Yeah! When you look up bad-ass in the dictionary there is Oberyn Martel, the Red Viper of Dorne starring back at you, and kicking your ass from the page at the same time. Prince Oberyn is just that hardcore. If he met up with Chuck Norris... I'm not so sure Chuck would win.
The mercenary, screw everything that walks, kill it all, balls to the wall Red Viper stands head and shoulders above almost everyone else in the books and rightly takes his place as #2 of the Greatest Warriors of the Westeros.
#2- Oberyn Martel, the Red Viper of Dorne
Right before he dies (in perhaps the ultimate combat of the books) who does the Red Viper slay? None other then the Mountain that Rides, that's who. That's right the largest warrior to walk the Seven Kingdoms falls to the Red Viper's spear.
While a Prince (its assumed that he is a knight) he eschews the traditional weaponry of knights: the sword and prefers to fight with a spear. While his climatic opponent uses massive plate armor, he is armored lighty, dancing around the Mountain taunting him, One get the sense that The Red Viper can kill him at any time, but wants to draw it out after the murder of his sister Elia of Drone after the Sack of King's Landing during the culmination of Robert's Rebellion. The epic duel of Oberyn and Gregor is one of the, if not the best duels in the entire series thus far. I'll get to that epic duel later but first...
Before he fought The Mountain that Rides, he was in a duel when he was just 16. Apparently he was found bedding the paramour of Lord Yronwood. Due to his age, a duel to first blood was arranged. Well Oberyn won said duel drawing first blood as proscribed by the rules. Problem was that Lord Yronwood's wound festered and he died from but a scratch. It was rumored that Oberyn poisoned his spear and thus the legend of the Red Viper was borne.
Oberyn Martell's actions also are responsible for the enmity between House Martell and House Tyrell. At a joust Willas Tyrell had his leg managed in a freak accident. Oberyn was blamed. Interestingly enough there is no bad blood between Oberyn and Willas over this incident. Oberyn even sent his maester to tend to Willas.
Adding to his fame is the fact that he served as a mercenary leader, studied at the Citadel and even forged six links to his chain before becoming bored as well as serving in the Free Cities. And it was not "just" in the Free Cities, but the Disputed Lands where warfare is a constant serving with the Second Sons. So he scores extra points in this countdown for being leader of men.
For even more badass: the fact that he has 8 bastard daughters known as the Sand Snakes. Lord Walder Frey might be able to fill an army with his fruits of his loins, but I'd take the Red Viper's progeny any day of the week, twice on Sundays.
Joffrey finally bites the dust in A Storm of Swords everyone except Cersei is rejoicing. I mean really, is there anyone who actually liked the annoying, mini-male version of Cersei? However the King being killed is naturally going to cause some accusations to fly and it's Tyrion who gets blamed. When it becomes apparent that he will not get justice he demands trial by combat and to which Cersei gleefully calls for Ser Gregor Clegane to be her champion. Everyone figures that Tyrion is now dead as who is going to fight the Mountain that Rides, let alone for the Imp? Calmly and cooly Oberyn Martell tells the court that he will stand for Tyrion, not for Tyrion's sake mind you, but for his thirst for revenge on Gregor for what he did to his sister Elia of Dorne. Tyrion's defense merely provides the excuse.
It's readily apparent that like Bronn vs. Ser Vardis in the Vale that Oberyn has sized up his opponent quite well. He knows how to kill him. Also on his side is the fact that unlike everyone else he is not frightened by Ser Gregor's size. Elaria Sand his paramour remarks "You're going to fight that?" to which The Red Viper dryly replies "No, I'm going to kill that." How about that for hardcore? Most knights would be turning in their Ser's or pissing in their armor and The Red Viper is ready to kill the most massive warrior in the Seven Kingdoms and is looking forward to it.
Right off the bat it's apparent what the Red Viper's strategy is: wear down the massive Gregor and taunt him. In this Bronn approves as it's the same basic strategy he used in the Vale. Oberyn jabs and thrusts and most importantly stays out of Ser Gregor's massive reach. Simultaneously he taunts the massive Gregor knowing this will add to his frustration and open him up to a well places strike. Ser Gregor who is not the most patient under the best of circumstances falls for this shouting for him to shut up.
The strategy works as Oberyn continues to strike, eventually wounding Ser Gregor. All the while the taunting continues: "You raped her. You murdered her. You killed her children!" Over and over The Red Viper speaks this (something akin to Inigo Montoya, but I digress) to wring as much vengeance from the fight as possible. You can feel this scene ooze with tension as well as a deep connection to the back story of the Seven kingdoms.
Finally the Red Viper moves in and after a running vault pins the Mountain to the ground with his poisoned spear rammed through the Mountain's gut. And with that the Mountain is defeated as Oberyn reaches for the Mountain's sword to finish him off he continues to taunt him and drops his guard. In coming too close to the dying giant (something he avoided doing all fight) the Mountain is able to grab ahold of him and thrust his hands into Oberyn's eyes and bash his skull with his massive fists shouting "You mean like this and this?!" in reply to the Red Viper's taunting. At such close range the Prince is slain, but the Mountain is now succumbing to the poisons effect; not even a man as massive as Ser Gregor can shake it off.
So while he is slain because of his own zeal and thirst for revenge, ultimately it's Prince Oberyn that triumphs as the poison used causes the Mountain to die a slow, agonizing death in incredible pain. His sister is avenged and his place in the halls of badassery is assured.
Say what you want, but to me the Red Viper of Dorne is as bad ass as they come and one the best characters in the books hands down. It's unfortunate that he only appears in A Storm of Swords and is gone within a few chapters. But, as far as hardcore, kick-ass, warriors go: there is only one ahead of him in the Song of Ice and Fire. Stay tuned.
Also I'd like to point out the excellent work at The Wiki of Ice and Fire, Westeros.org as well as the Tower of the Hand keep up the great work guys!