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[Book Spoilers] An Analysis of Why the Sand Snakes' Introduction Fell Short


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I've read a lot about the Sand Snakes in the preliminary reviews for the past few weeks, and it's nice to get to see what the hubbub has been all about. They were amply hyped before the season by the production and they've been characterized with the now infamous term, "B-Movie Bad Girls." While I think that it is definitely still too early to totally judge the Sand Snakes, we have had their introduction, and I'd like to compare how their introduction holds up to others.

Now, the Sand Snakes really aren't that special in the books, so is it fair to compare them to some of the great characters in this story? Noooope. But the show has previously used a distinct formula for introducing new characters, and it could still have applied to these characters regardless of how interesting they really are. Let's take a look.

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Other Introductions
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Tywin Lannister

First Lines: "Attacking [Ned Stark] was stupid. Lannisters don't act like fools."
Action: Butchering a stag with his back turned to Jaime.
Setting: Command tent on a battlefield.

In the first few seconds of meeting Tywin, we learn everything we need to about him.

1. He's highly critical.
2. He's also... right.
3. He's unconcerned with criticizing Jaime. He has his back turned to him and is going about his business.
4. He's not afraid of getting his own hands dirty.
5. He is enamored with his family name.
6. He commands from a seat of power.

So much is said in so little time. The rest of this scene further refines Tywin's character and adds a few more points while moving the plot. It's practically a perfect introduction.

Walder Frey

First Lines: "Whadaya want? ... Oh spare me. Your boy's too proud to come before me himself. What am I supposed to do with you?"
Action: Sitting in a chair, groping a disinterested teenage girl.
Setting: Seat of the Twins, a fortress Robb needs. Walder is also surrounded by his errmmm family.

1. He doesn't care for visitors.
2. He thinks other people look down on him.
3. He looks down on other people.
4. Not only that, but he insults the Lady of the North immediately, and the daughter of his liege Lord. He also calls Robb a boy.
5. He is seriously creepy with much younger women.
6. He has a very raggedy, dirty look about him.

Melisandre

First Lines: "Lord of Light, come to us in our darkness. We offer you these false gods, take them and cast your light upon us. For the night is dark and full of terrors."
Action: Presiding over a religious ceremony burning statues of the Seven.
Setting: A beach at night, fires burning all around her.

1. She's some kind of religious zealot.
2. Believes they live in some kind of terrible darkness.
3. Believes in sacrificing things with fire.
4. Has a cult like following of people, including a king, Stannis, making her a fairly powerful figure.

Stannis Baratheon

Note: Stannis was introduced in the aforementioned scene, but he only repeats Mel's "For the night is dark and full of terror" line. His real introduction comes shortly afterward at the painted table. This scene was originally supposed to be the cold open, but it was switched to later. While it was switched mainly because introducing new characters in the first scene of the second season was seen as undesirable, it has the byproduct effect of getting us right to Stannis without much of a break.

First Lines: "He wasn't my beloved brother. I didn't love him. ... -a lie. Take it out. ... Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, call him what he is. ... Make it Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer. Whatever else the man is he's still a knight."
Action: Proofing a letter to send to the Seven Kingdoms declaring him the rightful king.
Setting: A dreary castle at the head of a long table surrounded by noblemen and advisers.

1. He's harsh
2. But he has a thing for the truth.
3. He's not afraid to call someone out, or people from a powerful family.
4. But he also respects their standing.
5. He commands a seat of power with followers.

Samwell Tarly

First Lines: "Samwell Tarly, of Horn Hill, I mean... I was of Horn Hill, but, I've come to take the black. ... Ahhh ahhh, I yield, please... no more. ... Oww oww ahh (x12) ... Were you hurt? You can call me Sam, my mother calls me Sam."
Action: Getting his ass kicked at swordfighting.
Setting: Castle Black courtyard, people training everywhere.

1. He's seriously cowardly.
2. He's terrible at fighting.
3. He's a kind person.
4. Interested in making friends.
5. Was probably a momma's boy.
6. Is not really fit for harsh environment of The Wall.

Oberyn

Oberyn's introduction is more drawn out, and we can see the formula start to diverge. He's originally picking girls with his lady, then goes off to pick a fight with some Lannisters, and then has a long introductory scene with Tyrion. We learn exactly why he's there though - he wants revenge for his sister, and he's not afraid to get rough to make it happen.

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Anatomy of a Scene
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So how are the Sand Snakes introduced?

Setting: A tent on a beach, with a guy buried up to his neck in the sand.

Obara Sand

First Lines: "Will it be war? Without Doran we have no army to march against the Lannisters. ... -a ship's captain came to me in Plankytown claiming he had information to sell. He told me he smuggled Jaime Lannister into Dorne. ... When I was a child, Oberyn came to take me to court.
I'd never seen this man, and yet he called himself my father. My mother wept, said I was too young, and a girl. Oberyn tossed his spear at my feet and said "Girl or boy, we fight our battles. 'But the Gods let us choose our weapons.' My father pointed to the spear, and then to my mother's tears. I made my choice long ago."
Action: Spearing a prisoner in the face.

1. I understand she had a choice between tears and spears, but I don't know why she made that choice. Did she choose that because she had a bad relationship with her mom? Was Oberyn simply inspiring? Did she want more out of life? Did she just make a random choice? Was she some kind crazy? I don't know what drove her, although I take it that she is "about fighting." I realize this portion is lifted from the books, but it could use a lot more refinement for the show just in the dialogue department since the rest of the surrounding dialogue is lost.
2. She appears to be a capable warrior, and is dressed in armor unlike the others.
3. Since she met with the captain, I guess she's the one who went about the torture.
4. She is harsh with her punishments.
5. Oberyn was a formative figure in her life.

Tyene Sand

First Lines: "Mama! ... I'm with you, always."
Action: She greets Mother and stands close to her.

1. She loves her momma.

Nym Sand

First Lines: "You may have a problem."
Action: She whips a bucket off a buried dude's head.

1. She is proficient with a whip.

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Breaking it Down Further
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So in this scene, really only one character was introduced, Obara, and there aren't any follow-up scenes in the episode to flesh out the others. We also don't learn anything new about Ellaria, yet she has a heavy amount of dialogue in this scene. So what's going on here, and why is the Sand Snakes introduction not that great?

Ellaria's Rework

Part of this problem stems from Ellaria's rework, which I'll probably look at more in depth after the season, but since she is almost exactly like the other three characters, there really isn't any grit to having her meet with all the Sand Snakes and introduce them one at a time. There is no tension, no meat, no excitement. It would be interesting to have introductions with each of these characters, but it's hard to justify doing the same thing over and over in three different fashions without there being some dramatic tension between the characters. "Sand, Party of Four" is difficult to justify spending much time on in a story with so many great interactions available. We still haven't even had a Sam/Davos scene.

The Hype

It's not so much a bad introduction if you conclude, hey, the Sand Snakes are mostly going to be background characters who only have a few lines. One issue is the production has hyped them up so much. Even GRRM kind of touted them as the foremost new characters this season. I don't mind if the Sand Snakes are just background characters and glorified (or gorified) extras, but the promotion should match who they are. Take Aeron Greyjoy's much-slashed role in Season 2 for example. Ain't no one at HBO coming out with videos drumming up the excitement of this character and the intricate craftsmanship behind his water-pouch.

The Set

This set is so bland that it is like it doesn't even come from Game of Thrones. It's not even very thematic to Dorne. It's a small tent on poles, with a couple of horses tied to a post. Anyone could recreate that set with an afternoon, $50, and a trip to Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

The Directing/Blocking

I like how Keisha opens her palms up as she walks away and folds her hands shortly after, and the spin of Ellaria's horse as it arrives, but any amount of well-blocked acting ends there. Ellaria arrives on her horse, Tyene greets her, Ellaria gets a drink of water, Nymeria whips off the captain's bucket, and everyone kind of stands around underneath or beside a tent. There's nothing interesting about what they're doing. It is capped off with Obara walking away and having a speech directed towards... the audience, really.

The Writing, Editing, and Original Intentions

This scene isn't totally bad, Obara has a bit of an introduction, even though she comes off as somewhat of a psychopath. Tyene and Nym simply don't have enough to talk about, so it's not like they said anything profoundly stupid. There was also more to this scene before, but it was cut for some reason. There is this production still of Obara sitting down, and meditating like a warrior-monk. Nym and Tyene are facing off, and Obara has a line that was cut from the show. We know this from the early audition tapes:

OBARA: Admit defeat Tyene. Nym’s mother taught her the whip before the knife and fork.

So there was originally more here, and sometimes a little goes a long way. Had this been included, we would know a little bit more about Nym. She was taught by her mother, not Oberyn, which opens up a little bit of mystery of how much she knew him. She is also a capable fighter. We'd also learn Tyene is not up to the par of her other sisters. What would have made this line even better would be giving it to Nym and having her console her half-sister. It would show she cares about her, possibly more so than Obara. If they didn't want to show the Sand Snakes fighting yet, they could have had Tyene appear a little sweaty, like she had been trying really hard to beat Nym, yet Nym shows no fatigue at all. It would make us kind of root for Tyene a little bit in the future, as it would show she was the underdog.

Having Obara also sit, meditating, and showing little concern for Ellaria and her arrival would have been better than any of the other blocking in the scene. It would show she was different, and would do a lot more with her interaction with Ellaria. When Ellaria asks her where she stands, it really isn't that much of a question because Ellaria is almost solely conversing with Obara about the upcoming plans. Had Obara been sitting, mostly quiet, meditating, and not speaking to Ellaria, it would have made her speech better. We would be wondering throughout the scene which side of the line Obara would take until she revealed her past.

Ultimately though, the premise of this scene doesn't work. One thing GRRM says is the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. No one here is conflicted. Ellaria is headstrong for revenge, and everyone else just kind of jumps on the bandwagon. It would have made for a better scene if there was some kind of disagreement over harming Myrcella and what would have been Oberyn's wishes.

The Editing and VFX: Part I - The Special Effects

The spear piecing the head of the ship's captain looked more like late 90's VFX work than Game of Thrones. There was also this weird layer of rotoscoping on Obara's armor, where a burn/darken filter was added to her leather to try and mitigate the "nipples-on-a-breastplate" look. It just looked strange to me, although I imagine the alternative might have been worse.

The Editing and VFX: Part II - The Editing Oddity

One of the strangest thing to me about this scene was the odd noises that appear when the music starts and Obara has her speech. It sounded like some kind of porno was left on in the background of the mixing track and was accidentally added to the scene. Listen here to GoT's own youtube channel upload of this scene. Turn the volume up a bit, and listen to the noises at 1:32, 1:38, and 1:39. What is that sound? Are those the horses? ... having sex? Someone in production should have noticed this and cleared the audio up.

The Editing and VFX: Part III - The Darkness of Dorne

But the most baffling thing to me about all of these Dorne scenes is why is it so dark? Why does it look like it's going to rain? It's Dorne for crying out loud. I understand these scenes were filmed in Northern Ireland and the weather wasn't great, but why must it be edited so dark? A simple sun filter and color temperature adjustment in editing would help alleviate this problem. The promotional videos look brighter and more elaborate. And it's not just this episode or exclusive to the Sand Snake scene. If we go back to 5.02, even the Alcazar Water Gardens, shot in Spain, suffers from this problem. Dorne should not look and feel like the North. There isn't a point to filming in the Alcazar if you're going to remove half of its beauty with a dreary color palette. If they didn't want to do the Iron Islands, then why does Dorne feel like Pyke-with-Mosaics? Even Ellaria and Oberyn looked sunnier in King's Landing. They used an orange color palette for Joffrey's name day tournament in 2.01. Jaime and Bronn in Dorne looks like they're beside Lake Michigan in Late November at Nightfall. I'm kind of glad Dorne is not labeled "Sunspear" in the title screen because if this is how Dorne is going to look, there is nothing sunny about it. Heck, it shouldn't even be labeled "Dorne." It should be labeled "Detroit."

The Future

To be fair though, this scene kind of feels like the Yara/Dreadfort scene of the season, and that they just ran out of time and budget or interest. I think there is still time to flesh the Sand Snakes out further with Bronn, Jaime, Trystane, Areo, Doran, and... even Myrcella (provided they don't murder her), but the proverbial ball was dropped on their introduction.

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Nice post. Great way to say why you didn't like as opposed to just I didn't like.

Can't say I saw the breastplate nipples though. To me just looked like the leather armor folded in that spot to make the curve around her breasts. I have Schumacher Batman in mind when I think armor nipples. Obara's armor seemed far from that.

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Excellent analysis. I think the main problem is Ellaria, she should not be the main Dornish character, especially since she was rewritten as Darkstar. In the books its clearly Arianne and Doran. Because of that she was one who confronted Doran instead of Sand Snakes and all Dornish characters including Doran and Ellaria suffered. Sand Snakes were robbed of their introduction scene, Ellaria character was changed 180 degrees and Doran got only short scene instead of very touching intro where he is mourning his brother´s death and have to suffer endless stream of insults from his upset nieces.



So they had to create new scene for SS introduction and it was done very badly. The concept of it was all wrong with Ellaria asking a pointless question, the answer was obvious and she already told Doran that SS are with her. Obara´s monoloque was from the books, but completely missplaced. Cut from the original audition scene created a situation that Tyene was not even named and Nym was just named, but got even less characterization then Tyene. Any relationship between sisters was completely missing.



Director also is to blame. If something from the script did not worked, he should contact D+D and adjust scene accordingly instead of cutting big part of the introduction scene. For example in Blackwater when Sansa singing to Hound did not worked, Neil Marshall did not cut whole scene in half, he changed it so it could work without Sansa singing and it worked just fine.


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I haven't analyzed it, I just think the whole "choose war" part was unnecessary since she had already told Doran that the Sandsnakes were behind her. I think it would have worked better with them just focussing on the fact that Jaime was in Dorne.

But it's not a deal breaker for me. I didn't particularly like the Sandsnakes in the books, either.

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The Editing and VFX: Part II - The Editing Oddity

One of the strangest thing to me about this scene was the odd noises that appear when the music starts and Obara has her speech. It sounded like some kind of porno was left on in the background of the mixing track and was accidentally added to the scene. Listen here to GoT's own youtube channel upload of this scene. Turn the volume up a bit, and listen to the noises at 1:32, 1:38, and 1:39. What is that sound? Are those the horses? ... having sex? Someone in production should have noticed this and cleared the audio up.

That is weird. I wonder if this scene was suppose to transition into a sex scene between some people or something.

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Nice breakdown. I never thought I'd say this, but their lousy introduction in the show makes their lousy introduction in the books look downright masterful in comparison.

But that leads me to what I think is the main problem of the Sand Snakes, in both mediums: they're too many. So instead of getting, say, one developed, interesting Sand Snake, we get three half-baked characters.

Had I been in D&D's place, I would've taken all three Sand Snakes and I would've blended them together into a single character, a FrankenSnake™, if you will, with:

- Tyene's looks, personality, and poison knowledge (and not double daggers, for fuck's sake)

- Part of Obara's backstory: Her mother was a pious whore who would read to her from the Seven-Pointed Star. When Oberyn told her to choose, he pointed at her mother's tears and to himself, no spear.

- And Nym's...nothing.

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It seems as if there was some footage cut from the scene, and so one has to come to the conclusion that what was left was actually the best footage they had. Which is scary. Because they probably have more scenes going forward.



GoT has its share of fairly quick montages, especially in this episode, why not have Ellaria rounding the three of them up in whatever their own individual environments could tell us about them?


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Great post ! Loved reading it and it made me go back rewatch some of the best introductory scenes the show made so far.



Btw, since it's got lost in the pages in the other thread, I'm picking this up here about my speculation that the Sand Snakes will end up in KL :



- We know Nym and Obara are supposed to go in KL in Winds, and I have an immense feeling that the Sand Snakes and not Arianne were introduced because they are going to become relevant to the chaos in King's Landing that is one of the show's central point since day one (opposite to whatever Arianne and Aegon end doing).



- SPOILERS From set photos, they do not appear to be present when Jaime has his talk with Doran, and this seems to happen in 9. So what happens in between ? My best guess is that Doran will bring the Sand Snakes before him and dispatch them to various tasks (I'd give Jaime's left hand that at least one of them - Nym - will go to King's Landing if that's Doran's plan) so they're not around to wreck chaos when the Kingslayer is brought to him.



I dont think we'll hang around very much in Dorne in the end. I think by season 6, the Sand Snakes will pop up in other storylines (which ones exactly is anyone's guess), but the best hints we have so far is Nymeria supposed to join the Small Council. Why not have her there by episode 10 if she's sent by episode 7 or 8 to the capital ?



Wow, I went quite out of hand and of topic, but all in all, food for the thought ! ^^



And kuddos again for the post !



EDIT : on rethink, although, to be fair, I'm comfortable with a not so bright palet of colours in Dorne. It's supposed to be Autumn in Dorne as well. Even Seville during autumn is not completely sunny, so I think the colours in the end are not a problem.


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- We know Nym and Obara are supposed to go in KL in Winds,and I have an immense feeling that the Sand Snakes and not Arianne were introduced because they are going to become relevant to the chaos in King's Landing that is one of the show's central point since day one (opposite to whatever Arianne and Aegon end doing).

Tyene and Nymeria are suppose to be sent to KL, Tyene to infiltrate the Faith Militant. But her Septa background has definitely been excized altogether. And I have a hard time seeing the aged down Nymeria on the small council instead of Ellaria.

EDIT : on rethink, although, to be fair, I'm comfortable with a not so bright palet of colours in Dorne. It's supposed to be Autumn in Dorne as well. Even Seville during autumn is not completely sunny, so I think the colours in the end are not a problem.

It's still great weather in fairly northward Braavos. Cause that's shot Croatie. Why shot ANY scenes for Dorne in Northern Ireland?

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yeah, this scene was the only one I didn't like this week.


Obara's exposition monologue was overly long and clunky.



I think Bronn's role in this season is to die at the hands of the Sand Snakes and thus prove they are worthy warriors killing the mighty Bronn.


I hope this isn't true and Bronn survives but I doubt it.


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Tyene and Nymeria are suppose to be sent to KL, Tyene to infiltrate the Faith Militant. But her Septa background has definitely been excized altogether. And I have a hard time seeing the aged down Nymeria on the small council instead of Ellaria.

Then why bother casting them if they do not become somehow relevant ?

The Small Council wouldnt necessarly accept Ellaria, a bastard, but even if their name is Sand, the SS remain the daughters of a Prince, so they'd be more easily accepted.

And with the changes in Ellaria, I'm sure Doran will rather have a cold head to represent him in the Council, and so far, the coldest head around in his family (apart from Trystane but he must have other plans for him) seems to be Nymeria, whose more sophisticated and, according to miss Henwyck in interviews, the shrewdest political knife in the lot. So it would make sense to keep her part in the books if she truly ends up in the Small Council.

I could see a Doran / Nymeria only scene by episode 7 that will serve to develop her more and where he'd confesses some of his plans to (and for) her to appease her lust for blood and make her see things differently after the likely bloody events of episode 6. These comments about being the savvyest one of her sisters gotta pay off at some point.

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- SPOILERS From set photos, they do not appear to be present when Jaime has his talk with Doran, and this seems to happen in 9. So what happens in between ? My best guess is that Doran will bring the Sand Snakes before him and dispatch them to various tasks (I'd give Jaime's left hand that at least one of them - Nym - will go to King's Landing if that's Doran's plan) so they're not around to wreck chaos when the Kingslayer is brought to him.

I don't think so. We won't see Doran's true plans revealed until he has seemingly amicably resolved things with Jaime.

If the Sand Snakes aren't in that scene, it's because they aren't the prime movers in the story, and thus aren't needed.

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Awesome breakdown.



Look, I think it's certainly a poorly executed and poorly acted scene, but it's also important to remember these are TERRIBLE characters even in the books. They are cartoony "B Movie Bad Girls" in the books too, and their characterization doesn't go on much beyond what was revealed in the show's opening scene with them (i.e. one is more boyish and warlike and likes using a spear, the other one is more innocent looking, one is innocent looking and likes using poisons, and the other is very pretty but likes using daggers)...that's pretty much it in the books.



I wonder if the bigger issue is two-fold:


1) Oberyn was such a breakout character that it necessitated the showrunners really giving Dorne more of a spotlight post-death of Oberyn, even though out of Dorne/Iron Isles I'd argue Euron/Victarion/Aeron would be easier to adapt to television (c'mon now, handsome wizard pirate king would be sweet).


2) This show wants more badass awesome snarky women on it, and the Sandsnakes fit that bill at least in theory.

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I am deeply disappointed with the TV sand snakes, in the novel, each of the sand snake has her own personality, you would not mistake one for another, can not say the same for the TV sand snakes, especailly for TV Tyene Sand is a completely let down comparing to the novel Tyene Sand. So far, I love the first 3 episodes of the 5th season of the game of thrones, can not say the same to the 4th episode


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I good analysis. I think general opinion has turned against the introduction simply because with its "we're all badasses" tone it's approaching a rehash of the infamous scene in S4 where Ser Gregor re-enters the story. It's hard to describe how dumb it is for the writers to think that Gregor needs to be set up as a badass by killing people when they cast Hafthor Bjornsson in the role. The guy is literally in the running for world's strongest man and looks like he could wrestle the Hulk - we don't need to see him kill people to understand that he is a threat. Similarly, in the books the Sand snakes do not kill anyone on page, but that doesn't mean the reader isn't fully apraised of how dangerous they are.



It's with this lack of faith in the intellect of its audience that Game of thrones can fall down. It's responsible for many of the needless sexposition scenes and it's responsible for the ludicrous "babies in jars" scene with stannis and selyse. It's when subtlety is replaced by shock. It's basically when Game of Thrones looks like Starz's Spartacus when the pedigree of the show should be higher than that considering it's source text.


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I am deeply disappointed with the TV sand snakes, in the novel, each of the sand snake has her own personality, you would not mistake one for another, can not say the same for the TV sand snakes, especailly for TV Tyene Sand is a completely let down comparing to the novel Tyene Sand. So far, I love the first 3 episodes of the 5th season of the game of thrones, can not say the same to the 4th episode

What's Nym's personality? Two books in, and I still have no idea

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What's Nym's personality? Two books in, and I still have no idea

A beautiful lady who has brains for politics that would land her in the small council, she looks nice in the appearance, but she is as danger as her older sister Obara, you would sense danger when you meet Obara, but you may have your guard down when you meet Nym, no wonder while obara's weapon of choice is spear, Nym's weapon of choice is dagger.

As I said before, comparing to Novel sand snakes, the TV sand snakes are nothing but some inmature teenage wannabe

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