[WARNING: contains spoilers for all seasons of Game of Thrones and all volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire, including The Winds of Winter]
Looking Back is a retrospective of Game of Thrones Season 5, location-by-location. Read my retrospective of the Braavos plot here!
Sit tight – this is a bloody long one.
I think it’s fair to say that the Dorne storyline was easily the weakest of Season 5 – perhaps even the worst that Game of Thrones has ever produced. Sound hyperbolic? Yeah, but it was just so mind-numbingly terrible that I was shocked that something which had produced such fantastic TV could come up with this. However, like I said in the last edition, there can always be something good found in works such as this.
Cersei receives a message from the Dornish – a dead viper with a necklace in its mouth, which happens to be Myrcella Baratheon’s (betrothed to Trystane Martell back in Season 2). She orders Jaime to go to Dorne to ‘retrieve’ her, and he chooses Bronn as his travelling companion. Meanwhile in Dorne, Ellaria Sand presses Doran Martell to take revenge against Oberyn’s ‘murder’ by executing Myrcella. Doran swiftly refuses because they are not that kind of House, especially after the brutal deaths of Elia and her children. Still bent on revenge, Ellaria instead goes to the Sand Snakes – Obara, Nymeria and Tyene Sand – who are three of Oberyn’s bastards. She convinces them to join her in vengeance.
Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne and are greeted by a party of soldiers who fight them. Jaime barely escapes with his life but he and Bronn defeat the guards and steal their uniforms to infiltrate the Water Gardens. At the same time as their entrance, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes begin preparations to kidnap Myrcella. The parties coincide and they fight. Bronn is injured by one of the girls (which one I cannot tell you) but the battle is broken up by Areo Hotah, the Captain of the Guards. He throws the Sand Snakes and Bronn into cells and takes Jaime into custody.
In prison it’s revealed that Bronn was slashed by a poisoned blade, similar to what Oberyn used against the Mountain. Tyene strips to raise his blood pressure which kicks in the poison, slowly killing Bronn, however they give him an antidote. Jaime meets with Doran and explains to him that they received a message, with Myrcella revealing that the necklace was stolen from her bedroom recently. Doran wishes to put this behind them and make peace between the two families by following through with the marriage between Trystane and Myrcella and having the former sit on the Small Council. Bronn is summoned from his cell to receive his punishment for punching Trystane during the earlier fight – he gets punched by Hotah.
The Martells bid farewell to Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella and Trystane on their ship, with Tyene telling Bronn that “he wants a good girl but needs bad pussy.” Yeah. Ellaria gives Myrcella a big kiss on the lips to apologise and say goodbye. On the ship Jaime and his daughter have a heart-to-heart where he tries to tell her that he is in fact her father, however she shocks him by saying that she knows and is happy. They embrace and Jaime gets his first exposure to actually being a father. Immediately afterwards blood runs down Myrcella’s nose and she collapses in his arms; back on the docks, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes watch on, revealing to the audience that the kiss was poisoned.
Well, this is gonna be difficult.
Alexander Siddig was well-cast as Doran Martell. He was calm and calculated, just like book-Doran, and showcased real anger when dealing with Jaime. It’s unfortunate that he appeared so little in the season. Speaking (well, typing) of Jaime, the decision to send he and Bronn to Dorne is actually quite smart. It makes a lot of sense given the political climate and it feels like something GRRM would have done himself. I would argue that it would have been perhaps a more effective location to send the character than the Riverlands (unless he ends up staying there, that is). The chemistry between Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jerome Flynn is also a highlight. Not as entertaining as Bronn and Tyrion, certainly, however it’s interesting to see him paired with another Lannister, and Jaime is not without a certain humourous element. He’s very dry and sarcastic and provides a nice foil for Bronn’s black humour.
The location of the Alcazar for the Water Gardens is particularly beautiful. It’s something which couldn’t have been created with a set because the stone carries a historic quality with it, and the architecture is very Dornish. Not how I imagined it in the books but it’s beautiful nonetheless. It’s a shame that we didn’t really get a look at the rest of Dorne, aside from some sand and grass.
Aaanndd… okay, I think that’s it.
Like I said, this plotline had far more weak points than good points. Because of this I’m going to break it down in various parts rather than in continuous paragraphs.
IT DIDN’T MAKE SENSE
As recapped earlier, the entire reason Jaime went to Dorne was so that Myrcella could die. Nothing else notable happens so we can assume that this is the sole purpose of the plotline, however the writers shot themselves in the foot by making the wait meaningless. Many fans had speculated that the dead viper may actually have been set up by Cersei to get rid of Jaime, which would have been the equivalent of the letter from the books. Unfortunately, we were wrong, and Myrcella revealed in The Dance of Dragons that the necklace was stolen from her room in dialogue and acting which could have been ripped out of Scooby-Doo. If Ellaria/the Sand Snakes could break into her room so easily then why bother going to the lengths of sending it to King’s Landing and drawing attention if they could just kill her right there and then?
The fact that Ellaria wanted to kill Myrcella in the first place didn’t make a lot of sense either. She wanted to kill her to get revenge against the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death in a trial-by-combat despite Oberyn’s entire motivation for getting revenge against the Lannisters himself being the Mountain’s murder of his sister Elia and her children Aegon and Rhaenys. Even typing it is confusing. If she loved Oberyn so much then surely she would respect his (correct) beliefs not to murder kids? We’re supposed to feel sympathy for the Martells because of how they’re looked down on in the rest of Westeros, which has only increased with Oberyn’s death; if their main plot revolves around trying to kill an innocent child then why in seven hells should we like them? When she does finally get to kill Myrcella, the nonsensical nature of it all just explodes. She puts Dorne in a terrible position as Trystane is now a hostage, and there’s nothing to stop the Lannisters just killing him – leaving Doran without an heir. Didn’t think that though, did you Ellaria?
Those are the main points, however there are lots of other little things which didn’t make sense or led to nowhere. Jaime’s line in Sons of the Harpy regarding how he doesn’t want to start a war (what did you think would happen, Jaime?), building up Hotah’s axe and then never actually using it, Obara’s weird monologue to Ellaria and her sisters despite the likelihood that they’ve all heard this story before, the Sand Snakes giving Bronn the antidote for some reason, the fact that Myrcella is happy about how her mother and uncle have been f&#king this entire time and she actually has no legitimate claim to the throne… I could go on and on, but I do need to cover the rest of this piece.
THERE’S NO CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
Nobody develops. Nobody changes. There’s nothing. The only sort-of-arc you could even make an attempt at arguing for is that of Ellaria’s; she begins the season with a clear goal and accomplishes it by the end. While it’s a story arc, she doesn’t grow as a character in any way. We’re led to believe that she does in The Dance of Dragons however we quickly learn that that was all bullshit.
This is especially crap since this was supposed to be Jaime’s big season. D&D evidently have some kind of hard-on for the Lannisters, but they don’t really seem to know what to do with Jaime. I would argue that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are notable for their two redemption stories – Jaime’s personal growth away from Cersei and Reek’s transition back to Theon. Both were completely butchered this season, however at least Theon had something resembling his book arc. They didn’t even try with the Kingslayer.
Other than a few lines here and there about how ‘Cersei might not like him anymore,’ there really was nothing. At the start of the season I thought that the character development was going to be very subtle, with Cersei growing angry with Jaime due to his freeing of Tyrion. I quickly realised that it wasn’t subtle, it just wasn’t there. A split between the lovers is clearly going to happen (she isn’t going to be particularly pleased when he turns up back at King’s Landing with a dead daughter), but it seems to be from Cersei’s end. The whole reason why his arc is so effective is because it’s about Jaime. He is the one who realises that their relationship is toxic and he is the one who does something about it by burning the letter. In the show, Cersei gets pissy with him, Jaime gets bitter and goes off to do her bidding and then will probably get even more pissy with her because she’s pissy about failing to rescue Myrcella. And then he’ll kill her, because we’ve gotta hit those future plot points! It’s not driven by a desire to become a better man, it’s driven by his mistakes and failures for Cersei. It makes Jaime seem so pathetic that it makes me pissy.
And that’s just Jaime. Bronn doesn’t develop at all; I know that he is largely used as comic relief however there have been several scenes where we get an insight into his mindset. The scene where he tells Tyrion that he would kill a baby for the right price springs to mind, as does his scene with the imp last season where he refuses to fight for him. One thing that I did want to see this season is Bronn admitting that he misses Tyrion. Yeah, we know he’s pragmatic and he’s said how he would kill babies for money, but I know that Bronn does have a heart somewhere. I think that he would be a little sad about Tyrion’s disappearance – he does name Lolly’s bastard after him in the books, after all. This is especially apparent because in this canon if he hadn’t gone with Jaime then he would have been kicked out of House Stokeworth, meaning he would just go back to having nothing again and mayhaps ‘gone missing’. There is a theory that the gathering-of-sellswords which he is currently doing in the books will prove useful when Tyrion returns to Westeros, and Bronn will end up aiding his old pal with Daenerys. I really like that and I think D&D missed a great opportunity to dig into Bronn’s emotions and discover why his heart is so black.
And then there’s the rest of the Dornish clan. Does Trystane change? Do the Sand Snakes? Does Hotah? Does Doran? Do any of them have depth? I mean, you could try and make an argument for Doran. He ends the season on good terms with the Lannisters (which is just ridiculous) whereas at the beginning he hated them, although we’re really given no indication of that – this is just going off of book-characterisation. If character development doesn’t make any sense, is it still valid? I don’t know.
THE MARTELLS ARE BORING
The Martells sucked. They were lame, average, dull – pathetic compared to how interesting and captivating the other Great Houses of Westeros are. The Starks are bound by honour, however they are stubborn, and this is ultimately their downfall as we see with many of the family members. The Lannisters are proud and arrogant, but rather than instilling fear in other Houses it instead tears the family apart, leaving it on the brink of destruction. The Tyrells are mischievous, calculating and cunning, willing to do anything to get to the top – we have yet to see how that will work out for them. The Martells (Doran specifically) are supposed to be the grass. They sit and wait, acknowledging that they are a laughing stock however they never accept that. They are the grass because they hide their true weapons and danger, and when the time comes they will strike. In The Winds of Winter House Martell is going to strike back against Westeros; where the f&#k was that in Season 5? This extract from Arianne II (The Princess in the Tower) from A Feast for Crows sums up why I loved the Dornish plotline and why I love the characters.
“Who is it? Who have I been betrothed to, all these years?” “It makes no matter. He is dead.” That left her more baffled than ever. “The old ones are so frail. Was it a broken hip, a chill, the gout?” “It was a pot of molten gold. We princes make our careful plans and the gods smash them all awry.” Prince Doran made a weary gesture with a chafed red hand. “Dorne will be yours. You have my word on that, if my word still has any meaning for you. Your brother Quentyn has a harder road to walk.” “What road?” Arianne regarded him suspiciously.
“I must know how you learned that Quentyn was abroad. Your brother went with Cletus Yronwood, Maester Kedry, and three of Lord Yronwood’s best young knights on a long and perilous voyage, with an uncertain welcome at its end. He has gone to bring us back our heart’s desire.” She narrowed her eyes. “What is our heart’s desire?”
“Vengeance.” His voice was soft, as if he were afraid that someone might be listening. “Justice.” Prince Doran pressed the onyx dragon into her palm with his swollen, gouty fingers, and whispered, “Fire and blood.”
Trystane was undoubtedly a disappointing replacement for Arianne. One of the most interesting things about Dorne full-stop is their treatment of women; they are the only kingdom which views men and women as equal, and if the first-born child is female then they will still inherit, whereas in the rest of Westeros it’s always the male child. This is embodied by Arianne Martell who believes that Doran is planning on making Quentyn the heir over her. This is a good story of female empowerment and while she was wrong, the reader learns that Dorne values equality greatly which puts it in a much more sympathetic light than the rest of Westeros. As we know, D&D decided to cut Arianne which immediately removes the female empowerment aspect of Dorne, and also immediately removes the most interesting thing about the place.
If that had been rolled over into Ellaria’s character then I suppose it could have worked, however instead she was simply driven by revenge rather than some symbol of empowerment. Nothing is done to make Trystane unique; hell, he isn’t even that likable. He’s fairly cocky and seems to be quite up-himself, and how does that make us like him? It doesn’t, and just dampens the entire storyline. What many fans thought they would do is give the Queenmaker story to Trystane, but that didn’t even happen. Surely it makes sense that, if he does love Myrcella, then he would have wanted her to take her place as queen by Dornish law? And, if he is fairly arrogant, then he would want himself to be king?
I cannot understand why there was not at least one scene between, say, Doran and Trystane, where they talk about family and politics and such things. If Doran wants him to go and sit on the Small Council (not that that’s a good idea in the first place) then shouldn’t he be ensuring that he actually knows a thing or two about politics? It would also just give some more character to them, because this season they have been particularly bland. It’s an incredible shame because Alexander Siddig is great and was well-cast, and I’m sure Toby Sebastian is good too when given the right material. Hey, speaking of Siddig… why even bother casting him? The dude was fan-cast as Prince Doran a lot, so for many it was a dream come true. How much screen time did he get over the course of the season? A couple of minutes? I know that this is a big show with lots of characters, but nothing excuses bad writing.
Except filming schedules. The unit only got to film in the Alcazar for a week, which is likely the reason why scenes were few and far between in the location. It’s possible that there was extra material but it had to be cut. If I was running the show then I would have found another location, or just changed the setting to Sunspear. Sure, it looked great, but what’s the point in using it if it will impact the season as a whole?
I feel sorry for these actresses. I really do. You could tell that they tried, they really tried, but nobody else seemed to know what to do with them. The writing was just awful, the fight choreography was just awful, they were unlikable and I don’t think anybody wants to see them again.
WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE
I didn’t write a mass plan for an entire alternate storyline, however I have several ideas which I feel should have been included which will (hopefully) make it a little bit better – or it could just make it worse.
Like I said earlier, the decision to change the plot from trying to crown Myrcella to trying to kill her didn’t work. It made the characters unlikable and made Dorne seem like a pretty nasty place – which it isn’t. I argued earlier in the piece why it makes sense for Trystane to play the role of Queenmaker; if he loves her then he’ll do anything to keep her safe, and there’s a slight arrogant quality to him which will make him want to be king alongside her. However, even better than merely Trystane fulfilling the role is Trystane and Arianne doing it. Arianne would have her own motivations; she wants to prove herself to her father, to prove that taking action rather than sitting patiently is a much better course, and to stick it to the Lannisters. This is how Myrcella dies – not by poison, but in the midst of the fight between Hotah’s and Arianne’s parties. This would happen roughly in episode 5, since I believe it should happen early. I originally planned to make Jaime and Bronn directly involved in making her queen however I think it works better character-wise if they simply bump into each other along the road. This would make it especially cruel for Jaime. He’s just arrived in Dorne and sees his daughter again, then a matter of minutes later she’s killed. Cue Hotah arresting everyone and the rest of the season follows.
I would have cut the Sand Snakes – or rather I would have delayed them. At the end of A Dance with Dragons they were all sent off on their respective missions and I think it would be interesting if that had already happened in the show. It saves having to pay three different actresses for one year and then having to include them in the plot, but then at the same time gives them something meaningful to do which is in-line with the books. As for Ellaria, she doesn’t need to appear in the majority of the season. She can appear in the first few episodes to set things up and serve as an introduction to the Martells, however she would likely want to return to her family home to grieve. After three or four episodes you don’t need a recognisable face because Jaime and Bronn are there. Again, money saved.
I think the reason Arianne isn’t in the show is because she’s destined to marry Aegon, and with no Aegon there’s no use for Arianne – supposedly. Doran isn’t going to live forever, and the show could have made use for her by having her become the Princess of Dorne. Trystane, meanwhile, can fulfill the purpose of both Arianne and Quentyn by being sent off to meet and potentially marry a certain incoming Targaryen… but that’s for Season 6! Hey, speaking of Dorne and Targaryens, it puzzled me as to why there was no ‘fire and blood’ speech by Doran this season. During The Dance with Dragons his tone when dealing with Jaime felt very fake and forced, making me think that there would be a big reveal in the finale about his true intentions. As we know, that didn’t happen, but it should have. Jaime can be sent on his way in episode 9 and then the big speech is in episode 10.
Remember when I mentioned the fan theory that Cersei set up the whole necklace-viper-thing? I would have done that. I think it’s vital to show their relationship breaking down early in the season, and a good tipping point would be the burning of the Tower of the Hand. Prior to this, she can be exhibiting signs of her usual craziness which tick him off more than they used to and perhaps he finds himself disagreeing with some of her methods that before he would have considered core Lannister values. Thus, she sets the whole thing up to get rid of Jaime. He finds out at the end of the season (as well as that Cersei has been arrested), is furious and goes back to… King’s Landing? I don’t want the sole purpose for the Dorne mission to still be Myrcella’s death, therefore I feel as if he should head somewhere else. Perhaps Casterly Rock?
Honestly, the most important thing is character development. More interactions, more scenes between the Dornish cast members to properly establish their culture and make them seem more likable and appealing. D&D massively dropped the ball on that this year, and you can tell that they did when the fans were coming up with better and more interesting ideas than what actually happened (no, I’m not referring to myself). Myrcella and Trystane’s love story needed to be more believable, we needed to understand why Ellaria took a character-180, why on earth they even bothered to cast Hotah, why Doran is in a wheelchair (it’s obvious to the book readers but if you’re a show watcher then you have no idea) and what he’s like – all of these basic things which just weren’t done in Season 5.
That unfortunately means it wasn’t good, if you couldn’t tell from this article. I was excited to see it prior to the first episode because I really wanted to like it despite the cutting of Arianne, but there just wasn’t enough positive aspects. Let’s hope that D&D get it right next season. Overall, a big thumbs down.
Congratulations if you actually made it to the end – seriously, well done. I feel like congratulating myself too because this was a bitch to write. The show must go on, though, despite my grumbling, and next time we’re taking a look at another far-off kingdom…