The Windblown Grass: Doran Martell


Doran Martell has been often hailed as one of the great strategic plotters of A Song of Ice and Fire. His final lines to his daughter at the end of A Feast for Crows – “Justice. Vengeance. Fire and Blood” have been not merely cited as some of the most stirring in the series, but equated with the political brilliance and rhetorical masterstroke of Wyman Manderly’s “The North remembers” declaration. His words seemingly indicate a deep knowledge of how to play the game of thrones – a dedication to a long, carefully planned scheme in which the errors of Robert’s Rebellion are reversed and House Targaryen – with Martell support – once again rules the Seven Kingdoms.

However, is this a fair assessment of the Prince of Dorne? Or is it more the case that Doran has categorically failed to effect his ultimate goal – the restoration of House Targaryen to the Iron Throne – at every stage? Have Doran Martell’s schemes actually resulted in any gains toward that end, or any real change in House Martell’s fortunes? Indeed not, and nor should the Prince of Dorne be considered a strategic genius. Doran is not merely perceived as weak and ineffective, the grass that hides the viper – he is the grass, blown by passionate winds but unable in its own right to do anything but remain firmly planted in the ground.

The Seeds of the Plots

The Unnamed Princess of Dorne, Doran’s mother, had had great dynastic hopes for her only daughter. Though the proposed matches to either Baelor Hightower or Jaime Lannister would have been grand indeed, the marriage to the crown prince, Rhaegar, was the most glittering prize of all. As in the halcyon days of Daeron II, when Dornish royal favor was at its acme, the Martells would have a queen consort and half-Martell heirs to the kingdom. Dorne could never compete with the mineral wealth or agricultural riches of other sectors of Westeros, but in this dynastic struggle the Martells had emerged victorious; prized courtly appointments for noble Dornishmen would doubtless follow, and Dornish influence would again rule in King’s Landing. Mad, prematurely aged Aerys II could not last forever, and the glorious age of King Rhaegar, Queen Elia, and Aegon Prince of Dragonstone would soon be at hand.

The Sack of King’s Landing and the final defeat of House Targaryen, however, had proved otherwise. The Dornish generally and the Martells specifically found themselves politically isolated and personally aggrieved. As one of two major realms (along with their traditional enemies in the Reach) which had fought essentially united for the Targaryens, Dorne could not expect to be welcomed into the arms of the newly royal Baratheons; Robert’s famed open-handedness could not dispel his hatred for those associated with his mortal enemy, Rhaegar. Yet even more devastatingly, innocent Princess Elia and her small children had been brutally murdered by two of Tywin Lannister’s knights. If it made political sense to destroy Rhaegar’s children and thus ensure that Rhaegar’s bloodline could never take the throne away from Robert’s, theirs was also an act of heinous cruelty. Amory Lorch and Gregor Clegane had not merely killed Rhaegar’s family, but had made trophies of the children’s mutilated bodies, proof for King Robert that the Lannisters were firmly on his side. Such a terrible act demanded justice from the murdered innocents’ Martell relations.

Justice, however, was not to be delivered. Gregor Clegane and Amory Lorch were never tried or punished by Tywin Lannister or the crown (though both faced painful deaths of their own much later, and at least in Gregor’s case Oberyn Martell gained some posthumous vengeance). Robert offered no formal apology for the murders, and Jon Arryn tread a careful line between appeasing the Dornish and reinforcing Robert Baratheon’s role as the Martells’ new overlord. Especially gallingly for the Martells, not only did Tywin (who ordered the murders of at least the children) face no repercussions himself, but his daughter became the queen Elia never had the chance to be.

Doran Martell had personally loved his sister, despite the gap in their ages. He also represented House Martell, and such an insult and moral horror to the House – the murders of a Martell princess and her children with no repercussions and only the most tacit signs of appeasement – prompted him to seek retribution. The only way House Martell could return to its favored place is if a Targaryen were restored to the throne with Dornish help (and possibly a Martell consort). Doran’s eye looked east, toward the first Targaryen pretender he would court.

The First Plot: Viserys III Targaryen and Queen Arianne Martell

Prince Doran Martell may be forgiven for not welcoming Viserys and his infant sister immediately into Dorne after Robert’s Rebellion; the blood of Aegon, Rhaenys, and Elia had not yet dried on their murderers’ hands, and Doran may have reasonably suspected Robert would be watching him closely, as such a notable Targaryen supporter (not to mention that Baratheon-loyal armies remained in the field, now supplemented by unblooded Westerlands forces).  Nor was Doran’s plotting aided by his fiery brother Oberyn’s attempts immediately after the war to restore House Targaryen; the prince tried to call the Martells’ banners to declare for Aerys’ second son, Viserys. Jon Arryn quickly put a stop to that rebellion – traveling himself to Sunspear, returning the bones of Prince Lewyn Martell, a Kingsguard slain at the Trident, and conferring with Doran privately to end the talk of war. Still, if the Prince of Dorne had not yet been blacklisted by the new regime, he most certainly was thereafter.

So, as much as Rhaella might have hoped to win her children asylum by giving her newborn daughter an appropriately Dornish-themed name, Doran could only watch helplessly as Willem Darry smuggled the would-be Viserys III Targaryen and the Princess Daenerys out of Dragonstone and kept them in Braavos. Dorne itself, although not as bloodied as the rest of the realms by Robert’s Rebellion – the Prince having held back some troops, in response to Rhaegar’s insult to Elia – still could not raise a large enough army to stand against the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Even so, Doran knew enough to presume that some of the realms of Westeros would have preferred to see the Targaryens restored rather than “the Usurper” sit the seat of the dragonkings – those dragonkings who had once raised a Martell princess to be queen and had allowed the blood of the dragon to mingle with that of the Dornish princely line. Prince Oberyn had shown that there was at least the possibility of Dorne rising for Viserys even without his being in the country; should the rightful Targaryen king return, those who had fought for the crown not so long ago might abandon their surface loyalty to the Baratheons.

So Prince Doran sent a secret mission to Braavos – one that would hopefully bring the young pretender back to Westeros and jumpstart the Targaryen counterrevolution:

The parchment was written in the Common Tongue. The queen unrolled it slowly, studying the seals and signatures. When she saw the name Ser Willem Darry, her heart beat a little faster. She read it over once, and then again.

“May we know what it says, Your Grace?” asked Ser Barristan.

“It is a secret pact,” Dany said, “made in Braavos when I was just a little girl. Ser Willem Darry signed for us, the man who spirited my brother and myself away from Dragonstone before the Usurper’s men could take us. Prince Oberyn Martell signed for Dorne, with the Sealord of Braavos as witness.” She handed the parchment to Ser Barristan, so he might read it for himself. “The alliance is to be sealed by a marriage, it says. In return for Dorne’s help overthrowing the Usurper, my brother Viserys is to take Prince Doran’s daughter Arianne for his queen.” (“Daenerys VII”, A Dance with Dragons)

To be fair to the Prince of Dorne, this step of the plan had been handled well. Prince Oberyn could travel to Essos without attracting much attention from the Iron Throne; throughout his life the Martell prince would cross the Narrow Sea to the Free Cities, even soldiering in the Disputed Lands  and riding with the Second Sons for a time before starting his own sellsword company. Choosing Oberyn – whose fervent desire to avenge Elia had already been demonstrated in dramatic fashion – allowed Doran to have a representative for the pact both dedicated to the cause and able to visit the Targaryen pretender without being noticed by the Baratheon regime (and – to Doran’s probable relief – removed the hot-headed prince from Dorne, where he had instigated a premature rebellion that, in other circumstances, could have spelled the end of the Martells). Likewise, either Oberyn or Doran (or perhaps Willem Darry) had convinced the Sealord of Braavos to witness the pact – an important diplomatic detail, lending the agreement the weight of possibly the wealthiest and most powerful of the Essosi city-states. Perhaps Oberyn, with his martial prowess and resume of military service across Essos, had impressed a ruler whose traditional First Swords were famed fighters; perhaps the Sealord saw the advantage of allying with Dorne, thereby preventing the princedom from forming a Triarchy-like alliance with Lys, Myr, and/or Tyrosh later. Ser Willem, signing for the little Targaryen king, had sealed the deal, adding another noble Westerosi signature to a document of formidable diplomatic weight.

It cannot be known when this document was signed; Daenerys comments that she was “just a little girl” when the pact was made, but being that she was only five when she and her brother left Braavos, her announcement does little to narrow the timeframe. One cannot therefore judge how much – or how little – Doran was doing in terms of preparing for the expected landing of the Targaryen party and subsequent rebellion. One event, however, would moot the original plan – and, though none might have expected it, Prince Doran’s entire ambitions with the young Viserys.

After five years in exile, Ser Willem Darry died; Viserys and his sister were summarily dismissed from their Braavosi home, their little remaining money stolen by their former servants. Viserys, only 13 years old, had had very little political education, and without a strong parent-figure to guide him and his sister and instruct Viserys in his royal destiny, the two children had poor prospects for reclaiming the Seven Kingdoms for House Targaryen. Ser Willem and his assistants had likely brought little out of Dragonstone, and besides a few treasures the expatriate royals had no money, no direction, and no education or experience to handle the unexpected, solitary state in which they found themselves.

One might have expected at this moment that Doran would step in to alleviate the situation of the Targaryens. Dorne was not a rich kingdom, but Doran presumably had enough wealth to sponsor two children in relative comfort abroad. Alternately, Doran’s and Oberyn’s Essosi contacts had presumably not disappeared in the maximum five years since the pact was signed. Princess Mellario may or may not have moved back to Norvos by this point, but in either event his Norvoshi in-laws might have been persuaded to open a modest dwelling that would shelter the two Targaryen exiles; similarly, although the Sealord had presumably seen no benefit for Braavos to continue supporting Westerosi royal pretenders (or had himself been replaced), continued Dornish interest in the scheme might have demonstrated that there were greater gains to be had upholding the agreement than in abandoning the Targaryens to their fate (especially if Dorne threatened to ally with any of Braavos’ rival Free Cities to back the Targaryen pretender).

Perhaps most obviously of all, Princess Arianne herself remained a viable piece to play, and indeed Doran had for a time considered using her:

[“]When I rode Garin no one could defeat us, not even Nym and that green-haired Tyroshi girl.”

“That green-haired girl was the Archon’s daughter. I was to have sent you to Tyrosh in her place. You would have served the Archon as a cupbearer and met with your betrothed in secret, but your mother threatened to harm herself if I stole another of her children, and I . . . I could not do that to her.” (“The Princess in the Tower”, A Feast for Crows)

Presumably, the Archon’s daughter was still being fostered at the Water Gardens – a likely conclusion, as in 289 AC Arianne was 11-12, at an age when girls still played in the Gardens’ pools. Doran might have chosen this moment to send his only daughter to Tyrosh, to fulfill his end of the join-fosterage pact; true, Arianne was at that point older than was typical for a nobleborn cupbearer, but not so old that her mission would have caused notice – or concern – in the Baratheon court.  Shepherding Viserys and Daenerys to Tyrosh without being noticed would be slightly more difficult, but again not impossible. Prince Oberyn had already demonstrated his willingness to act as a representative for the Dornish Targaryen restoration (and the apparent lack of caring his trip to Braavos raised in the capital), and his connections to the Free Cities were again well-known. With his reputation for joining sellsword companies in Essos already established, who would question the hot-headed younger brother of the Prince of Dorne once again flying to Essos to seek some new adventure? Where Doran then imagined the plan going is somewhat unclear – easy enough for Arianne to “meet” her fiance Viserys under cover in Tyrosh, but harder to bring the Martell princess and the Targaryen royals back across the Narrow Sea and start a revolution – but it was at least possible to do what had up to that point been envisioned by the prince to secure Viserys’ ascension as king and Arianne’s fate as queen.

Instead, Doran did nothing. His excuse – that Mellario, so incensed at Quentyn’s recent fostering at Yronwood, would not allow her only daughter to go across the Narrow Sea for an indefinite period – falters in light of an obvious alternative. If Mellario was so adamant not to lose another child to the foreign concept of fostering, why not then send mother and daughter to the Free Cities together? Mellario’s noble family would presumably have a place for her and her Martell daughter in Norvos, and it would likely be as easy for Oberyn to shepherd Viserys to Norvos as to Tyrosh. If Mellario objected to the project on political grounds, Doran made no mention of this objection; his justification was purely personal.

Unfortunately for the Targaryens, the Prince of Dorne’s personal explanations did not aid them in a land foreign in its customs and unsympathetic to their cause. Viserys’ sanity degraded sharply from the nearly decade of hard wandering he and Daenerys endured in Essos; the would-be king changed from a boy who might have made a decent figurehead for a counterrevolution to a suspicious, cruel figure, terrified that the Usurper’s knives were ever at his back. By the time Viserys and Daenerys came under Illyrio’s protection, the Targaryen pretender had hit a nadir of desperation – desperation which might have been staved off years before, had the Prince of Dorne used any of his Essosi connections to keep the Targaryens out of poverty and provide them with even minimal comfort. The Blackfyre cause had remained alive for over a half-century thanks in part to having a home and family connections in Tyrosh, to which the cause could always retreat when Westeros proved unwilling to submit to the black dragon. The Targaryen cause, by contrast, looked ready to collapse after not even ten years without the aid of others – even those who would have ostensibly welcomed their return.

Plan Two: Queen Daenerys I Targaryen and King-Consort Quentyn Martell

By 300 AC, Plan One had definitively fallen through; for lack of Doran’s own initiative, the Beggar King had died alone and pathetic in Vaes Dothrak, Arianne was no closer to being queen in King’s Landing than she was at her birth, and a Baratheon king (or at least recognized Baratheon) sat the Iron Throne of the dragonlords. A Targaryen king was not going to sit the Iron Throne in the foreseeable future, but the Martells still wanted to avenge Elia and see the “true” royal house take power once again. The best Doran could do – and where he shifted his energies – was Daenerys, last of the legitimate Targaryen male line.

In some ways, Daenerys was an even more attractive proposition than her brother had been. Where Viserys had never mustered a coalition likely to take back the Seven Kingdoms – even the Dothraki he had “bought” made no effort to begin an invasion until after he had died, and the sellswords he feted simply mocked his ambitions – Daenerys had amassed a formidable army of Unsullied, Dothraki, and sellsword companies. While Viserys’ title had been a courtesy among his few followers, Daenerys was a queen in truth (if only Queen of Meereen).  Most importantly, Daenerys had done what no Targaryen had in over a sesquicentury: she had hatched three dragons, which grew larger and more potent every day. Aegon the Conqueror and his sisters had used three dragons to win a kingdom and their descendant Daenerys looked poised to do the same – if she could be persuaded to leave Meereen.

Conveniently, Doran once again had a pawn in one of his children, whom he could offer to make a Targaryen consort: Quentyn Martell. True, the boy had fewer physical charms than his elder sister; while Arianne was undeniably beautiful and could be seductive, Quentyn was plain and quiet, rare to laugh and wholly unprepossessing. Yet as with Arianne years before, what Quentyn would be for Daenerys was not a mere personality or face. Prince Quentyn would bring the (inflated) promise of 50,000 Dornish swords, ready to fight and die to place their queen on her rightful throne – so long as the grateful Queen Daenerys then took young Quentyn to husband as her king consort.

The “why” of that plan had been settled years before, and even now the “how” might have seemed straightforward. It is not unknown for Westerosi young men to take tours of the Free Cities, presumably to improve their knowledge of Valyrian history, the High Valyrian language, and the cultures of Essos beyond what an in-house maester could provide (much as European young men of our own world took “Grand Tours” through the Continent to observe great art and classic architecture). Quentyn, at 18, was at the ideal age to do so (compare with Tyrion, who at 16 had in vain asked to tour the Free Cities, as his Lannister uncles had done the same at his age). His uncle Oberyn had traveled in the Free Cities in his youth; surely another Martell prince could do the same. Any number of young Dornish nobles could likewise accompany Prince Quentyn in his trip east, continuing their own educations, without notice or comment from King’s Landing.

Indeed, Quentyn had even more opportunity than others boys of his age to take such a tour. His mother Mellario, estranged from her husband, had long since fled back to her native Norvos, furious that Doran would use the fostering of Quentyn to pay his Yronwood “blood debt”. Surely Lady Mellario, so opposed to the idea of her son being taken from her, would welcome Quentyn and whatever companions he chose to bring with him if he stayed with her in Norvos. The Lannister-Baratheon regime could hardly be disturbed by the news that a son (not even the heir) of the Prince of Dorne was undertaking the same expedition any number of Westerosi highborns did every year, living with his Essosi mother, and his adventures in Essos would hardly be matters of state concern. The more normalized the scheme appeared, the less interested anyone would be in it.

The Free City of Norvos could then be either a home base or a launching-off point for Quentyn’s treating with Daenerys (depending on how the Princess Consort of Dorne would react to her home being used for her estranged husband’s scheming).  Possibly as well, Doran had maintained his former Braavosi and Tyroshi contacts, and might be able to persuade the Sealord or Archon to allow young Prince Quentyn to stay in their palaces for a time. From Norvos, Braavos, or Tyrosh (or even wherever Oberyn had made contacts before his death), Quentyn could then send a discreet message to Daenerys that Dorne’s representative wished to treat with her, and invite her to visit him and his companions. Though unimpressive in his person, when securely ensconced in an Essosi manor and surrounded by the noblest blood of Dorne, Quetyn could seem a true Martell prince, as worthy a husband to this Daenerys as his forbear Maron had been to the first.

Doran, however, decided to follow an opposite course – a course that would end (though he could not have foreseen it) with his son’s fiery death. Even before Quentyn left Dorne, Doran arranged for a small, less than impressive coterie to accompany his son: Ser Cletus Yronwood, son of Lord Anders and close companion of Quentyn; Ser Gerris Drinkwater, another longtime friend to the prince; Ser Archibald Yronwood, Cletus’ cousin; Ser Willam Wells, a knight of House Wells; and Maester Kedry, an expert in the cultures and tongues of the Free Cities. Cletus and the maester were not altogether poor choices to accompany Quentyn: as the son (and possible heir) of the Bloodroyal, a member of the greatest House in Dorne after the princely House of Martell, Cletus could demonstrate that Dorne’s two most premier houses desired Daenerys to be their queen.  Having an Essosi expert, moreover, could help the boys navigate the Free Cities, as well as lend another layer of normalcy to the operations; young Dornish nobles on their tour might certainly employ a maester, to interpret the varied tongues of Essos for them.

Yet if Doran’s ultimate plot was to convince Daenerys of the benefits of allying with Dorne and taking Quentyn as her consort, the representatives of Dorne were altogether a sorry sort. Doran might have described the men besides Quentyn, Cletus, and the maester as “three of Lord Yronwood’s best young knights”, but even that description underlines how poorly suited for the mission these men were. Ser Archibald was an extraneous addition, as Yronwood was already better represented by the handsome, more dynastically important Cletus. Ser Gerris’ House, Drinkwater, was sworn to Yronwood, adding no greater authority than Cletus already represented. As for Willam Wells, nothing is known of his background or House, not even a sigil.  Together, they were nothing more than knights in service at Yronwood – an important seat, to be sure, but hardly enough to impress a young woman who was queen in fact in the east and queen by right in the west.

Doran had failed in his first step with Plan Two: what mattered in appearance politics was not that Quentyn’s companions were personal friends, but that Daenerys would be duly impressed by a show of Dornish power. Oberyn had understood that lesson well enough:

“His Grace will be most honored to have the counsel of a warrior as renowned as Prince Oberyn of Dorne,” said Tyrion, thinking, This will mean blood in the gutters. “And your noble companions are most welcome as well.”

“Permit me to acquaint you with them, my lord of Lannister. Ser Deziel Dalt, of Lemonwood. Lord Tremond Gargalen. Lord Harmen Uller and his brother Ser Ulwyck. Ser Ryon Allyrion and his natural son Ser Daemon Sand, the Bastard of Godsgrace. Lord Dagos Manwoody, his brother Ser Myles, his sons Mors and Dickon. Ser Arron Qorgyle. And never let it be thought that I would neglect the ladies. Myria Jordayne, heir to the Tor. Lady Larra Blackmont, her daughter Jynessa, her son Perros.” (“Tyrion V”, A Storm of Swords)

Prince Oberyn’s companions came from some of Dorne’s most illustrious families – almost half of all the families sworn to the Martells – and had included sitting lords (and one lady) and heirs.  By bringing such notables with him to King’s Landing (even if they themselves would not stay long after the wedding), Oberyn had demonstrated that Dorne was not an impotent realm but an active, watchful princedom, its nobility keenly interested in the greater political game in Westeros. King Joffrey’s wedding might have been a day of triumph for the Tyrells and their allies – traditionally no friends of the Dornish – but Oberyn would remind them that Dorne had as exalted families as anywhere else in the realm, and that the most southerly state in Westeros would not be forgotten. Even Tyrion acknowledged that the company he had brought to greet the Dornish was not nearly as distinguished or formidable as Prince Oberyn’s.

Worse, Doran had been foolish in his arranging Quentyn’s passage out of Dorne:

Prince Doran was still pretending that her brother was with Lord Yronwood, but Garin’s mother had seen him at the Planky Town, posing as a merchant. One of his companions had a lazy eye, the same as Cletus Yronwood, Lord Anders’s randy son. A maester traveled with them too, a maester skilled in tongues. My brother is not as clever as he thinks. A clever man would have left from Oldtown, even if it meant a longer voyage. In Oldtown he might have gone unrecognized. Arianne had friends amongst the orphans of the Planky Town, and some had grown curious as to why a prince and a lord’s son might be traveling under false names and seeking passage across the narrow sea. (“The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows)

With the Planky Town being the only real port in Dorne, it might have been unsurprising that people Arianne knew would spot the thinly disguised company as it departed Dorne. The curiosity noted by Arianne’s orphan friends directly speaks to one of the primary problems of sending Quentyn off in this fashion: the more surreptitious Doran attempted to make the plot, the more spying eyes would wonder at the need for such secrecy – and the more the scheme Doran so wanted to remain undercover would come under scrutiny. Had Doran openly announced that Cletus and Quentyn were traveling to Essos for an extended holiday, none would have batted an eye at the usual progress of lords’ sons; instead, Doran had attempted to be secretive, but had fooled no one.  

Once across the Narrow Sea, Quentyn and his band were left to the trials of Essos – a foreign, war-torn, dangerous land – and the resulting adventure highlights just how poorly Doran Martell’s planning stank. During the journey, corsairs slew the maester and two of Quentyn’s companions. One of those slain was Ser Cletus Yronwood – the only other truly notable member of the band, the only one besides Quentyn who could make plausible the case that the collected nobility of Dorne waited to embrace Daenerys. These deaths were an avoidable incident which nevertheless cost Quentyn’s mission irreplaceable dynastic weight.  

Unable to reach Daenerys via a trade ship due to embargo on Meereen after the cancellation of the slave trade, Quentyn and his remaining friends joined a sellsword company – a task for which none of the young knights were prepared, and in which service any – but especially Quentyn – might have been killed in combat and the entire plan ruined. By pure luck, the three remaining Dornishmen were sent on a mission for the company to Daenerys, but even this luck would not carry them: beneath Daenerys on her high throne, robed in sellsword garb, plain Quentyn simply could not impress the Queen of Meereen, no matter what Targaryen-Martell precontract he could brandish. Worse, Daenerys was already betrothed to a Meereenese noble; Quentyn had risked his life, and had watched three companions die, for naught. Desperate and unsure of how to proceed, Quentyn and his Dornishmen attempted to steal one or both of the queen’s remaining dragons, relying on his Targaryen descent to bond with one; the result was a painful, fiery end.

Plan Three: The Sand Snakes in the Capital

Doran had now lost twice in his bid to restore a Targaryen – with an appropriate Martell consort – to the Iron Throne. Arianne remained the frustrated heiress of Dorne, and his poor attempts to hide Quentyn’s fate from her had only riled her anger:

“Why not? You favor him and always have. He looks like you, he thinks like you, and you mean to give him Dorne, don’t trouble to deny it. I read your letter.” The words still burned as bright as fire in her memory. “‘One day you will sit where I sit and rule all Dorne,’ you wrote him. Tell me, Father, when did you decide to disinherit me? Was it the day that Quentyn was born, or the day that I was born? What did I ever do to make you hate me so?” (“The Princess in the Tower”, A Feast for Crows)

Prince Doran’s excuse of why he had not told Arianne – that Arianne’s nature would compel her to spill the secret of her betrothal to her bastard cousins and friends throughout Dorne – speaks not to a clever prince but to a ruler who has no trust in his heiress. Arianne was no mere daughter, but the future ruling Princess of Dorne, and as such had a right to expect her princely father to instruct her in statecraft and his political policies. If Doran could not trust her at 23, when did the Prince of Dorne imagine he would be able to confide in the woman who for at the very least the past year – when Viserys had died and the prospect of her becoming Queen instead of Princess of Dorne had died with him – had been guaranteed to sit in his place someday? Secrecy and suspicion from a father toward his heir had seldom cultivated a useful working court, as seen in the reigns of Aegon IV and Aerys II; Prince Doran had valued a scheme he never pursued over his heiress’ information, to his cost.

Indeed, Arianne, for her part, turned frustration at her supposed robbed birthright into a poorly planned, even more poorly executed, scheme to crown Myrcella Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Arianne’s failures in trying the game of thrones cannot be placed on her father, yet still Prince Doran was left with the human cost. Had Arianne been told, Ser Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard might not have died, innocent Princess Myrcella Baratheon might not have been so terribly scarred, and dangerous Ser Gerold Dayne might not have become a rogue outlaw, hunted in the sands of Dorne (and, as the greatest consequence, Dorne itself might have remained a royal afterthought).

Certainly, Arianne had touched on the bellicose nerve in many Dornish; kept out of the War of the Five Kings by cautious Doran, eager to avenge the fiery Prince Oberyn, young Dornishmen called for war – among them some of the bastard daughters of that late prince. Nymeria Sand, in particular, called multiple times for vengeance to be struck against the Lannisters who had orchestrated the deaths of Elia and her children, and who had overseen the death of Prince Oberyn.

“Four lives will suffice for me. Lord Tywin’s golden twins, as payment for Elia’s children. The old lion, for Elia herself. And last of all the little king, for my father.” (“The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows)

Nymeria advocated retaliation not simply against the man responsible for the murders of the innocent princess and her children – he himself was already dead – but those of his line as well, wishing the destruction of all of the “rotten” House Lannister.  Tywin might have died at Tyrion’s hands but Lord Lannister’s “golden twins” were still available targets – as was, far worse, the “little king”, Tommen Baratheon.  

Doran had been present when Nymeria had declared as much in his court. To these declarations, one might expect that Doran would strive to keep Nymeria away from court, so that she could inflict no harm on another innocent royal family member. Doran had reason to know how deadly Nymeria was – and, especially, how hidden the danger of Nymeria was, since she regularly kept a dozen blades concealed on her person which she could use expertly. Instead, Doran decided to send Nymeria directly into the inner sanctum of Tommen’s court, his small council:

“We must needs return Myrcella to her mother, but I will not be accompanying her. That task will be yours, Nymeria. The Lannisters will not like it, no more than they liked it when I sent them Oberyn, but they dare not refuse. We need a voice in council, an ear at court. Be careful, though. King’s Landing is a pit of snakes.”

Lady Nym smiled. “Why, Uncle, I love snakes.” (“The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons)

Doran would loose a dangerous, proven killer on King’s Landing, to exactly the place where two of the four people she listed as wanting to see dead lived and worked. Doran might have genuinely believed that the oath to which he bound Oberyn’s adult daughters – to serve him and do as he commanded – would truly limit their actions; if so, it was a foolish hope, for Arianne commented that even young Elia Sand, like all the Sand Snakes, had her own mind.

Nymeria, however, would not be the only Sand Snake departing for the capital:

“And what of me?” asked Tyene.

“Your mother was a septa. Oberyn once told me that she read to you in the cradle from The Seven-Pointed Star. I want you in King’s Landing too, but on the other hill. The Swords and the Stars have been re-formed, and this new High Septon is not the puppet that the others were. Try and get close to him.”

“Why not? White suits my coloring. I look so … pure.” (“The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons)

With thousands joining the revitalized Faith Militant and its aggressively pious “High Sparrow”, Doran recognized the potential power one could wield should one rise high in the High Septon’s favor. Even so, the woman he ordered to “get close” to the new High Septon was as un-shy about desiring war and bloodshed as her half-sisters:

Prince Doran sighed. “Obara cries to me for war. Nym will be content with murder. And you?”

“War,” said Tyene, “though not my sister’s war. Dornishmen fight best at home, so I say let us hone our spears and wait. When the Lannisters and the Tyrells come down on us, we shall bleed them in the passes and bury them beneath the blowing sands, as we have a hundred times before.” (“The Captain of the Guards”, A Feast for Crows)

Nor is Tyene any less adept a killer than Nymeria:

“… Poison is a foul and filthy way to kill.”

Lady Tyene smiled at that. Her gown was cream and green, with long lace sleeves, so modest and so innocent that any man who looked at her might think her the most chaste of maids. Areo Hotah knew better. Her soft, pale hands were as deadly as Obara’s callused ones, if not more so. (“The Watcher”, A Dance with Dragons)

Tyene may have adopted an innocent air, but her words demonstrated her true desire for butchery and bloodshed. Myrcella would be crowned alongside Trystane, and war would doubtless erupt between Dorne and its Lannister and Tyrell enemies, and blood wash the sands of Dorne.  Though not as personally murderous as her half-sister, Tyene was nevertheless eager for war, and eager for the subsequent bloodshed. With that attitude, a place in the Lannister-Tyrell controlled capital would seem exactly not what Doran should give to Tyene. Yet again, Doran seemed content to use a woman openly desirous of war, and one skilled in subtle methods of murder, to further a political scheme.  

If Nymeria and Tyene should then find the opportunity for murder and bloodshed must unseat Doran’s political plans – as once Oberyn took advantage of Tyrion’s trial to avenge himself against Elia’s killer, Gregor Clegane – where will the Dornish reputation fall? The very vengeance the Sand Snakes hope to gain is based upon the murder of Martell innocents; if “the little king” should die at Dornish hands, the blood of an innocent would once again stain the hands of those who wished to end another royal line. Doran may not desire the deaths of the “Baratheons” in King’s Landing, but he had allowed two women of known murderous capabilities and bloodthirsty intent into the heart of the power they wished to unseat.

Conclusion: Plan Four?

Prince Doran Martell has failed, over nearly 16 years, to restore a Targaryen to the Iron Throne. In each case, the plan’s failure rests on Doran himself. Through crippling inaction, poor logistical arranging, and sheer blindness to the characters of his pawns, Doran has allowed each opportunity to slip from his grasp. Doran may call the restoration of the Targaryens’ “our heart’s desire”, but based on his actions thus far, his heart’s desire might be better termed his heart’s mild interest.

One hope remains for Doran to see a Targaryen restored. News of Quentyn’s death must reach Dorne eventually; the Martell prince’s end might be twisted in the travel from Quentyn’s foolishly attempting to seize a dragon to capricious Daenerys, unsatisfied with her suitor, feeding him to her pet monsters. Even as that news travels, however, a young man claiming to be Rhaegar’s son Aegon is leading a conquering host through the Stormlands. That Doran might yet rally his swords to help Elia’s supposed son take his rightful throne seems likely; that the scheme will end with even more bloodshed seems certain.

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Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF Espionage

28 responses to “The Windblown Grass: Doran Martell

  1. MCH

    Prince Doran seems to have the reputation as a canny player of the Game of Thrones. Your essay paints the picture of a man who is trying to avenge his sister and restore the Targaryen monarchy, plus Gain advantage for Dorne. But he seems to mishandle the situation, getting his son and Oberyn killed, but he can’t control the situation long distant. or his own family. Plus he’s allowed two very dangerous woman into Kings Landing, so much for not putting innocents into danger. Your essay gives me a whole new idea about book Doran plus I wonder if the show thinks the same way if it influenced Doran in the show. Great essay gives us a whole new precept ice on Doran.

    • Sir Theodred of Pennytree

      oberyn s and quentyn s deaths is not doran s fault at all.

      • oberyn’s death/ no. absolutely not but quentyn?after a fashion, he ended up failing is doran’s fault. as is already mentioned in this essay, quentyn should have gone with a solid dorne support and official rivalry which could have been easily subterfuged but doran’s overly cautious, and half-hearted attemts resulted in an obvious series of misfortunes. it is by sheer luck that quentyn didn’t end up dead already before even thinking of appeasing his father and jumping into “the fire”
        oberyn on the other hand was explicitly instructed to not do anything and he was doing that. he has a passionate hatred for the lnniste however, which is not hidden from doran and oberyn did seize his opportunity. it was a sorry tragedy that he died.

  2. Excellent work! Your cleaning up of the timeline really helps tie together the threads between the downfall of Aerys II and the current leading edge of the story. And thanks for the audio.

  3. KrimzonStriker

    The Mellario argument does not seem very fair to me as it depends on how much of the overrall plot Doran would have shared with her, sharing with her increases risk of exposing the plot especially if she balks at the idea/doesn’t agree with it, and if she didn’t know then sending her off with Arianne could have bungled everything. As Dany and Barristen notes had Viserys had a wiff that Dorne was waiting in the wings to support him he would have precipitously sailed for them immediately.and brought Robert’s wrath down upon Sunspear. And another point is that giving Viserys and Dany too much support might have intensified Jon Arryn and Robert’s scrutiny instead of them eventually writing the two off as not a threat and leaving them be.

    • Young Hershel

      King Robert never left the two alone as the Usurper’s knives where always in pursuit lingering in the shadows. It was negligence of the highest order that House Martell with a betrothed Prince Viserys in Braavos to be utterly and completely abandoned and allowed to become the “Beggar Prince” of the Free Cities. Financial arrangement could surely have been surruptiously made for the care and well-being to the Targaryean children once Ser William Darry fell so ill as to become bed-ridden for several months. Prince Doran and Prince Oberyn should have had them fostered out to some well-established guardian in Braavos not left to wander the aimlessly across Essos or even make arrangements for them to stay with Princess Mellario in Norvos . . . if the Red Keep raised an eyebrow well that’s too damn bad since they had no moral high ground on how these innocent children should be provided for as long as they weren’t being raised in a rebellious fashion by a hostile house . . . Viserys and Dany are actual if not distant family via marriage to House Martell and so it should raise no major alarm that they are being raised across the Narrow Sea in distant Norvos by Prince Doran’s estranged wife. Really what could King Robert have said?? I am fine with them in a right across the Narrow Sea in a Pentos manse but being raised al the way in Braavos or Norvos by a distant marital relative of theirs is too close for comfort?? Robert should be easily shamed by his absolute failure to bring to King’s Justice the butchers of their innocent kin should he raise a peep to Prince Doran about making modest arrangement caring for the in-laws of his sodomized and slain sister:)

      • KrimzonStriker

        What are you talking about? Jon Arryn called off the assassins a long time prior to the start of the story

      • Young Herschel

        That wine seller in Qohor who tried to poison Dany would beg to differ. It is well-established that Dany would never truly be safe from King Robert’s love of the hunt as Jorah told her after the failed attempt (he specified that she would be hunted to the ends of the earth) It would not be to much risk for Prince Doran to make modest financial arrangements to care for the Targ children over in Essos since they were already in Braavos what harm would there be in sending them to Norvos if the need shoud arise? King Robert has no standing to raise more than an eyebrow if the Targs were placed under the guardianship of their marital in-laws in Norvos I submit

      • The wine seller was Varys’ patsy, the first person Robert ever sent to attack Dany.

      • The idea that perhaps the Targs could have been fostered in Norvos with Mellario is amusing. It is my belief that the Lady Mellario would never agree to it, I think ‘orders’ from her estranged husband wouldn’t fly.

        That Robert wouldn’t mind the notion is also very entertaining. That claiming kin-ship would offer some sway when in fact Robert is more closely related to Targ’s than Doran. Robert has no problem with caving in Rhaegars chest nor did he get up in arms when the Tywin’s men showed up with a two dead Princesses and the brains of ‘Aegon’. Why was he fine with the Targs being in Pentos, they had no potential allies save for a cheese monger. Why did he not fuss when they in Bravos, you don’t fuck with the Titan of Bravos… especially when you are borrowing money from the Iron Bank.

        The Prince of Dorne can only do so much with what little he has and I think he has next to nothing. He land isn’t rich or particularly fertile and his population is almost as sparse as the North? Could he have stood in defiance of Robert? Of course not which is why the Vipers Rebellion didn’t spark. Why is the crippled lord of Sunspear praised for genius by some of the fandom. Because he is patient and strikes only when the time is right.

        The argument is he could have risked more but I say didn’t he risk enough? Had the pact with Darry been found out Robert would have marched on Dorne for treason and the sands of Dorne would have ran red with the blood of Westeros. Now with the realm tearing itself apart is the perfect time to strike back and get vengeance.

    • Surely Doran would have shared something with her, he seemed with Oberyn and avoided telling with Arianne because he apparently though she would gossip. Doran would have needed to tell her everything but it would have been quite foolish to tell nothing to your wife what you want for yours children’s future, if he truly did not that would have been yet another mistake.

      On a related note, it has never made any sense to ma how Mellario would so easily left her children after her earlier protests of not being separated from them. Trystane is even a child still. You would imagine that she would rather agree with Doran’s plans to stay with them rather than leave and accomplish nothing.

      • Young Herschel

        I concur that the plot as proposed by GRRM lacks plausibility in this regard. So Prince Viserys is secretly bethrothed to Princess Arriane well why not empower her mother with this inside info?? The Red Keep would surely be upset but to the point of war?? Over a distant marriage between marital relations (an exiled dynastic house and the weakest kingdom in Westeros)?? I think GRRM should have thought this point out more because even as an unsullied I questioned why the Targ orphans were left to wander aimlessly over in Essos when they had well-to-do marital relations in Dorne who would be righteously outraged at casualties of Robert’s Rebellion. It would have made all the sense in the world to write a more plausible storyline rather than one which just seems to serve the purpose of creating such an aggrevied underdog who rose from the ashes . . . the investment was already made and the treason as it were was already commited via the Viserys & Arriane bethrothal so why not take reasonable steps to protect that investment?

  4. danny

    thank god we finally get a well written piece on the walking (kinda) incompetence that is doran martell! it baffles me why so many people in fandom believe doran to be some sort of scheming genius. the fact is he is too afraid of risk to ever be an effective player in the game of thrones. i mean sitting in a chair and thinking about over throwing a dynasty will not cause that to happen. i personally admires dorans belief in protecting ones subjects, but the truth of the matter is that he is not that smart. he has repeatedly misread situations to his and his families detriment. and now with the landing of young griff he is about to jump feet first into a war that will ultimately lead to his and much of dornes destruction. throughout the books doran has repeatedly been compared to quentyn, and theres a quote in adwd where barristan says quentyn was oblivious to the danger of his situation and that some men should have remained frogs. i believe the same is true for doran, he is putting himself in a situation he is not capable of handling. in the end quentyn and doran, characters that are so much alike will both die in the same exact manner, in a wash of dragon fire.

    p.s. huge fan of your blog, heirs in the shadows was a great idea! really looking forward to bfishes next blood of the conqueror submission, probably some of my favorite asoaif analysis.

  5. EAJ

    Doran is a rather tragic figure IMO. He feels compelled to seek revenge, but he’s too weak to confront the Iron Throne directly and he’s hopelessly incompetent at the kind of scheming required to take revenge indirectly. Even if his plan to marry Arianne to Viserys had succeeded, Viserys taking the Iron Throne was a remote possibility at best. Even if Quentyn had arrived in Mereen with his entourage intact and Dany was not already betrothed, he still would have had trouble wooing her. His decision to send Oberyn (and later Nymeria and Tyene) to Kings Landing on diplomatic missions is puzzling, so say the least. None of them seem to be known for their subtlety or tact. And of course, his greatest failure is that he left Arianne out of the loop on his plans, causing her to suspect that he was going to disinherit her.

    While it’s theoretically possible that some or all of the above were intended as deliberate misdirection from his real plan, whatever that may be, I’m skeptical. More likely, revenge for his sister and her children is Doran’s White Whale and like Captain Ahab, his obsessive pursuit of vengeance will lead him and his family to ruin.

  6. Ioseff

    The true question is… why does GRRM makes characters SO fallible? they must have some flaws, no one is perfect, that’s clear and why so much of the story emotionally hooks us, but Doran is a Lord Paramount, and Prince at that. He was very well studied as for Oberyn description of him to Tyrion. I am sure that neither Tywin nor Tyrion would make that plenty of mistakes if they had his situation. It’s just like the “Four slaves for every one freedman” in Outer Volantis, with no powerful magic and no powerful organization (oh sorry, perhaps there is a strong organization composed BY SLAVES, not slavers) but everyone is too terrified of rebellion. Hell, even in Ancient Rome there were even more slave revolts than the three slaves revolts, Rome was one of the widest empires in history and yet they had many rebellions and they were not so outnumbered in slaves (unless you were in Rome the city itself, and I count the urban faction, not the field or mine slaves)

    What I mean is that GRRM sometimes exaggerates the meekness of human race, or the stupidity of human race. Doran is the second case, he is of the highest blood a non-directly royal person in Westeros can have, therefore had a very excellent education… and does crush, on the contrary that Tywin (who was expected to inherit) or Tyrion (who perhaps wanted to prove to his father, or perhaps was curious by nature, either way he reflected well on what he learned from history, just like Stannis too) or even Stannis.

  7. JMK

    Doran is neither as brilliant nor stupid as some in the fandom believe him to be. I believe this essay encapsulates Doran’s biggest flaws: his lack of foresight or follow up. He has all this grand schemes to take vengeance on the Lannisters and Baratheons. Yet, he never seems to take into account the human factor or more tellingly think of back up plans. He seems to live within his own fantasy realm where taking a laissez-faire approach to a revenge scheme is entirely plausible. Doran has connections across the Narrow Sea that he could have easily tapped into to help both Viserys/Dany and Quentyn. But he never does anything.

    Likewise, he could have at least trained Arianne in politics and playing the game of thrones. I honestly think that would have at least mitigated some of the negative effects of his obvious lack of foresight. In terms of Oberyn, it is hard to blame Doran for that. Because Oberyn is a hot head with a mind of his own. He came to King’s Landing seeking vengeance and was never going to sit idly and observe the happenings in KIng’s Landing. Doran should have sent someone more subtle to sow dissension between the Lannisters and Tyrells. To exploit Cersei’s mistrust of the Tyrells and stoke anti-Lannister sentiment among the population of King’s Landing.

    Furthermore, I think that Doran should have approached Dany a lot earlier. Maybe he could have used his influence to get her more sell swords or a sell sail fleet to get her to Norvos. I understand the need for secrecy and caution. Especially, considering that Dorne has rather weak military power. However, his form of caution is basically sit and wish for the best. Doran has had many golden opportunities to exploit circumstances to his advantage. But he never seems to use all of his resources to their potential.

    • Young Herschel

      Good points!1 I also believe that House Martell was negligent in not doing more to secure the well-being of the Targ children before they were thrown onto the streets of Braavos. Arrangements where to be made to protect that investment in Vissryes

  8. Grant

    There’s a big question about Doran that hasn’t been answered yet. Where does Varys fit into all of this? Does Doran even have any idea of Varys’ leanings? He mentions that they still have friends at court when he talks about Cersei’s plot, but was that Varys? That would answer the question about his information and his apparent passiveness towards the Targaryen siblings.

    On the other hand, that leaves open the question about why Doran never seemed to know about ‘Aegon’. True the more who know, the more dangerous it is but if Doran’s already involved in a plot centered around Viserys and Daenarys, then he and Varys would lose their heads anyway.

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  10. Mike Target

    After this it seems most of the scheming there was really done by Oberyn. One thing to notice is that he’s keeping Ullers on a tight leash, not making the mistake Robb Stark made with Roose Bolton.

    Also, he founded a sellsword company, I’m willing to bet that that company is the Bloody Mummers, the guys who cut off Jamie’s arm, they’re a very Dornish Essossi company.

    The fact that they had a Team Marwin guy with them is another point, as Oberyn and Marwin moved in the same circles while Oberyn was studying in Oldtown.

    While the appreciation of Doran is lowered, this raises my appreciation of Oberyn, who can layer deception in interesting ways.

    • Samuel Pagano

      The bloody mummers are explicitly Qohoric, and I doubt Oberyn would ever form a company with a banner so explicitly based on the religion of Qohor, the Black Goat.

  11. Mike Target

    Placing Tyene where Doran did was probably intentional. If she can get Lannisters and Faith fighting, it would be at no cost to Dorne (given that the scheme looks somewhat deniable), but at their benefit either way. Getting his enemies to fight while he sits in the chair would be his style, and looking at it this way, that particular scheme looks OK.

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  13. Lord Iceberg of House Slim

    Excellent as always…Doran is an overrated character compared to say Mace Tyrell(book Mace not show Mace), his siege of Storms End was a shrewd move during the Rebellion. He looked good no matter who won, with Robert his army never really fought in open battle with the exception of Ashford( not a 100% sure if that’s the location) and with Aerys since he was laying siege to the Baratheon strong hold. While Doran has done nothing of note except make these assine moves that leave me thinking what the hell is he thinking and why do people speak so highly of him

  14. Dr. Toboggan

    “One might have expected at this moment that Doran would step in to alleviate the situation of the Targaryens. Dorne was not a rich kingdom, but Doran presumably had enough wealth to sponsor two children…”

    Maybe he did… it would provide an answer to the mystery of the lemon trees…

    “If Mellario was so adamant not to lose another child to the foreign concept of fostering, why not then send mother and daughter to the Free Cities together?”

    Maybe he did… it seems strange that Mellario should ever go back to Norvos alone, if being apart from her daughter was enough to make her threaten self-harm. But what if it was all a lie – what if Mellario did return to Norvos, with Arianna, and the girl in Dorne who thinks she’s Arianna is an imposter – to herself!

    Re: Quentyn:

    A suspicious mind, like Varys or Tywin, might look past any cover story. The cautious move would be to travel in secret. It’s debatable whether that was too much caution, or whether the secrecy was merely bungled, but I don’t think it’s intrinsically terrible an idea to try and keep everything hush-hush.

    There was also a theory somewhere that Doran sacrificed his son deliberately, but I forget what the point of that one was.

  15. Stephen

    My personal view is that Doran doesn’t really want a Targerygen Restoration – the whole scheme mentioned by Quetyn doesn’t make sense because
    a) no one had heard of it and the two parties who signed it are conveniently dead and the witness far away.
    b) Queytn was sent with the Yronwoods. The Yronwoods. Yes he was fostered with them but that family hates Oberyn and Doran. They were also planning to marry their daughter to Q in the text AND they are pro-patriacial succession laws. ie. They want Quent over Arriane!

    Rather than a real thing I think Doran WANTED Quentyn to fail – but fail nice and safely. Blame it on the Yronwoods and move against other Dornish houses hostile to House Martell (Yronwood, Dayne and other Stony Dornish). Where he screwed up there was Q WENT ABOVE AND BEYOND to try succeed in the mission. In Q’s chapters Geris is arguing against the plan but Q wants to succeed no matter what. Doran underestimated his own sons determination.

    As to the Targs overall – Dorne tended to hostile to them in general till Elia’s marriage and even then its apparent she was as much a hostage during the war. The Targs ALSO massively dishonored House Martell by taking Lyanna and abandoning Elia.

    AEGON though is getting serious attention compared to Dany though?
    Strange that isn’t it?
    But not really – Dorne doesn’t want Dany to succeed, or Visery before her – they got their revenge on House TArgeryen by Viserys and her being reduced to the the Beggar King.
    Aegon though (while I think he’s a Blackfyre) is of their blood and alliance makes major sense. There’s effort there. Unlike with Quetyn Arriane has been gifted armies (albeit with codes shes unaware of)

    As to Tywin – I actually think Obeyn was there to poison him and actually had done so with Widows Blood poison (the only poison described by Pycelle prior in that book) and then when Tyrion kills Tywin mention that his father had been suffering the same symptoms and that’s why he was on the tiolet to get shot. Again though where Doran screwed up was Oberyn got killed carrying out his plan.

    Basically Doran actually is a good schemer, even we the readers have to look beyond what we’re told about him and look at the other information provided. The biggest problem (and tragedy I think in GRRM’s intention) is that Doran always forgets people die in such plans no matter how bloodless he makes them.

  16. rexnsms

    Reblogged this on The Neil McKenzie-Sutter Story and commented:
    Interesting take… not sure I agree, but still worth checking out!

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