Drawing of Oberyn Martell by Holly Fedderman, from the fan anthology Draw ‘Em With the Pointy End (2015).
I’ve decided to follow a vague order of “cocktails that don’t taste too similar” rather than trying to make any sort of pattern out of character choices, so…there’s that.
As anyone who has encountered me in full ASOIAF/GoT fan mode can attest, I am overinvested in all things/characters Dornish. I have been since Oberyn Martell first strolled into my reading of A Storm of Swords in the summer of 2002. His death prompted me to set the book down for about an hour before I was emotionally prepared to continue (for context, I read the entire thing in two days because there were points at which I literally could not put it down if I’d tried). The Red Wedding was bad enough, and on top of that, I just couldn’t handle it. Quentyn’s in A Dance With Dragons was bad, but I saw it coming in a way that I just didn’t with Oberyn (I call this the “George, you’ve hurt me too many times before” routine).
The Red Viper
1 ½ oz Old Overholt rye whisky
¾ oz Carpano Antica red vermouth
¼ oz Fernet Branca
Twist of flamed orange
Cocktail cherry* stabbed with a spear
Note: According to my husband, any drink named after Oberyn Martell should also include a muddled raspberry at the bottom to acknowledge his rather, um, colourful end. I don’t disagree, but I didn’t buy them today, so we don’t have them.
The drink, however, is delicious, as is also appropriate for something named after Oberyn.
The plan when I began this project was to make half-portions of each drink so we** could try two per evening without being irresponsible. But a half-portion looks ridiculous in a glass, and since a proper cocktail recipe includes a photograph of the drink, I’m just making one of each and we’re trading halfway through.
At least that’s the plan. Husband appears to be hanging onto the Viper. Can’t blame him. It’s a variation on the well-known Manhattan cocktail that is sometimes called the Fanciulli. The addition of Fernet Branca instead of a few dashes of Angostura bitters adds an herbal note to the drink, plus Fernet has a weird anaesthetic side effect where sometimes your tongue starts to feel tingly.
So…Oberyn Martell. We hardly knew ye.
He’s introduced so dramatically. I mean, seriously. Most of our interactions with him happen from Tyrion Lannister’s perspective, and it’s weird that Oberyn happened to encounter baby Tyrion shortly after his mother’s death.
Tyrion had to grin. “You were speaking of my sister?”
“Cersei promised Elia to show you to us. The day before we were to sail, whilst my mother and your father were closeted together, she and Jaime took us down to your nursery. Your wet nurse tried to send us off, but your sister was having none of that. ‘He’s mine,’ she said, ‘and you’re just a milk cow, you can’t tell me what to do. Be quiet or I’ll have my father cut your tongue out. A cow doesn’t need a tongue, only udders.’”
“Her Grace learned charm at an early age,” said Tyrion, amused by the notion of his sister claiming him as hers. “She’s never been in any rush to claim me since, the gods know.
“Cersei even undid your swaddling clothes to give us a better look,” the Dornish prince continued. “You did have one evil eye, and some black fuzz on your scalp. Perhaps your head was larger than most…but there was no tail, no beard, neither teeth nor claws, and nothing between your legs but a tiny pink cock. After all the wonderful whispers, Lord Tywin’s Doom turned out to be just a hideous red infant with stunted legs. Elia even made the noise that young girls make at the sight of infants, I’m sure you’ve heard it. The same noise they make over cute kittens and playful puppies. I believe she wanted to nurse you herself, ugly as you were. When I commented that you seemed a poor sort of monster, your sister said, ‘He killed my mother,’ and twisted your little cock so hard I thought she was like to pull it off. You shrieked, but it was only when your brother Jaime said, ‘Leave him be, you’re hurting him,’ that Cersei let go of you. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she told us. ‘Everyone says he’s like to die soon. He shouldn’t even have lived this long.’
— A Storm of Swords, Tyrion V/Chapter 38
We don’t just learn about Oberyn here—we also learn about Elia Martell, who, prior to this scene, was a mere footnote in the books. Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife, raped and murdered by Gregor Clegane the Mountain that Rides during the sack of King’s Landing. Oberyn gives us a brief glimpse into who that woman might have been, beyond the awfulness of her death.
Of course, it is Elia’s death that becomes the counterpoint for Oberyn’s own demise. His goal is to force Gregor Clegane to confess his crimes publicly, and to implicate Tywin Lannister, his liege lord, for having given the order. Secondarily, he’s there to defend Tyrion’s rights in trial by combat, but we get the impression that is very much a side goal.
Which is where we get that wonderful, horrible refrain:
To Oberyn, his death isn’t about him. It’s about Elia. It’s about the horror that’s been clawing at his insides for nearly fifteen years. He comes within a hairsbreadth of revenge, and never gets to enjoy it.
YOU ARE A LIAR, OBERYN MARTELL. YOU ARE A FILTHY LIAR. TYRION AND I BOTH AGREE ON THIS.
This scene is viscerally upsetting. He’s supposed to win. Strictly speaking, given that the Mountain dies (temporarily) soon afterward, he does win. Except that it’s a Pyrrhic victory in the worst possible sense. And getting it from Tyrion’s perspective—knowing that Oberyn’s death also means his own—doubles the impact partly for his distance (since he doesn’t know Oberyn well but clearly likes him) and partly because the stakes are so very high.
And the worst part of it all is that Oberyn dies–supposedly–exactly the way his sister did. One assumes Clegane is telling the truth, given the circumstances. But it is only in A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons that the full ramifications and consequences of his death become clear.
There are plenty of excellent essays out there that point out the rampant problems with Martin’s treatment of the Dornish in general, and Oberyn’s family in particular, but I will save that for a different post.
Amusing sidenote: The autocorrect on my tablet has decided that the name Oberyn must always be rendered in allcaps. I can’t say this seems wrong to me.
* I make my own cocktail cherries because I am weird, but for this drink (and, really, in general), I recommend getting Luxardo Maraschino cherries packed in liquor. They taste exponentially better than the ones packed in grenadine.
** Since I want someone other than me to taste these and confirm that I’m not the only one who will drink them, I’ve enlisted my husband. Well, by “enlisted,” I mean this was his response to my request.
- Intro & Martini of Whisperers
- The Red Viper