Water Gardens and Blood Oranges, Part IV: It Ends in Blood

“Would that a council seat were all Martell came to claim,” Lord Tywin said. “You promised him vengeance as well.”

“I promised him justice.”

“Call it what you will. It still comes down to blood.” (ASOS TYRION I)

As A Dance With Dragons closes, Doran Martell’s master plan has already failed. His son is dead and the chance for a Targaryen alliance has slipped through his fingers. But Doran doesn’t yet know this, and he and his family hurtle toward war regardless.

This final essay in this series will speculate on what the Dornish arc is building up to. It will necessarily be more speculative than previous installments, but I’ll focus heavily on textual foreshadowing and thematic setup that I see pointing in a certain way.

Where does the desire for vengeance lead? Overall, I think the Dornish arc is heading toward two tragedies — first a moral tragedy, as they will be responsible for the deaths of Tommen and Myrcella, and then a larger bloody horror for the Dornish people when they end up at war against Dany.

(Spoiler note: This essay will discuss the first two Arianne chapters from The Winds of Winter.)

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Water Gardens and Blood Oranges, Part III: Quentyn’s Duty and Destiny

“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.” (AFFC ARIANNE II)

When he raised his whip, he saw that the lash was burning. His hand as well. All of him, all of him was burning.

Oh, he thought. Then he began to scream. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)

Martin has said that part of his project in ASOIAF is to portray both sides of war — the glorious stirrings one may feel in the moment, and the bloody and awful aftermath. He excels at presenting awesome, feel-good moments of vengeful badassery — Robb’s crowning, Dany’s “Dracarys” in Astapor — and then undercutting them by showing the sad reality and horrific results of those decisions. With Doran’s exhilarating speech about “fire and blood,” he does it again.

Many readers wonder what the point of Quentyn’s arc is. One common interpretation is that Martin is deconstructing the hero’s journey or the idea of “adventure,” and that is absolutely a major theme to the arc that I will explore. But we should also consider how Quentyn’s story fits into the larger Dornish arc. Considered in that context, Quentyn’s POV is meant shows us what Doran’s cool-sounding desire for vengeance really means and feels like to the son he foists it on. It shows the logical endpoint of a desire for “fire and blood.”

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Water Gardens and Blood Oranges, Part II: Arianne’s Ambitions

As A Feast for Crows opens, the Sand Snakes openly press for war, and Doran Martell secretly plans for it. Both want vengeance, and both are fixated on King’s Landing. Arianne Martell has different aims. This essay will discuss her motivations, her main character traits, and her disastrous first attempt to play the game of thrones — and its thematic importance for the larger Dornish arc. Through Myrcella’s fate, we see that it truly is the children who pay the price, when nobles play the game of thrones.

(Spoiler note: This essay will focus on AFFC, but I’ll briefly quote Arianne’s preview chapter from The Winds of Winter toward the end.)

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Water Gardens and Blood Oranges, Part I: The Viper and the Grass

By the start of A Storm of Swords, much of Westeros has experienced horrors. Civilians have been raped and murdered, soldiers have been stabbed and burned, prominent noblemen have been maimed and killed, and families have been destroyed. The kingdom of Dorne, however, is at peace. It has stayed out of the War of Five Kings, and out of the series entirely. Then, one prince journeys to King’s Landing while another voyages east — and Dorne begins to drift toward war.

In this essay series, I’ll analyze the Dornish arc as a whole, and argue that it showcases themes that are crucial to Martin’s overall project. The late introduction of the Dornish, and the expanded emphasis on them in books 4-5, have been controversial among some readers. The addition of several new minor POVs and the seemingly “pointless” Quentyn arc have come in for particular criticism.

But this is a plotline that’s not about one particular character — it’s about a family, and a nation. I believe Oberyn’s errand, Doran’s secret plan, Arianne’s scheme, Quentyn’s voyage, the Sand Snakes’ warmongering and Ellaria’s fears should all be considered together, as part of a thematically coherent larger story that Martin is telling. We haven’t spent more than a few chapters in the head of any particular Dornish character, but in this arc Martin has created a multifaceted portrayal of a ruling family facing terribly weighty moral dilemmas about justice, vengeance, war — and most of all, about the potential deaths of innocents.

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Paying His Debts, Part III: Tyrion and Penny

In the first half of A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion becomes more vengeful, crueler, and more manipulative. But at about the book’s midpoint, his arc takes a bit of a turn when he is sidelined from the game of thrones for a while, and meets the dwarf girl Penny. Tyrion’s reactions to Penny are layered and complex. He rediscovers empathy through her, comes to care for her, and works to protect her. Yet some of her traits make him disturbed, angry, and even contemptuous. And ahead looms the game, and the specter of Tyrion’s father. Can there be any place for Penny there?

I don’t believe Tyrion’s ADWD arc builds to a neat conclusion or turning point, as Dany’s and Jon’s do. Perhaps the Battle of Meereen, which Martin originally intended to include in ADWD, will resolve some of the issues I explore here. The Penny plotline in particular could be wrapped up early in TWOW, or not. For now, I will focus on the thematic importance of the Penny/Tyrion relationship — how their interaction changes Tyrion, what it reveals about him, and what it could mean for his future.

(Spoiler note: This essay briefly discusses one scene from an early Winds of Winter chapter that Martin has read at a convention — not a big spoiler, but be warned.)

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Paying His Debts, Part II: Sorrows, Whores, and a Game of Cyvasse

In the first half of A Dance With Dragons, Tyrion goes to some very dark places. He obsesses with his own traumas, and begins to think all good things are lost for him. He responds by treating others cruelly, and fantasizing about vengeance — starting to take on more of his father’s worst traits in very disconcerting ways. And, as he begins to play the game of thrones with more skill than ever before, he starts to resemble two of Westeros’s most infamous schemers as well.

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Paying His Debts, Part I: Tyrion in King’s Landing

As A Song of Ice and Fire opens, Tyrion Lannister is in a good place. He reads his books, goes sightseeing at Winterfell and the Wall, and basically enjoys life without any real responsibilities. He attempts to do good deeds and offer wise advice — counseling Jon about being a bastard, chastising Joffrey to pay his respects to the Starks, consulting with the Night’s Watch on their needs, and building the saddle for Bran. Then, when Tyrion walks into the Inn at the Crossroads, his life changes suddenly and irrevocably. His abduction by Catelyn Stark effectively drags him into the game of thrones, against his will, and forces him to play or die. But Tyrion proves to have a knack for the game, and some luck in battle, so he finishes Book 1 as the newly-appointed Hand of the King. That’s when things get interesting.

As Hand, Tyrion at first vows to do justice, but quickly settles on a course of pragmatism and self-preservation. He tries to rule well, mostly does a fine job of it, and comes to greatly enjoy having power. But the game of thrones is dangerous, and its darker side eventually becomes clear. The traumas of his childhood reemerge. People he cares about are put in danger. And Tyrion tells himself he must be cruel and ruthless, because it is the only way to win. Eventually, he is rejected by those whose approval he sought, and he experiences a shocking set of betrayals from those he loves most.  All the while, the looming, terrible figure of his father both awes and haunts him.

This essay series will analyze Tyrion’s character arc, paying special attention to his values, morality, and mental state — his struggle within his heart. I’ll explore how he’s played the game of thrones so far, how the game has changed him, and how he might play it in the future, along with Martin’s design of his arc as a whole. This first part will focus on Tyrion’s tenure in King’s Landing, as Hand and afterward — specifically, his journey from seeking justice, to seeking vengeance.

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