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.