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On the Sand Snakes

According to the Huffington Post, an uproar about the casting of the Sand Snakes, the daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell by various women. Tthe recent Weapons of Dorne video which gave many fans their first really clear look at the actors in costume made a few on Twitter realize that the characters did not really look very much like the characters described in the books… but the outrage isn’t about that, but rather by the fact that all the characters are “white”.

Unfortunately, this says more about reader myopia than it does the show’s casting. The outrage is based on the reading of the Dornish as being “another race” than the people you’ll find in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, but in fact that divides in Westeros are not really racial but ethnic in nature, largely about culture and not skin color. According to George R.R. Martin, this is how he envisioned the Dornish when he created them:

As for the Dornishmen, well, though by and large I reject one to one analogies, I’ve always pictured the “salty Dornish” as being more Mediterranean than African in appearance; Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, etc. Dark hair and eyes, olive skin. Pedro Pascal is Chilean. (Check out Amok’s version of the Red Viper, that’s how I saw him. Or Magali Villenueve’s beautiful and sexy portrait of Princess Arianne).

This is no great surprise: the countries he speaks of had, in the early Middle Ages, significant contact with Arabs, Berbers, Moors, and in some cases Turks, a fact that has left a lasting genetic legacy… but a relatively small one in genetic terms, which one supposes must be the case in Dorne as well—even the most Rhoynish of Dornish noblemen is likely to have only a relatively small portion of Rhoynish genetics, due to the fact that the Rhoyanar arrived in Dorne in a small body (compared to the rest of the populace of Dorne) and could not have been expected to simply outbreed everyone else.

So, Dornishmen are no less “white”—if we really must use such terms—than a Spaniard from Andalusia or a Sicilian. There’s nothing at all wrong with the casting of the three actresses in this respect: they can all plausibly be daughters of Oberyn Martell, as played by Chilean actor Pedro Pascal.

Of course, the actresses themselves largely look nothing like the characters as described in the novels, and we’ve been otherwise been critical of some of the decisions they’ve made regarding the characters (such as making them all fighting women and giving them armored uniforms. But that’s a different subject entirely.