Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first seven episodes of House of the Dragon.
It is said that when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die. Well, the most recent episode of The House of the Dragon has introduced a new option. You fake your own deathletting your family, the kingdom and history believe that you have brutally perished.
As we draw closer and closer to the inevitable civil war in the House of the Dragon, where many corpses will fall, it is important to examine what became of Ser Laenor Velaryon (played by Laenor’s third actor, John Macmillan), husband of convenience to Princess Rhaenyra (now played by Emma D’Arcy). Laenor received a gift here, considering the horrible alternative of secret exile. As he and his mistress (and possible “murderer”) Ser Qarl Correy rowed toward their getaway boat, one can’t help but think that this was the life that Ser Criston Cole wanted with Rhaenyra a decade earlier: one where they could be together freely, away from the Targaryen turmoil.
Laenor is the first character in The House of the Dragon to cheat on her “historical” destiny.
Laenor Velaryon: Surviving Fire and Blood
Unlike Game of Thrones, which was based on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, House of the Dragon comes from Martin’s Fire and Blood, which is an account of Targaryen history. Since these events took place hundreds of years before, there is an unchanging quality to them. Obviously, there is always room for maneuver and room for interpretation (especially since Fire and Blood sometimes offers different stories and perspectives of events), but one thing that is not touched are those who have died.
In fact, when changes are made on television regarding Game of Thrones deaths, the opposite is often the case. Game of Thrones killed a lot of people who are still alive in the books (mostly because the book saga is unfinished, of course). But Ser Laenor, rightly so, according to the story, was “stabbed to death by Ser Qarl Correy while attending a fair in Driftmark.” The two men had “discussed in public before”. Rumors and theories swirled, naturally, but nothing was ever resolved.
In The House of the Dragon, with some tweaks (it was in High Tide, for Laena’s funeral), the “story” was left intact. Nevertheless, Laenor stealthily survived burning the corpse of a guard in a fireplace and passing it off as his own. Since the two had begun to quarrel in front of a witness, Ser Qarl would be the culprit, but in the end it would not matter, since Qarl and Laenor would flee Driftmark together. To be sure, Ser Qarl’s name was now steeped in infamy, but for one planning to reinvent himself and live a new life, that is little shame to bear.
Secondary search: ¿What now happens to the dragon of Laenor, Bruma (the one we saw Laenor ride in the Step War)? Will he be able to bond with a new rider considering Laenor is still alive?
Whose plan was it?
This gets a bit tricky.
We know that Rhaenyra and Daemon openly talked about getting rid of Laenor so they could marry so that Rhaenyra could feel more protected with her own Targaryen blood. The events of the episode again made Rhaenyra feel exposed, even though she had taken a big gamble by announcing the Harwin Strong rumors out loud in front of the queen. Laenor, after the chaos that saw Prince Aemond lose an eye, decided it was time to dedicate himself more to Rhaenyra. It was too little too late, and Rhaenyra knew she had to take drastic measures. (which were also more in line with her heart’s desires) and do a complete husband swap.
Rhaenyra and Daemon then consulted. What was there to do? Daemon approached Ser Qarl and offered him gold to kill Laenor. Publicly, so people would know who had done it and will not be traced back to Daemon or the princess. But then there was an extra layer of deception. It wasn’t going to be an actual murder, just a ruse, one that would allow Laenor to live and escape to a land where she could be free.
It would be one thing if Qarl and Laenor would have masterminded this betrayal on their own.. Use Daemon’s plan to your advantage. For them to take advantage of Daemon and Rhaenyra. But Daemon helped. We saw him murder some poor Driftmark assistant at random. This was presumably the guy thrown into the fire, acting as Laenor’s corpse. So the plot is not free of deaths, only the death of Laenor.
The question then is: Why did Daemon help Laenor to live? We’ve seen him kill before. Did he do it because Rhaenyra asked him not to hurt Laenor? Or because she knew that was what she wanted (we still don’t know if she believes Laenor is dead)? Or did Daemon do it to have an ace up his sleeve in the future? Something to fall back on if he gets cornered? Daemon has contacts on Pentos and he could easily have Laenor and Qarl there, ready to help if called. Of course, that would go far against the historical accounts.
Daemon tells Rhaenyra, “set him free” and that since she loves Laenor she should “grant her this kindness”. These words they make it seem like Rhaenyra was definitely in on it from the start.
The difference between Princess Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent
A week ago, Larys Strong caused his father, Lord Lyonel Strong, and his brother, Ser Harwin Strong, to die in a mysterious fire at Harrenhal. The result was that Rhaenyra’s lover, and the father of her children, Harwin, was dead, and Otto Hightower could once again be the Hand of the King. Both things greatly benefited the queen. They were things that she wanted to happen but that she would never order to happen. When he found out about Larys’ “initiative”, he was horrified.
This week, Alicent changed his mind. After the serious injury of her son and his own humiliation by tantrum, he will now actively employ Larys to do his dirty work. Instead, Rhaenyra wanted to stay out of it. She did not want to become a monster as Daemon insisted that her subjects must fear her or else she could not be taken seriously.
With Laenor’s trick, Rhaenyra has now created the illusion of a behind-the-scenes murder. He knows the realm will whisper that she is behind this, just as they whispered about her and Ser Harwin. So he’ll use the rumors to his advantage.. For Rhaenyra, this isn’t completely crossing the line, not like Alicent, but make no mistake: an innocent life has been lost. An anonymous servant had his neck broken. His hands are not clean. Just cleaner in comparison. And who knows how far he will go in the future?