Monday, May 26, 2014

When Women Play the Game: The Martells, Pt 2 (Sand Snakes)

The Sand Snakes by Joe Harty
The Sand Snakes--Obara, Nymeria, Tyene, Sarella, Elia, and the rest of Ellaria's children--are of a certain mentality, taught by their father to be cautious with their lives, yet find adventure and joy within them.  They have their mothers' teachings and blood, yet they are very much their fathers' daughters.  As Hotah points out, they all have different colored eyes, yet they are all the Red Viper's.  And they are just as dangerous.  Will that danger and hubris be their downfall?  Let's hope not!  I'm hopeful for the increase in women's power in the series, and House Martell is large part of that. 
Sand Snakes by eskatoad

Obara Sand by Elia Fernández
Obara is widely known as masculine in dress and demeanor, and she provokes fear into those she encounters.  Obara couldn’t be more different than her mother, who apparently drank herself to death in a fit of tears after Oberyn came to claim his daughter at the whore house.  He tossed a spear at Obara’s feet, and she picked it up and left with him.  Obara even hates Oldtown and wants to raze it in flames, keeping in mind it’s where she’s from and where her mother whored for a living.  Obara does not back down from a fight.  She may not be as deadly as she lets on, but her stature and blatant anger will at least distract an opponent.  Boldly, she demands Areo Hotah to stand down and permit her to pass.  Areo Hotah thinks, “Quick and strong as she was, the woman was no match for him, he knew... but she did not, and he had no wish to see her blood upon the pale pink marble” (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  Since childhood, her weapons of choice are a whip and spear, eager to shed blood with both.

As the first Sand Snake introduced, Obara wishes Doran to go to war and allow Obara and Nymeria to lead the charge with armies from Prince’s Pass and Boneway, respectively.  “Is it gold you want?” Doran asks her.  “It is blood I want” (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  Oberyn even tells Tyrion that he, too, is bloodthirsty: “Why, if the gods were cruel, they would have made me my mother’s firstborn, and Doran her third. I am a bloodthirsty man, you see. And it is me you must contend with now, not my patient, prudent, and gouty brother” (Chapter 38, “Tyrion”, A Storm of Swords).

With her outfit reflecting her inner personality, Areo Hotah refers to Obara as “rusted nails and boiled leather, with her angry, close-set eyes and rat-brown hair.”  Not exactly a paragon of traditional beauty, Obara strides with quick, heavy steps.   He notes her appearance: “Even without her whip and shield, she had an angry mannish look to her. In place of a gown, she wore men’s breeches and a calf-length linen tunic, cinched at the waist with a belt of copper suns. Her brown hair was tied back in a knot. Snatching the skull from the maester’s soft pink hands, she placed it up atop the marble column” (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons). 

Will Obara’s hubris and quick temper be her downfall when she fights alongside Areo Hotah against Cersei’s assassins, or will she live up to her own reputation?

Lady Nym by Christine Griffin
Nymeria is a regal, beautiful, noble woman, like her mother, while bubbling beneath is a dangerous weapon.  Like her personality, Nym conceals blades under her ladylike garb as sharp as her widow’s peak.  Though her immodest gown makes the White Knight uncomfortable, Areo Hotah likes it because he seems to fear her when more clothes cover her.  He tells, “Nymeria was least dangerous when nearly naked. Elsewise she was sure to have a dozen blades concealed about her person” (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons).  While Areo notes that he could defeat Obara, seems to be afraid of Nym…and with good reason.

Nymeria Sand by Elia Fernández
Nymeria is quiet and direct but playful.  She knows what she wants and will go after it until she gets it.  She pleads to her uncle Doran to not pair her with the loud Obara and allow her to take to King’s Landing with Tyene, the third Sand Snake, because she “so sweet and gentle that no man will suspect her.”  Obara would make a scene with more deaths than called for, but Nymeria would only have four lives in vengeance: “Lord Tywin’s golden twins, as payment for Elia’s children.  The old lion, for Elia herself.  And last of all the little king, for my father.”  As Doran points out, Tommen never did anything to the Martells, but that matters not to Nymeria.  “Only royal blood can wash out my father’s murder” (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  Nym’s exact revenge on what’s left of the Lannisters will be cunning, no doubt, and surely delightful.

The blue-eyed, blonde Tyene exemplifies the way a proper lady should behave, but she is perhaps the most deadly, as people do not suspect her of any foul deeds or treachery.  Areo Hotah watches her every move, knowing how dangerous she truly is.  “Her soft, pale hands were as deadly as Obara’s callused ones, if not more so.  He watched her carefully, alert to every little flutter of her fingers,” Hotah says (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons).  Not to mention, she is highly skilled in the making of poisons, like her father, and knows how to kill quietly and surely.  She can choose for someone to die with pain or no pain.

Tyene Sand by Elia Fernández
Tyene covers her bloodlust with a sweet innocence, inherited from her septa mother.  She is described by Hotah as “a child-woman with her soft hands and little giggles” (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons). When Doran confronts Tyene, the third Sand Snake to speak with him after Oberyn’s death, like a lady, she sits cross-legged in an innocent, pale blue, lacy gown, embroidering.  In one hand, her embroidered piece and in the other a pair of golden knitting needles that surely could be used as weapons if need be.  Even her embroidery is a weapon, stabbing Doran in the heart, as she presents it to him as a present, a depiction of a red-armored, smiling Oberyn on a sand steed, to help her uncle remember her father.  Doran responds that he won’t forget Oberyn, but Tyene twists the knife and says with a careful tongue, “That is good to know. Many have wondered” (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).

Her contempt covered by an innocuous voice is unnerving and deceptive to those who do not know her.  When greeting Doran, on the surface, she asks if his gout is hurting him, her voice “gentle, and she looked as sweet as summer strawberries.” She offers to ease his pain, a double entendre, no doubt, as the Sand Snakes hold contempt for him for his seeming lack of action in response to their father’s death (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  Areo Hotah also notes:

“Her gown was cream and green, with long lace sleeves, so modest and so innocent that any man who looked at her might think her the most chaste of maids. Areo Hotah knew better. Her soft, pale hands were as deadly as Obara’s callused ones, if not more so. He watched her carefully, alert to every little flutter of her fingers.”

Hotah examines her reaction to the presentation of the Mountain’s head: “’Was his dying long and hard, Ser Balon?’ asked Tyene Sand, in the tone a maiden might use to ask if her gown was pretty.”  It’s actually rather creepy to imagine that playing out.  When Ser Balon Swann responds by declaring that “poison is a foul and filthy way to kill”, Tyene smiles.  She enjoys that he had a slow, painful death (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons).

While Obara wants to take war to all those who aid the Lannisters and Nymeria wants the murder of only the Lannisters, Tyene wants to wait for the war to come to Dorne, as it is their best defense on their home turf.  They successfully fended off the Targaryens and their dragons.  Dorne is not likely to fall victim to the Lannisters and Tyrells.  “We shall bleed them in the passes and bury them beneath the blowing sands, as we have a hundred times before,” Tyene poetically announces.  Like her cousin Arianne, Tyene seeks to crown Myrcella “as the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, and lawful heir to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros” for the sake of Dorne and the inheritance of the once-queen their aunt (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows). 

Once tasked with her assignment of infiltrating King’s Landing as a septa to befriend and influence the High Septon—fully aware of her dichotomous presence—Tyene states, “White suits my colouring. I look so ... pure" (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons).  With the sept’s increasing importance in Cersei’s life, Tyene may have many opportunities to poison Cersei, getting Nymeria’s wish of Cersei’s death.  By what’s been written of the Sand Snakes, Nymeria and Tyene will outlast Obara as the more dangerous and duplicitous.  Tyene has been charactered more than the other two and is best friends with Arianne, the main character of the Martell family.  It would be hard to kill her off with her being so sly.  Will she get her own wish by killing Cersei and seating Myrcella while Jaime is off, making treaties in the Riverlands?

The curious and intelligent side of Oberyn has been extended into Sarella, who is away from Dorne, playing a “game”.  Doran insinuates that she is more cautious and thoughtful than her sisters (Chapter 2, “The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows).  Arianne notes her inquisitive nature and her affinity for anthropology and history, saying to Drey:

“My uncle brought me here, with Tyene and Sarella.” The memory made Arianne smile. “He caught some vipers and showed Tyene the safest way to milk them for their venom. Sarella turned over rocks, brushed sand off the mosaics, and wanted to know everything there was to know about the people who had lived here.”
(Chapter 21, “The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows)

It’s suspected that she took to Oldtown to become a Maester, like her father had done, earning six links (Chapter 38, “Tyrion”, A Storm of Swards).

Ellaria by amoka
Ellaria (Uller) Sand, ever a peacemaker, an advocate against waging war against the Lannisters in retribution even for her lover Oberyn’s death, is most unlike her paramour’s children, including her own.  Areo refers to her as “a good woman,” and “even weeping, she has a strength in her.”  In a didactic tone, Ellaria points out the pointlessness of war and retaliation:

“Oberyn wanted vengeance for Elia. Now the three of you want vengeance for him. I have four daughters, I remind you. Your sisters. My Elia is fourteen, almost a woman. Obella is twelve, on the brink of maidenhood. They worship you, as Dorea and Loreza worship them. If you should die, must El and Obella seek vengeance for you, then Dorea and Loree for them? Is that how it goes, round and round forever? I ask again, where does it end? I saw your father die. Here is his killer. Can I take a skull to bed with me, to give me comfort in the night? Will it make me laugh, write me songs, care for me when I am old and sick?”
(Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons)

While advocating peace, she provided Oberyn a lasting peace in her arms, calming his rage throughout the years.  She understood him far more than anyone else knew, Doran reveals, after she departs in frustration, much to the Sand Snakes’ disapproval, thinking her weak (Chapter 38, “The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons)

However she raised her daughters and whatever her opinions, the allure of Oberyn seems to overshadow her own influence, though she influenced him.  “Sometimes Arianne felt sorry for Ellaria.  Four girls, and every one of them her father’s daughter."  The eldest of Ellaria’s daughters is Elia, and she has taken to the sport of jousting, riding a horse more than being on foot, wanting to soldier rather than simply be a lady in the war that’s come to their door.  Though proud and warrior-driven, she is yet a child, finding others’ sea sickness funny and locking lips with a servant twice her age (“Arianne”, The Winds of Winter excerpts).  Perhaps, we might entrust the younger Sand Snakes by Ellaria, like Elia, to make better judgments than the older ones, but Elia seems to be reckless and boastful in behavior, though smart and lustful, like the rest of her family.  The youngest three are likely too young to be given characterizations, and we know next to nothing of them.  But given Arianne’s note of them, we can only imagine them to be just as strong-willed and skilled as their father.  Here’s to the future of House Martell!


Martin, George R.R. "Tyrion." A Storm of Swords, Chapter 38, 2000.

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

Martin, George R.R. "The Watcher." A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 38, 2011.

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