Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When Women Play the Game: The Martells, Pt 1

The Martells, like the Tyrells, are adored by their people.  They know and play the game of thrones well.  The Martells are, however, later in the main gameplay than the rest.  Their plans have been brewing for years, though, and are now forced to fruition by Oberyn’s death, Viserys Targaryen’s death, and Arianne’s race to crown Myrcella over Tommen.  The Martells, especially the Sand Snakes, are prone to anger and violence.  But like Oberyn, they must patiently await the game to unfold in their favor after knowing that Oberyn and Doran are in cahoots to turn the tides to their advantage. 

After Elia Martell Targaryen was raped and murdered and her children slaughtered at the hands of Gregor Cleagane, Oberyn was hellbent on revenge, his venom building within him for years.  He has not forgotten this slight against him by Tywin Lannister.  With this vengeance and anger he raised his daughters.  They, too, are passionate, sensual, martial, and quick to anger.  All with the Red Viper's intense and piercing eyes, each one takes a piece of Oberyn and intensifies it: Obara is vicious and quick-tempered; Nymeria is swift and noble; Tyene is quiet, deceptive, and knowledgeable of poisons; and Sarella is intellectual and curious.  Jealous of how the Sand Snakes were raised, Arianne was expected to marry a man of her father's choosing, as a proper princess would, while Oberyn advises his daughters: "If you would wed, wed. [...] If not, take your pleasure where you find it.  There's little enough of it in this world.  Choose well, though.  If you saddle yourself with a fool or a brute, don't look to me to rid you of him.  I gave you the tools to do that for yourself" (Chapter 40, “The Princess in the Tower”, A Feast for Crows).  It's best not to even marry a Sand Snake unless he's completely worthy of her, and no one has been yet.  Bastards are accepted in Dorne and even loved, unlike in most of Westeros.  Could this passion lead the Martell clan to rise in the ranks of power or get themselves killed like their family before them?


House Martell (Trystane, Quentyn, Arianne, Doran, Elia, Oberyn) by Hogan McLaughlin
By Dornish law, Myrcella Baratheon should have inherited the throne after Joffrey.  Through this technicality, Arianne and Tyene, plan to seat Myrcella on the Iron Throne because by law she is now Dornish.  Tyene tells her uncle Doran, "When good King Daeron wed Princess Myriah and brought us into his kingdom, it was agreed that Dornish law would always rule in Dorne.  And Myrcella is in Dorne, as it happens" (Chapter 2, "The Captain of the Guards", A Feast for Crows).  While the most Westeros South of the Wall does not permit women to rule, unless they rule as regents, Dorne permits their thrones to go to the eldest child, even a bastard.  That makes Arianne heir to Doran and Obara heir to Oberyn and Ellaria.  The only males in the Martell family after Doran and Oberyn are Doran’s two sons Quentyn and Trystane (Chapter 66, “Tyrion”, A Storm of Swords).  Arianne even wants to unseat her father and place herself in power.

Dorne’s egalitarian society stems from its Rhoynar roots.  During the Valyrian expansion of Essos, the Rhoynar soldiers, numbering about 250,000, were slaughtered (Chapter 21, “The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows).  The surviving Rhoynar, primarily women and children, were led by Princess Nymeria away from Essos (Chapter 60, "Sansa", A Clash of Kings).  With her ten thousand ships of refugees, they stopped at the island of Abulu for a brief period before sailing to Dorne.  Since then, Abulu has been renamed as the Island of Women (Garcia, Antonnson).  Once in Dorne, Nymeria wed Mors Martell of Sunspear.  Together, Mors and Nymeria united Dorne under their benevolent rule (Chapter 40, "The Princess in the Tower", A Feast for Crows).  To get that peace, Nymeria herself slew one king and sent the others they overthrew to the Wall to join the Night’s Watch (Chapter 15, "Samwell", A Feast for Crows).  Nymeria’s War could only be won by having her and her army of Rhoynar, which had to be composed of many women.

Elia Martell Targaryen by Elia Fernández
Since then, like the equal marriage of Mors and Nymeria, the Rhoynar have assimilated into Dorne’s Andal culture.  The respective cultures, though, have adopted practices from each other to form a new culture, unique in Westeros and even Essos.  The Dornish adopted the Rhoynar practice of primogeniture and tolerance of free sexuality.  The Rhoynar have primarily taken on the Dornish religion of the Faith of the Seven, but there are those who keep strict Rhoynar tradition.  Those who keep the traditional Rhoynar customs are known as the orphans of Greenblood.  They live along the river and worship the old river gods, primarily Mother Rhoyne, who is the Rhoyne River embodied in the form of a goddess.  Because of their displacement from the Rhoyne, they are away from their mother and are referred to as orphans.  Though it’s not directly stated, Mother Rhoyne is likely also a warlike fertility goddess, like Agave, Neith, Amphitrite, Ganga, Anahita, Myrto, Astghik, Chalciuhtlicue, Atargatis, Matrona, Satet, Yemaja, and even Aphrodite.  The ancient mythological Tuatha Dé Danann worshipped a mother goddess Danu, who was also a warlike river goddess.  Though the Tuatha Dé Danann are also fathered by Bíle, they are known as the Children of Danu.  Danu was much more revered as a diety than Bíle.  As extensions of Danu, fertility goddesses arose in the Celts’ pantheon.  Many of Europe’s rivers are named after water goddesses, many of whom were mother goddesses (Ellis).  They were very much a people focused on water and therefore, their core deities worshipped were river gods, especially goddesses.  The Ancient Celts very much echo the Rhoynar.  Also like the Ancient Celts, the Dornish women are very much like their amazons.  As Veronica Ions notes of the ancient Celts: “there were other Amazonian figures who led armies into battle. Often they were also endowed with legendary sexual prowess...".  In addition to the Ancient Celts, the Rhoynar and Dornish hold similarities to the Ancient Egyptians and Indians.  The Egyptian goddess Anuket is the personification of the Nile and Ganga of the Ganges, much like Mother Rhoyne is of the Rhoyne.

The Rhoynar were not likely matriarchal before they left the Rhoyne, but they became one after and brought it to Dorne to create an egalitarian society with a powerful queen and a core goddess.  The Sand Snakes end up being much like the ancient martial serpent goddesses, like Wadjet, Manasa, Renenutet, and Qedeshet, and the sexual sun goddess Eos.

Arianne Martell by Lauren Oh
By nature, Arianne is more like her father Doran, but she attempts to be more like Oberyn and his daughters, idolizing them.  Arianne and Tyene grew up together and considered each other sisters, perhaps even closer, sharing a lover and sharing secrets.  Her brother Quentyn was sent away to Yronwood as a child, and her youngest brother Trystane is far too young for her to feel close to either of them.  She barely knows either, and in this regard, she knows the Sand Snakes, even Ellaria’s young ones, far more.

Arianne, by all means, discredits her father as a role model before she discovers his plans and faithfully follows him.  Rather, she has always referred to her Uncle Oberyn over her father Doran.  When telling Arys that he could be her paramour, and he declines due to his devotion to the cloak, Arianne tells him: “My uncle always said that it was the sword in a man’s hand that determined his worth, not the one between his legs,” she went on, “so spare me all your pious talk of soiled cloaks. It is not our love that has dishonored you, it is the monsters you have served and the brutes you’ve called your brothers” (Chapter 13, “The Soiled Knight”, A Feast for Crows).  Arianne had always thought that her father favored her brother Quentyn over her, and sought to bequeath his title to him and not her, who should receive it by all Dornish rights.

Arianne Martell by Matt Olson
Unlike the Sand Snakes is not typically said to be lethal as they are.  Areo Hotah only acknowledges her as a voluptuous beauty, “a woman’s body, lush and roundly curved” (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  It is her charm, though, that Arianne uses for her gain.  She successfully woos Myrcella’s guard Arys Oakheart into eventually doing as she asks, as he’s completely in love with her (and she not with him).  With the coming of Ser Balon Swann to deliver The Mountain and escort Myrcella and Doran to King’s Landing, Arianne again attempts to woo Swann immediately, much to his disinterest.  As she is desirable, Doran’s plan of holding off suitors by offering her the worst is more realistic.  While it seems like they were looking for suitors, Arianne was already engaged to Viserys Targaryen and would be set upon the Iron Throne, a role in which Doran thought she was worthy.  Not only do others see Arianne as far less dangerous than her cousins, Arianne sees herself as weaker, especially before learning of her father’s plans to place her in a seat higher than his: the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  Arianne notes, “I have never been as fearless as my cousins, for I was made with weaker seed” (Chapter 13, “The Soiled Knight”, A Feast for Crows).

Arianne Martell by Elia Fernández
Arianne’s quest was for power and to overthrow her father, by proving she is a better leader by taking action.  In a conversation with Gerold Dayne, Arianne declares that she wants the Sand Snakes freed, vengeance for her uncle and aunt with lion blood and, more importantly, her “birthright.  I want Sunspear, and my father’s seat. I want Dorne. “I want justice” (Chapter 21, “The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows).  But like her terrible play at cyvasse, her plans unfold terribly, foiled by her father and a traitorous friend.  She notes in The Winds of Winter preview, “I was a foolish willful girl, playing at the game of thrones like a drunkard rolling dice.”  No matter how much she plays cyvasse, she can’t win, always wanting to play the dragon and ignoring the other players.  I have hopes that one day, she’ll realize the usefulness of the other players on the board and beat her opponents, reflecting her own reality.  Arianne, unlike the Sand Snakes, is less concerned with vengeance and more concerned with her own power and what the presence of her cousin, long thought dead since a baby, will mean for her role within Dorne.  Arianne needs to realize that she is a piece in cyvasse, and she must know the steps in order to win.
Arianne and Arys by Magali Villeneueve


Ellis, Peter Berresford. Celtic Women: Women in Celtic Society and Literature, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996 Ed.

Garcia, Elio M, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. "Isle of Women." A World of Ice and Fire, 2012.

Ions, Veronica. The World's Mythology in Colour. Bounty Books, 2005 Ed.

Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 60, 1998.

Martin, George R.R. A Feast for Crows, Chapters 2, 13, 15, 21, and 40, 2005.

Martin, George R.R. "Arianne." The Winds of Winter preview, 2014.

Previously on When Women Play the Game...
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen
Catelyn Tully Stark
Arya Stark
Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell and Margaery Tyrell
The She-Bears 
Lysa Tully Arryn 
Cersei Lannister

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