Warning: Spoilers for House Of the Dragon Episode 7 “Driftmark” below.
In episode seven of House of The Dragon, a twist-filled cliffhanger marks the show’s biggest departure from George R.R. Martin’s writings so far.
“Driftmark” see House Targaryen reuniting in honor of Laena Velaryon’s memory. Her funeral is held at her House seat, Driftmark, and it marks the return of Daemon and his twin daughters who have spent the past decade in Pentos. Tensions are high and the Velaryons are grieving, none more so than Laenor, Laena’s younger brother, who spends most of the episode drunk-crying into the sea. As the husband to the heir to the Iron Throne, Laenor has a duty to perform, one he often shirks in favor of courting squire boys and bar hopping – but his behavior in episode seven proves he’s a liability that Rhaenyra Targaryen (and her uncle) just can’t afford.
What Happened On The Show
After a bloody confrontation with Alicent Hightower, Rhaenyra realizes that she won’t inherit her father’s crown without a bit of bloodshed and, naturally, she turns to her uncle to name which of her enemies (and allies) need to have theirs spilled first. The two rekindle their romantic relationship and quickly plot the best way for Rhaenyra to ensure her birthright. With her son’s parentage in question and Laenor’s preference for men and drink doing nothing to quell the rumors hounding her, Rhaenyra realizes that, as much as she genuinely cares for her husband, he’s a roadblock on her way to the Iron Throne. By marrying Daemon instead, she can shore up her claim and shut down her naysayers as two Targaryens in power are much harder to argue against than just one.
The pair casually plan Laenor’s death in a move that fills ripped from Martin’s book, Fire & Blood, off which House of The Dragon is based but, at the last moment, the narrative shifts. Daemon approaches Laenor’s lover, Qarl, offering him gold in exchange for a “quick death” and promising that life across the Narrow Sea will be kind to those who can afford anonymity. So, it seems, Daemon and Rhaenyra are arranging for Qarl to kill Laenor and then flee to Essos and beyond, freeing Rhaenyra to marry her uncle and finally make a play for the throne. Qarl starts a fight with Laenor, making sure to have at least one witness present before servants are called to intervene. We never see Laenor die, but we do see his parents, Rhaenys and Corlys, mourn his burnt body while Qarl jumps into a rowboat, headed for a ship just offshore, and Daemon can be heard telling Rhaenyra that her enemies must fear her and what she’s capable of.
The twist comes when Qarl, who seems to be waiting for someone, begins rowing the boat as a hooded figure jumps in. It’s Laenor, wearing commoner’s clothes and sporting a shaved head. It seems the two are heading across the Narrow Sea together, faking Laenor’s death so Rhaenyra can take the Iron Throne and the Velaryon heir can finally live life on his terms.
All in all, it’s a surprisingly happy ending, one Game of Thrones would never have given a character like Laenor – a gay man of color with a claim to the crown. But it’s even more shocking because it marks a huge narrative shift from the show’s source material.
What Happened In The Book
In Martin’s Fire & Blood, Laenor Velaryon dies shortly after his sister Laena. Her death comes after a difficult birth; his happens at a fair in Spicetown. As in episode seven, Ser Qarl Correy is responsible for his death, but in the book, the two get into a violent argument in front of merchants and townspeople – enough witnesses to ensure Laenor actually dies and doesn’t just fake his demise. Some say the quarrel was because Laenor began favoring a younger knight over Ser Qarl but others, namely the unreliable narrator called Mushroom, claimed that Daemon Targaryen was behind the attack.
According to Mushroom’s account, Daemon paid Ser Qarl to kill his lover and escape across the Narrow Sea – though he eventually murdered Qarl before that could happen in order to tie up any loose ends. Daemon’s motivation for the assassination plot was similar to his plan on the show – he was now a widower and he wanted Rhaenyra for himself. He likely also wanted the Iron Throne and knew that by marrying his niece, he could get it. Rhaenyra had no part in the murder of her husband in the book, though she does quickly marry her uncle without her father’s permission once he’s dead.
Why It Matters
There are a few reasons why the change to Laenor’s fate feels important. First, as an openly gay man of color in a fantasy world that hasn’t really championed diversity before House Of The Dragon came along, to see Laenor get a happier ending than a gruesome death at the hands of his boyfriend feels surprisingly unproblematic. It shows that the writers of HOTD are at least trying to treat these characters with care and thoughtful storytelling instead of using them as plot devices, torturing and killing them in the name of shock value and the ratings that follow. Whether Laenor will pop up again once the Dance of Dragons truly begins remains to be seen, but even if he just passes the rest of his days in peace in Essos (or wherever the couple flees to) at least he’s steering the course of his own destiny for once.
His ”death” also changes the characterization of both Rhaenyra and Daemon, not to mention the nature of their relationship moving forward. In the book, Daemon appears to be the more manipulative of the pair, orchestrating his relationship with Rhaenyra and prioritizing his position of power over any romance that might exist between them. Rhaenyra is powerful and determined in her own right, but her uncle seems to always be scheming his way to the Iron Throne – and hoping to cut down a few Hightowers in the process. But the show is setting up a different dynamic. With Rhaenyra proposing the plot to “kill” Laenor and Daemon arranging how it can be done, the pair look to be on much more even ground. Both have ambitions, but Rhaenyra is finally willing to do what must be done to make sure hers come to fruition. And, by having Daemon help Laenor disappear rather than paying to have him killed, the show transforms a morally-grey character who, let’s be honest, is a bit more villainous in the books, into a sympathetic anti-hero.
Well played, HOTD. Well played.