Chilean actor Pedro Pascal has been confirmed for the role of Prince Oberyn Martell, one of the most anticipated roles of next season. Pascal has never been the featured star of a show before, but has appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Without a Trace, Law and Order, Nurse Jackie, The Good Wife, Red Widow, Graceland, Burn Notice, The Adjustment Bureau, and Burning Bridges.
Prince Martell, popularly known as the Red Viper, is the younger brother of the ruler of Dorne, Prince Doran Martell. Dorne is the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms and the last to fall under the rule of King's Landing, doing so through alliance rather than conquest. It has been featured little on the show so far other than a mention by Tyrion in passing, when he first became The Hand of the King in season two when he sent Princess Myrcelle Baratheon to Dorne to marry into the Martell family.
“This was a tough one,” say showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss about the casting. “The Red Viper is sexy and charming, yet believably dangerous; intensely likable, yet driven by hate. The boys love him, the girls love him, and he loves them all back. Unless your last name is Lannister. We found a fellow who can handle the job description and make it seem effortless. He wasn’t easy to find and he won’t be easy to stop.”
The Red Viper is a skilled warrior and famous for being brash, charming, cunning, and having slow-burning temper -- a temper currently aimed toward Gregor Clegane, the Mountain. His younger sister Elia, who was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, was brutally murdered along with her two children at the hands of Lannister troops and Gregor during the Sack of King's Landing of Robert's Rebellion. So far, Dorne has pursued a policy of isolation until they agreed to accept Myrcelle Baratheon into their family. Season four will see Oberyn headed to King's Landing with revenge on his mind. (Update after the break)
A response from George R.R. Martin about the casting and talk of 'white-washing':
I wasn't present for Pedro Pascal's audition, but I understand that he really killed it with his reading. And since his casting was announced, the producer of another TV show on which he appeared recently has written me to say how terrific Pascal is, and to congratulate us on the casting. So I suspect that he will turn out to be a wonderful Red Viper.
I do know that David and Dan and HBO do favor having a racially and ethnically diverse cast on the series. It is true that we've lost several black characters who appear in the novels (Chataya and Alayaya, Jalabhar Xho, Strong Belwas), but to balance that, characters like Salladhor Saan and Xaro Xhoan Daxos, both white in the books, have been played by black actors. Missandei as well, though in the books the Naathi are golden-skinned, not white.
As for the Dornishmen, well, though by and large I reject one to one analogies, I've always pictured the "salty Dornish" as being more Mediterranean than African in appearance; Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, etc. Dark hair and eyes, olive skin. Pedro Pascal is Chilean. (Check out Amok's version of the Red Viper, that's how I saw him. Or Magali Villenueve's beautiful and sexy portrait of Princess Arianne).
When and if the show introduces Prince Oberyn's daughters, the Sand Snakes, I expect we will see the same diversity as in the books, ranging from Tyene (blond and blue-eyed) to Sarella (light brown skin, as her mother was a Summer Islander). And I expect that the crew of the CINNAMON WIND will all be cast with black actors... assuming, of course, that Sam's voyage remains in the story.
I've included the two images he referred to below:
I don't think you'll ever make everyone happy in a situation like this and everyone has an opinion, even if it's not a great one. Most fan casting, or even journalist casting, is a (unintentional) joke. Ask people who will be a good fit for Lex Luthor in the next Superman movie and most of the time people will only name actors with shaved heads. A few weeks ago I saw a commenter on an article remark that The Rock wasn't 'black enough' to play Luke Cage (Power Man - Marvel hero) when he was in full support of a Michael Jordan (not the basketball player) being cast for Human Torch in the Fantastic Four. Some outcry is just better left alone.
The most important thing is that the best actor that works for the role be cast and certainly, appearance will be part of that casting choice. Personally, I pictured the Dornish as Spaniards so the choice of Pascal seemed like a sure fit for me. Plus, we've all seen the casting work for the show so far, so I don't see a reason to doubt them yet. That's just my opinion, feel free to share yours below.