Game Of Thrones' new season to showcase femme fatales

Among other reasons, the action-fantasy series Game Of Thrones enjoys huge popularity for its array of strong female characters, including lone-wolf warriors such as Arya and Brienne, the sorceress Melisandre and the strong-willed rulers Daenerys and Cersei.

In the upcoming Season 5, three of Oberyn's eight daughters enter the fray: Nymeria (Jessica Henwick), Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), all of whom belong to the House Martell.

"We haven't seen women like this on Game Of Thrones before," says Castle-Hughes, the New Zealand actress who rose to international prominence courtesy of the 2002 film Whale Rider.

"We are women who are strong and who collaborate. We're three girls who are violent, manipulative and thirsty for Lannister blood."

Fans will remember the girls' father, Oberyn of Dorne from Season 4, the dashing, philandering and ultimately ill-fated warrior-prince who met his match at the hands of the Mountain.

The House of Lannister is now in control of the Iron Throne of Westeros and has a long-running blood feud with the House Martell.

Prince Oberyn (played by Pedro Pascal) fought to right that wrong in the last season, though he is now dead and his daughters are out to make their mark.

"We kill lots of people," says the half-Singaporean, half-English Henwick with a beam when Life! catches up with the actresses in London.

"The House Martell motto is 'Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken' and I think that they really take that into their fighting. If you fail, you are a disgrace. The fight ends when one of you dies."

Her character, Nymeria, as well as Obara and Tyene are known as the Sand Snakes.

Each is an expert at a weapon. Obara, the oldest, uses a spear; Nymeria, a whip; and Tyene, the youngest, knives.

Henwick, 22, who starred in the 2009 TV series Spirit Warriors, says of her character's weapon: "It's a an eight-foot-long (2.4m) kangaroo-skin bullwhip, which is very difficult to use. It is a dangerous weapon, but I really like it. It is very representative of Nymeria and her style and personality."

The Italian-American Sellers, 18, says her character Tyene also uses poison and seduction, "though her sisters don't really approve of that".

Henwick agrees, saying: "Nymeria and Obara don't really respect the poison or seduction aspects. We are very much straight fighters."

All three actresses had to undertake intensive training sessions with their weapons, not least Henwick with her unwieldy whip.

"I had months of training. I took the whip home and was practising on my own every day, but every couple of days, I would fly into Belfast to work with the stunt team," she explains. The new season was partly shot in Northern Ireland.

Not surprisingly, accidents with the whip occurred.

"It was hard to learn," the actress says. "The bullwhip is not about brute force. It is very much about balance and timing. You have to know exactly when to move your wrist. Otherwise, you will hit yourself in the face, which happened many times.

"But by the end of my training, my trainer was getting toilet rolls and throwing them up and I could hit them out of the air.

"I also got proficient at hitting spears and learning how to wrap a whip around something and pulling it so it ties and locks in place. I needed that in the fight scenes."

Henwick, Castle-Hughes and Sellers hope their fight-hungry characters will be well received. "The fan reaction was so strong last season for Oberyn," notes Henwick, "so hopefully, some of that goodwill carries over to us."

Fans of the show will undoubtedly enjoy the new locations on screen in Season 5 as Dorne, which is situated on a peninsula in the far south of Westeros, is revealed for the first time.

It is an exotic realm that stands in stark contrast to the grey-skied and often forbidding lands that make up the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.

"In the rest of Westeros, everything is all buttoned up and very uptight," Henwick says. "That is very reflective of all the characters and their personalities and the construction of their society.

"In Dorne, it is all silk, baggy and chiffon with lots of bright colours, yellows and burnt orange, and you can move freely. Also, it is a very sexual place."

Indeed, fans will remember the free-and- easy attitude to sensual matters displayed by Oberyn and his wife, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), in Season 4.

"Dorne is much freer, sexually, and the lines aren't so locked in place," continues Henwick.

Sellers concurs. "In Dorne, there is much more openness in general," she says. "It's not a patriarchal society. Women can inherit the throne."

The crew shot the Dorne scenes in Spain. The beautiful Moorish Alcazar Palace in Seville, with its Arabic architecture, stands in for the Dornish capital, Sunspear.

The Dornish cast and crew also worked in Croatia and in Portstewart in Northern Ireland.

In the war-like realm of Dorne, Oberyn's widow believes his brother Doran (Alexander Siddig) - the physically impaired ruler of Dorne - will show himself as less than a man if he fails to exact revenge on the Lannisters, whose champion, the Mountain, took Oberyn's life (as well as losing his own) in one of the series' most shocking moments.

Siddig, 49, says: "She is desperate to avenge her husband's death and has managed to breed three dreadfully unpleasant children, all with different lethal abilities, and that's where we start off.

"Ellaria is as impetuous and blood-thirsty as her husband. There's massive jeopardy throughout the season and another major problem starts to evolve on the borders of the realm."

Unlike his headstrong brother and sister-in-law, Doran is a much more conservative character who likes to play a longer game.

In the series of novels by George R.R. Martin, upon which the TV show is based, Doran has more subtle plans to execute his blood feud with the Lannisters.

Indeed, in Martin's book, A Feast For Crows, Doran imprisons the Sand Snakes in a bid to keep the peace with the Lannisters while he figures out his own course of action.

Whether that is the case in Season 5 remains to be seen - showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss occasionally change the narratives. But certainly, Doran is keen to bide his time to make the right choices.

Referring to Doran's mighty bodyguard Areo Hotah (Deobia Oparei), Siddig says: "Deobia's character has to make sure that while that happens, I am not slaughtered in my bed."

As Oparei, 35, puts it: "It is revenge city. Everybody is after Doran's head and wants him to go straight to war to avenge Oberyn. So my character is there to wield the prince's physical muscle and also his intellectual muscle. There is a politicised component to my character. He is not just brawn."

Indeed, with Doran often incapacitated by crippling gout, he needs a powerful presence to impress his authority upon his war-like people. "It is very important that Doran has somebody as a symbol of power so he has this huge hulking man," says Oparei.

Like the Sand Snakes, Areo is a weapons expert and wields a 1.8m-long battle-axe. "The books say his long axe is his wife," Oparei notes. "He is married to it. It is difficult to use. I am six feet and six inches (1.98m) and the axe must be about seven feet (2.13m). There were a couple of fight scenes where we had to be really careful because when I swing it with my great arm span, it's a wide arc. I hope the fans will be impressed."

stlife@sph.com.sg

Game Of Thrones 5 premieres in Singapore on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601) on April 13 at 9am, the same time as the United States, with a same-day encore at 9pm.