“Unbowed, unbent, unbroken” – The words of House Martell
House Martell is the ruling family of Dorne, the southernmost region of Westeros and the only region of Westeros to successfully resist the conquest of Aegon the Conqueror. While the Martells have played a more remote, isolationist role in the history of Westeros, their influence and importance is impossible to doubtt. The same can be said of the Martell’s introduction into the stories of A Song of Ice and Fire and its TV adaptation, Game of Thrones. So what were they all about? What differences are there between the show and the book series? Find out more here.
House Martell Facts
44. Beginning Banner
The most well-known symbol of House Martell is the golden spear piercing a red sun against an orange backdrop. However, this banner is fairly recent, at least when compared to most of the other Great Houses. The original banner of House Martell was the golden spear, with the red sun being added just 700 years before Aegon’s invasion—more on that story later.
43. It All Started When…
The Martell family was founded when Westeros was invaded by the Andals, who conquered the continent from the First Men—except for the North. An Andal adventurer named Morgan Martell entered Dorne, took territory for himself, and founded Sunspear.
42. First Impressions
While the Martells are name-dropped several times in the books and show, the first appearance of a Martell in both versions of the story is Prince Oberyn Martell, the younger brother of Prince Doran.
41. Living Humbly
Interestingly, despite conquering a piece of Dorne for themselves during the Andal invasion, the Martells spent thousands of years being a fairly mediocre house. They were dwarfed in power, influence, and manpower by House Allyrion, House Jordayne, and especially House Yronwood. Beware the backlash of an inferiority complex.
According to Keisha Castle-Hughes, she found out that she won the role of Obara Sand while she was watching the death of Obara’s father, Prince Oberyn. She confirmed that getting such a call made her emotional reaction to Oberyn’s horrifying death even worse!
39. Art and Life
When creating the homeland and castle of the Martells, George R.R. Martin was inspired by Spain when it was occupied by the Moors. Interestingly, when the show became as successful as it did, HBO was convinced to actually take the production to Spain for the scenes in Dorne!
38. Convenient Matrimony
Around 700 years before the Targaryen Conquest of Westeros, the Targaryens were still living in Valyria, along with the other dragon-riding Valyrian houses. They were busy conquering the much larger continent of Essos. This included the territory of the Rhoynar. After their warriors were annihilated during their wars with the Valyrians, Queen Nymeria led the surviving Rhoynar onto ten thousand ships and sailed to Westeros. Queen Nymeria found an ally in Lord Mors Martell, so the two of them married, and thus combining their separate banners into the single one of the spear and the sun—no doubt this is also when Sunspear was actually called Sunspear.
37. Lost Sibling
Aside from Doran, Elia, and Oberyn Martell, they had another sibling, called Olyvar, but he died as an infant.
36. Worth Their Salt
Because of the different mixtures of First Men, Andal, and Rhoynish background within the population, there are three distinct ethnic groups amongst the Dornish. The “Stony Dornishmen” are the ones who live mostly in the mountains and are mostly descended from First Men and Andals, which means they look the most like the rest of the Westerosi. The “Sandy Dornishmen” live in the deserts of Dorne and are the darkest-skinned of the population. The “Salty Dornishmen”, meanwhile, live on the Dornish coasts and retain a Rhoynish appearance of olive skin, black hair, and dark eyes. The Martells belong to the “Salty Dornishmen” category.
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35. New Architectural Styles
After the arrival of the Rhoynar, House Martell’s home of Sunspear was changed forever. Several important buildings were constructed in the fashion of Rhoynar architecture, which blew the previous buildings out of the water. Among these buildings were the domed Tower of the Sun and the Spear Tower.
34. Let’s Go Conquering for Our Honeymoon
The addition of ten thousand ships’ worth of Rhoynar to Dorne gave Mors Martell the strength to take on every other king in Dorne. He and Queen Nymeria embarked on years of warfare to conquer Dorne under their joint rule. Sadly, Mors would not live to see the end of the fighting, dying in battle, but Queen Nymeria continued the fight. Before she was done, Nymeria sent six former kings to the Wall in golden chains.
33. International Cast
When it comes to casting the Martells, HBO has selected a diverse group of actors. As of 2018, the Dornish have been played by a Chilean-American actor, a British-Sudanese actor, an English actress of Singaporean-Chinese descent, an actress of Maori background, and an Italian-American actress.
32. Your Business, Not Mine
The Martells continued to rule Dorne as an independent nation for years after Aegon the Conqueror’s attempts to defeat them failed. Rather than go on the offensive, however, they chose neutrality instead of war with Westeros. Even when the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons was happening and both sides of the conflict courted Prince Qoren Martell to join in, he refused and kept the Dornish out of the conflict. Safe to say it was probably a good idea, given how that war turned out.
31. They Love Watching Purple Rain
In keeping with the customs of the Rhoynar, the Martells became Princes of Dorne rather than Kings. This tradition of being called Prince of Dorne was preserved even when the Martells agreed to Dorne becoming part of the Seven Kingdoms.
30. Lost in Adaptation
Much to the surprise—and possibly relief—of any non-book readers, most of the Martells, apart from Oberyn, have almost nothing in common with their book counterparts, and several of them are outright omitted from the show, including two of Prince Doran’s children (more on all of it later).
29. Sad End
For those of you wondering what Quentyn Martell’s purpose was in the books, he’s involved in a secret plot which Doran Martell has been sitting on for decades after the downfall of the Targaryens. Quentyn was sent to find Daenerys in Meereen and marry her, based on an old agreement that Oberyn Martell had made with Willem Darry, the caretaker of Daenerys and Viserys in Essos. Unfortunately, Daenerys is uninterested in Quentyn, leading him to attempt to tame one of her dragons and subsequently being burned to death.
28. We Killed a Dragon!
After Aegon the Conqueror consolidated his rule over the rest of Westeros, he turned his attention to Dorne. Under Princess Meria Martell’s command, the Dornish used guerrilla tactics to combat the dragons during the First Dornish War. Rather than expose themselves to dragon-fire, the Dornish would disappear into the deserts and landscape until the dragons flew by. This changed in 9 AC, when Princess Meria’s warning to Queen Rhaenys proved accurate. A bolt fired from a scorpion managed to pierce the eye of Rhaenys’s dragon. Both Rhaenys and the dragon fell to their deaths at the castle of Hellholt.
27. Daddy’s Little Girls
As it’s briefly hinted in the show, Oberyn Martell has eight illegitimate daughters who are called the Sand Snakes. Though they were born from five different mothers, and are thus all differ in appearance from each other, they are said to all share their father’s eye shape.
26. From Princesses to Princesses
In the history of the Targaryen rule of Westeros, two Martell women have married heirs to the Iron Throne. One was Mariah Martell—more on her later—and the other was Elia Martell.
25. Poor Elia
Speaking of Elia Martell, she was wife to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and the mother of his first two children. You might have heard that when Tywin Lannister attacked King’s Landing and Jaime Lannister killed Aerys Targaryen, Elia was raped and killed by Ser Gregor Clegane—we heard it in passing from Oberyn once, but he doesn’t like to talk about it.
24. Siblings? What Siblings?
In the show Game of Thrones, Prince Doran Martell has one son, a young man named Trystane. However, in the books, Trystane is his youngest child, and hasn’t even hit puberty. Doran’s eldest child is his daughter, Arianne, and he also has a middle son named Quentyn.
23. USA, USA!
Pedro Pascal won much praise for his powerful performance as Oberyn Martell, introduced in the fourth season of Game of Thrones. In the fifth season, three of his daughters were introduced as supporting characters, including Tyene, played by Rosabell Laurenti Sellers. Interestingly, Sellers and Pascal are two of only four actors on Game of Thrones to have American citizenship. The other two are Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo).
22. They Didn’t Pay Me Enough
In the fifth season of the show, three of Oberyn Martell’s daughters are introduced wherein they torture a man to death by burying him in the sand and covering his head with scorpions. Interestingly—or horrifyingly—those scorpions weren’t fake or CGI. An actor really did have his head covered in live scorpions!
21. You Dog!
One member of House Martell, Prince Lewyn, served as a member of the illustrious Kingsguard. In true Dornish fashion, Prince Lewyn was said to ignore the rule that the men of the Kingsguard had to live celibate lives. He was said to keep a paramour under everyone’s noses!
20. Fallen Warrior
Lewyn Martell would later lead 10,000 Dornishmen to the aid of the Mad King, who reminded Lewyn that his niece and her children were being held in the Red Keep as hostages to ensure Dorne’s allegiance. Sadly, Lewyn would die at the Battle of the Trident, along with most of the Dornishmen under his command.
19. Watch Your Step!
The Dorne subplot of the show’s fifth season received a large amount of criticism from fans of the show, particularly a fight scene between Jaime Lannister, Bronn, and three of the Sand Snakes. However, the poor execution of the fight scene wasn’t necessarily their fault. Filming took place in the Alcazar of Seville, an ancient palace protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Filming conditions were very strict and they had just a week to film the sequence.
18. Seems Pretty Bright Outside…
On another note, the fight scene between the Sand Snakes, Jaime, and Bronn was supposed to take place at night! Since both groups were on a spy mission, it’s strange to think that they both decided to carry out their missions in broad daylight!
17. Music to My Ears
Fans of the show will remember that one aspect of what made Oberyn Martell especially alluring was the accent put on by Pedro Pascal during his performance. According to Pascal himself, he based this accent on his own father’s thick Chilean accent.
16. Enough Is Enough
The First Dornish War was finally ended when the elderly Prince Nymor Martell became the ruler of Dorne after his elderly mother Meria’s death. Nymor sent his daughter, Deria, to King’s Landing with the skull of the dragon slain by the Dornish, and an offer to declare a peace treaty which would leave Dorne independent.
15. I Have a Note for You
Unfortunately for Princess Deria Martell, there was a great deal of anti-Dornish sentiment in King Aegon’s court. They even urged the king to send Deria to one of the city’s cheapest brothels so that anyone could have their way with her as a cruel message to the Dornish. All that talk ended, however, when Deria gave Aegon a letter from her father. Aegon never revealed what it said, but witnesses attested that the king made his own hand bleed as he read the letter. After flying to Dragonstone and back, he agreed to the Martells’ conditions for peace.
14. Wrong Place Wrong Time
Before she was engaged to Rhaegar Targaryen, Elia Martell and her younger brother, Oberyn, travelled around Westeros with their mother, looking for suitable marriage candidates. The one who Elia liked most was Baelor Hightower, the second son of Lord Hightower in the Reach. Despite his handsome features and his courtesy, he made the unfortunate faux-pas of passing gas in their company, leading Oberyn to call him “Baelor Breakwind.” This killed the romance for Elia so hard that she couldn’t even look at him without laughing.
Elia and Oberyn’s journey eventually led them to Casterly Rock. Oberyn later suspected that his mother had planned with Joanna Lannister to marry Elia and Oberyn to her two twin children, Jaime and Cersei. However, Joanna had died by the time the Martells made it to the Westerlands, and Tywin had other plans for Cersei. He insisted that she was meant to marry Rhaegar, and also turned down Jaime marrying Elia. When he offered his newborn infant, Tyrion, the offer was taken as an insult and refused.
12. Just Don’t Know Your Own Strength!
In the episode “The Dance of Dragons,” two of the Sand Snakes are playing a hand-slapping game together while they sit in a cell. This game was included by the writers as an in-joke which involved one of the showrunners drunkenly challenging a member of the cast to the hand-slapping game. Unfortunately for the showrunner, that cast member was Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo), and he ended up breaking the showrunner’s hand by mistake!
It turns out that Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell) is good friends with Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) despite their characters being unfriendly with each other at best. Headey is also unafraid of trolling fans of the show and books. While the fourth season of Game of Thrones was airing, Headey tweeted a picture of her pretending to dig her thumbs into Pascal’s eyes. While this meant nothing to non-book readers, they certainly figured it out when the eighth episode of Season 4 came out, and everyone was traumatized by a gruesome death while Cersei smiled as she watched.
10. Let’s Talk it Over
After King Daeron I’s failed attempt to conquer Dorne ended with his death, his brother, King Baelor the Blessed, chose peace over continued war. During the conflict, the Targaryens had taken multiple hostages from noble Dornish families, but rather than kill them in revenge for Daeron’s death, Baelor led them personally back to Dorne and made an agreement with the Prince of Dorne. He engaged his cousin’s son, also named Daeron, to the Prince of Dorne’s daughter, Mariah Martell.
9. Marriage Deals
Mariah Martell became queen of Westeros when her husband became Daeron II Targaryen, also known as Daeron the Good. Daeron would also engage his sister, Daenerys—no, not that one—to his brother-in-law, Prince Maron Martell. In exchange, the Martells brought Dorne into the fold of the Iron Throne.
8. Hiding in Plain Sight
One of Oberyn Martell’s daughters that didn’t appear on the show is his daughter Sarella. Well-known for her curiosity getting her into places where she doesn’t belong, it’s strongly hinted that she is currently studying to be a maester at the Citadel alongside Sam Tarly. For those of you saying that she wouldn’t be allowed there, as she’s a woman, she’s disguised herself as a boy named Alleras!
7. Them's Fighting Words
One of the most famous rulers of Dorne was Princess Meria Martell. By the time the Targaryens began conquering Westeros, Meria was 80 years old, blind, and almost bald. None of those things got in the way of her resolve, however. When Aegon’s sister, Rhaenys Targaryen, flew to Sunspear, she found the castle deserted except for Princess Meria. When Rhaenys tried to threaten her with fire and blood (the Targaryen words), Meria responded “You may burn us, my lady, but you will not bend us, break us, or make us bow. This is Dorne. You are not wanted here. Return at your peril."
6. Don't Tread on Me
As beloved as Oberyn Martell became when he appeared in the fourth season of Game of Thrones, a lot of his amazing backstory was sadly left out of the show. When he was just 16 years old, he was a guest under the roof of Lord Edgar Yronwood when he was discovered sleeping with Lord Yronwood’s mistress. Yronwood challenged Oberyn to a duel, though because of his youth and status, the duel was just to first blood. Both men took cuts during the duel, but Lord Yronwood’s wounds festered, leading to his death soon after. This led to Oberyn being known as the Red Viper of Dorne.
5. Equal Opportunity
It’s actually incorrect to refer to House Martell as just “House Martell.” Their full name is House Nymeros Martell, in honor of Queen Nymeria and Mors Martell’s equal marriage. This plays into the fact that the Dornish mostly adopt the progressive, feminist laws of the Rhoynar, such as allowing girls to inherit titles.
4. The Risks of Knighthood
The Martells, along with the rest of the Dornish, are famously disliked by those houses in the Stormlands and the Reach. During the timeline of the books, however, the Martells are particularly despised by most of House Tyrell, who rule the Reach. This is because several years before the events of A Game of Thrones (the book), Oberyn Martell faced off against the Tyrell heir, Willas, in a tourney joust. Due to Willas’ inexperience, however, Oberyn unhorsed Willas, but in the confusion, Willas’ leg was crushed beneath his horse’s body. Willas was crippled for life, much to his family’s fury.
3. Against All Odds
Despite the ill will of his family members, Willas Tyrell didn’t hold a grudge against Oberyn for what happened. In fact, Willas and Oberyn kept up a regular contact over the years, due to their shared interest in horse riding and horse breeding.
2. Opposite Day?
As fans of the show will know, Ellaria Sand took the death of her partner, Oberyn Martell, very hard, and she was willing to murder Cersei’s daughter, Oberyn’s brother, and Oberyn’s nephew to get the revenge she wanted! However, the character of Ellaria is completely the opposite kind of character in the books. Traumatized by the death of Oberyn, she is terrified of losing more of her family to their enemies and urgently wants peace between Dorne and the Iron Throne. Most of the animosity and scheming she does was influenced by the attitude and actions of Prince Doran’s daughter, Arianne.
1. In the Name of Girl Power
Speaking of Arianne Martell, her plan, rather than killing Myrcella Baratheon, actually involved her crowning Myrcella Queen of the Iron Throne rather than Tommen! Not only was she motivated by revenge against Cersei and the Lannisters, but also in defense of her rights to the leadership of Dorne, as she feared she was being passed over in favor of her younger brother, Quentyn.