With a whip crack and the swing of an axe, things were off to an unexpectedly bloody start in the Game of Thrones Season 6 premiere. It wasn't all witchcraft and winter as we took our suntan lotion back to the land of Dorne. "Oh no!" I hear you cry, "Not there again?" Well thankfully Episode 1, "The Red Woman," ramped up the tension with a shocking twist we really didn't see coming, proving a trip across the sea of Dorne is no summer holiday. Spoilers ahead!
What a Dorne-fest
Last season on the show, the whole Dorne storyline was one that really hit a low note. Ellaria Sand and Oberyn Martell's (R.I.P.) Sand Snake children served as scantily clad maidens with frowny faces. We had the odd sand dune battle and Bronn was poisoned, but everything was wrapped up far too early, and the cast seemed to just fancy a dose of Vitamin D. Prince Doran spent his days wheeling around the Dornish gardens while his bodyguard, Areo Hotah, was badly underused and never got to swing his mighty axe. Ellaria's murder of Myrcella in last season's finale was a small silver lining to an otherwise lackluster storyline, but we could have left Dorne there.
Ellaria Sand's actions were sure to warrant punishment from the Lannister family, but we thought Dorne was an unpleasant memory. Clearly David Benioff and D.B. Weiss listened to the audience this time around, as only 30 minutes into our season premiere, the whole Dornish yawn-fest was flipped on its head: It was goodbye Areo Hotah, Prince Doran, and even little Prince Trystane. When Prince Doran opened a scroll revealing the death of the young princess Myrcella, it looked as if Ellaria Sand's scheming had finally come undone — but wait for it!
Game of Thrones has always been as much about empowering women as it is about the horrible things that happen to them: Daenerys Targaryen's marriage to the Dothraki, Sansa Stark's rape, and Ellaria Sand watching her husband's skull become mashed potato at the hands of Gregor Clegane. As Ellaria Sand drove a knife into her brother-in-law's chest she spoke the words:
"Your son is weak just like you, and weak men will never rule Dorne again."
Young Trystane Martell seemed safely away from the Sand Snakes, unaware that two of Ellaria's daughters were hiding on the ship to kill him. Surely Benioff and Weiss would allow one of the Martell boys to escape? Sadly, Ellaria's final words to Prince Doran rang true, and this indeed spelled death to Trystane — meeting an equally bloody death as his uncle. Trystane gets a nose job thanks to one of the Sand Snakes, proving once again that nice men (or women) finish last on this show!
'Joff' With Her Head
So how long can the new queen of mean survive? Ellaria Sand is quickly joining the Joffrey ranks — alongside Ramsay, Septa Unella, and that little bastard Olly, Thrones has some pretty big villains at the moment. We should write up our own Arya Stark hit-list and cross them off as they each get the justice they deserve. On the other hand, we actually find ourselves rooting for Cersei Lannister — has the world gone mad? Sand's progression from bisexual lover in her arrival during Season 4, to full blown psychotic mother has been a fast one indeed.
The loss of Ellaria's lover, Oberyn Martell, at the hands of Gregor Clegane is one of the show's most memorable scenes. However, if you ask what Sand has done since then, she fades into obscurity — until now. With Dorne free for the taking and only one Lannister heir remaining, could Ellaria Sand set her sights on Tommen Baratheon? We already know, thanks to 'Maggy the Frog,' that Cersei will bury all three of her children in shrouds of gold before her time is up.
The Future of Dorne
As Prince Doran lay bleeding out in the gardens it was clear that Ellaria couldn't wait to seat herself in his wheelchair/throne, but what of the future of Dorne? Daenerys Targaryen has shown the power of a female leader, and as Ellaria said that Prince Doran hadn't left his palace in years, his people didn't even know who he was. Doran's own men stood by as he was murdered, and his death could easily be explained away to the rest of the population. With the Martell bloodline dead, Ellaria would be next in line to the throne, so it looks like Dorne does indeed belong to the Sand Snakes (for now).
Much like the Dothraki, the Dornish race are fighters by trade, boasting a formidable army — but is it enough to take on the crown? The Lannister army (currently spread out) is mainly focused with the strife in King's Landing, not to mention brewing troubles with the Bolton family in the North. Last season saw the return of Kevan Lannister and his appointment to Master of War, but hopes that one of the least corrupt Lannister men to save the day should be short-lived. In the books, Uncle Kevan is killed by crossbow — we know that Tywin Lannister may have already received that death, but there are plenty of crossbows in Westeros.
Jamie Lannister is (quite literally) half the man he used to be and has already spent his time in Dorne. It seems unlikely that he would be the one to lead a Lannister army to Sunspear, so who could? Let's not forget the wise words of Maester Qyburn when introducing the zombified corpse of Gregor Clegane:
May I have the honor of presenting the newest member of the Kingsguard — he has sworn he will not speak until all his graces enemies are dead and the evil has been driven from the realm.
With two of the Sand Snakes on the Dornish ship outside King's Landing, they are in very close proximity to a rather angry Cersei Lannister and her rather large bodyguard. With the Sand family so far apart, it is only a matter of time before the snakes run out of poison and the lions come roaring.