Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Sons of the Harpy,” introduces us to a group of young Dornish women with a bit of a reputation, the Sand Snakes.
Are are these fearsome daughter of Dorne? We’ll fill you in below, but be warned that minor SPOILERS for “The Sons of the Harpy” follow.
Before discussing the Sand Snakes, it’s important to remember some of the major cultural differences between Dorne and the rest of Westeros.
For one, women enjoy much greater prominence and agency in Dorne. In the other six kingdoms, inheritance and succession pass to the oldest male heir, but in Dorne it passes to the oldest child, male or female. This means that the ruling house of Dorne, House Martell, and many of the other Dornish noble house have been led by women during much of their existence.
Second, where most of Westeros values restraint, decorum, chastity and politics in matters of marriage relationships, Dorne – while not entirely disregarding those aspects – puts much more stock in love and passion than the other kingdoms. As a result, bastards of nobles are plenty, but they are not ostracized or looked down upon the way bastards often are in other parts of Westeros. Bastards are seen as a product of love and passion, and are often treated like family. They may not be able to claim a title, but they’re still respected and cared for.
It is because of these aspects of Dornish culture that a group like the Sand Snakes can exist, where such a grouping of female bastards would be unthinkable elsewhere in Westeros. The Sand Snakes are all bastard daughters of Oberyn “The Red Viper of Dorne” Martell, born of several different women, but who have bonded over love for their father. The group gets the name Sand Snakes as a combination of the surname for bastards of Dorne, “Sand,” and their father’s nickname.
Obara Sand is the oldest of the Sand Snakes, born of Oberyn and a peasant woman. She fashions herself a warrior, and inherited much of her father’s martial skill, including his ability with a spear. She is perhaps the most direct of the Sand Snakes, preferring to deal with obstacles and challenges head-on.
Nymeria Sand was born of a union between Oberyn and a noblewoman from Volantis. Her mother taught her how to wield a whip in combat. She’s a foil to Obara, dressing more femininely than her always-armored older sister and preferring to look at challenges analytically rather than matching strength for strength.
Tyene Sand, the third Sand Snake introduced in “The Son of the Harpy,” is the most changed from her character in the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, taking on some of the traits of Elia Sand, another of the Sand Snakes. In the novels, she’s the daughter of a Septa, but in Game of Thrones she’s the oldest daughter of Oberyn and Ellaria Sand, as was Elia. Like Elia, she is impetuous and often charges into combat blindly. She is the youngest of the adult Sand Snakes, and eager to prove herself to her sisters.
In Season 4, Oberyn mentioned that he has eight bastards in total. The others haven’t been cast and are unlikely to appear, as they are mostly children. They are Sarella, daughter of a trader who has taken up residence in Oldtown, and Ellaria’s children: the aforementioned Elia, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza.
While not actually a Sand Snake herself, the Snakes are close to Princess Arianne, Prince Doran’s oldest daughter. She has not been cast in Game of Thrones.
When we meet the Sand Snakes, they will be angered by the death of their father and Prince Doran’s apparent refusal to retaliate. They’ll seek justice on their own, which may interfere with Doran’s secret and well-laid plans, plans that – unbeknownst the Sand Snakes – involved Oberyn as well.