria has “replaced” Arianne in the plot, since she was placed in opposition to Doran, and because of her desire to use Myrcella to begin a conflict with the Iron Throne. But this idea is surface level at best.
Thematically, the Dorne plot is a family tragedy. Doran and Arianne are in conflict with each other, but they still love each other. In fact, it’s a fear of losing each other and a similar way of dealing with conflict (that is, avoiding it) that caused them to become opposed in the first place.
This dynamic is the beating heart of the plotline, and it’s entirely absent from the adaptation in Game of Thrones. Prince Bashir says that Ellaria has “a place in [his] heart,” but they have no affection for each other, and they certainly have nothing in common. Hell, he’s perfectly willing to have her killed if she doesn’t submit to him and beg forgiveness. (Something Arianne never does, by the way.)
There are actually two minor characters in Dorne who Faullaria resembles a lot more than Arianne Martell: Obara Sand and Gerold “Darkstar” Dayne.
Obara Sand was cast, but she has two major character moments in the novels, and both were given to Faullaria (in very different contexts). The first was when she barged in on Doran in the Water Gardens to demand he go to war, the second was when she refused to toast the king by spilling her wine on the ground. Both these scenes are meant to characterize Obara as rather emotionally immature. And giving them to Faullaria was, well, I discuss that below.
Gerold Dayne, a Dornish knight who rather pretentiously calls himself “Darkstar,” is the only character in the entire plotline who actually suggests harming Myrcella (and, like Faullaria, he does). And interestingly, both these characters views act as sounding boards for Doran and Arianne to express, like, the opposite opinion.
So really, the characters have nothing to do with those in the source material, and neither does the theme. If one is very generous, one could argue that both are father-daughter stories, but really, that’s accidental. And it has far more to do with Larry’s relationship with Carol than with his daughter.
Why did they make the adaptational choices they did?
This is where things get interesting. Because I have two questions: what was wrong with the plot line in the novels that made it unworthy of the show, and, given how little these two plots had to do with each other, why did they bother to take us to Dorne at all?
Let’s tackle the first question first. Really, you would think that Arianne Nymeros Martell would be a dream come true for the show; she’s a “sexually liberated” woman who seeks political power… basically a canonical version of the mold they forced Margaery Tyrell into. Arianne even has a scene with full frontal nudity!
There were two plotlines that were combined (or, let’s be real, dropped and replaced) to make this: the mostly independent Dornish arc, and Jaime’s journey in the riverlands. Both those arcs are sometimes criticised as being “boring” and lacking in action. This is something that they share with Brienne’s plotline, which was also altered to the point where it have very little to do with the source material.
So, they decided that they didn’t wish to adapt Jaime’s arc from aFfC for Larry because they felt it lacked in action and would be too boring? (The fact that there seems to be at least some element of the riverlands plot in preparation for season 6 makes this difficult to assume, but yeah, clearly they decided that Larry was not going to fulfil his canon function this year.) If we accept this as a starting point then the question becomes: Why Dorne?
I mean it flies in the face of one of the cardinal rules of adaptation: “it’s better to cut something than to change it.” Cutting out Dorne would be relatively simple for them, especially considering that they also seem to have cut another major plot line that’s now closely related to it in the books. Not to mention the fact they they did cut Doran’s “fire and blood” speech, which is arguably the most important overall “plot” thing that happens in Dorne.
Really there’s only one reason I can think of: because Oberyn was so popular in season 4 and they hoped to replicate that success, particularly with the Sand Fakes. He was a sexy, bad-ass fighter and so are they. And Dorne itself is also different from the rest of Westeros as we’ve seen it for four years. That kind of visual variety is tempting.
So, if they wanted to go to Dorne because they thought to place would be intrinsically interesting and popular, why didn’t we go to the real Dorne? Well, I have a few ideas.
Like, the Dorne plot is complicated. I know this. It’s full of characters whose motivations aren’t straight forward and whose actions are morally ambiguous. And, to be fair, Arianne would have been a difficult character even for writers of higher caliber than Benioff and Weiss to tackle. She tends to keep her thoughts to herself (something they have trouble with when adapting Sansa, for example), and she’s a “good” person who does “bad” things, and this show has always had huge problems with moral ambiguity. (See: Saint Tyrion) I would have perfect respect for anyone doing an adaptation who said that they were cutting out the Dorne plot because they simply didn’t have the time or resources to do it properly.
But really, this may be giving them too much credit. I will discuss this more below.
So we must assume that they wanted to go to Dorne because it was popular, or rather Oberyn was. And they decided that what made him popular was 1. he was sexy 2. he wanted revenge 3. he was a badass fighter. And these are the traits that they emphasised in both Faullaria and the Sand Fakes. Faullaria, a character we already know, gives us “buy-in,” so that not everything about the place is wholly unfamiliar, and Larry’s protagonist status makes sure we don’t get bogged down into too much “unrelated” or “bloated” plot.
So yeah, they wanted Larry to have an adventure while he’s in-holding for the riverlands plot. (I still have no idea why they had to delay the riverlands, but let’s go with it.) And Dorne was a natural choice, being popular, colourful, and full of characters who don’t really have their own story to tell.
How did those choices change the story?
The fact is, the Dorne plot in season 5 was an abysmal failure. In a season that was universally praised, it was universally derided. And the one element that seems to be the focus of the disappointment is the Sand Snakes. Safe to say, they didn’t manage to capture whatever it was about Oberyn that viewers found so fascinating.
I think the reason for this failure must be the backwards way in which this whole plotline was written. They needed a plot cul-de-sac to stick Larry in, so they chose Dorne. Dorne had to focus on the Sand Snakes because they’re just like Oberyn, who people liked. And obviously they would want revenge. That’s just like the books. But we need Ellaria too, for buy-in. They’d want to harm Myrcella, for revenge. Then they had to make Myrcella likable, hence the tacked on love story, and so, and so, and so, as Areo Hotah would say.
In terms of adaptation, this story-line was a complete failure, that goes without saying at this point, not only in terms of plot things that happened, but even more so in terms of character and theme.
This includes not only the Dorne plot, but also Jaime’s arc in aFfC, which is all about his struggle to find an identity independent of his family and his notoriety as the “Kingslayer”. Throughout it, he becomes resentful about the lies he’s had to live and more and more aware of how unhealthy and mutually self-destructive his relationship with Cersei, and that she’s not the idealized figure who’s been living in his mind for so long. It ends with a very unambiguous symbolic rejection of her.
Like, do I have to detail how Larry’s arc is the exact opposite? In this version, it’s Larry who’s always been super cautious about the secret getting out and saying how he has to distance himself from the children. Whereas it had always been Jaime who’d been asking Cersei to make their relationship public, and damn to consequences.
But no, Larry learned to embrace his role as a father and to not be ashamed of his relationship with Carol, because “who can’t choose who you love”. That isn’t necessarily a bad arc in itself, but it’s not what was in the source material, at all.
The Dornish plot as a thematic adaptation gets a little messy because the plotline in the books tends to be a little misunderstood. A VERY surface level reading of it can cause one to get the idea that the story is “a hotheaded woman makes a mess that the rational man has to clean up.” So it’s entirely possible that the showrunners actually THOUGHT they were being true to the theme of the arc (just let that sit there in your brain for a moment…). But, really, given their track record, I think that would have been a matter of chance, that their intentions and the source material just happen to align.
But, intentional or not, this is a story about a group of women who have made it their mission to harm a young girl while two men, Prince Bashir and Larry, try to stop them and deal with the crisis in a civilized manner. And the main antagonist was consciously given the characterization of a character in the source material whose defining quality is her emotional immaturity.
Not only is this rather, um, shockingly sexist, (I mean, infantilization, “all women are catty”, weaponized femininity… shall I go on?) but this is especially egregious when you compare it to the plotline in the books, where the female protagonist refuses to be infantilized (and the fact that she’s being infantilized is her major grievance in the first place…), where she learns from her mistakes without having to be mansplained at, accepting full responsibility, and where the resolution involves a civilized, if emotionally heated, discussion where the male authority figure is shown to be as much in the wrong as she is.
In terms of tone as well, there was a very intentional decision to make this plotline Larry’s story, rather than focusing on the familial relationships within the Dornish royal family, as it was in the source material. Doran and Trystane never actually speak to each other, not once; there is no affection whatever between Faullaria and the prince, and the Sand Fakes “sisterly” dynamic is centred around slapping, belittling, and slut-shaming each other.
When Dornish characters do speak to each other it’s only ever about one thing: Larry and revenge. Ever. I’ve already discussed at length how this turns Dorne entirely into a narrative of incident and the troubling orientalist and ultimately racist implications of this, so I won’t do so further here. But suffice to say that, for all the showrunner’s assertions that Dorne is their favourite place ever, they didn’t do it any favours.
And lastly, like, they didn’t even manage to adapt the broad strokes of the plot. In the novels, the most important “plot” thing in aFfC is the reveal that Dorne has been working to overthrow the Lannisters and intends to openly oppose them soon. In the show, the Martells are aligned with the Lannisters. It’s entirely possible that it will be “shockingly” revealed next season that they’ve been secretly supporting Dany or something, but that will be just another cheap 180 trick at this point. (see below) Like, Prince Bashir was willing to give them his only heir as a hostage (unprompted); that suggests he’s trying to make this work.
And even as an independent story, few people can call Dorne in season 5 successful. Like, guys, this is BAD writing. There is just no way to pull that punch.
I’m mean the dialogue is mediocre at best. There are several times where it’s actually CRINGE worthy. And it’s not at all helped by the inexplicable decision to have New Zealanders and women from Surry try to deliver them in what I THINK was suppose to be a hispanic accent. Combine that with constant and absolutely tasteless “one handed” jokes and the scenes become a chore to even sit through, and almost impossible to take seriously.
And, as I mentioned, the characterizations and the character relationships almost all fell flat. The attempts to convince the audience that the Sand Fakes were “badass” were so forced they were almost parodies of themselves, and it clearly didn’t manage to replicate what people found so interesting about Oberyn (though I would argue that it was his quieter, humanizing moments, like his conversation with Tyrion in the cell, that really won our hearts, rather than his silly fight scenes and orgies). And they were further undermined by other decisions (all of them really), like their anachronistic costumes, the cheesy accents that not one of the actors managed to pull off (unlike Pedro Pascal, who used his own culture to create a style of speech based on his father’s, which enhanced his performance, but was for that reason personal to him as an actor), the abysmal fight choreography and editing, the “bad girl” eye make-up, and the direction to Keisha Castle-Hughes (who is capable of SO much more) to look that she had something bad smelling under her nose all the time. And how on earth is anyone suppose to take three women seriously who spend all their time bickering and playing slappy games?
Other relationships fair little better. Bronn and Larry’s dynamic is certainly the most organic relationship in the arc (notwithstanding the ableist humour) but the use of Bronn for comic relief was rather transparent and his “bonding” with Larry really doesn’t hold up to even minute scrutiny at a logical level. (Like, why is Bronn giving Larry sage relationship advice? On what grounds is he questioning Carol’s devotion? HOW does he know about Myrcella being Larry’s daughter? Telepathy?)
As for the two “romances”, one of them is frankly concerning, and the other is… unconvincing.
I hesitate to call Tyene and Bronn’s relationship a “romance” because, frankly, I have no idea what I was suppose to think of it. Was it suppose to be funny? Was he suppose to be actually aroused by her antics? She she actually smitten, or is she just screwing with him? The fact that he offered to come visit her suggest that, yeah, he is supposed to be attracted to her, I guess? But, seriously, she tortured him. Like, she threatened him with death if he didn’t comply with her incredibly shallow request. That’s torture. And I don’t think the narrative is aware of this at all. Most people seem to think the scene was meant to be funny.
As for Trystane and Myrcella (Tryscella, as I affectionately call them), well, there’s just not much to say about them. They’re two bratty teenagers and they’re in love. We know because they say so. And they like to make out. I mean, fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not going to make me root for them or be super concerned about whether those two crazy kids will ever make it work. It’s not like this is some great romance with adversity to overcome. They’re just genertic horny teenagers. Fine.
The parent-child relationships are likewise too superficial to have much to say about them. Doran and Trystane never speak to each other, as I mentioned. Apparently Trys learned all about mercy from Doran? Tyene and Faullaria seem tight? Tyene was super nice to hand her mom the handkerchief to wipe the poison off her lips.
Myrcella and Larry have to best developed relationship, but that’s not saying much. I’m still not sure what happened in between episode 7, when Myrcella was storming out of rooms saying “you don’t know me!” and episode 10 when she was expressing her joy at being an incest baby to prompt that change. She learned that there was a threat to her and that Larry really cares? She’s appeased by him being okay with her boyfriend? I really just can’t shake the feeling that that entire final conversation between them was more or less unmotivated and only tried to give them a “nice” moment to make her death more tragic and shocking.
And that kind of cheap emotional trick was all over the resolution of this arc. I episode 9, Faullaria seems to repent of her vengeful way. She begs Prince Bashir for forgiveness. She even has a nice chat with Larry. Her performance is very convincing. In fact, I would be willing to bet quite a lot of money that Indira Varma had no idea she was supposed to be faking.
And what was the point of this? So the reveal in the next episode of Myrcella’s death would be more shocking. Of course no one saw it coming if Faullaria’s behaviour in the previous episode would make any reasonable person think it was impossible. But that’s not a great shock. That’s a cheap trick. That’s bad writing. The best shocks are the ones where you’re kicking yourself because in retrospect they’re obvious. They don’t come out of nowhere. This did.
“Its easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, its just being shocking for being shocking.” –George R.R. Martin
Not to mention the constant lack of logical or internal consistency in the writing. There are a thousand little details, like Faullaria declaring to Prince Bashir that the Sand Fakes are with her, only having the next scene be her asking the Sand Fakes if they’re with her. Or the complete illogic of the prince even letting her leave after she threatened him to his face. Or why they didn’t talk out their own issues before they let Larry in the room.
The most egregious bit of illogic undermines the whole plotline though. Why the hell would they continue with this plan to murder Myrcella, when Larry is right there? He’s an adult with agency and he was actually there when Oberyn died. They were just that hungry for the innocent white girl’s blood? Sure, that’s not full of horribly troubling implications…
I’m really not sure how this “Kill Myrcella” storyline got off the ground, to be honest, in light of Oberyn’s moving declaration last season that “we don’t harm little girls in Dorne.” And this is how they thought they would build on that character’s popularity, by doing something that he would be disgusted and ashamed by?
Shame on them, seriously. Their actions have shamed Dorne and dishonoured us all.