Editorial Game of Thrones Sand Snakes Season 5

Razor’s Rant: Bored, Spent, Broken – The sad portrayal of the Sand Snakes

Warning: This is an article written from the perspective of a book reader. Unsullied, considered yourself warned.

When I first heard that the infamous Sand Snakes were being cast for Season 5 of Game of Thrones, I was elated. You see, I am one of the few book readers who actually enjoyed Oberyn’s bastard daughters in A Feast For Crows and A Dance with Dragons. Sure, they were minor characters, but their introductions in the books were far more interesting than the ones they got on the show. Perhaps this is one of the main reasons for their unflattering portrayal on the show, as they were never meant to be major characters. Art by Michael Clandra

In the books, each of the older Sand Snakes appear to their uncle, Doran, at separate times. Tyene (Dagger Spice in the show), comes to her uncle while he is at Sunspear, and demands vengeance for her father’s death. When Doran says that he will think about it, Tyene approaches him and asks for a blessing, much to the great chagrin of Doran’s Maester, who hurries to check him for scratches or needle pricks after she has left. You see, Tyene’s mother was a Septa (Not Ellaria), and she has maintained the persona of a pious maid. Yet, beneath the modest dress and sweet smiles lies a deadly viper with poison dripping from her fangs. Tyene is a master of poisons, much like her father. In fact, it is well known that poison, not daggers, is her weapon of choice. Doran uses her chaste maid persona as a means to infiltrate the Faith in King’s Landing. Art by Christine Griffin

Nymeria, also known as Lady Nym, was more obviously her father’s daughter in the books than on the show. Nym’s introduction comes in A Feast For Crows, as she hears of her father’s death while in bed with the Lord Fowler’s twins, Jeyne and Jennelyn, and decides to ride to meet her uncle, who is on the road between the Water Gardens and Sunspear, the seat of House Martell. In the books, Nymeria is infamous for her facility with daggers (not a bullwhip), and it is said that she conceals no less that a dozen of those daggers on her person at all times. She is fierce and just as deadly as her older sister, Obara. Doran eventually sends Lady Nym to fill Oberyn’s empty seat on the Small Council in King’s Landing, thus placing two of Oberyn’s deadly daughters in striking distance of the Lannisters. Art by Magali Villeneuve

Of the three eldest Sand Snakes featured on the show, Obara is the most who most resembles her book counterpart. Yes, she is obstinate and fiery, with a proclivity for warring over politics. And yes, of the three Sand Snakes, she alone uses her weapon from the books: a spear like her father’s. Obara rides to the Water Gardens to meet her uncle and demand vengeance for her father’s death, and after a brief incarceration (Doran wisely had all the Sand Snakes locked away in a tower until he could formulate a plan), Doran sends Obara, along with a knight of the Kingsguard, to hunt and kill the knight known as Darkstar, who in the books attacked and disfigured Princess Myrcella. He does this to placate House Lannister, knowing that if he did not act, there would be open war.

So you see, all three Sand Snakes in the books are important, if minor, characters who have been moved into place by their uncle Doran, who some consider a master player of the game of thrones. They are not bumbling idiots who fight horribly and spout cheesy one-liners. They will have important roles in the books to come, roles that will further the fortunes of House Martell when the Targaryans take back the throne. And if that does not come to pass, then no one will be the wiser, as they will not reveal their true intentions unless told to do so by Doran.

As far as Ellaria Sand goes, in the books, she is not the mother of any of the three Sand Snakes featured on the show, and she is not hell-bent on revenge…in fact, the opposite is true. In A Feast for Crows, Ellaria is actually concerned that Obara’s ill-tempered comments will incite war, and fears that her actual daughters, who worship the older Sand Snakes, will try and follow in their footsteps. Doran and Areo Hotah both hold her in high regard, and she is described as a strong woman with a kind heart.

So, is the terrible incarnation of the Sand Snakes and Ellaria in this season of Game of Thrones just a case of things being lost in translation, or is it something more tragic? I lean toward the latter. The argument for streamlining the show (i.e. excluding some characters/storylines while combining others) is that it’s impractical to adapt all of the details from big books like A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons into one 10 episode season, especially considering that many fans feel those books were too long in the first place.

I disagree with that line of thinking. Think about every time we’ve seen Dorne, the Sand Snakes, and Doran/Hotah this season—their limited scenes have been filled with clunky dialogue, and the fight scene in the Water Gardens was so terribly filmed that I actually yawned during it. I think that the Sand Snakes could have been shown in their truest form, with the same actresses, but in a much more flattering light.

The same goes for Ellaria. Ellaria was with Oberyn in King’s Landing and knew his stance on Dorne not hurting little girls, so why is she all of the sudden hell-bent on trying to chop Myrcella (a little girl), into little pieces and send her to her mother one piece at a time? It does not make sense. What’s worse, is the inclusion of a bullwhip wielding Sand Snake…talk about your Spanish stereotypes.

My last and most important thought on the Sands Snake storyline is this: Why is our intelligence as show watchers being constantly insulted? Why does Obara have to repeat the same line and story, almost verbatim, every time she is on screen? Why hasn’t Doran locked up his nieces if he’s really concerned that they may harm Myrcella and cause all-out war? And why, for the love of the many faced god, does Doran not have a single guard at the entrance to the Water Gardens? Do the producers think the viewers are so stupid that they would not catch that glaring oversight? I’m a fan of the show, I really am…but the continued dumbing down of the story is slowly beginning to wear on me, and I constantly find myself referencing A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons in order to see just how much I appreciate George R.R. Martin’s gift for telling a truly remarkable story.

Hi, my name is Razor, and I’m a flustered book purist. 

40 Comments

  • You have to start being honest with yourself.
    Yes, this season has had several missteps, particularly in how it diverged from the books.

    But the simple fact is that books 4 and 5, if properly adapted, would have been dreadfully boring.

    • In their entirety yes. But you can’t tell me that you can’t condense all of book 4 and 5’s interesting parts into one kick ass season.

      • Actually, I can.

        Book 4 was mostly new characters with storylines mostly unrelated to previous storylines. Book 5 built up to the final event… which we didn’t get. It ended on a cliffhanger.

        The problem with this season is that D&D’s writing is not good, and books 4 and 5 are too slow.

    • I disagree. One episode’s worth of Davos/Manderly/Northern Conspiracy/Pies would have made this season infinitely better. So would half an episode of Greyjoy, and a couple episodes spread over the existing characters.

      The problem as I see it is that AFFC/ADWD had about 1.5 season’s worth of material. D&D tried to “solve” this by cramming and cutting into one season, which while better than spreading that butter over two seasons, is far from optimal.

  • I would add that, in the show, we are introduced to those characters via them hanging around a tent in the middle of nowhere.

    I would also add that the Dorne storyline is still more useful to the overall plot than half of the season 3. Because nothing says good storytelling like 10+ minute long dialogue with some Lannister boys about Robb possibly being a werewolf.

  • I have to say that I really enjoyed the Dorne storyline while reading the books and so have most of my friends… I do not understand why so many people find it boring. Ok, maybe it was a bit of a parallel story that may not be that essential to the main storyline (as the Grayjoy which i did find a bit boring) , but as said before we finally see some strong woman characters and a very different region/reign of Westeros…
    Furthermore I honestly do not think that all the action and masterminding going on in Dorne would have been that boring if smartly translated on screen… except now, with this dry translation of it on screen I really have no idea where the show wants to go with it!!
    I think that they really have wasted a good storyline!

  • I think the show has completely lost its edge as soon as it started diverging from the books. The detail and plots have become quite lazy I feel.

  • I still don’t get why they had Jaime sneak into Dorne. It is so dumb. Why would he or Cersei think he could do that and get away with it? Why would he even be going to Dorne in the first place? The writers suck. I never though David or Dan were good writers or showrunners. The show has always been best when they copy directly from the books. Everything they change or add has mostly been, with some exceptions, hot garbage.

    • But what about the Gray Worm/Missandei romance? ?

      Worst waste of space since Roz and Joffrey. (We got it. He was a monster.)

  • Whatever happened to the Riverlands? Was the entire region wiped out by a wildfire bomb together with the consistency of this show?

  • Admittedly I am a bit of an Ironborn fan boy, but I really feel that the Greyjoy plotline would have been a far better choice for the show. As much as I enjoy the Dorne plot in the books too I think it could have easily been told from afar, such as Qyburn relaying messages to Cersei about unrest down south with the Sand Snakes, Myrcella being in trouble and so on, adding to Cersei’s paranoia.

    Whereas the Greyjoy plot would build on existing families and areas whilst adding new characters and customs. They could have fit the kingsmoot in season 4 instead of the Nightswatch mutineer sub-plot and have the Ironborn attack The Reach season 5 have Victarian arrive in Slavers Bay late season 5. The Sand Snakes that are eventually sent to Kings Landing could still enter the show, say Season 6, as well as Quentyn in Slavers Bay. Though I don’t know what they could have done with Jaime and Bronn had they gone this way.

    Shit I know I’m going on about something that won’t happen now but I definitely think it would have been the smarter route. Dorne was a risk for the show, and it some way I’m glad it’s taking big risks to show us more of the world but I don’t think they’ve pulled it off. Maybe the next few episodes will change all that though…

  • Last time, I thought you were wrong about the show, for many reasons. This time, I agree with you, they are destroying Dorne, and they have skipped the Riverlands for this failure.

    The Sand Snakes in the show are like 3 teenagers who are aangry because their parents don’t want to give them some money :D

  • The show has too many plot lines, a Greyjoy story would’ve likely suffered the same fate.

    The castings were different from the Sand Snakes’ descriptions in the book, I was OK with that. Put Jaime in Dorne, makes sense so the audience has a connection, cool I was OK with that. Make Ellaria Tyene’s vengeful mom, hmmm I was OK with that, don’t see why it makes a difference. “Dorne” shows up in the opening credits instead of “Sunspear” or “The Water Gardens of Dorne,” ummm…. Then last week’s fight scene.
    I defend the show a lot because I think the whole “they’ve gone off the books” argument is, quite frankly, old at this point, they’ve been going off the books since Season 2. But Dorne was a real misstep. I hope they clean it up. For the first time I found myself thinking that maybe the show should start Season 6 from September 2016, because it looks like it’s too much to handle just now.

  • I, like many, didn’t like the Greyjoy plot on my first read except for Victarion. I thought, meh, he’s ok. On my re-read of the Greyjoy chapters though, I loved it! I understood so much more of the plots, characters and scheming going on. Euron, Victarion and ‘Asha’ on the TV show would have been brilliant to watch! With so much invested in Theon, it would’ve been good for the audience to see ‘wow! Theon has this badass family yet he’s all alone being tortured!’

    They’ve really missed a trick here. I guess they thought it would cost too much or didn’t do a re-read!

  • I agree with Razor, in that I think for some reason someone in charge has decided that GoT fans are terribly, terribly stupid. Much too stupid to comprehend a not-terribly-complicated conspiracy like it is in the books, so they need to make the characters scenery chewing one dimensional cutouts. This seems to have struck between seasons, and it baffles me.

    I don’t consider myself a purist, I actually like putting Jamie and Bronn in Dorne. It would have been cool to have Jaime rescue his daughter from Sand Snakes who were pretending to be her friends to use her against her family. And since they had to introduce the Sand Snakes, why not Arianne? Is introducing four dornish women so much harder than three? The added father-daughter dynamic would have made things much richer.

  • I completely agree that the Greyjoy subplot is far more compelling (oh, to see The Silence and her crew!), but I can see how prohibitive that would’ve been. The Griffs & co otoh would’ve been easy cost wise – a boat and some actors – and probably more significant to the endgame. Bottom line, the show has moved too quickly in obeisance to the artificial symmetry of “7 books, 7 seasons.” And I highly recommend reading all the Greyjoy chapters together, so good!

  • They’ve had two scenes where they’ve basically had no dialogue. Their intro was botched slightly, but at the same time I’m not giving up on them yet, especially considering we still have 4 episodes where they actually have dialogue to go.

  • I’m a book purist myself. And just like Razor, I’m becoming more and more frustrated with each passing episode. I am aware and can absolutelly understand that the show cannot bring to the screen every single character, each meal in full detail as it is described on the books, but seriously… there were a hundred ways to do right by the original characters(mayor and minor) and about one way to completely ruin them. The producers chose the latter. What’s worse, we will NEVER get to see on the screen the story as it was supposed to be because the GOT show is already massive enough as it is. Much as it happened with LOTR: we won’t get any better.

  • i just feel we have lost better supporting characters for these 3 to be in the show would have preferred to see Jamie with the blackfish edmure and freys dondarion thorus and stoneheart anguy would have loved to have seen Dany with barristan tyrion and jorah all interacting together

  • So far this season the only plot line I’m enjoying is Arya’s and a little of Kingslanding (although that’s because of reading the books. Had I not read the books, I’d be totally lost).

  • Macejko…..half of season 3?? Not sure what the knock on season 3 is. And that scene of the Lannister boys talking to Talisa was like 2 minutes long, I don’t know where you get 10.

  • So many great, thoroughly thought-through editorials and writing ideas here… we need at least a half dozen of you banging some heads together with D & D … And the comment about postponing until Sept 2016? Yeahh… If they took a whole year off to get the rid of the mess that is stinkin up the show now, it would be worth it.

  • What kills me almost as much as the Dornish cheese is the Grey Worm/Missandei love story. So, you mean to tell me you’re going to waste valuable screen time on those two when you’ve got characters who are actually important to the story? WTF? I have no idea what that’s about. Every second they spend on them is time they could’ve used on someone or something else.

  • Unfortunately, I have to agree with the tone of this article. As a bookreader, I too, have come to experience a sense of dread about the direction of the show when there is no written material to guide them.

    The sand snakes were handed to the audience without any character development. They had done a great job previously of finding actors off of the beaten path that could handle their scenes or grow into their roles. I don’t care if the sand snakes are/were attractive, I would have rather they cast actresses that could handle the action scenes and the accent presented previously by Pedro Pascal, without losing their ability to act.

    And after hearing from several actors during the off-season that HBO was throwing money at the show, trying to insure its continued success, I found this whole sand snakes fight scene deplorable. Three girls in ill-fitting costumes and winklepickers in a combat scene that looked like it was shot by the crew of Xena, warrior princess. This is the progression of combat in this show after watching Bronn cut through soldiers like butter in the Battle of Blackwater or Karl Tanner wield his double daggers against Jon Snow?

    I can understand Dave and Dan may be exhausted from the constant demands of creating a monster with the bar set so high. But this slam dunk ending mentality that I am sensing may ruin the overall legacy of this epic tale.

  • I will NEVER forgive killing Ser Barristan..and surely there are better actresses available for the Sand Snakes… or better writing… what a cluster f##k! Ellaria is just plain out of character now and jarringly, mind numbingly lame- sounding… disappointed!

  • “Do the producers think the viewers are so stupid that they would not catch that glaring oversight?”

    I believe they do.

  • I feel like the entire Dorne storyline was cheapened when they decided to forego Arianne and the push for Myrcella’s claim to the throne / the parallel to the Dance of the Dragons and instead give us nothing but cheap, hilariously sad and stereotypical revenge organized by a woman who, in the books, wanted the opposite. Shouldn’t a show named “Game of Thrones” be more interested in political intrigue than cheap cliché?

    Argh. I’m not a book purist, and I can forgive them for maneuvering characters the audience knows into existing / important storylines (example, Sansa to fake Arya/Jeyne Poole) because it could at least be argued that the tone and the subtext were still fairly accurate to the books even if the details shifted. But this? The nuances of Dorne were reduced to boring, stupid stereotypes and you can’t even fault it on the writers not having material as a guide. They had the material. They chose to interpret it hilariously* poorly.

    *And by hilariously I really mean horrifically.

  • I am one of the book readers who are open minded and tolerant of the changes that D&D have made. But I agree, Dorne is such a massive failure. I think the hasty, bad writing is compounded by the actresses’ lack of talent. Look at the videos, the gifs and memes of the Sandsnakes during their fight in episode 6. The Sand Snakes were randomly twirling and fighting like headless chickens its just hilarious. Why didnt the director, D&D and the one in charge of the stunts chastise them for their subpar work? They could have at least given us an awesome fight scene to make up for the crappy storyline/script.

  • The overall problem i think is D&D’s apparent lack of understanding the story they’re portraying. By that i mean it seems that whenever they go off book as this season has largely done they show almost no understanding of the characters, customs and culture of ASOIF. Look at the Loras debacle, i don’t know if they were deliberately trying to pander to the gay community or were earnestly trying to create a rounded character but failed and showed a stereotype instead right along with a quite sudden”and contrived persecution for his “sin. The Bronn – Jaime bromance, The Sand Spice girls etc.

    On the set of Downton Abbey they employ a historian whose sole job is to advise the actors et al on the correct manners,customs and behavior of that time period; for instance men did not shake hands at that time and hierarchy was the most important thing in any social gathering.
    How hard would it be to hire some advisers to ensure authenticity. Heck I’m sure the experts would volunteer. Even GRRM has fans remind him of things in case he forgets a detail in the sprawling opus he”s written.

    GOT was best when they kept to the books and it seems the further they diverge the plot the harder it will be to incorporate the books far better story once tWOW is published. It seems GOT will be one of the shows that was great but became meh in later seasons.

  • “She conceals no less than a dozen of those daggers”

    – David (Razor) Harris

    “Fewer”

    – Stannis Baratheon

  • Agree 100%. While I understand that productions have budgets and shooting schedules and require *some* sacrifices, if you go too far, your story becomes simplistic. It makes no sense whatsoever to have researched the exotic locations, transported everyone there and filmed them beautifully but to populate them with cardboard cut-outs who are singularly uninteresting.

    Also, the nomenclature debate at my office has been between “Ninja Turtles” as they are distinguishable primarily by weapon and not much else versus “Power Rangers” who are barely distinguishable at all save by color. The “spice girls” reference would have been possible except that team made an effort to distinguish themselves. It’s not really applicable to a threesome that, in the TV series, wears the same colors and general garments and has no real distinction at all.

  • Although I was a little annoyed by the sudden appearance of Dorne in the books, I actually liked the storyline and was looking forward to seeing the Sand Snakes actualised and Arianne. But I’m so disappointed every time they’re on screen. The writing for them is so poor and they have no distinguishable characteristics. You would never link them to Oberyn, who was fantastic on screen.

    I also get that of course you have to condense plot lines and stories for a show but they’ve taken a complex piece of literature and are starting to dumb it down and turn it into a disjointed farce.