Darkstar of Dorne – Reconsidering Gerold Dayne in the Game of Thrones

game of thrones

This is an “article” I wrote a few years ago (so please keep in mind any new HBO or GRRM based revelations weren’t at my disposal) that made rounds on Tumblr after I wrote it on a now defunct Tumblr I had. Beyond simply wanting to keep it from disappearing from the web, I actually wanted to read it again after running into a more recent and very fly theory regarding Darkstar’s (Gerold Dayne) possible father over at Elio’s board dedicated to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. For those who only experience what you call Game of Thrones via HBO, this covers a thus far minor character you probably won’t meet until season 5 who debuted in book 4, A Feast for Crows, if at all. I cleaned it up a bit just to remove references to other material that was on my old blog that wouldn’t make sense now. I’d add that since the time that I wrote this it is more than likely the dedicated truth finders of the series have unearthed numerous theories that completely discount what in comparison is a childish half-thought on my part about Darkstar. They are exceedingly good at that and have been for more than a decade.

Now as I try to consolidate my stuff back here I’ve been getting back to reading a lot, recently dishing on Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves and the recent Star Wars Aftermath novel. While I have some trepidation with the show lapping the books and the, let’s be honest, pretty silly response (that nobody would agree with if it wasn’t Martin at this very moment) about the concern using the baffling analogy of real world history books not being spoiled by Martin, I do actually find the possibly exciting even as several of fan favorite plot threads, some decades old, disappear by the wayside. That was always going to happen, right? Worst case scenario I just flip it and it means later I can read the books and get the true director’s cut, where some crackpots may still burn with life. But if it was good idea to reveal spoilers every show on the planet would just tell you what happened and then show the season. Not everyone can Columbo.

I am currently working on some other, more updated, aSoIaF character pieces that I will try to wedge in between episode posts. I also have some more Malazan stuff popping in my head as Erikson’s Fall of Light approaches, and when I can take a break from being obsessed with current VALIANT comics. Anyways… on to Thrones.

EDIT: another post earlier than expected, about The Winds of Winter sample chapter dropped by GRMM today.

A lot of people hate this dude.

The first word that popped into my head was EXTREME, which should never be confused with just “extreme”. Let me explain. By A Feast for Crows (this would be where common sense tells you whether you should read on — there is also a single line pertaining to A Dance with Dragons), sure, George R.R. Martin has had some crazy shit occur in A Song of Ice and Fire, but the tune was still pretty straight. Weird was going on but by in large they were happening to normal people who could have walked out of a Katherine Mansfield collection. The people who dared do fantastic deeds in a series of fantasy novels had the decency to be… weird. We’ve met several characters that would be deemed reprehensible by the majority of upstanding folk, but I think we’ve been exposed to habitual daughter fuckers and infant killers who didn’t turn off people as immediately as would one Ser Gerold Dayne. Thus it should surprise no one that I like him. Partly because I don’t wholly understand what exactly people are reading. Don’t get me wrong, I think any character can be nitpicked to death. We see it even with the more central and loved characters in aSoIaF, it is part of the fun of series as well as an immersion tool, but Gerold Dayne represents one of the few examples where our goal is the joke itself, not a means to understand him, even when he’s clearly put in a position to draw out other questions imperative to the maxi-story in the series.

A great deal of this just involves the name. Gerold suffers a great deal for his callsign. EXTREME. I mentioned above that for the most part Martin plays this series pretty straight. The appearance of Darkstar made me consider what if a 1990’s Rob Liefeld IMAGE character suddenly appearing in some probably lame black & white, probably critically acclaimed, slice of life comic. A tunic with mad cross-stitched pouches, 600 teeth that fit in an otherwise standard jaw, a Final Fantasy 7 buster, towering over lesser people in such a way you could never catch a frame with his feet in them, people fearing the words “of the night”. Frankly, I kind of like that, but that’s beyond the point.

These Dorne kids were out of the box with big plans but left their Junior Woodchuck Guide back at the Water Gardens. For this reason I wondered WHAT were these chapters for? For many it became fuel to mock Ser Gerold (a fine name), and while viewed in a vacuum they range from undeniably damning to damn hilarious, but that doesn’t truly add up. Martin’s practice in red herrings and both false and trap doors is well-known but he rarely deals in utter uselessness. Reader perception versus in-world perspective is something A Song of Ice and Fire fans tend to be masters at differentiating, which is why Darkstar is very much a conscious and a bit too welcome a blindspot. I certainly felt something different when Dayne was being described and while it wasn’t lost on me that he seemed out-of-place, I went back and reread that chapter several times and found that the textual evidence doesn’t seem to support it the reaction.

The Crimes…

“No. Men call me Darkstar, and I am of the night.I was weaned on venom”

I’m not sure if I’ve come across two none-hate spewing lines of fiction that have caused more hate — even in good fun — for a character. If random guy came up to me and called himself “The Sword of the Morning” (in Westeros, defined as badass) or “the Mountain that Rides”, or admitted they were searching for “the Prince Who Was Promised”, I’d be as prone to avoid them as somebody named Darkstar. In a real world sense they are all kind of silly, but these types of names were very common even in our own history, one that Martin is a fan of. Darkstar is without question a bit overboard, but the idea of him having this name really isn’t. The most infamous man in Dorne is called the “Red Viper”, his bastard children are called “Sand Snakes”. Hell, one of the most prized sons of the generation walks around honored as “the Knight of Flowers”. The crime here, if any exists at all is that he calls himself Darkstar. … but that’s still kind of okay. Martin sets it up well enough, having Arianne mention him as Darkstar several times before he utters the infamous introduction. The truth is that there is probably nothing wrong with Darkstar and I often wonder how we would view Gerold if he was introduced as such by someone most of us like, say Oberyn Martel. “That’s my dude Darkstar, and he is of the night… motherfucker” (I don’t view Oberyn as Samuel L, but I think it would be hilarious if Sam’s voice was Oberyn’s while he was acting stupid in his fight with Gregor). There would probably be a Hot Topic line based on the guy by the time you finished the chapter. Indeed, in his own words, Gerold tells us “men” call him this.

The second quote is often taken out of context. By itself, unprompted and just thrown out there among normal people, “I was weaned on venom” is really bizarre and worthy of extreme mockery. Unfortunately, Dayne is probably not an awkward high school kid, indeed NOTHING in the text presents him as such.

“Watch where you set your feet,” Drey cautioned. “It has been a while since Prince Oberyn milked the local vipers. I was weaned on venom, Dalt. Any viper takes a bite of me will rue it.” Ser Gerold vanished through a broken arch.”

In context it looks to me like Gerold is just having his brand of fun with a child. He’s saying it before he goes and takes a piss, a traditional and time-honored time of male ribbing. Translated it just means I don’t worry about shit, shit worries about me. It’s not like he is goodkinding it here, Zack Morris-froze the world, stepped up on a nonexistent podium and made some official speech out of it as the rest of the book and world waited. Guy just said snakes don’t fuck with him and then took a piss (if he had his junk out at the time, it even could have been a Dornish dick joke). Considering what I’ve heard about A Dance with Dragons, I find this very statement to be particularly interesting since Obara seems headed his way in The Winds of Winter. It would be epic if he relieved himself on a Sand Snake, completing the circle and making Martin a literary genius (again).

In a series full of and obsessed with physical characteristics to a degree I’ve never seen before (LOVE that!), I’m not sure one streak of hair color has ever been more scrutinized. So much so we kind of forget what’s actually being said. For many, and admittedly many times it’s in good fun/ jest, it feels like we now perceive Gerold as some misfit loser.

“He is highborn enough to make a worthy consort, she thought. Father would question my good sense, but our children would be as beautiful as dragonlords. If there was a handsomer man in Dorne, she did not know him. Ser Gerold Dayne had an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, a strong jaw. He kept his face clean-shaven, but his thick hair fell to his collar like a silver glacier, divided by a streak of midnight black. He has a cruel mouth, though, and a crueler tongue. His eyes seemed black as he sat outlined against the dying sun, sharpening his steel, but she had looked at them from a closer vantage and she knew that they were purple. Dark purple. Dark and angry.”

Translation?

To Arianne, herself a dime-piece Princess of Dorne, Gerold Dayne is a hot piece of ass on at least a regional level. Have you ever been the best looking guy in a room? Feels nice right? This guy can’t walk far enough in any direction for a few days and not be confident in knocking Vince Chase-standard boots. Guy is or could be a straight up pimp in a part of the world where the pickins’ seems prime and welcoming. Sure, he’s the part of a minor branch of the family but he has his own castle (a big deal in those times) and he’s the lord of it. If your house has a name and you don’t pay rent you’re doing okay.

Damn, but he’s just an upper-middle class emo-esque pussy though…

No, Sorry, but Ser Gerold is probably a BADASS…

The one piece of physical evidence that everyone points to is that he attempted to and failed to kill Myrcella, a helpless child… a girl. Let’s for the moment assume that Gerold was trying to kill her and that Doran’s account is actually true (wait a minute, there were eyewitnesses — STOP — all of whom who were shipped off while Arianne sat in a room). Arianne saw NOTHING. We don’t really know if Gerold swung the blade and even if he did, if his attempt was to kill… let’s assume that he in fact did try to kill her and he in fact missed. Here is Doran’s account:

“All eyes were on your white knight so no one seems quite certain just what happened, but it would appear that her horse shied away from his at the last instant, else he would have taken off the top of the girl’s skull. As it is, the slash opened her cheek down to the bone and sliced off her right ear. Maester Caleotte was able to save her life, but no poultice nor potion will ever restore her face.”

Of course, everyone who has ever swung a blade at a target on a moving and living animal actually hits their target every single time they have tried, even when under the duress of an ambush sprung on you by superior forces sent by the cat who runs the kingdom you LIVE in. Note that Doran says the maester was able to save her life, meaning that it wasn’t a given. Sometimes you just miss. A horse, a beast of probably quality stock, did what you’d think it would do and the guy failed to land a killing blow in a heated situation. Oh, and by the way he also found the time to GET AWAY. That’s what we the reader can see above, though the truth is we see NOTHING. They are words told to Arianne by Doran, we do not know if he has reason to be truthful or not. Frankly, I think he probably accomplished what he set out to do.

What other thoughts do we get of Gerold in the two chapters he’s in?

“If he gives me such a look when Arys is here, we will have blood on the sand. Whose, she could not say. By tradition the Kingsguard were the finest knights in all the Seven Kingdoms. But Darkstar was Darkstar.”

Arianne is not a veteran of wars, she is not a knight, she is obviously not a tactical genius. She does not train or lead men into battle. That said, those truths mean very little here. Arys could be the worst fighter in Westeros, it doesn’t really matter. She’s weighing it against the idea that the members of Kingsguard should be asskickers. The reader knows the truth that some are better than others, and some are even mediocre but the veracity of Arianne’s thought doesn’t hinge on that truth. She is assuming that Arys might be a badass because he is Kingsguard, but even if he IS that ideal she’s saying “Darkstar is Darkstar.” The only thing she could be describing is her thoughts on his ability to defeat a member of the Kingsguard, representative of the “finest knights”, not just Arys. In her own thoughts, perhaps the most immediate of the Kingsguard are her own countrymen, Lewyn Martell and the Sword of the Morning — two people that I perceive to be able to handle. Does anything in this chapter make you feel like Arianne thought she was scraping the bottom of the barrel in martial skills in getting Gerold?

“We need him,” Arianne reminded them. “It may be that we will need his sword, and we will surely need his castle”.

Even Doran’s own words tell us the that the rest of her band were “foolish children” (we will get back to that), so in comparison Gerold merely being a capable adult would allow for this statement to be true and not mean much more. Still… she said it to placate them with their need of him. Arianne could surely get other random swords, she chose Gerold even when he’s a wildcard by most accounts and obviously not favored by her own inner circle. She sold them on his (known?) competence.

“Last, but first in valor, I give you Ser Gerold Dayne, a knight of Starfall”

This guy is not a coward. Sure, it’s for presentation and show, but at any moment does it seem like flummery, like she’s just talking out of her ass and making shit up? She’s talking to the person she would crown. And MOST important…

“The Yronwoods might declare for Quentyn, but alone they were no threat. If they went over to Tommen and the Lannisters, she would have Darkstar destroy them root and branch.”

Who cares, right?

Maybe the Yronwoods are a bunch of minor upstart lames. Maybe

“The most powerful of the Dornish lords was Anders Yronwood, the Bloodroyal, Lord of Yronwood and Warden of the Stone Way, but Arianne knew better than to look for help from the man who had fostered her brother Quentyn.”

Oh, damn. The Yronwoods are Dorne heavyweights. Well at least we don’t have anyone else’s thoughts on Gerold. Oh…

“Darkstar is the most dangerous man in Dorne. You and he have done us all great harm.” — Doran Martell, the Prince of Goddamn Dorne

This is another of one of most debated sentences. We don’t know in what context Doran is speaking. Is it so likely that Gerold has the 8th best chance to be linked to a dead Targaryen prince and prophecy that Doran just decided to throw that out there in conversation at that moment just to add spice to an otherwise casual pop and daughter chat? Even if for some baffling reason he is, it doesn’t take way from everything else we’ve read, nor are the two mutually exclusive.

The worst case scenario…

Is that this guy is an exotic looking potential Mr. Dorne contestant with available and wealthy members at the highest levels of aristocracy who want to fuck him and daydream about what their kids would look like. Lounging in his own castle, he has the leader of his nation specifying him as the most dangerous dude in the zip code. Damn this guy is lame.

In 2006 some of Martin’s thoughts on Darkstar were reported:

Oh … and George doesn’t seem to have known that Darkstar isn’t very popular. 😉 He thought that a “bad boy” character would go over well, since people seem to love the Hound and even Theon Greyjoy so very much. We will probably have to have a discussion about this at the Brotherhood without Banners ‘BwB party.

While a big fan of ancillary writings on works that merit it — I love the History of Middle Earth volumes and The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and such — I am still of the mind that an author succeeds and fails from what is in-book. As noted above, while I don’t at all agree that Martin presented a character that should be mocked, it doesn’t change that many seem to have perceived him as worthy of such. It represents what seems to at least be a partial and self-admitted authorial failure. The text doesn’t reveal anyone that deserves our japes though it does perhaps present one that is uniquely open to such by reader, which is absolutely a responsibility of the author. Neither Sandor nor Theon seemed forced on us. In fact, it feels likes we intruded upon them, and though I actually think Theon wasn’t so well liked (I liked him) the manner of that distaste was earned and he was able to win and lose us many times over. We decided. Jaime is probably one of the great characters in fantastic fiction in this regard. Darkstar awesomeness just kind of landed on us.

The Misc…

We are expected to examine names in this series. Sometimes a name is just a name but often because of the looming presence of Arthur and Ashara Dayne we focus on Gerold’s last name. I wonder if he was named after Gerold Hightower, the White Bull and Lord Commander of the famed Aerys 7.

Gerold is the Knight and Lord of High Hermitage. Hermitage has a couple of meanings . One, roughly a secluded monastery-like location. Two, it’s a name of an asteroid, which is interesting because Ser Arthur Dayne’s sword was said to be forged from the heart of a falling star.

“Arianne Martell arrived with Drey and Sylva just as the sun was going down, with the west a tapestry of gold and purple and the clouds all glowing crimson. The ruins seemed aglow as well; the fallen columns glimmered pinkly, red shadows crept across the cracked stone floors, and the sands themselves turned from gold to orange to purple as the light faded. Garin had arrived a few hours earlier, and the knight called Darkstar the day before.”

This could just be a geographical circumstance, but it always struck me that he arrived first. I couple this with the fact that he somehow got way from what we think is an extremely capable Areo Hotah, and Doran’s words of “All eyes were on your white knight so no one seems quite certain just what happened” seem odd to me when the presence of the “most dangerous man in Dorne” was there. Hotah, who again, we assume is a capable veteran would KNOW that. I don’t know, this never added up to me and the idea of Doran not having a player like Gerold in his pocket seemed out of character. He has long term plotting issue for sure, but he had ruled Dorne for a long time. SOMEBODY told, and Doran says:

“Aside from Darkstar, your fellow plotters were no more than foolish children.”

It strikes me that the possibility of Gerold causing harm to Mycrella was brought to Arianne AND the reader by Gerold himself. Was he setting her up as a part of a bigger lie? What does Doran gain from a disfigured Lannister, one that he can claim was not his fault? Also, recall the animosity between the Daynes and Oakhearts. Gerold said this to Arys when they were ambushed:

Darkstar’s laughter rang out. “Are you blind or stupid, Oakheart? There are too many. Put up your sword.”

This is the best way to get rid of a witness, without witnesses, and unprovoked by the ambushers. Earlier in the series we are presented with the idea that there is no better way then to goad Robert Baratheon into the melee than to challenge him. From the very beginning Gerold is either a well trained and prepared soldier or was expecting trouble:

“He unsheathed his longsword, sat upon the lip of the dry well, and began to hone the blade with an oilstone.”

The others are really doing not much more than playing a game that is over their heads. Gerold is here for a purpose beyond friendship whose purpose is still something I’m not quite yet decided on. I think even without Martin’s words above we could see that Gerold was supposed to mean something more to us. The name Dayne is such a loaded term for the faithful because of Arthur and Ashara. Martin knows our scrutiny and interest would instantly focus on him in a crowd. Throw in Targaryenish features and that’s stuff long forum threads are made of. When we go to him we were given every reason to believe he could handle, not even mentioning his playgirl status. He then is described as doing something extremely big time when taking a swing at a member of the royal family (his country’s ward) in an extremely revelatory chapter.

I’m thinking being Darkstar is not such a bad thing.