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"Weak men will never rule Dorne again."
Ellaria Sand to a dying Doran Martell.[src]

The Coup in Dorne is an event that takes place during the course of the War of the Five Kings, in which Prince Doran Martell and his heir, Trystane Martell, are betrayed and murdered by Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes in order for them to seize power in Dorne so that they may avenge Doran's younger brother, Oberyn Martell, leading to their overthrown of House Martell and setting the stage for Dorne entering the conflict against House Lannister.[1]



"Your rebellion is over. You can swear allegiance to me now, or you can die."
―Doran Martell's ultimatum to Ellaria Sand.[src]

Ellaria poisons Myrcella.

After the death of Prince Oberyn Martell in King's Landing, his paramour Ellaria Sand and his daughters, the Sand Snakes, seek to avenge him by going to war with House Lannister, since Ellaria deems Cersei Lannister responsible for Oberyn's death by orchestrating Tyrion's show trial in the first place. Ellaria advocates torturing or murdering Myrcella Baratheon, but Prince Doran Martell, Oberyn's brother, refuses to allow them to harm her, briefly imprisoning Ellaria and the Sand Snakes when they attempt to abduct Myrcella from the Water Gardens.[2] In order to ensure Dorne's continued neutrality, Doran arranges for Myrcella to return to King's Landing with her betrothed, Trystane Martell, also to get her away from Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. Doran also issues a warning to Ellaria that she will be executed if she attempts this again.[3] Ellaria feigns regret for her actions, and Doran foolishly allows her to be present for Myrcella's departure. Using her last chance, Ellaria defies Doran and discreetly poisons Myrcella just before she boards the boat back to King's Landing, and she dies shortly afterwards.[4]

The Coup

"Your son is weak, just like you, and weak men will never rule Dorne again."
―Ellaria kills Doran.[src]

Doran talks with Ellaria.

Apparently having made amends with Ellaria, Doran walks through the Water Gardens with her while reminiscing about Oberyn, until Maester Caleotte brings him a letter from Jaime Lannister informing him of Myrcella's death and demanding the heads of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. Doran immediately realizes Ellaria was responsible, but before he can react, she stabs him in the chest. Though Doran almost grabs Ellaria to strangle her, he is thrown from his chair while Tyene Sand kills Areo Hotah and Caleotte. The other palace guards simply stand and watch, either dissatisfied with Doran's decisions or frightened of the Sand Snakes (though it is entirely possible that some guards were still loyal to Doran, but previously killed by Ellaria and the Sand Snakes). As Doran lies dying, Ellaria chastises him for allowing the Lannisters to get away with the deaths of both his siblings, Elia and Oberyn. She calls him a weak ruler. Before he dies, Doran begs Ellaria to spare Trystane, but she refuses.

In the bay just outside King's Landing, Trystane is ambushed by Obara and Nymeria Sand, sent by Ellaria to kill him. Trystane attempts to reason with them since they are family, but they refuse and give him the choice of fighting whom he wishes. Trystane draws his sword and chooses Nymeria, but he is impaled in the back of the head by Obara, to Nymeria's chagrin, as she had been looking forward to murdering her cousin as much as Obara.[1]


"The Lannisters have declared war on House Tyrell. They have declared war on Dorne. We must be allies now if we wish to survive."
―Ellaria Sand to Olenna Tyrell[src]

House Martell is left extinct with the deaths of Doran and Trystane, and Ellaria and the Sand Snakes take over Dorne. Word of their treachery reaches King's Landing, where Jaime expresses concern to the Small Council that Ellaria may soon declare war against the Lannisters.[5]

Cersei exacts her revenge on Ellaria and Tyene.

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes ultimately prove more pragmatic in their actions than simply declaring war. After laying low through many subsequent events, such as the Second Siege of Riverrun and the Battle of the Bastards, they invite Olenna Tyrell to Dorne to discuss an alliance against Cersei, who has wiped out most of her rivals (including Olenna's family) with the Destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor, crowned herself the new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and declared war on both Ellaria and Olenna, the former for murdering Myrcella and the latter for effectively escaping Cersei in time. When Olenna questions the practicality of such an alliance, Ellaria presents Varys, revealing that she has been cultivating an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen after hearing that she has recently acquired the allegiance of Yara and Theon Greyjoy.[6] However, Daenerys's new retinue is attacked at sea by Cersei's new ally, Euron Greyjoy, Theon and Yara's uncle. Obara and Nymeria are killed by Euron himself, who takes Ellaria and Tyene prisoner, clearly intent on delivering them to Cersei to face retribution for Myrcella's murder.[7] Cersei places Ellaria and Tyene in a dungeon beneath the Red Keep, where she poisons Tyene with the long farewell and leaves her to die as Ellaria watches.[8]

Ellaria's imprisonment in the black cells leads to an unnamed Martell assuming power in Dorne.[9]

Behind the Scenes

The prop of the letter which Doran received informing him of Myrcella's death.

A close-up behind the scenes photo of the prop letter which Doran received in this episode was released by HBO. The letter was dictated by Jaime Lannister, and it rather fairly states that to avoid Cersei seeking war and the Martells' total destruction, it would be a good idea to send the severed heads of Ellaria and the Sand Snakes - who were directly responsible for the assassination - and as a gesture of good faith Jaime intends to send Trystane back to Dorne unharmed, because he knows he really loved Myrcella and had nothing to do with her death. The exact text reads:

  • The Princess Myrcella died by poison on our return journey. I suspect El...[Ellaria]
  • not you, but my sister will demand war. I doubt Ellaria's head will app...[appease her but?]
  • it is a start, along with your neices [sic]. Your son cannot stay in King's Landing...[I]
  • am sending him back on the same ship.

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, no such event has taken place.

As much as the Sand Snakes are angry at their uncle for lack of action to avenge their father's death, none of them have ever harmed him or Trystane; even if they had such intentions, Areo Hotah would have never acted so carelessly as he did in the show: he always watches the Sand Snakes very carefully when they are around his prince (perhaps even more closely than he watches other people), knowing how deadly they are, ready to react to any potentially harmful move on their behalf.

Moreover, although the Sand Snakes deeply hate the Lannisters and wish to exact revenge, they and Ellaria have no personal grudge against Myrcella, nor any vile intentions toward her.

The only thing akin to a coup in Dorne that has occurred is a plot orchestrated by Arianne Martell, Doran's eldest daughter and heiress, and Tyene Sand to crown Myrcella as the new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms in defiance of Cersei; since by Dornish law, Myrcella would come before Tommen in the line of succession, Tyene hopes to provoke by that the Lannisters into attacking Dorne. Doran refuses to have any of it (nor the plans of Obara and Nymeria), and places the Sand Snakes under arrest to stop them from starting a war. He does not have Arianne arrested too, and that turns to be a serious mistake.

Arianne attempts to carry out Tyene's plan, with help from Ser Arys Oakheart, the Kingsguard who accompanied Myrcella to Dorne and whom Arianne has seduced, and a questionable knight named Ser Gerold "Darkstar" Dayne. An unknown party, however, informs Doran of the plan, and they are thwarted by Areo Hotah and the Dornish guard. Arys, bravely but foolishly, attempts to charge Hotah, but he is decapitated, while Darkstar slashes at Myrcella and flees. Myrcella survives thanks to Maester Caleotte, but is left permanently disfigured.

Arianne is imprisoned, separately from her cousins, for many days. Afterwards, she and the Sand Snakes are summoned by Doran, who finally reveals that his speeches about maintaining peace with the Lannisters at all costs were just a farce; he has been plotting the Lannisters' downfall for a very long time (though he cannot avenge Oberyn, since his death was his own decision, he never forgave Tywin Lannister for the deaths of Elia and her children), but must now give haste to his plans in view of Myrcella's injury, which may prompt Cersei to take action while Dorne is not ready yet for an open confrontation. He reveals that following the Sack of King's Landing, he has still supported House Targaryen in secret, and had originally betrothed Arianne to Viserys Targaryen, though he was killed by Khal Drogo, nullifying the arrangement. Having heard of Daenerys's exploits in Slaver's Bay, Doran has sent his son, Quentyn Martell, to Meereen to court her and offer his hand in marriage. Unknown to Doran, Quentyn foolishly tried to capture one of Daenerys's dragons and was burned to death.

In order to set his plans in motion, Doran assigns his daughter and the Sand Snakes a mission each: he sends Arianne to Griffin's Roost to meet potential allies - the presumed-dead Aegon Targaryen, the son of Rhaegar and Elia, and his guardian Jon Connington, who have recently arrived at Westeros; Obara and Ser Balon Swann to hunt Darkstar; Nymeria to accompany Myrcella to King's Landing and to take Oberyn's seat on the Small Council; and Tyene to infiltrate the Faith of the Seven as a septa and get close to the High Sparrow. The girls, now knowing of Doran's true intentions and realize they misjudged him, swear (Obara - somewhat grudgingly) that they will serve him obediently and leally.

Ellaria Sand is the strongest advocate against any vengeful retaliatory actions, fearing for her youngest daughters' safety. She tearfully begs the Sand Snakes to give up their vendetta, but in vain.

Trystane Martell is ordered to be assassinated by Cersei but the plan is thwarted by Doran, thanks to unknown people who have forewarned him. He remains in Sunspear, while Myrcella and Nymeria travel to King's Landing.

So far in the books, Myrcella, Doran, Trystane, Hotah and Caleotte are all still alive.

Changes in the television series

For the TV version, two major factors affected the Dorne storyline when it began in Season 5:

  • The writers explained in the Blu-ray commentary that for several years into the TV show, Benioff and Weiss never thought that the subplot in Dorne itself would ever appear, because it doesn’t involve any previously established major cast members. They did know Oberyn and Ellaria would appear in Season 4, but not that the narrative would ever go to Dorne. Belatedly, Bryan Cogman suggested that they invent the detail that Jaime and Bronn would be sent to Dorne in Season 5 to directly confront the Martells – thus the Dorne subplot wasn’t planned out several years in advance as other subplots were.
  • It was also explained in the Blu-ray commentary that after it was decided to actually take the narrative to Dorne, they greatly expanded Ellaria Sand’s role from what it had been in Season 4 – specifically because they enjoyed Indira Varma’s performance.

Thus, all of the drastic changes to Ellaria and the Dorne subplot as a whole were not really developed until after Season 4 was produced, as opposed to being carefully planned out years in advance.

In the TV version, instead of Ellaria arguing for peace, her role was somewhat combined with Arianne’s as the one pushing for revenge in Season 4 – the exact opposite of her actions in the novels. Doran’s eldest two children, Arianne and Quentyn, were never even introduced. Doran's true motives in the television series are ultimately left unrevealed; though it is possible that his speeches about maintaining peace at all costs were meant at face value, another possibility is that he actually was feigning the entire time, especially while Jaime Lannister was in Dorne (Alexander Siddig has even confirmed that he deliberately played Doran in this light in the fifth season), and his intention was to bring House Lannister down eventually in revenge for both Elia and Oberyn (whether it involved Daenerys or not is unknown), but Ellaria had been driven so mad by Oberyn's death that she became obsessed with murdering Myrcella no matter what (despite knowing she played no role in Oberyn's death), and later realized that both Doran and Trystane, despite them being of Oberyn's own blood, would have to die as well for her to avoid retribution for the murder, and so she would be free to lead Dorne into the war.

The plot mechanics by which the TV series introduced Ellaria's betrayal and murder of Doran seem to be more concerned with shock value than internal plot logic: after poisoning Myrcella and knowing that she would die soon on her ship, Ellaria must have known that word of the princess's death would eventually become public knowledge, and the Lannisters would send news of it to Doran before long. In this case, it would have made more sense to assassinate or poison Doran himself at the first opportunity - not to wait for the instant that Doran was handed a letter informing him about Myrcella's assassination, leaving open the possibility that his guard Areo might land in a killing blow against one of them, etc.

It is also confusing that in this episode, Ellaria points out that not even one of Doran's guards (other than Areo) rush to his defense when she stabs him, because they all think he's weak and agree with her actions - when during the Sand Snakes' attack on Myrcella in Season 5, they all joined Areo to stop the Sand Snakes. It might be possible that the way he dealt with this incident, insisting that he still wouldn't fight the Lannisters, is what was meant to be what drove them over the edge to side with Ellaria: in which case, they wouldn't turn on Doran for taking no action to avenge his brother, but do turn against him for stopping his nieces from killing a political hostage (and young girl at that) who was a formal guest in his own castle - even though in Season 4, Oberyn himself insisted that he would never want to harm Myrcella because the thought of killing a little girl who was a non-combatant was abhorrent to Dornish honor, especially after the brutal murders of Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen, Elia Martell's two infant children, at the hands of the Lannisters, something the Dornish hated the Lannisters for (although it can be assumed that Oberyn simply underestimated his own family and people, which Cersei herself even thinks when she says "everywhere in the world they hurt little girls"). It is, however, extremely likely that there were at least some guards who were still loyal to Doran, but merely flushed out and killed by Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in preparation for their rebellion as a way of intimidating the rest into going along with their plan. It remains to be seen if a faction of Dornish guards will rebel against the Sands and avenge Doran and Trystane.

Areo Hotah's inattentiveness during the assassination is also considerably out of character compared to the books, in which he is always on his guard when the Sand Snakes or anyone else are within the vicinity of Doran. He would not act so carelessly, turning his back on a potential threat. Particularly, in the novels Areo knows full well that Tyene is a master-poisoner like her father, often giving little pin-pricks to her enemies with small blades coated in lethal poisons, so he knows to always keep her in his sight and to keep a safe distance from her. Some reviewers also thought it was specifically unusual that a man of Areo's size would go down from a single stab in the back, regardless of how plausible it was that he would turn his back on her in the first place - but considering that Tyene is also established to be a master-poisoner who sometimes coats her blades in fast-acting lethal poisons, this part of the scenario actually could be plausibly explained.

Obara and Nymeria were last seen staying behind at the dock in Dorne while the ship carrying Trystane to King's Landing departed over the horizon, yet in the next episode, they are in Blackwater Bay with no given explanation.

The Sand Snakes also have no need to kill Doran’s son Trystane in the novels because they realize that Doran was on their side the entire time. It is Cersei who plots to assassinate him, for unknown reasons, but someone at King's Landing informs Doran about the scheme and he takes steps to prevent it. The Sand Snakes' reaction when they hear about the scheme from their uncle - deep shock - indicates clearly they never had any ill intention toward Trystane. Trystane’s death in the series also raises other logical questions. Trystane left on the same ship Jaime and Myrcella did – which apparently stayed in the harbor at King’s Landing, given that Trystane is seen painting funeral stones for Myrcella in his cabin. Obara and Nymeria didn’t go on the ship with them – they were shown waiting on the shore as the ship departed. It is possible that they secretly got on the next boat to leave the port and were thus only an hour or two behind Trystane's ship the entire time, then upon arriving in King’s Landing’s harbor snuck onto Trystane's boat to kill him - though while this scenario is certainly plausible, multiple professional reviews criticized that the TV episode made no on-screen attempt to actually present an explanation or their sudden appearance.

Yet another issue regards the plot mechanics of why the ship continued all the way to King's Landing and where it was at certain points. Ancillary materials had to clear up two issues. First, the blog posted a photo of the note that Doran received, sent by Jaime from King's Landing, confirming that he did not suspect Doran himself and urging that his only hope to avoid war at this point was to behead Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. Second, while the episode itself made no mention of it, the HBO Viewer's Guide entry from Trystane Martell explained that his ship was still in Blackwater Bay - with Cersei's anger he wasn't being allowed to disembark from the ship, but he didn't want to leave and was staying around in the hope he could later argue his way into attending Myrcella's funeral. As multiple reviews questioned (see below), it wasn't really explained why Jaime's ship would continue on all the way to King's Landing. The ship itself displayed Martell heraldry on its sails and apparently had a Martell crew (instead of just being some ship from the Free Cities which wouldn't feel compelled to alter its course).

There are apparently two scenarios, both of which contain logical fallacies:

  • 1 - The ship might have continued on to King's Landing because the crew was loyal to Ellaria - but if that were the case, if they controlled the entire ship, they would have killed both Trystane and Jaime himself immediately, not deliver them back to the Lannister seat of power at King's Landing.
  • 2 - If the ship's crew was not secretly loyal to Ellaria, but to Prince Doran who desired peace, Jaime and Trystane himself could have ordered the crew to immediately turn the ship around and head back to Dorne, to demand Ellaria's execution - not continue on to King's Landing then send a letter to the same effect. Given the way Jaime's letter was worded her certainly didn't seem to think Doran's hold on power was weak, but that it was still within his means to simply command that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes be executed. Trystane also probably wouldn't feel inclined to sail to King's Landing and face Cersei's wrath at Myrcella's death (if anything, Ellaria would have wanted him to go so Cersei would kill him - in which case, there would have been no need to send the Sand Snakes as well).

Generally it seems that the second scenario is what was presented: the ship's crew was loyal to Doran, as if it had been loyal to the Sand Snakes, they'd have killed Trystane before he even arrived at King's Landing, instead of waiting for the Sand Snakes themselves to infiltrate his cabin after letting Jaime go free.

  • There is a third possible scenario, but it also contains contradictions: the poison that Ellaria gave Myrcella with a kiss may have taken hours or even days to take effect, and she thus died when they were already more than halfway to King's Landing. After all, Bronn was nicked by a blade coated in the same poison, but he only starts showing symptoms several hours or days later while in prison - though even then, Bronn didn't drop dead instantly but gradually grew sick, as Tyene taunted him with the antidote for some time before giving it to him. This scenario raises several other issues about pacing and how the events were presented: the episode itself presented it as if Myrcella died during the first private conversation she had with Jaime while on the ship. The camera shows Jaime and Myrcella boarding the ship, then cuts to their conversation in their cabin, then as she dies cuts back to show Ellaria still at the dock with the Sand Snakes - still looking at the same ship, which is close enough to the shore to still be visible. It's possible that this was just misleading camera editing, and that Myrcella actually died from the poison some hours or days later. A point against this, however, is that as Ellaria was waiting at the dock, Ellaria herself started showing symptoms of the poison, her nose started bleeding and she immediately had to take the antidote. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes aren't presented as just standing at the docks for hours or days looking out at the sea - they are presented as lingering at the docks for only a short amount of time as the boat passes the horizon - in which case, the boat was close enough to turn back to shore.

It's unknown if they could have returned for the antidote or if Myrcella died too quickly, but even so, given Jaime's other actions indicating that he thought Doran would easily have Ellaria executed if he found out what happened, no real reason is presented for why the ship would continue all the way to King's Landing.

All of these, however, appear to be implausible and the presence of Obara and Nymeria a genuine plothole, as dialogue between them and Trystane implies that they were with him during the entire voyage. Just when they enter the cabin to ambush him, Trystane claims he told them he wasn't hungry, which insinuates that they were supposed to be with him on the boat the entire time, but waited until they arrived in King's Landing to murder him to throw suspicion onto Cersei.

Though there were no blood ties between them, Ellaria's murder of Doran Martell could easily be considered to be on the same scale as actual kinslaying, given that he was the brother of her paramour, Oberyn Martell, and treated her like a member of his family.

Apparently indifferent to the fact that they are committing kinslaying, Obara and Nymeria actually make a game out of their ambush of Trystane Martell by surrounding him for Obara to stab him from behind without giving him a chance to defend himself.

Another matter is that kinslaying is considered a heinous crime in Westeros, and while people do commit it they are often very reluctant to do so and only when they feel they have been pushed too far or have no other option, i.e. Tyrion killing his own father Tywin in revenge, or Jaime killing his distant cousin Alton Lannister to make an escape attempt - Alton and Jaime killing him were invented for the TV series, nor is killing a distant cousin very egregious, but the TV series still hewed close to this concept from the novels by showing that Jaime was still upset about it even multiple seasons after it happened. In this episode, Obara and Nymeria Sand actually playfully debate which one of them will get to kill their own first cousin, Trystane - who unlike his father wasn't even in a position to choose to avenge Oberyn's death, though the obvious reasoning is that Trystane would have most assuredly sought revenge for his father's murder. When Trystane attempts to reason with them since they are family, Obara merely laughs at him, clearly demonstrating that she does not care, which prompts Trystane to brandish his weapon to defend himself. The scene goes as far as to end in an outright joke, with Obara "stealing" the kill of Trystane by literally stabbing him from behind, causing Nymeria to glibly remark that she is a "greedy bitch", hinting that the Sand Snakes either hated Trystane for his noble birth or were merely having fun murdering him. The novels (as of A Dance with Dragons) never have characters treat instances of kinslaying so lightly, even when family members such as Tyrion and Tywin outright hate each other, and the only other character to whom the taboo of kinslaying is nothing more than a joke is Ramsay Bolton (as Roose Bolton says to Theon Greyjoy), who is himself a vicious, merciless sociopath and who Roose suspects murdered his trueborn son, Domeric, and will likely kill any more of Roose's potential trueborn children. Though they do not exhibit the same beastly and monstrous traits as Ramsay, the television versions of Obara, Nymeria and Tyene possess a certain degree of ruthlessness (while Obara appears emotionless to the point of being machine-like in nature and Nymeria displays a very strong competitive side, Tyene demonstrates a particularly sadistic streak, taking pleasure in poisoning her enemies and reveling in her victims' suffering, such as Bronn and Myrcella), apparently not having objected once to participating in the killing of their own family members, instead blindly following Ellaria for the sake of committing cold-blooded murder just for the fun of it, be their victims innocent children or their own blood-relatives. Ellaria appears to have initially convinced the Sand Snakes that her plot is to avenge Oberyn, promising them the opportunity to torture and kill Myrcella in the process, yet by going as far as to murder Oberyn's brother and nephew, their agenda appears to have gone far beyond Oberyn's memory, and seems more inclined towards obtaining enough power to destroy House Lannister. In the novels, though Obara, Nymeria and Tyene are formidable warriors, they follow a strict code of honor and absolutely refuse to harm innocent or defenseless people, let alone members of their own family, and are angered when Myrcella, who by then is their friend, is mutilated by Darkstar Dayne. As of the television series, the Sand Snakes stand as the only characters who have committed two sacrilegious crimes: kinslaying, by murdering Trystane and participating in Doran's death; and breaking guest right, as they attempted to kill Myrcella and later provided Ellaria with the poison that took her life, while the likes of Walder Frey and Ramsay Bolton have only committed one.

Also, changes to the Dorne subplot in Season 6 might not even have been intended in Season 5. When a dead viper with Myrcella's pendant in its mouth was sent to Cersei as a threat, the TV show never explicitly identified who sent it - Ellaria, one of the Sand Snakes, or all of them acting in concert. In the books, Prince Doran made a big show of arresting Arianne and the Sand Snakes after their failed attempt to crown Myrcella, to convince the Lannisters what a loyal ally he was. Combined with the fact that the TV series never identified who stole Myrcella's pendant and sent it to Cersei as a threat, this led to considerable speculation that it was actually Doran himself who sent it, to bait the Lannisters to try to "rescue" Myrcella, when in fact he was wise to the Sand Snakes' plan the entire time, and wanted to make a big show of "stopping" them, to convince the Lannisters he wanted to avoid a war at all costs when in fact he was secretly preparing for one; however, he could have accomplished that goal simply the same way he did in the books - by arresting the Sand Snakes and sending an explicit message to Cersei, stating that he found out they meant to harm Myrcella and he foiled them of loyalty to the Crown. It would also have been odd for Ellaria and the Sand Snakes to warn Cersei in advance by sending a threatening message implying they intended to harm her daughter - when they were having trouble enough as it was sneaking into the Water Gardens to assassinate her without Doran's permission. This might have actually been the screenwriters' intention early in Season 5, but the idea was later abandoned: note that while Doran keeps insisting he wants peace, right before both Jaime and the Sand Snakes make their move to take Myrcella in episode 5.6 "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", he has a private conversation with Areo Hotah in which he gravely warns him that he will have to use his axe in combat before long - implying that he already knew that the Sand Snakes were going to attack Myrcella but were letting them do it in order to make a show of stopping them, and possibly that he was warning Areo that he intended to fully take Dorne to war. Doran's actions and statements in Season 5 are thus somewhat incongruent with how he is presented in Season 6.

Previously it was thought that Myrcella Baratheon's death in the Season 5 finale indicated that she would die in the next upcoming novel, albeit with the circumstances moved around somewhat. Now, given the drastic changes to the Martell storyline in Season 6, there is no strong reason to take Myrcella's death in the TV series as reflecting that she will in fact die in the next novel.

With Doran dead and none of his other children established as existing in the TV show, House Martell is legally extinct. Ellaria cannot make any claim to rule because she was only Oberyn's paramour, not even his legal wife, and even if she as his wife she has no blood claim to House Martell. Oberyn's eldest daughter is Obara Sand - but by definition, all of the Sand Snakes are bastards and thus cannot lawfully inherit any of House Martell's lands and titles.

How Ellaria intended to officially hold power after this is therefore unclear (or more specifically, out of universe, how the TV writers intend to answer this):

  • It is possible that the Sand Snakes might try to be legitimized by some rival king. Even the other noble Houses in Dorne that support the Martells and the Sand Snakes would blanche at the idea of a bastard claiming full inheritance (even despite the fact that otherwise Dorne has relaxed attitudes towards Bastardy), especially after killing the true heir in cold blood. This may actually be Ellaria's endgame, given her eventual choice of allies.
  • There are minor Martell cousins sporadically mentioned in the novels, but given that even Doran's other children Arianne and Quentyn haven't been mentioned in the TV series the distant cousins probably don't exist in "the TV continuity" either.
  • Due to intermarriage, Daenerys Targaryen is actually part-Martell, just as the Martells are all part-Targaryen. Dorne remained unconquered by the Targaryens for generations, only uniting with the rest of the realm one hundred years ago through peaceful marriage-alliance. Specifically, it was a double marriage alliance in which the then-current Targaryen king married the Prince of Dorne's sister, and the Prince of Dorne married the Targaryen king's sister. It seems improbable, however, that anyone would accept Daenerys ahead of a hundred years' worth of more closely related Martell cousins.

Critical reaction

After the Season 6 premiere, "The Red Woman", which contained the coup aired, Vulture posted a special op-ed article heavily criticizing the bizarre changes to the Dorne storyline across Seasons 5 and 6:[10]

"Throughout it all, there's been little indication why anyone is doing the things they're doing. Why does Ellaria want revenge on Cersei, a woman who was only tangentially involved in Oberyn's death, and had absolutely nothing to do with House Lannister's earlier atrocities against the Martells? Why do she and the Sand Snakes hate Doran enough to indulge in kinslaying, a supreme taboo in Westeros? And, after staging such a random coup, why do they think anyone else in Dorne would accept them as rulers?"

The article went on to express the fear that the TV writers genuinely thought that this was making the Sand Snakes and Ellaria into interesting characters, when Vulture felt it was really reducing them into offensive caricatures:

"They're the TV version of Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters, the kind of violent, scantily clad women that emerge when creators want to pay lip service to feminism, but don't have the time or inclination to create actual three-dimensional female characters."'s review - written by Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, co-authors of the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook (2014) - also criticized the changed sequence of events as poorly set up and illogical (and that the changes to the characterization of the individual Martells and Sand Snakes was "too painful to consider"):

"...even disregarding that the chain of events is nonsensical, the whole scenario shows once again that often the writers get an idea about a desired end point and then simply force everything there, logic be damned. Why are the guards standing by during the murder, the same guards who arrested the Sand Snakes not long ago? Even if all of Dorne hates Doran, why does Ellaria think they will accept her ruling Dorne?...In one of the most remarkable feats of teleportation yet on the show, Obara and Nym show up on the aforementioned ship in King’s Landing to murder Trystane..."[11]

The Huffington Post also felt compelled to run an op-ed article criticizing what it called open plot holes in this sequence of events: pointing out that the Season 5 finale presented it as if Myrcella succumbed to the poison while her ship was still within sight of the shore, because Ellaria is shown exhibiting symptoms while still looking at it from the dock (at which Ellaria takes the antidote) - in which case, no reason was given for why the ship wouldn't turn around back to the shore, to seek help and/or punishment for Ellaria, instead making the long journey to King's Landing. It also criticized the plot logic of how two of the Sand Snakes then immediately appear to kill Trystane in King's Landing's harbor:

"The problem is that a scene from the Season 5 finale shows the three Snakes and Ellaria watching as the ship carrying Trystane sails off for King’s Landing. Yet, somehow, two of them, Obara and Nym, magically appear on the ship to kill the Dornish heir in the first episode of Season 6."[12]

Major fansite posted a special op/ed staff roundtable discussion article on the controversial changes - and overall, each contributor concluding that the hastily included Dorne subplot which began in Season 5 was a failure from the start (i.e. citing the much-criticized Sand Snakes fight scene in "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken". Editor Sue the Fury openly wondered why the TV series cast such a prominent and respected actor as Alexander Siddig to play Doran Martell if ultimately the character barely appeared on-screen in Season 5 before now being suddenly killed off:

"I think the original Dorne storyline of the books is completely gone and has nothing to do with the show. Arianne Martell [Prince Doran’s daughter] was the heart of that plot – her ambitions, charisma, and mistakes – and scattering it across Ellaria (who became a Darkstar/Obara hybrid) and the Sand Snakes was a rather large error. I think the showrunners underestimated the audience’s ability to care about and follow a new female character who wasn’t so closely tied to Oberyn [by just condensing Arianne with Ellaria], though she was family. Though Dorne isn’t the best loved of all book plots, it has its positives, and the story we’re seeing onscreen lacks subtlety. The women are empowered solely through violence, rather than politics, which is a rather narrow take on things.
Increasing the role of the Sand Snakes or condensing them into one character would have been acceptable to me if we had Arianne as a balance. Instead, in the story, we had tepid Trystane and a sorely underused Doran...
...even show-Oberyn would hate these people, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes on Game of Thrones. I feel like Benioff and Weiss are cleaning house – they’re done with the Dorne experiment, and if we see more of this story, it’ll just be to kill off more characters."[13]

Alexander Siddig portrayed Doran Martell, and was among the many who were greatly displeased with the drastic changes to the Dorne subplot, particularly regarding Doran's fate in the television series.

Even Alexander Siddig himself criticized the changes to the plotline and the show itself, claiming that he was originally scheduled to appear in at least four episodes of the sixth season:

"I know that, from an actor's point of view, professionally you don't want to be on a show like that for too long, unless you are one of the top leads who originated the show, because your schedule gets kind of messed up. You don't earn as much as you would if you were doing another show because they're Game of Thrones, and they don't have to pay anyone. Maybe they didn't want quite that much attention on that character. "Well, let's prove that we're going to stray from the books. We're going to do something else, and he will be our first example of that." So maybe that could have been the case. Or maybe I just screwed up. Maybe I said the wrong thing to the wrong person. Everybody is paranoid about some leak on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube. I think the secrecy is kind of understandable, but also there is an element of hype about it that makes it. The more secretive it is, the more special it is. And certainly Game of Thrones plays that. They misinform the crowd and they give them tidbits to send them in wrong directions. I am almost positive that those four episodes were leaked by HBO themselves. I can't tell you that for sure; that's just my opinion, but it's games; everybody's playing these games."[14]