Curtain Call: Indira Varma

There’s an outside chance this Curtain Call is premature. After all, last we saw Ellaria Sand — chained to a wall in a dungeon beneath the Red Keep in “The Queen’s Justice” — she wasn’t dead. In fact, Cersei made it pretty clear that she intended to keep Ellaria alive for a while, and even threatened to force-feed Ellaria if she refused to eat. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be able to watch the body of her daughter Tyene waste away before her eyes.

Geez, Cersei can be mean.

But even if Ellaria stays alive, the chances we’ll see her again are very slim, especially if Cersei stays in power. Also, speaking about the dungeon scene to Entertainment Weekly, actor Indira Varma basically said she won’t be returning to the show. “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,” she explained. “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 it sounds like that dungeon scene was Ellaria’s last hurrah.

Helen Sloan – HBO

And as far as last hurrahs go, it was a pretty good one. The character of Ellaria Sand had frustrated fans for awhile, ever since the start of season 5, when she decided to get revenge for the death of her lover Oberyn Martell by killing Mrycella Baratheon, the daughter of Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Fans wondered if Oberyn’s death really called for revenge when he died in a trial by combat, a legal contest for which he volunteered. Also, didn’t purposefully murdering an innocent child make Ellaria just as bad if not worse than the people she was get revenge on? And why didn’t that assault on the Water Gardens make any sense whatsoever?

It’s that last bit that rankled me the most. I didn’t need Ellaria to be a pleasant person to enjoy her (talking to HBO’s Making Game of Thrones blog, Varma said that Ellaria turned “rotten” after Oberyn’s death, which I can accept), but she was stuck in a plotline that often didn’t hold up under even slight scrutiny. Things got weirder in season 6, when Ellaria and the Sand Snakes murdered Princes Doran and Trystane Martell and took control of Dorne for themselves. So now Ellaria is getting revenge for Oberyn by killing his brother and nephew…okay…

So the Dornish plot had issues, but none of that can be laid at Varma’s feet. She tried her damndest to bring it to life, and often succeeded against huge odds. The dungeon scene is a perfect example. Ellaria may be a difficult character, but Varma was gripping here. Gagged, she had to convey everything Ellaria was feeling with her eyes, and she did. In her moment of pain and fear, Ellaria felt more real to me than she had at any point in the last two seasons, and that’s pretty much all because of Varma.

She brought the plot to life at other moments, too, like the bit in “The Dance of Dragons” where Ellaria kneels before Doran and gives up on her vengeance. Not long after, Ellaria kills Mrycella, so she was faking her contrition…or was she? Varma is very convincing in the moment, and makes us wonder if Ellaria really did try to give up her quest, only for her need for vengeance to overcome her later. Varma was able to suggest layers to the character that weren’t in the script. She was better than the storyline she was a part of.

Varma has the experience to back up all that ability. An accomplished actor, Varma snagged her first starring role in 1996’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, a romance set in 16th century India. After that, notable roles included Kiran Balraj in Bride and Prejudice, Zoe Luther in Luther, and Niobe of the Voreni in HBO’s Rome, a splashy period drama that was in many ways a direct precursor to Game of Thrones.

In 2018, Varma will star alongside the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Patrick Melrose, a TV miniseries. We know she’ll knock it out of the park, because that’s what she does.

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