“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.)
“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.”
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.)
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.