Winter has come. The seventh season of Game of Thrones is off and running and with only seven episodes, HBO doesn’t have time to hold our hands and explain things like where characters are, the history of new locations, or how the actions of one character affect the powder keg that is Westeros’ political climate. Luckily, between all of George R.R. Martin’s novels, and The World of Ice and Fire historical tome, there’s plenty of ways to fill in the blanks and we’re here to help. Obviously spoilers and speculation will abound, so proceed at your own peril.
In the world George R.R. Martin created with A Song of Ice and Fire, readers know that any death that happens off-screen doesn’t count. And for a while, that was the case on the HBO adaption as well. Then Game of Thrones killed Stannis Baratheon off-camera and he stayed dead, breaking the tacit agreement that characters left alive when the scene ended still had a fighting chance of returning. Now, it seems Ellaria Sand and her daughter Tyene will also suffer an off-screen death, left to rot in the bowels of the King’s Landing dungeon. Actress Indira Varma (Ellaria) revealed that was her character’s send-off. The Sand Snakes have officially been removed from the board.
This is disappointing for anyone who hoped Game of Thrones would get it together enough to make the Sand Snakes into fully developed characters and show how their machinations in Dorne could tip the balance of power as the nobles of Westeros jockey for the Iron Throne. In Martin’s novels, Dorne’s long-standing independence from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms combined with their geographical protection in the form of a mountain range from invading armies has given rise to two warring factions: those who want to rebel openly and those who prefer a more Machiavellian approach. Prince Doran Martell is still alive and well and his eldest daughter and heir, Arianne Martell, is plotting to put a very much alive Myrcella Baratheon on the Iron Throne. Or, barring that, Arianne could marry the alleged last living male Targaryen (Aegon) who has mysteriously popped up on Westerosi shores in recent days, thereby installing herself into power. After all, Arianne Martell was supposed to marry Viserys Targaryen before he took a pot of molten gold the face.
While all of this is going on, Prince Doran is utilizing the grief and rage of the Sand Snakes over their father’s death to further ensnare the Seven Kingdoms in Dorne’s grasp. Tyene, the daughter of a septa instead of Ellaria in the novels, is tasked with infiltrating the new religious fervor at King’s Landing and befriending the High Septon. Nymeria is also sent to King’s Landing to take her late father’s place on the Small Council as Dorne’s representative. Meanwhile, a Sand Snake that didn’t make the cut for Game of Thrones, Sarella, is thought to be disguised as a man in Oldtown, learning the secrets of the maesters for her uncle. Prince Doran is so plugged into the corrupt beating heart of Westeros, he even learns of a plot by Cersei to kill his youngest son Trystane and blame it on Tyrion. This is a kingdom that is, and has been, quietly pulling strings for the Targaryens for decades.
Cut to Game of Thrones and it’s clear the Dornish have been severely neutered for the sake of the plot. It got so bad at one point that a tongue-in-cheek Kickstarter was started to help HBO “fix Dorne.” But now, with the ignominious deaths of the Sand Snakes, along with Ellaria Sand who was a stand-in for Arianne, it seems Dorne is finished on the show. But by futzing with core story of the southernmost kingdom of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and Daniel Weiss have accidentally opened up a plot hole big enough to fit Wun Wun through: Who the heck is in charge of Dorne now?
Prince Doran is dead. His heir on the show (Trystane) is dead. Ellaria Sand, for all intents and purposes, staged a bloodless coupe and took over the Dornish throne. But then she left her people to meet with Dany at Dragonstone, a mistake that cost the lives of her and her daughters. So now the Sand Snake revolutionaries are also dead. But they were taken by Euron Greyjoy before they ever got close to Dorne, meaning no invading army boiled over the Red Mountains and stormed Sunspear to install a puppet government. So that leaves the question: Who is running Dorne? Game of Thrones seemingly doesn’t care. The show has got enough balls in the air with the brewing war between Dany and Cersei, along with the imminent White Walker threat. But killing off the Dornish is not the same as wrapping up the plot. Dorne still has an army waiting for orders, though who is nominally overseeing them is now a mystery.
Maybe the Dornish can join the people of the Vale and just be grateful the oncoming storm of swords and dragons will pass them by since they aren’t important enough to the story. Ha ha, oh man, remember the Vale? And how it’s completely unprotected because Littlefinger took its army to the North. Normally that’d be a bad sign, but my guess is we’ll just never hear about them again. Until The Winds of Winter drops, anyway.