Blink, and you might have missed her: Actress Indira Varma, who is of Indian, Swiss and Genoese descent, made her Game of Thrones debut in the fourth season premiere of the HBO fantasy series last night.
Playing Ellaria Sand, Varma’s character was introduced in a scene costarring her onscreen lover, the dangerous Dornish prince Oberyn Martell, a.k.a. The Red Viper (Pedro Pascal). The pair is first seen choosing from a selection of beautiful women (and one man) to take to bed at a brothel, where it quickly becomes clear that Ellaria and her paramour enjoy the company of both sexes.
But if you were distracted by the overtly sexual nature of the couple’s first scenes, you’ll have missed the key takeaway from the duo’s introduction. When an employee of the brothel refers to Ellaria as a lady, she immediately corrects him and informs him that she is a bastard — and makes it clear that she has no intention of keeping up appearances. (Though it is important to note that in the fictional land of Dorne, mistresses are held in high esteem and women are entitled to rule).
The exchange is a small moment in a mostly visual scene, but an important one to note for the character’s evolution. George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, on which Game of Thrones is based, are set in the fictional world of Westeros, but his characters draw from real-life influences, with the Dornishmen having “dark hair and eyes, olive skin” and “being more Mediterranean” in appearance. Ellaria is described in the books as exotic and sensuous — a description Varma ably embodies — but luckily, there is more to the character than serving as an object of desire.
As the season draws on, look for Varma, who previously starred on the short-lived HBO series Rome, to play less the part of the alluring other-half and more the role of a royal’s formidable partner.
Kiran Hefa is a New York City-based writer and editor who is as equally passionate about Sex and the City as she is about Star Wars. Her pop culture commentary can be found on Twitter @kiranhefa.