Oberyn Nymeros Martell, Prince of Dorne. He's kind of a big deal.
Ever since he swaggered into King's Landing in the beginning of the fourth season of HBO's Game of Thrones, we've been unable to take our eyes off him. His looks, his attitude, his tailored robes.... He steals almost every scene he's in.
With Oberyn set up to play a pivotal role (if you haven't watched the latest episode yet, please do so immediately!) we thought we'd flesh out what makes the Dornishman such a legend. Trust us, the backstory justifies his infamy.
His nickname is the Red Viper
The origin of that nickname goes way back to when he was 16 years old:
Prince Oberyn had been found abed with the paramour of old Lord Yronwood, a huge man of fierce repute and short temper. A duel ensued, though in view of the prince's youth and high birth, it was only to the first blood. Both men took cuts, and honor was satisfied. Yet Prince Oberyn soon recovered, while Lord Yronwood's wounds festered and killed him. Afterward men whispered that Oberyn fought with a poisoned sword, and ever thereafter friends and foes alike called him the Red Viper.
(Passage from Storm of Swords, Tyrion chapter)
He's one of the most feared fighters in Westeros.
He was deadly at the age of 16 and only became more so as he grew older. He fought not only in tournaments and duels and battles around Westeros, but also spent a significant amount of time in Essos.
He traveled in the Free Cities, where he learned the art of poisons; he fought with the famous mercenary company, the Second Sons (now led by Daario Naharis in service of the Daenerys) before forming his own company.
His weapon of choice is pretty daunting, too: "The spear was turned ash eight feet long, the shaft smooth, thick and heavy. The last two feet of that was steel: a slender leaf-shaped spearhead narrowing to a wicked spike." (Quote from Storm of Swords, Tyrion chapter)
His voracious sexual appetite is even more legendary than his fighting prowess.
As Tyrion notes in the first episode of the fourth season, the Red Viper is "famous for fucking half of Westeros."
Oberyn does not believe in denying himself pleasure, so he drinks from the cup of life in gulps rather than sips. He sleeps with both women and men. His current and longtime paramour is Ellaria Sand, a bastard herself (Sand being the last name given to all those who are bastard-born in Dorne).
While he likely has left a trail of bastard children all across Westeros and Essos, his most infamous offspring are his eight bastard daughters known as the Sand Snakes.
The Sand Snakes are AMAZING.
Oberyn's bastard daughters are known for having their father's ferocity, though it manifests itself differently in each Sand Snake. The oldest four daughters were all mothered by different women, from whores to highborn ladies. The youngest four were all mothered by Oberyn's current paramour, Ellaria.
In descending order of age, their names are Obara, Nymeria, Tyene, Sarella, Elia, Obella, Dorea, and Loreza.
So far we've only had contact with the three oldest Sand Snakes, but those introductions are marvelous. No summary or paraphrase could do them justice, so simply read the original passages below, each from A Feast for Crows.
Obara was the eldest Sand Snake, a big-boned woman near to thirty, with the close-set eyes and rat-brown hair of the Oldtown whore who'd birthed her. Beneath a mottled sandsilk cloak of dun and gold, her riding clothes were old brown leather, worn and supple. They were the softest things about her. On one hip she wore a coiled whip, across her back a round shield of steel and copper. She had left her spear outside.
Halfway there, the second Sand Snake caught them. She appeared suddenly upon a dune, mounted on a golden sand steed with a mane like fine white silk. Even ahorse, the Lady Nym looked graceful, dressed all in shimmering lilac robes and a great silk cape of cream and copper that lifted at every gust of wind, and made her look as if she might take flight. Nymeria Sand was five-and-twenty, and slender as a willow. Her straight black hair, worn in a long braid bound up with red-gold wire, made a widow's peak above her dark eyes, just as her father's had. With her high cheekbones, full lips, and milk-pale skin, she had all the beauty that her elder sister lacked ... but Obara's mother had been an Oldtown whore, whilst Nym was born from the noblest blood of old Volantis.
There the third Sand Snake awaited them. She was sitting cross-legged on a pillow beneath the raised dais where the high seats stood, but she rose as they entered, dressed in a clinging gown of pale blue samite with sleeves of Myrish lace that made her look as innocent as the Maid herself. In one hand was a piece of embroidery she had been working on, in the other a pair of golden needles. Her hair was gold as well, and her eyes were deep blue pools ... and yet somehow they reminded the captain of her father's eyes, though Oberyn's eyes [are] as black as night. All of Prince Oberyn's daughter's have his viper eyes, Hotah realized suddenly. The color does not matter.
His older brother is Prince Doran Martell, the ruler of Dorne.
Unlike Oberyn, Doran is a cautious and even-tempered man, as slow to take action as Oberyn is quick to act violently. While Oberyn is loved throughout Dorne for his boldness and daring, Doran prefers to rule Dorne with a steady hand, constantly attempting to maneuver Dorne into a better position before choosing a course of action.
While this has not pleased everyone, it has served Dorne well, as the region is one of the few, along with the Vale, that has been largely untouched by the War of the Five Kings, which has ravaged much of Westeros. As a result, Dorne's army is intact and its food stores in a good position ahead of the coming winter.
He crippled the heir to Highgarden.
The ruling family of Highgarden (one of the Seven Kingdoms) is the Tyrells. Loras and Margaery are most familiar to show viewers, but they have an older brother named Willas, who is the family heir. His father entered him into a jousting tournament when Willas was young, and he faced off against Oberyn. Oberyn struck Willas cleanly but the boy's foot caught in his stirrup as he fell and his horse toppled down on him, crippling him.
The Tyrells have never forgiven Oberyn for this, with the exception of Willas himself, who bears Oberyn no ill will for the accident; indeed they even trade letters about one of their similar interests, horses.
He HATES Lannisters.
You probably knew this already, but it's worth repeating. The man wants justice for his sister and her children from every Lannister he can find. Preferably at the point of his spear. Do not make the mistake of singing the Rains of Castamere within his earshot. The situation will escalate VERY QUICKLY.