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I've been waiting quite a while to ask this question, but I hope by now that most people will have seen the episode in question and the title will no longer be a spoiler.

How did Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes take over Dorne?

In season 6 Episode 1 we saw Ellaria Sand kill Doran Martell and one of the Sand Snakes kill his bodyguard:

As you can see in the clip above, all the other guards do not move an inch and if I was not wrong in my assessment, they don't look that surprised at all, maybe even scared.

Assuming that it was only Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes that took part in the assassination of Doran, and being that the guards were supposed to protect their Prince, there had to be something else at play here, because even if they did nothing right there and then, there surely would have been revenge by others loyal to Doran to take the life of Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. As there was no way they would not have been killed due to the obvious numbers being in favor of the followers of Doran.

That is, unless the sentiment in Dorne was that Doran was not a suitable ruler due to his recent battle with gout weakening him and his unwillingness to do anything about his brother's death. Again this is speculation.

In any case, there is very little to nothing on the backstory to this chain of events that followed in the show. All we are shown is that the prince is killed and now Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes have control over Dorne. And I have kept my thoughts to a minimum as to not balloon out the question with too much content.

So how did they pull this off? Was there an underlying rebellion against Price Doran and his closest followers?

Obviously answers from the book are OK, but similarly, if I missed something that gives this away in the show, that is also greatly appreciated.

  • You are pretty much correct in your assessment in Doran being weak and suitable as far as the Sand Snakes are concerned. We are to assume they convinced at some if not most of the house of the same. The books will not be much help here as Doran is still alive. – Skooba Feb 26 '17 at 13:16
  • Hmm, struck out then. Thanks for the heads up. – KyloRen Feb 26 '17 at 13:17
  • The disappointing thing about S06E01 is that this very scene obviously serves the purpose to completly skip the quite intense and drawn out Dorne line of the books. It's very efficient about it, but also (maybe even that's why) it is sort of a rough bump. – user1129682 Mar 14 '17 at 9:01
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There were similarities in the plot lines and differences too.

Similarities

Sand snakes wanted revenge for their father's death:

“Tyene. Obara is too loud. Tyene is so sweet and gentle that no man will suspect her. Obara would make Oldtown our father’s funeral pyre, but I am not so greedy. Four lives will suffice for me. 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.”

A Feast for Crows, Chapter 2, The Captain Of The Guards

Oberyn Martell was popular in Dorne and the high born lords wanted Oberyn death to be avenged:

“To spears!” a man bellowed from a balcony.

“Doran!” called some highborn voice. “To the spears!”

Hotah gave up looking for the speakers; the press was too thick, and a third of them were shouting. “To spears! Vengeance for the Viper!”

A Feast for Crows, Chapter 2, The Captain Of The Guards

Doran was worried about the Sand Snakes:

“Give me your blessing, then, and I shall go.”

Doran hesitated half a heartbeat before placing his hand on his niece’s head. “Be brave, child.”

“Oh, how not? I am his daughter.”

“No sooner had she taken her leave than Maester Caleotte hurried to the dais. “My prince, she did not . . . here, let me see your hand.” He examined the palm first, then gently turned it upside down to sniff at the back of the prince’s fingers. “No, good. That is good. There are no scratches, so . . .”

A Feast for Crows, Chapter 2, The Captain Of The Guards

So in the story line of the TV show, the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand, use the unpopularity of Doran Martell to kill him and take over Dorne.

Differences

Different Plan:

In the books, Doran Martell has a daughter Arianne who plans to declare Myrcella Baratheon as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, based on Dornish law - which allows an older sister to inherit before a younger brother - thereby precipitating a war with the Iron Throne and King Tommen Baratheon.

“I would be honored to arrange the wedding, and to see to the making of the crowns as well. Trystane and Myrcella are so innocent, I thought perhaps white gold . . . with emeralds, to match Myrcella’s eyes. Oh, diamonds and pearls would serve as well, so long as the children are wed and crowned. Then we need only hail 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, and wait for the lions to come.”

“The lawful heir?” The prince snorted.

“She is older than her brother,” explained Tyene, as if he were some fool. “By law the Iron Throne should pass to her.”

“By Dornish law.”

A Feast for Crows, Chapter 2, The Captain Of The Guards

They had no intention of killing Trystane, Myrcella and Doran.

“Seven save us,” whispered Tyene. “Trystane? Why?”

“The woman must be mad,” Obara said. “He’s just a boy.”

“This is monstrous,” said Lady Nym. “I would not have believed it, not of a Kingsguard knight.”

“They are sworn to obey, just as my captain is,” the prince said. “I had my doubts as well, but you all saw how Ser Balon balked when I suggested that we go by sea. A ship would have disturbed all the queen’s arrangements.”

A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 38, The Watcher

Ellaria did not seek revenge:

“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?” Ellaria Sand laid her hand on the Mountain’s head. “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?”

A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 38, The Watcher

Family is united:

Doran convinces his family to stay united and take on Lannisters.

“The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.”

Lady Nym smiled. “Why, Uncle, I love snakes.”

“And what of me?” asked Tyene.

“Your mother was a septa. Oberyn once told me that she read to you in the cradle from the Seven-Pointed Star. I want you in King’s Landing too, but on the other hill. The Swords and the Stars have been re-formed, and this new High Septon is not the puppet that the others were. Try and get close to him.”

“Why not? White suits my coloring. I look so … pure.”

“Good,” the prince said, “good.” He hesitated. “If … if certain things should come to pass, I will send word to each of you. Things can change quickly in the game of thrones.”

“I know you will not fail us, cousins.” Arianne went to each of them in turn, took their hands, kissed them lightly on the lips. “Obara, so fierce. Nymeria, my sister. Tyene, sweetling. I love you all. The sun of Dorne goes with you.”

“Unbowed, unbent, unbroken,” the Sand Snakes said, together.

A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 38, The Watcher

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I don't have the books handy for quotes, so this is an impression answer.

Let's start by stating that the books and the show are pretty consistent character-wise for Dorne. So using both to address this question seems reasonable.

The impression that I had was that Dorne as a country is very tempestuous or hot blooded. The country as a whole has felt slighted by the treatment of their princess, the subordinate place Dorne has taken since the Rebellion, and by various perceived injustices such as the lack of the Mountain's head being delivered to them. In other words, resentment has been brewing for a long time.

And what was their prince doing about it? Biding his time. He knew that to dash forward and attack every time something happened would result in them being eradicated. He preferred to play the game and slowly build his strength, both politically and militarily.

But in addition to that, he didn't love war for its own sake, and we are given the impression that this is somewhat unique to him. That is why he spends so long in the water gardens, because it gives him joy to see children joyous and carefree, without the horrors of war burned into their eyes.

But his people saw this as weakness. Likely their distress with their prince was compounded by him being wheelchair-bound and wracked with pain. These would have been signs to his people that his reluctance to bear arms stemmed from his ill health and cowardice rather than careful conniving.

So I would suspect that a group of young, healthy, deadly, beautiful women of the noble line, going around to the guard to arrange to rise up, overthrow the prince, and having cast him down, finally enact their vengeance upon their enemies would likely have been pretty easy. And they were deadly enough that anybody stupid enough to say no would have been rapidly killed. We are not shown this occurring, but that was the impression that I got. The sole exception to this was the Prince's personal guard, who was fiercely loyal to the Prince, and the books make out to be more than a match for any of the sand snakes- so he would have to be taken by surprise in one fell swoop.

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    I didn't downvote, but the books and the TV show paint a pretty different picture of Dorne, especially of Prince Doran. In the TV show, everyone in Dorne is hot-blooded and foolish except Doran, who seems weak and passive in addition to foolish. In the books, the Dornish are indeed hot-blooded but also manipulative -- Prince Doran in particular seems a mastermind, cleverly bidding his time and waiting to attack or outmaneuver the Lannisters. He is prudent, but no pacifist. I'd say what the TV show did to Doran is both literally and figuratively a character assassination :( – Andres F. Feb 26 '17 at 21:16
  • @AndresF. I suppose they really did not show Doran's brilliance in the show, did they? They alluded to it briefly here and there but never actually showed it. – Broklynite Feb 27 '17 at 8:55

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