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.