On tonight’s season 4 premiere of Game of Thrones, audiences will be introduced to a brand new player in King’s Landing: Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, played by Pedro Pascal. Don’t know who that is? We’re here to give you a little primer on the character. Don’t worry, we’re not going to get into any big spoilers here, just clue you in to the character’s history, as described in George R.R. Martin’s books, up until his first on-page appearance in A Storm of Swords, which coincides with his first on-screen appearance in Game of Thrones.
However, you never know when history will pop up and surprise you in Game of Thrones, so consider this a spoiler warning.
Oberyn Nymeros Martell is a Prince of Dorne, the southern-most kingdom of Westeros. He is a member of Dorne’s great house, House Martell, and is the younger brother of the current head of House Martell, Prince Doran.
While the seat of House Martell is at Sunspear, Oberyn grew up at Sandstone. Oberyn earned the moniker “The Red Viper” when, at 16-years-old, he was found in bed with the lover of Lord Edgar Yronwood. That Yronwood challenged Oberyn to a duel, though combat was only to first blood due to Oberyn’s age and station. Both men were wounded, but the Lord Edgar’s wounds festered and eventually proved fatal. It became rumor that Oberyn soaked his blade in poison before the duel, and people began calling him “The Red Viper.” Oberyn was sent out of Dorne for some time, so that Prince Doran had time to make peace with House Yronwood, resulting in Quentyn, Doran’s oldest son, becoming House Yronwood’s ward.
Oberyn has led an interesting life since then. He has travelled the Free Cities, forged six links of a Maester’s chain, studied poisons and the dark arts, fought as a mercenary, and fathered numerous female bastards called “The Sand Snakes.” Unlike most lords, Oberyn actually supports and teaches his bastards.
In the books, Oberyn accidently crippled Willas Tyrell during a tourney. However, it’s unclear if Willas even exists in the Game of Thrones televisions series, as no mention has been made of him and events involving him have been shifted onto other characters.
Oberyn was very close to his sister, Elia. During the Sack of King’s Landing, Elia was raped and murdered by Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, a knight in the service of House Lannister. Another Lannister Man, Armory Lorch, brutally murdered both of Elia’s children. Jon Arryn, the newly instated Hand of the King, was just barely able to keep Oberyn from beginning a whole new war, but Oberyn has thirsted for revenge on the Lannisters ever since.
With all of that in mind, one has to wonder if Oberyn’s only purpose in King’s Landing is to attend the royal wedding.
Game of Thrones Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 6 at 9 p.m. ET.