There’s been ample discussion about the Martells being textually coded as people of color based on how they are otherized/exoticized and orientalized in the text. (Double down on Mediterranean history, and GRRM interviews, too.) From the text, it wasn’t unreasonable, it wasn’t delusional, to assume or expect that these characters were people of color.
But as I was going through my Game of Thrones tchotchkes today I remembered I have a first edition copy of The Art of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (2005) from Fantasy Flight Games (that I actually got signed the week it was released.) This was before the show was optioned; back them all fans had to go on was artwork from Fantasy Flight Games’s different licenses.
The unforgettable images in this volume are drawn from book covers and special editions, comic books, board and card games, concept art, and fan art personally selected by George Martin from the thousands of illustrations that have been inspired by his work.
I was excited to buy this book because although I had seen thousands of official and unofficial pieces of artwork for the series, I had no idea what GRRM himself envisioned. The book was exciting, because for example, it confirmed that Strong Belwas was black (disproving the readers who thought “nut-brown” meant white.) Here was a giant deck of pictures that GRRM “personally selected” to represent Winterfell, the Dothraki, the Tyrells, Dorne, etc.
Above are some of the photos from the two volumes of the art books.
- Princes of the Sun by Tomasz Jedruszek (Vol 2, page 91) This is the cover to the Princes of the Sun Martell card game expansion and features a Dornishman with dark skin tone and a woman in a veil. Prints for sale at the artist’s site. The architecture for the castle in the background vaguely reminds me of this Mosque in Mali (any world architecture buffs want to help me narrow this down, though?)
- Scheming in the Sand by by Sasha Diener (Vol 2, page 86) depicts Arianne Martell and Aerys Oakheart. Her coin headdress evoke Berber/North African sequined headbands/head dresses, or the random stuff you can find at belly dancing online shops.
- The Red Viper by Natascha Roeoseli (Vol 1, page 166)
- To Be a Viper by Gabrielle Portal, in the House Martell chapter (Vol 2, page 83) A snake charmer straight outta Agrabah. The practice of snake charming comes from Northern Africa and spread across the Middle East to South Asia
- House Dayne Reserves by Ryan Barger depicts generic Dornish soldiers who served House Dayne. Though members of the Dayne family have Valyrian features, the Dornishmen who serve them do not, and here one is wearing a keffiyeh.
- Sunspear by Martina Pilcerova (Vol 1, page 168) This GRRM-endorsed picture of Sunspear is pretty much an exact rip off of the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, including bizarrely the sticky-outy part of the ceremonial barge. The domes are based on Mughal architecture and there is a minaret.
- Two Steps Ahead by Jean Tay, scanned by this fan. (Vol 1, page 167) I think this is supposed to be Doran Martell. The image look this desaturated in my book, too.
- Nymeria Sand by John Gravato (Vol 1, page 168) found on this tumblr via Google Image Search. She is carrying scimitars.
- The Water Gardens by Anders Finer (Vol 1, page 165) I cropped the giant fountain out of this piecture to just focus on the kids. The Water Gardens is supposed to be full of all sorts of kids so the Martells can hide their children around valuable decoys. The Martell children are supposed to blend right in with the other children.
- Dornish Riders by John Gravato (Vol 1, page 171) scanned from my copy of the book. It depicts Dornish riders on (bactrian?) camels streaking across the hot Dornish desert.
Note: When there was an online version of this picture at the artist’s site, I have linked to the original piece rather than rely on my own or other people’s scans. I also took some screencaps from Amazon.com’s preview of volume 2. Although there are other official Fantasy Flight art pieces online (resulting in several dozen different interpretations of one character like Oberyn, and weird inaccuracies like a blonde Ellaria Sand and a super-white Sarella Sand.) I figured I’d stick to the ones that were good enough to make Martin’s special cut. In the prologue of the first artbook, Martin says these “spectacular pieces” best represented his vision.
I look at these photos, hand-selected apparently by George RR Martin himself, and I have a hard time believing that he “always” pictured Dorne as only Southern European.
If I just showed you the entire collection these pictures, and didn’t tell you they were of Dorne, would you still think these pieces meant to depict Southern Europeans?
There’s a multiplicity of reasons why so many fans thought the Dornish were characters of color.
Disclaimer: Obviously ASOIAF, Game of Thrones, and other trademarks and rights are owned by George RR Martin, HBO, Fantasy Flight Games, and the respective artists who created these pieces. An effort has been made to source these pieces and properly credit them. These images are presented here for fair use commentary/criticism purposes only. To purchase either book, go here: Vol 1 and Vol 2
Sooo, is anyone else starting to feel like they’re being gaslighted or is it just me?
my mouth is hanging open from top to bottom of this entire post.
we r TOTALLY being gaslighted.