“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.”
Quentyn’s Task — “I Never Asked For This”
Doran takes a great deal of care with the lives of the Dornish people. As mentioned in Part I, he reflects constantly on the story of the Water Gardens and Princess Daenerys — that when a prince calls the spears, the children pay the price. He says similar things to Quentyn, while watching the Water Gardens’ children:
“Dorne will bleed if your purpose is discovered,” his father had warned him, as they watched the children frolic in the pools and fountains of the Water Gardens. “What we do is treason, make no mistake. Trust only your companions, and do your best to avoid attracting attention.” (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Though Doran dearly wants to avoid harm to the children of Dorne, he is perfectly willing to risk his own son’s life. One might think this is a contradiction, but Doran’s philosophy on the matter is laid out in a seemingly-unrelated passage:
Lady Mellario had never forgiven Prince Doran for taking her son away from her. “I like it no more than you do,” Arianne had overheard her father say, “but there is a blood debt, and Quentyn is the only coin Lord Ormond will accept.”
“Coin?” her mother had screamed. “He is your son. What sort of father uses his own flesh and blood to pay his debts?”
“The princely sort,” Doran Martell had answered. (AFFC ARIANNE I)
Now, once again, Doran is using Quentyn to settle a blood debt — this time, Elia’s years-old murder, a murder that occurred when Quentyn was a baby.
In many ways, Quentyn is quite like a child of the Water Gardens, symbolically. He is currently living an innocent, happy, and peaceful life — until Doran plucks him away from it and sends him into great danger, so Doran can try and get his revenge:
More recently, the youngest of Lord Yronwood’s daughters had taken to following him about the castle. Gwyneth was but twelve, a small, scrawny girl whose dark eyes and brown hair set her apart in that house of blue-eyed blondes. She was clever, though, as quick with words as with her hands, and fond of telling Quentyn that he had to wait for her to flower, so she could marry him.
That was before Prince Doran had summoned him to the Water Gardens. And now the most beautiful woman in the world was waiting in Meereen, and he meant to do his duty and claim her for his bride. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Later on it is hinted that Quentyn does in fact want to marry Gwyneth — this is what Doran has taken him away from:
I want to go back to Yronwood and kiss both of your sisters, marry Gwyneth Yronwood, watch her flower into beauty, have a child by her. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
Quentyn is also a virgin. Though he’s 18, his lack of skill with girls and inaptitude for seduction are other ways he resembles an innocent child:
Truth be told, girls made Quentyn anxious, especially the pretty ones. When first he’d come to Yronwood, he had been smitten with Ynys, the eldest of Lord Yronwood’s daughters. Though he never said a word about his feelings, he nursed his dreams for years … until the day she was dispatched to wed Ser Ryon Allyrion, the heir to Godsgrace. The last time he had seen her, she’d had one boy at her breast and another clinging to her skirts. After Ynys had come the Drinkwater twins, a pair of tawny young maidens who loved hawking, hunting, climbing rocks, and making Quentyn blush. One of them had given him his first kiss, though he never knew which one. As daughters of a landed knight, the twins were too lowborn to marry, but Cletus did not think that was any reason to stop kissing them. “After you’re wed you can take one of them for a paramour. Or both, why not?” But Quentyn thought of several reasons why not, so he had done his best to avoid the twins thereafter, and there had been no second kiss. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Like one of the children Doran mentions who uncomprehendingly pays the price for the prince calling the spears, it is noteworthy that Quentyn, like Arianne, never thinks about Elia’s fate. He doesn’t seem to hate the Lannisters. He doesn’t feel or even truly understand Doran’s thirst for vengeance. It is simply a task he is presented with — it’s his duty:
Quentyn had no idea what Daenerys Targaryen might like. He had promised his father that he would bring her back to Dorne, but more and more he wondered if he was equal to the task.
I never asked for this, he thought. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
But Quentyn is trapped. He is a dutiful son, Doran has given him a task, and Quentyn can’t bear to disappoint him:
“Well, if we cannot find a ship, and you will not let us ride, we had as well book passage back to Dorne.”
Crawl back to Sunspear defeated, with my tail between my legs? His father’s disappointment would be more than Quentyn could bear, and the scorn of the Sand Snakes would be withering. Doran Martell had put the fate of Dorne into his hands, he could not fail him, not whilst life remained. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Nothing in Quentyn’s nature suits him for this task. Yet he nonetheless is driven onward — by a desire to please his father, and by a fear of embarrassment and failure.
Adventure, War, and Vengeance Stink
When we first meet Quentyn, he has already been disillusioned, though not yet enough. Martin chooses to begin the action after three members of the group have been murdered by pirates — including Cletus Yronwood, Quentyn’s “dearest friend for half his life, a brother in all but blood.”
It was not supposed to end like that for them. “This will be a tale to tell our grandchildren,” Cletus had declared the day they set out from his father’s castle. Will made a face at that, and said, “A tale to tell tavern wenches, you mean, in hopes they’ll lift their skirts.” Cletus had slapped him on the back. “For grandchildren, you need children. For children, you need to lift some skirts.” Later, in the Planky Town, the Dornishmen had toasted Quentyn’s future bride, made ribald japes about his wedding night to come, and talked about the things they’d see, the deeds they’d do, the glory they would win. All they won was a sailcloth sack filled with ballast stones. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Quentyn’s friends’ ideals and wishful thinking are brutally debunked by their deaths, which mirrors what happened to Arianne in her queenmaking plot. The language is even the same — note how, when Quentyn says “It was not supposed to end like that for them,” it mirrors Arianne’s recurring thought when her queenmaking plan went awry:
Out into the sunlight stepped Areo Hotah, longaxe in hand. Garin jerked to a halt. Arianne felt as though an axe had caught her in the belly. It was not supposed to end this way. This was not supposed to happen…
…“No,” some girl was shouting, some foolish little girl, “no, please, this was not supposed to happen.”
… No, was all that she could think, no, no one was to be hurt, it was all planned, I was so careful. (AFFC ARIANNE I)
Blood and death — that’s what Arianne’s plot truly meant, and that’s what Doran’s plot truly means. In this first chapter, Quentyn is already showing understanding and dread of the above truths. He thinks that his dead friends wanted to win glory, but “all they won was a sailcloth sack filled with ballast stones.” He is haunted by the reality of death and horror — far moreso than his companion, Gerris Drinkwater:
This is still just a game to him, Quentyn realized, no different than the time he led six of us up into the mountains to find the old lair of the Vulture King. It was not in Gerris Drinkwater’s nature to imagine they might fail, let alone that they might die. Even the deaths of three friends had not served to chasten him, it would seem….
…“If Cletus and Will were still with us, we could come back with the big man and kill the lot of them,” said Gerris. Cletus and Will are dead. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
In one of Martin’s more straightforward metaphors, Quentyn’s first chapter opens with the following passage:
Adventure stank. She boasted sixty oars, a single sail, and a long lean hull that promised speed. Small, but she might serve, Quentyn thought when he saw her, but that was before he went aboard and got a good whiff of her. Pigs, was his first thought, but after a second sniff he changed his mind. Pigs had a cleaner smell. This stink was piss and rotting meat and night-soil, this was the reek of corpse flesh and weeping sores and wounds gone bad, so strong that it overwhelmed the salt air and fish smell of the harbor. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
The symbolic significance is pretty obvious — “adventure” actually stinks and is full of death and horror. But the symbolism goes further:
The captain’s smile widened. “I am pleased that I can help you. We will have a happy voyage, yes?”
“I am certain of it,” said Gerris. The captain called for ale then, and the two of them drank a toast to their venture…
… “I fear our happy voyage will be short, however. That sweet man does not mean to take us to Meereen. He was too quick to accept your offer. He’ll take thrice the usual fee, no doubt, and once he has us aboard and out of sight of land, he’ll slit our throats and take the rest of our gold as well.” (ADWD QUENTYN I)
Adventure promises a “happy voyage” to their desired destination, but actually plans to betray and murder them. This is what’s already happened to Quentyn’s friends, and it is his own eventual fate as well.
Quentyn must again grapple with brutal realities when he travels to Astapor with the Windblown, and sees the horrors of war:
Frog would be glad to put Astapor behind him. The Red City was the closest thing to hell he ever hoped to know. The Yunkai’i had sealed the broken gates to keep the dead and dying inside the city, but the sights that he had seen riding down those red brick streets would haunt Quentyn Martell forever. A river choked with corpses. The priestess in her torn robes, impaled upon a stake and attended by a cloud of glistening green flies. Dying men staggering through the streets, bloody and befouled. Children fighting over half-cooked puppies. The last free king of Astapor, screaming naked in the pit as he was set on by a score of starving dogs. And fires, fires everywhere. He could close his eyes and see them still: flames whirling from brick pyramids larger than any castle he had ever seen, plumes of greasy smoke coiling upward like great black snakes. (ADWD QUENTYN II)
Again, this is what war is — and note the emphasis of “fire,” which is what Doran wants so dearly – “fire and blood.” War means dead children — when a prince calls the spears, the children pay the price. Quentyn is acutely aware of this, as is emphasized below:
The new Unsullied threw down their spears and shields and ran, only to find the gates of Astapor shut behind them. Frog had done his part in the slaughter that followed, riding down the frightened eunuchs with the other Windblown. Hard by the big man’s hip he rode, slashing right and left as their wedge went through the Unsullied like a spearpoint. When they burst through on the other side, the Tattered Prince had wheeled them round and led them through again. It was only coming back that Frog got a good look at the faces beneath the spiked bronze caps and realized that most were no older than he. Green boys screaming for their mothers, he’d thought, but he killed them all the same. By the time he’d left the field, his sword was running red with blood and his arm was so tired he could hardly lift it. (ADWD QUENTYN II)
So, much of Quentyn’s first two chapters show him grappling with the truths of war, vengeance, and adventure — and realizing that they aren’t pretty. And contrary to his dead friends’ romantic ideals, Quentyn has now accepted that to get anywhere, he must lie and cheat — as with the plan to join the Windblown and betray them:
“Do you have a better way?” Quentyn asked him.
“I do. It’s just now come to me. It has its risks, and it is not what you would call honorable, I grant you … but it will get you to your queen quicker than the demon road.”
“Tell me,” said Quentyn Martell. (ADWD QUENTYN I)
By nature, Quentyn, who’s been told he has “an honest face,” doesn’t like betrayal — but he forces himself to go ahead with it anyway:
There was much and more about this Quentyn did not like himself. Sailing on an overcrowded ship tossed by wind and sea, eating hard-bread crawling with weevils and drinking black tar rum to sweet oblivion, sleeping on piles of moldy straw with the stench of strangers in his nostrils … all that he had expected when he made his mark on that scrap of parchment in Volantis, pledging the Tattered Prince his sword and service for a year. Those were hardships to be endured, the stuff of all adventures.
But what must come next was plain betrayal. The Yunkai’i had brought them from Old Volantis to fight for the Yellow City, but now the Dornishmen meant to turn their cloaks and go over to the other side. That meant abandoning their new brothers-in-arms as well. The Windblown were not the sort of companions Quentyn would have chosen, but he had crossed the sea with them, shared their meat and mead, fought beside them, traded tales with those few whose talk he understood. And if all his tales were lies, well, that was the cost of passage to Meereen. (ADWD QUENTYN II)
He is out of place in, and made uncomfortable by, this world of liars and dead-eyed sociopaths:
“Meris will command you,” said the Tattered Prince. “She knows my mind in this … and Daenerys Targaryen may be more accepting of another woman.”
Quentyn glanced back to Pretty Meris. When her cold dead eyes met his, he felt a shiver. I do not like this. (ADWD QUENTYN II)
Dancing with Dragons
Yet Quentyn proceeds onward nonethless, arrives at Dany’s court, and makes his petition — but he gets the bad news that Dany is one day away from marrying Hizdahr. Now, some blame Quentyn or Doran for this — for Quentyn not bringing an army, or for not cutting a more impressive figure. Others blame Dany, for foolishly turning down the chance for a Dornish alliance. But I don’t think Martin means for us to blame any of these characters for making some kind of silly or stupid mistake. Doran sent Quentyn with a small party because he feared the Iron Throne would crack down on Dorne if they sent a large army abroad — a perfectly legitimate fear. Also, no one expected Dany to stop in Meereen and launch a peacemaking effort there. Most importantly, if we take Dany’s desires to make peace in Meereen seriously, as we should, there’s no reason to believe a prettier face or even an army could have changed her mind at this point. She’s understandably committed to trying to protect her people’s lives by marrying Hizdahr — and Quentyn can’t do anything about it. It is simply out of Quentyn’s hands. He is, as Barristan later thinks, “The prince who came too late.”
After the marriage and the signing of the peace deal, however, an increasingly antsy and unhappy Dany decides to dangle the dragons in front of Quentyn, to test him:
“Dornishmen are notoriously stubborn, Your Grace. Prince Quentyn’s forebears fought your own for the better part of two hundred years. He will not go without you.”
Then he will die here, Daenerys thought, unless there is more to him than I can see. “Is he still within?”
“Drinking with his knights.” “Bring him to me. It is time he met my children.”
A flicker of doubt passed across the long, solemn face of Barristan Selmy. “As you command.” (ADWD DANY VIII)
Dany cuts past the “wooing” nonsense, accurately perceiving the true purpose of Quentyn’s mission:
“The dragon has three heads,” Dany said when they were on the final flight. “My marriage need not be the end of all your hopes. I know why you are here.”
“For you,” said Quentyn, all awkward gallantry.
“No,” said Dany. “For fire and blood”…
…“They are … they are fearsome creatures.”
“They are dragons, Quentyn.” Dany stood on her toes and kissed him lightly, once on each cheek. “And so am I.” (ADWD DANY VIII)
Dany shows him what fire and blood looks like, and he is visibly frightened. Faced with this horror, Quentyn brings up… our favorite symbol of childlike innocence, the Water Gardens! And has soon as he does, Dany concludes that he’s not cut out for fire and blood:
The young prince swallowed. “I … I have the blood of the dragon in me as well, Your Grace. I can trace my lineage back to the first Daenerys, the Targaryen princess who was sister to King Daeron the Good and wife to the Prince of Dorne. He built the Water Gardens for her.”
“The Water Gardens?” She knew little and less of Dorne or its history, if truth be told.
“My father’s favorite palace. It would please me to show them to you one day. They are all of pink marble, with pools and fountains, overlooking the sea.”
“They sound lovely.” She drew him away from the pit. He does not belong here. He should never have come. “You ought to return there.” (ADWD DANY VIII)
Shortly afterward, Dany disappears from the city — but the effects of this visit linger, and lead to Quentyn hatching his plot to steal a dragon.
Men Die on Grand Adventures
Now, in these last two Quentyn chapters, he returns to thinking about “the hero,” his “destiny,” “adventure” — a way of thinking that should supposedly have been debunked with his friends’ earlier deaths. Too many people read these passages and see Quentyn as a naive fool. As I’ve been arguing throughout this essay, one of Quentyn’s key traits is that he is fully aware of the realities of blood and death, moreso than other characters around him.
Therefore, Quentyn’s return to talk of heroism and adventure here is not a true delusion, but rather a coping mechanism he is using to try to make himself do something he doesn’t want to do. He’s using these stories to force himself to take this absurd risk that will probably kill him. Here, we see that Quentyn’s true motivation is not any genuine desire to be a hero, but a fear of embarrassment, and an unwillingness to let his father down. He feels trapped:
“What name do you think they will give me, should I return to Dorne without Daenerys?” Prince Quentyn asked. “Quentyn the Cautious? Quentyn the Craven? Quentyn the Quail?” (ADWD BARRISTAN II)
He desperately wants to go home and live a normal life. He never asked for this:
It would be sweet to see the Greenblood again, to visit Sunspear and the Water Gardens and breathe the clean sweet mountain air of Yronwood in place of the hot, wet, filthy humors of Slaver’s Bay. His father would speak no word of rebuke, Quentyn knew, but the disappointment would be there in his eyes. His sister would be scornful, the Sand Snakes would mock him with smiles sharp as swords, and Lord Yronwood, his second father, who had sent his own son along to keep him safe. (ADWD QUENTYN III)
Here again he resembles the children of the Water Gardens in his innocent desires:
“Daenerys Targaryen is not the only woman in the world. Do you want to die a man-maid?”
Quentyn did not want to die at all. I want to go back to Yronwood and kiss both of your sisters, marry Gwyneth Yronwood, watch her flower into beauty, have a child by her. I want to ride in tourneys, hawk and hunt, visit with my mother in Norvos, read some of those books my father sends me. I want Cletus and Will and Maester Kedry to be alive again. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
Now, Quentyn is completely aware of the risk he is taking. He knows what he’s getting into:
The prince lay abed, staring at his ceiling, dreaming without sleeping, remembering, imagining, twisting beneath his linen coverlet, his mind feverish with thoughts of fire and blood…. He stared at the candle for a long time, then put down his cup and held his palm above the flame. It took every bit of will he had to lower it until the fire touched his flesh, and when it did he snatched his hand back with a cry of pain. “Quentyn, are you mad?” No, just scared. I do not want to burn. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
But he tries to talk himself into doing it by returning to those ideals/illusions that he is “the hero,” that he has a grand destiny, and that this is all a big adventure.
“Not all risks lead to ruin,” he insisted. “This is my duty. My destiny.” You are supposed to be my friend, Gerris. Why must you mock my hopes? I have doubts enough without your throwing oil on the fire of my fear. “This will be my grand adventure.”
“Men die on grand adventures.”
He was not wrong. That was in the stories too. The hero sets out with his friends and companions, faces dangers, comes home triumphant. Only some of his companions don’t return at all. The hero never dies, though. I must be the hero…
…They do not understand. They may be Dornish, but I am Dorne. Years from now, when I am dead, this will be the song they sing of me. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
It’s basically the only way he can motivate himself to do what he feels he has to do. And every time he cites one of these airy justifications, Gerris Drinkwater is there to try and puncture it with cynical and accurate realism. This is interesting because earlier in the book, it was Quentyn who was so haunted by the deaths of their friends, and Gerris who seemed not to process it. Now, their roles have reversed:
“I have Targaryen blood in me, you know that. I can trace my lineage back —”
“Fuck your lineage,” said Gerris. “The dragons won’t care about your blood, except maybe how it tastes. You cannot tame a dragon with a history lesson. They’re monsters, not maesters. Quent, is this truly what you want to do?”
“This is what I have to do. For Dorne. For my father. For Cletus and Will and Maester Kedry.”
“They’re dead,” said Gerris. “They won’t care.”
“All dead,” Quentyn agreed. “For what? To bring me here, so I might wed the dragon queen. A grand adventure, Cletus called it. Demon roads and stormy seas, and at the end of it the most beautiful woman in the world. A tale to tell our grandchildren. But Cletus will never father a child, unless he left a bastard in the belly of that tavern wench he liked. Will will never have his wedding. Their deaths should have some meaning.”
Gerris pointed to where a corpse slumped against a brick wall, attended by a cloud of glistening green flies. “Did his death have meaning? … …Men’s lives have meaning, not their deaths. I loved Will and Cletus too, but this will not bring them back to us. This is a mistake, Quent.” (ADWD QUENTYN III)
Quentyn tries to talk himself into believing in these high ideals again. But he’s never fully convinced. Dread and horror suffuse his final chapter:
“Very good.” Quentyn felt light-headed. None of this seemed quite real. One moment it felt like a game, the next like some nightmare, like a bad dream where he found himself opening a dark door, knowing that horror and death waited on the other side, yet somehow powerless to stop himself. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
When he gets inside the pyramid, there is soon a problem — the Shavepate’s coup is taking place, so the wrong Brazen Beasts are guarding the door — and they have to be killed. Blood is shed, and Quentyn is “transfixed” and horrified by the loss of life:
“Dog,” Quentyn said. “The day’s word was supposed to be dog. Why wouldn’t they let us pass? We were told …”
“You were told your scheme was madness, have you forgotten?” said Pretty Meris. “Do what you came to do.”
The dragons, Prince Quentyn thought. Yes. We came for the dragons. He felt as though he might be sick. What am I doing here? Father, why? Four men dead in as many heartbeats, and for what? “Fire and blood,” he whispered, “blood and fire.” The blood was pooling at his feet, soaking into the brick floor. The fire was beyond those doors. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
Note those crucial doubts above, and that anguished question for Doran — “Father, why?” Four innocent men are now dead because of Quentyn, and he is sickened by it, and doesn’t understand it. Thus the truth of Doran’s revenge quest is revealed — and continues to be revealed, when Quentyn and his friends come face to face with the dragons:
“Quent, this will not work. They are too wild, they …”
The dragon came down between the Dornishmen and the door with a roar that would have sent a hundred lions running. (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
Like with Arianne trying and failing to make use of the ruthless Darkstar, the dragons represent the forces of war. They are too wild and destructive. Quentyn and Doran tell themselves they can harness the powers of war — but they are wrong:
“Viserion,” he called, louder this time. He could do this, he would do this, his father had sent him to the far ends of the earth for this, he would not fail him. “VISERION!”
…“Down,” the prince commanded. You must not let him smell your fear. “Down, down, down.” He brought the whip around and laid a lash across the dragon’s face. Viserion hissed.
And then a hot wind buffeted him and he heard the sound of leathern wings and the air was full of ash and cinders and a monstrous roar went echoing off the scorched and blackened bricks and he could hear his friends shouting wildly. Gerris was calling out his name, over and over, and the big man was bellowing, “Behind you, behind you, behind you!” (ADWD QUENTYN IV)
And so Quentyn fails and dies, consumed by the fire and blood his father so longed for. The wishful thinking of Doran and Quentyn both is exposed. Quentyn’s not the hero, it’s not a grand adventure, and he meets the same pointless, tragic end that Cletus, Will, and Maester Kedry did. To quote Quentyn, “Father, why? Four men dead in as many heartbeats, and for what?” A badass vengeance plot sounds cool in theory. But here is the awful reality of “fire and blood”:
After the girl was gone, the old knight peeled back the coverlet for one last look at Quentyn Martell’s face, or what remained of it. So much of the prince’s flesh had sloughed away that he could see the skull beneath. His eyes were pools of pus. He should have stayed in Dorne. He should have stayed a frog. Not all men are meant to dance with dragons. (ADWD BARRISTAN IV)
And though Quentyn’s story ends here, the consequences of his fate, and of Doran’s plan, for the Dornish people are still ahead.