Farther from the rest of Westeros-- not just in proximity but in culture as well-- House Martell rules the least known, but perhaps most interesting area of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Their introduction to the story starts with the fan favorite Red Viper in season 4, but the rest of the Dornish plot in Game of Thrones received notoriously negative reaction from fans and critics alike.
This is unfortunate, as House Martell plays an integral part of in the battle for the Iron Throne, and are a major factor in the recent history and subsequent conflicts at the capital of Kings Landing.
Dorne is a land of danger and conflict with a long history of petty kings, minor lords, and a Legendary Warrior Queen vying for control of a bleak, unfriendly land. For many fans, aside from Oberyn, House Martell remains distant and-- now that they have been written out of the show-- inaccessible.
However, they have a rich history, and still have plenty of moves to make in the books. Known for their fierce independence, exotic customs, and calculating political moves, the Great House you know the least about just may end up being your favorite.
Here are the 15 Things You Didn't Know About Game Of Thrones' House Martell.
14 They Have Different Ancestry Than The Rest Of Westeros
Dorne is the southernmost area of Westeros and, before the breaking of the Arm of Dorne, was the only land bridge from Essos. While the Andal Invasion did make its mark in Dorne, it was the arrival of the Rhoynar from the latter continent that truly shaped Dorne as we know it.
The North are descended from the First Men, and the Andals are the main ethnicity in the rest of Westeros, but the Rhoynar are the third and last major ethnic group to settle in Westeros. They generally have olive skin, dark hair and eyes, as well as a distinct accent often described as a drawl by the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Rhoynar migration was lead by the legendary Rhoynar Princess Nymeria, who had to flee her homeland after it was conquered by the Dragon Kings of Valyria. She married the minor Andal Lord Mors Martell, and House Martell was born and has ruled ever since.
Dornish society retains much of their Rhoynar roots and traditions, and defends them proudly.
13 Their Society Is More Equal Than The Rest Of Westeros
For women in most of Westeros, life isn’t very fair. Though there are many great and respectful women, their purpose in society is limited to giving birth to the next male heir of the House. Unable to hold seats of power or any viable job in society, women in many ways are dependent on men.
However, this is not the case in Dorne. Their Rhoynish ancestor Nymeria is the most revered figure in Dornish culture, so it is no surprise that women can be completely independent in society.
House Martell’s heir is a woman, Oberyn’s Paramour Ellaria Sand is respected at court, and they thus have much more relaxed views on sexuality than the rest of Westeros.
This is no doubt because they aren’t rooted in the Faith of the Seven like the Andals, making them lack the ingrained suppression of such things in their culture. House Martell therefore rules over the most socially progressive society in Westeros.
13. They Have Killed Targaryen Kings And Dragons
The relationship that House Martell has had with the Iron Throne is complicated to say the least. The Targaryens gained their power through their great dragons, and were essentially unopposed since they had the fantasy equivalent of a superweapon on their side.
This all changed when the Targaryen Conquest got to the edge of Dorne. The ruling Princess at the time, Meria Martell, rebuked the warning of the Dragonrider Queen Rhaenys Targaryen, issuing a warning in return to never come back.
Not to be deterred, the Targaryens persisted and, in 10 AC, Rhaenys and the great dragon Meraxes were killed in battle. Martells then sent the head of the dragon back to Kings Landing. Rhaenys’ body was never recovered.
Years later, during the short lived Conquest of Dorne, King Daeron I thought that he had succeeded where previous Targaryen campaigns failed. He was wrong, as House Martell killed him and all of his retainers. This was the last time the Targaryens tried to conquer Dorne.
12 Their House Name Is Actually Nymeros Martell
One of the most interesting facts about the Martells is that the name everyone knows them by is a shortened version of their true name. When Nymeria and the Rhoynar came to Dorne, it was an unstable land in a constant flux of power between various Andal kings, knights, and lords.
The relatively weak House Martell, led by Morgan Martell, were the only ones to ally with the newly arrived Rhoynar. Through a marriage with Nymeria and the combined force of their armies, they were able to fight the rest of the kings into submission, unifying Dorne.
Their union was more than just symbolic, as the Royal House combined the names of the Andal Lord and the Rhoynar Princess, establishing House Nymeros Martell. Every member of the family has taken the full name since.
11 Their Original Sigil Was Not A Sun And Spear
Heraldry is something highly important in Westeros. It’s only natural that a society obsessed with lineage would be equally enthusiastic about representing their lineage. The banners of each house in the Game of Thrones universe are an elaborate representation of this.
There is the Direwolf of House Stark, the Golden Lion of the Lannisters, and countless others. House Martell’s Banner is a Red Sun that is pierced by a golden spear. This is fitting for a desert climate whose soldiers prefer spears to swords.
However, as Dorne is a unique culture formed from a blend of many, so too is their sigil. The two symbols were originally those of separate Houses-- the spear banner belonged to House Martell, and the Red Sun belonged to Nymeria.
When the two sides united, they combined their respective sigils into a single new one for the newly established Great House Nymeros Martell. This is one of many ways they solidified their new status, as they placed high value on the benefits of assimilation to deter ethnocentric rebellion.
10 They Are The Only House That Lets Women Hold Real Power
Of the many ways Dorne sets itself apart from the rest of Westeros, the most noticeable is the fact that they allow women to sit on the throne of Dorne is the most significant. House Martell takes the Rhoynar titles of Prince and Princess, not King, Queen, Lord, or Lady, like the rest of the continent.
Their Throne room has always held two seats-- one with the spear sigil of Martell for the Prince, and one with the Sun Emblem of Nymeria for the Princess. Unsurprisingly, Princesses of Dorne have been successful, respected rulers throughout the generations, and in fact, the first successor of Princess Nymeria was her eldest daughter.
If this were the way of the rest of Westeros, it would change everything. The entire structure of the male dominated royal lines would break down across the other 6 Kingdoms.
Even Cersei, at one point, laments the fact that she wasn’t born Dornish so she could have gotten her power rightfully by law. Though not in the show, Prince Doran’s heir is his eldest daughter, Arianne, not Trystane.
9 They Suffered Heavy Losses During Robert’s Rebellion
The Martells, along with the Tyrells, were one of the great Houses that stayed loyal to the crown throughout Robert’s Rebellion. This was due to Prince Rhaegar being married to Elia Martell, sister of Doran and Oberyn.
The alliance was strained and complicated, as things always are with Dorne and the rest of Westeros. This strain started when Rhaegar won the jousting tourney at Harrenhal and named not his wife Elia, but Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty.
This clearly insulted the Martells, but they stayed loyal because Rhaegar and Lyanna already had children together, and the Mad King’s mind was completely unpredictable, so it was best to not risk his ire.
At the deciding battle of the rebellion, the Battle of The Trident, the Dornish sent 10 thousand spears (soldiers) and they were led by one of Aerys’ Kingsguard, Prince Lewyn Martell, uncle of Doran and Oberyn.
All of them, including Lewyn, died in the battle, putting a sizeable hole in the already limited army of Dorne.
8 Dorne Is Mostly Inhospitable Desert
There’s really only one reason why Dorne is the least populated of the Seven Kingdoms; a large number of people simply cannot live in the environment. Large swaths of desert make up major portions of the land, along with craggy mountains and stony ground that make poor terrain for agriculture.
There are Dornish Houses in the more remote regions, like the red desert in the west, but they aren’t heavily populated. The combination of the climate, lack of food and water, and the number of poisonous creatures that make the desert home make sustained life very difficult.
The majority of the population lives on the coasts or around Dorne’s major river, the Greenblood, as well as the smaller Brimstone and Torentine rivers. Despite the environment, the Dornish have long ago learned to adapt, and a hard land breeds hard people.
7 They Were Unofficially Neutral During The War Of The Five Kings
When the War of the Five Kings broke out, there was only one House whose loyalty was unknown: House Martell. The Lannisters found themselves in a troubling situation. After Robb Stark had captured Jamie and Renly had named himself King with the Tyrells backing him, Tywin was quickly running out of allies and needed someone to set the ship straight.
That person was Tyrion, who he sent to King’s Landing to "rule," as he put it. This wasn’t limited to keeping Joffrey in line, as Tyrion made the masterful move of offering Prince Doran a marriage between Princess Myrcella and Prince Trystane, a seat on the Small Council, castles of traitors in the Dornish Marches, and justice for his murdered sister and her children.
It was an offer Renly couldn’t match, and Doran took it. However, The Martells haven’t exactly held up their end of the bargain since Oberyn was the only one to show up at the capital and no Dornish army left its borders.
6 They Hold Grudges And Plot Revenge For Decades
It’s not an accident that, aside from Oberyn, House Martell’s presence seemed smaller than the other Houses. You might be surprised to know that The Red Viper’s arrival at Kings Landing stemmed from a dispute between he and his brother Doran.
As a man of astounding patience, Doran had been planning revenge on the Lannisters the entire time from the shadows, using the lack of attention on his House after the Rebellion to plot with various others.
Oberyn was tired of waiting, and against his Brother’s wishes, stood for Tyrion at his trial and died. This threw a wrench into Doran’s plans because, not only did he losing one of his best fighters in Westeros, but politically he couldn’t seek revenge for a loss in a fair fight.
However, unbeknownst to any outsiders and even most people in his own House, Doran is improvising by acting on the arrival of the returning Aegon Targaryen -- the same Aegon who was thought to have been killed as an infant by Gregor Clegane. It’s a complicated plot, but House Martell plays long odds and intend to win.
5 Their Best Defense Is Their Natural Geography
Deserts, mountains, and stony ground make for less than ideal living. However, they make for some of the best natural defenses a Kingdom could ask for.
House Martell may have the smallest population and army, but they don’t need them when it comes to holding off an invading force. The Red Mountains are a massive mountain range in the South of Westeros and is thus the most formidable natural defense in the land.
There are only two main passes by land through the mountains, and House Martell can easily hold off a large host that is forced to bottleneck with relatively few soldiers. Should an army get passed this, they would already have been lessened in doing so, then would have to deal with the desert, where the Dornish use guerilla tactics and fade away into the arid expanse.
While not impossible, the logistics of a land invasion of Dorne are a nightmare, and that’s not even considering if it can be held for any length of time.
4 Their Land Has No Real Cities
Some fans mistakenly view Westeros as a series of urban areas with spacious areas and smaller towns in between. The landscape actually resembles medieval France or England more than an urban setting, with the vast majority of the land being rural and the settlements being towns at best.
In truth, there are only five cities in Westeros -- Kings Landing, Oldtown, Lannisport, Gulltown, and White Harbor -- and none of them are in Dorne. Though the climate of Dorne limits the amount of urban areas they could have, even the settlements they possess are small and haphazardly built.
The closest thing they have to a proper town is Planky Town, a modest port named so because it is mostly made up of various barges and boats in place of shops on land. Even their castle, Sunspear, follows this fashion in ways.
The castle town beneath is called Shadow Town, and is a ramshackle mix of twisted alleys and shops that in total are miles long. These are the only two settlements in all of Dorne that can be called towns, and both are small by Westerosi standards.
3 They Were Founded By An Andal Adventurer
It surprises some people to learn that the Rhoynar roots of House Martell is through the female line. This only happens because the rest of Westeros disregards female lineage (unless it can be used to bolster the claim of a man), and people assume the founder was a Rhoynar man.
The truth is that, in the time before the Rhoynar, the Andals had already beaten most of the First Men that were in Dorne and were fighting among each other for control. One of these was an Andal adventurer named Morgan Martell.
He was a fighter and a leader who led the battles against the local First Men, and thus was the first Martell to establish power and hold land. Their strength was modest, as was their territory, but Morgan was wise as well as militant and, by making smart choices and not angering more powerful Lords, he was able to preserved his family name for generations.
This paid off many years later, as his descendant Mors Martell would ally with Nymeria, founding the House as we know it today.
2 They Are The Only House To Never Truly Be Conquered
Aegon The Conqueror didn’t get his name for nothing, as he successfully brought six of the seven Kingdoms into submission during his reign. However, Dorne remained not just a viable enemy, but a stain on the Targaryen’s name as conquerors.
Two separate campaigns to capture Dorne ended in failure for the Targaryens, and the one time it was successful was a ruse by the Dornish to lull the Targs into a sense of security. When King Daeron I made up his mind to be the Dragon King that would finally conquer Dorne, he led a mostly successful invasion and Sunspear was yielded to him, but he faced constant rebellion and assassination attempts.
The Lord he left in charge was killed with a trap, and House Martell then offered a peace meeting between the King and themselves. It was a trick, and King Daeron I and his men were killed under the peace banner.
Though he managed to capture Sunspear, King Daeron I held it for less than a summer and it cost him his life and those of 50 thousand soldiers.
1 They Are Much Different In The Books Than In The Show
Without a doubt, the biggest misstep the show writers have had thus far is everything about Dorne besides Oberyn. While he was just about perfect, the actions, personalities, and overall goals of House Martell were totally changed.
After Oberyn’s death, Ellaria Sand has been an advocate for peace and diplomacy, not a revenge driven maniac who kills her lover’s family. The Sand Snakes are also very different. They are tough and, aside from Obara, extremely patient and calculating.
They don’t agree with Doran’s inactions and aren’t shy about voicing vengeful rhetoric, but they would never betray him, which is why Arianne didn’t recruit any of them for her plot.
Doran’s inaction has caused rifts with his brother, daughter, and nieces, but he realized his mistake and, after foiling Arianne’s plot, gathers them all to let them in on his plan and finally take action. With House Martell truly united, The Winds of Winter will bring several points of the multi-pronged Dornish plot to fruition.
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