We were first introduced to Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) in Game of Thrones season 4, when she was the consort of Oberyn Martell. After Oberyn’s death, Ellaria headed back to Dorne and started down a path that would end with her ruling the country, until she was captured by Euron Greyoy and up in a jail cell beneath the Red Keep in “The Queen’s Justice,” this Sunday’s new episode.
Is that the last we’ll see of Ellaria Sand? According to Varma, who spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the episode, yes. “Obviously there’s lots of trimming going on,” she said of where her character’s fate fits into the show’s plan. “It’s all coming to a head and you have to get rid of less important characters that the audience hasn’t had the chance to invest in as much. So I was expecting it. I wasn’t heartbroken. And I was like, ‘As long as I die on screen…’ and they were like ‘Yeah!’ But of course I don’t die on screen. I stay alive, I’m just not going to reappear. I think it’s really clever.”
So Ellaria is doomed to spend the rest of her days watching the corpse of her daughter decompose. It’s a harsh punishment, but at least it made for a crackling scene, if not an easy one to shoot.
It was hard work. A lot of blood snot and sweat and tears. Myself and Rosabell [Laurenti Sellers, who plays Tyene] had to be shackled. They very kindly put some felt inside the handcuffs so we didn’t get bruised and battered — though we ended up doing that anyway because your acting takes over. The shackles kept coming off so they had to tighten them and then we couldn’t get them off at all. At the end of the day I was like, “I’m stuck! I need somebody to help me!” and they had to cut me out of them. All in a day’s work.
What’s more, according to an interview Varma gave to Newsweek, this scene was filmed on the first day of season 7 shooting, while “everyone was warming up into the idea of working again.” And on top of that, she had to do it all without dialogue, a fact that irritated her when she read the scene on the page, but after she played it, she considered it “a genius bit of revenge and writing.” And anyone who watched the scene will admit that, even though she no dialogue, Varma was saying a ton with her facial expressions.
I agree that as two fierce mothers willing to do anything to protect their loved ones, [Ellaria and Cersei] have a lot on common. I think Ellaria was trying, through her gag, to appeal to her with this.
Despite the discomfort of the scene, Varma had fun “trying to play anger resentment and impotence in that situation, but still wanting to fight,” according to the EW interview. That’s some dedication, right there.
Looking back on the show as a whole, Varma was unable to choose just one favorite scene, although her scenes with Pedro Pascal (Oberyn) were a highlight. “[I]t was wonderful to watch how brilliantly they make a fight and how each stage of it is covered,” she said of Oberyn’s big head-squashing moment. “And I loved doing the first scene, the brothel scene, it was just so decadent — my life isn’t like that.”
The filming in Alcazar Palace [in Spain, the setting of Prince Doran Martell’s Water Gardens] was amazing, just pretending to be this powerful woman in this crazy family is amazing. And the scene with the three girls with the character with the scorpion on his head when he was buried up to his neck — I just remember they wanted to do this extra shot of his head in the foreground with the scorpions all over him and I was so anxious about the scorpions I kept forgetting my lines.
It’s hard to blame her overmuch for the scorpions — you try acting in a presence of deadly giant bugs.
HBO’s Making Game Of Thrones blog also posted an interview with Varma. There, she talked about Ellaria’s role in Daenerys’ network of alliances.
Ellaria’s never been a leader. She’s not had the practice Daenerys has had. Ellaria has snatched control, and doesn’t know what to do with it. But I think she has acquired a begrudging respect for Daenerys. And she’s a woman! (And she has dragons!) But, she’s not happy to just toe the line. Daenerys is cool — she’s not silly, crazy or driven by her passions. Ellaria is. She’s hot-headed, which is why in Episode 2 [”Stormborn”] she’s already chasing tail, rather than strategizing.
At least Varma had a good time with playing her flirtatious scene with Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) before Euron arrived on the scene and everything went belly-up. “I think there’s the humiliation of being caught [by Euron]… she’s absolutely gutted,” she said. “Her dream was to meet Cersei head-to-head and battle it out as equals. When you’re chained up and gagged, that is not meeting someone in an equal way. So that in itself is horrendous. Then seeing the Mountain, oh my God – it’s utter shock, and it brings it all back. It’s sorrow at that point, and disbelief. She feels humiliated.”
And the indignities continued in the Red Keep dungeons. Ellaria might have been able to avoid this fate if she hadn’t killed Cersei’s daughter Mrycella, but Varma doesn’t think Ellaria has any regrets about that.
It’s, If you’re going to kill me and my daughter, at least I’ve done that to you. She wants to tear Cersei down, one family member at a time. I don’t think she would try and apologize for that in order to win back her daughter. It’s too late. Too much blood has been shed.
Looking back, Varma names the moment when Oberyn died as the point when Ellaria turned “rotten” and wondered if she ever could have found it within herself to forgive Cersei. Now, we’ll never know.
So if we don’t see Ellaria again, what does the future hold for her? “I imagine Ellaria will go insane and then have lucid moments where she tries to find a way out for her and Tyene—clutching wildly at any false hope of freedom which will send her more mad,” she told Newsweek. Ouch.
Game of Thrones season 7 continues, minus the Sand Snakes, this upcoming Sunday at 9:00 p.m. EST.