When casting for Game of Thrones’ Red Viper was announced, I wondered if anyone who’d read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would take issue with the actor’s race. Apparently a few did, so Martin took to his LiveJournal to explain a few things from his point of view.
Chilean actor Pedro Pascal was cast as Prince Oberyn Nymeros Martell, a.k.a. The Red Viper, for Season 4 of the HBO series. It didn’t strike me as unusual for the Dornish character but then again, some people were surprised to see a POC cast as The Hunger Games’ Rue even though she was described as having “dark brown skin” in the text. My point is, readers can picture things differently in their minds.
Martin replied to a commenter on a Game of Thrones graphic novel post on his blog who asked:
I was wondering what you thought about the most recent casting decision for the Martells…as a reader and a person of color who really appreciated the diversity in your novels, I was wondering if this means that the Martells will be white on the show. If so, that’s disappointing to me because given how they were described in the novels, with their darker features and unique culture (particularly the way Andal Westerosi saw them) it definitely like they would match up to people of color in our world (eg. call out to Moors or different Middle Eastern cultures.) Is there anything fans can do to help encourage the showrunners to cast the Martells diversely?
“I do know that David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and HBO do favor having a racially and ethnically diverse cast on the series,” wrote Martin. “It is true that we’ve lost several black characters who appear in the novels (Chataya and Alayaya, Jalabhar Xho, Strong Belwas), but to balance that, characters like Salladhor Saan and Xaro Xhoan Daxos, both white in the books, have been played by black actors. Missandei as well, though in the books the Naathi are golden-skinned, not white.”
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).
When and if the show introduces Prince Oberyn’s daughters, the Sand Snakes, I expect we will see the same diversity as in the books, ranging from Tyene (blond and blue-eyed) to Sarella (light brown skin, as her mother was a Summer Islander). And I expect that the crew of the CINNAMON WIND will all be cast with black actors… assuming, of course, that Sam’s voyage remains in the story.
So there you have it right from the horse’s mouth.
And how does Martin think Pascal will fair in the role? “I wasn’t present for Pedro Pascal’s audition, but I understand that he really killed it with his reading,” he said. “And since his casting was announced, the producer of another TV show on which he appeared recently has written me to say how terrific Pascal is, and to congratulate us on the casting. So I suspect that he will turn out to be a wonderful Red Viper.”
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