Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: Rin’s Hopes for Oberyn Martell

House Martell Family Crest Game of ThronesI’m not the only one on this site excited for the new season of Game of Thrones, so I’m in good company with people who understand my burning need to see a new episode as soon as I can. You know, before Tumblr spoils me on everything in convenient gif format. There’s a lot to look forward to this season: more Jaime and Brienne, more Joffrey getting slapped, more Tyrell ladies being badasses. However, something that caught my attention straight away—and something that didn’t escape the watchful eye of the internet—was the appearance of House Martell. Before any trailers, the character of Oberyn had already been making waves due to fandom crying foul over whitewashing the Dornish prince. And while people were rightfully put off by the ethnicity swap (despite reassurances from author George R.R. Martin), it seems another issue could rise; an issue that, in the same vein, has everything to do with the television adaptation and not so much the novelization. That is, of course, Oberyn’s bisexuality.

Being one of the many who only has enough drive to watch the show and not hunker down to read the massive tomes, I’m at a distinct disadvantage when considering whether or not parts of Oberyn’s sexuality were changed to make it more palatable to Game of Thrones’s audience. Also, being bisexual myself, I feel that despite the former “not reading the books” thing, being the latter still allows me a pretty good say in how said sexuality comes across. And what did I think? Well… it was adequate representation.

I only have one episode—and even then, maybe ten minutes in said episode—to draw a conclusion from, so granted it’s not the largest pool of data to work with. However, what I did see I’m conflicted with. And I think it isn’t necessarily a fault with the show itself, but with how bisexuals are usually portrayed in media. Oberyn is certainly shown finding both men and women attractive, and is clearly perfectly okay with engaging in sexual acts with both of those sexes as well. However, there’s something about his actions that strike me as being off. My book-reading friends have told me that, while described as a gentle lover, he’s also quite dominant. That’s fine and good, but something about grabbing some dude’s crotch and telling them he likes it “[his] way” seems less like showing dominance and more like the least successful “no homo” ever. Game of Thrones isn’t known for its restraint when it comes to sex, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that the seeming hypermasculinization of Oberyn’s advances only helps to add to the precedent of un-mainstream media friendly sexualities being comprised of really promiscuous individuals.

Game of Thrones Oberyn Martell Ellaria SandThis leads to another bundle of troubles: a bisexual, pansexual, or any other sexual person enjoying sex or being open with sex isn’t in and of itself bad. However, it’s rare to find characters that fall in these sexualities that aren’t shown in this light. Other touted bi/pansexual characters like Brittany from Glee and Captain Jack of Torchwood and Doctor Who fame, while complex characters outside of their sexual and romantic exploits, are most well-known and advertised for said exploits. These characters end up reduced to their sexual novelties rather than appreciated for what they bring to the story. In the end, that’s not the type of representation that I want, and I’m not quite sure it’s the representation others want for their given sexuality either.

The other issue I have with this seeming hyper-masculinization is that it easily lends itself to the potential erasure of Oberyn’s bisexuality. This is purely speculation on my part, but I feel as though that there’s a very real chance of the show pulling a Willow. I’m certain GoT will have more finesse than having a character state “Hello. I’m gay now,” but there’s a fine line the show has to tread. If after this one scene Oberyn is only seen with his female lover, Ellaria Sand, his interest toward men could be completely forgotten. Likewise, if he is shown going mostly after Westeros’s fine young men, his relationship with Ellaria could easily be written off as some veil to hide the homosexuality he doesn’t have.

If there’s anything I can say with full assurance, however, it’s that I have faith in the writers not to mess this up, at least not completely. Game of Thrones is a universe where a character is forced to be more than their sexuality no matter who they are, so there’s a very small chance of Oberyn being reduced to that one time he grabbed someone’s balls. However, I do not expect him to be a paragon of bisexual characters by any means. As long as he stays adequate and not offensive, I think I’ll be content.

For another well-written opinion which takes a closer look at how race influences Oberyn’s character, as well as Ellaria’s role in bisexual representation, please check out bidyke’s post on Tumblr.

And more scenes with these two interaction, please and thanks.

And more scenes with these two interacting, please and thanks.

1 thought on “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: Rin’s Hopes for Oberyn Martell

  1. “…while people were rightfully put off by the ethnicity swap”

    Rightfully? These people are morons, the Dornish are described as olive skinned in the source material and are by Martin’s own words Southern European. The complaints of whitewashing are baseless and the complainers should learn how to read properly.

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