Likely you've seen his face in one of the many, many teasers, trailers, and photos from the upcoming season four of Game of Thrones , but if you haven't read the books you're likely to have nary a clue as to who Oberyn Martell (played by Pedro Pascal) is in relation to the larger Realm. Well look no further, folks! Because we're here to set you straight on who, exactly, the dreamy Dornish man is and why you should be excited for his arrival to the Red Keep. With some minor spoilers, natch.
According to co-showrunner David Benioff, "This is a role we were the most nervous about casting as Oberyn embodies so many characteristics. He’s a favorite character from the books, he’s got the swagger, he’s smart, he loves his family, and he’s sexual in all sorts of ways."
As for the actor portraying him, Pedro Pascal, his interpretation of the character was a bit more interior. "He's not calculating, he’s out here for revenge and doesn't try to hide it at all. He goes up against Tyrion and Cersei and interestingly, he seems to be the only person who doesn't care what Tywin thinks, or how Tywin may react to what he says or does. In fact he wants them to know what he’s here for. It's kind of amazing."
So who, exactly, is Oberyn Martell and why should we be excited for the man they nicknamed The Red Viper? Well! Funny you should ask.
Oberyn is Royalty
And you thought you saw ALL there was to see of the Westeros and Essos royalty. Think again! Oberyn is the youngest prince in Dorne, as House Martell rules over all the Dornish people and southern lands. Here's a handy map (King's Landing is at the middle right, by The Narrow Sea/Blackwater Bay — click to enlarge):
He's Super Sexual!
...and not just because he's nice to look at. The prince is actually wildly progressive, both in his frank appreciation of sex, but also in his fluid sexuality, something that will be touched upon in the season four premiere.
His Nickname, The Red Viper, is Because He's Deadly
When he was only sixteen, Oberyn was found in bed with the lover of a Lord named Edgar Yronwood. After being challenged to a duel, by Lord Edgar, the young Dornishman lived while Lord Edgar's wounds festered and killed him. The nickname Red Viper was bestowed on him by friends and foes alike, as many believe he dueled with a poisoned blade.
But He Loves His Family
One of the more interesting subjects likely to make a splash this season is that of the role of bastard children in highborn Westerosi families. It ain't just Jon Snow who's a bastard! Oberyn has 8 bastard daughters, often called the Sand Snakes in their home country. His lover, Ellaria Sand, is also a bastard (and mother to his youngest).
And He was Almost a Maester
You know those wizened old men? Yeah, Oberyn's fate could've been a much different one — if he hadn't gotten bored. In his younger years he studied at the Citadel — the institution tasked with creating these learned, scholarly healers (knights of the mind, they're often called — forging several maester links for a maester chain, but eventually left the order out of disinterest. (Or, perhaps to pursue darker passions... dun dun dun!)
Overall, Though: Oberyn is a Bit Nuts
Just because he's there for King Joffrey's royal wedding doesn't mean he's waving a peace banner. Tywin Lannister (father of Cersei, Tyrion, and Jaime), you see, was involved in the rape and murder of Oberyn's sister, Elia Martell who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen before Robert (Baratheon)'s Rebellion. And he's out for vengeance. (Vengeance being a running theme for season four, it seems.)
Which is What Makes Him a Fan Favorite
Readers of the George R.R. Martin novel series on which Game of Thrones is based LOVE Oberyn. Be it is smooth style, his nice face, his staunch morals, or his half-madness, the man leaves a lot to love and plenty more to root for — especially if you hate those fickle, tricky Lannisters.
Image: HBO