How Game of Thrones messed up Dorne and why it could have been so much better

A good test for telling who has read the Game of Thrones books and who only watches the TV show is how a person reacts when you bring up Dorne. Fans who only watch the series are confused when I talk about how awesome Dorne is, and for good reason. So far, the show has given viewers almost no reason to care about Dorne or its characters, and seems to have decided, if the events of season 6, episode 1 are any indication, that destroying Dorne and moving on is a better strategy than trying to rectify it. Some fans disagree though and have even started a Kickstarter to try to refilm the Dornish scenes on the show. 

So what went wrong? How did one of my favorite plots from the books turn out to be one of the worst parts of last season? As George R. R. Martin himself has said, even small changes can have a big butterfly effect, and the show reduced Dorne down to the point where it removed everything that made it interesting in the first place. Completely removed from the show was the aptly named Queensmaker Plot, which saw an attempt by Prince Doran’s daughter, Arianne (never seen in the show) to actually raise Myrcella up and use Dornish custom to give her a rightful claim to the Iron Throne. Yup, the Dornish princess was planning on trying to use Myrcella to take over Westeros. Lil’ sis was coming for you, Tommen!  

By using Arianne and Myrcella, the Dornish plot fits nicely into the overall theme of Martin’s story, which tends to focus on characters who would, in traditional medieval society, be passed over or treated as undesirable (women, bastards, dwarves, younger heirs). Without this, Dorne loses its importance and thematic fit in the overall narrative of Game of Thrones. TV show-Dorne is instead a land just fueled by revenge without any subtilty, and there’s no shortage of that in Westeros. Just ask Brienne… or Arya… or Danny… or Cersei...or the entire North… or the 1989 Denver Broncos… you get the point. 

Instead of this pro-feminism plot of potential Queen Myrcella, well, we get the show's depiction of the Sand Snakes. The Sand Snakes aren’t seen much on page in the books, but it wasn’t long before one was seen quite bare on the show. While nudity isn’t anything new in Game of Thrones, it was cheap to disrobe one of them so soon, and felt like a poorly executed attempt to get viewers to try to care about the characters. Boobs before character development, apparently. Sigh. 

The show gets a lot of (wrongfully, I believe) accusations of sexism, and I do think that a lot of people are quick to mob criticize the show without letting it run its full course. On the one hand, the Sand Snakes are dealt a better hand than many of the show’s leading females: they are sex-positive woman who aren’t afraid to use it to their advantage. But taking the Queensmaker plot and replacing it with the current depiction of the Sand Snakes is a head scratcher, to say the least. 

The worst mistake of all, however, was in the season 5 finale. The Sand Snakes decide to kill Myrcella - a point not lost as the internet at large realized the irony that they were mad that Tywin ordered the killing of Elia Martell’s children and now are in fact, killing a child - but it’s just shocking to take characters that were originally going to rally behind and try to crown a character and, instead, you know, kill her. So much for chicks before dicks. 

Another big difference was sending Jaime to Dorne, which was something I was behind, actually - at least at first - because it brought a character that viewers already knew to Dorne instead of introducing Dorne through a lesser knight and new characters, as it does in the books. It seemed like a good call. But, as it turns out, sending Jaime to Dorne reduced the entire plot of the season down to his attempt to save Myrcella, to him getting caught, and ending with them being allowed to return home anyway. Predictable. Booooooo-ring. Even fan-favorite, wise-cracking Bronn couldn’t save that one.

The final nail in the coffin that is Dorne in the TV show is Prince Doran. He’s shown as a weak-willed cripple in the show, pretty on point with his character in the books, at least initially. But he wasn’t given the chance to fully blossom. If the show had stuck with his storyline, viewers would have realised that Doran has actually been plotting and scheming for years (with a couple of secret plans and marriage pacts) to take revenge on the Lannisters for their treatment of Elia Martell. He's unique in the world of Westeros, because he's a long-term schemer, and not quick to action like Oberyn (may we always miss his fashionable coat) and Ellaria wanted him to be. 

In the books, he’s far from weak, but on the show at least… he's dead-skies, meaning another unique element of the Dorne storyline has been removed. So where does Dorne go from here? It’s probably done. Kaput. Fin. Potentially mentioned in the show in passing, but never, or rarely, seen again on screen. It wasn’t working, and show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seem to know that, and decided to quickly get it out of the way in the season 6 premiere. Killing off Doran and Areo Hotah (his guard, who also played a much larger role in the books) seems to imply as much. 

Also, as many fans across the internet and Reddit were quick to point out, having a few of the Sand Snakes show up in King's Landing to kill Trystane in the same episode is almost certainly a continuity error as they were on the shore in the season 5 finale as Jamie, Myrcella and Trystane sailed away. I think this alone proves that there was a change in the plan after last season's awful reception of Dorne. Plus, we haven’t seen them since and we’re already halfway through season 6. 

The other possibility? The only thing that could possibly save Dorne at this point, (and the only thing I can think of that would be a big enough twist to save Ellaria, the Sand Sakes, and us!) is that someone in Dorne discovers what Doran was up to and continues his plan. Maybe Ellaria messed up real good by killing him. Maybe she feels really bad about it and wants to fix things. But, then again, maybe Game of Thrones messed up real good with how it handled Dorne, to begin with. 

Willie Clark

Willie was once a writer and editor covering music and games. He is now the web content manager at Niantic for Pokemon Go. Willie is also a barrel-rider, Reliable Brave Guy (TM), and podcast host at 8 Bit Awesome.