Warning: Spoilers ahead for "House of the Dragon" season one, episode seven.
The final shot Sunday's episode showed a surprising turn of events between Laenor and Qarl.
"House of the Dragon" keeps managing to surprise people, even when they've read "Fire and Blood."
At the very end of Sunday's episode, "House of the Dragon" continued its run of surprising fans with new perspectives and changes to the events outlined in George R.R. Martin's fictional history book about the Targaryens. Instead of keeping the "historical" details of Laenor Velaryon's death the same as "Fire and Blood," the TV series version says Laenor actually helped fake his own death.
The final minutes of the episode set audiences up to think Rhaenyra and Daemon paid Qarl to kill Laenor — which is what happens in "Fire and Blood." But in the closing shot, we see Laenor hop into a boat with Qarl, and the two head off to presumably live contentedly in Essos for the rest of their lives.
So why change this event for the TV adaptation? It's just one more tweak to the historical account found in "Fire and Blood" that lets audiences empathize way more with Rhaenyra in her fight for the Iron Throne.
Instead of being a heartless murdering adultress, Rhaenyra's character is shown to be a loving mother and a good friend and ally to Laenor. Rhaenyra is under threat by people at court who are loyal to Queen Alicent, and she's being politically savvy to literally marry Daemon and his daughters to her cause.
How Laenor's death is explained in 'Fire and Blood'
In Martin's book, Laenor's death follows closely after Laena's, adding to the tragedy felt by Lord Corlys and Rhaenys.
This is how the fictional history recounts Laenor's death at the hands of Qarl:
"Ser Laenor Velaryon, husband to the Princess Rhaenyra and the putative father of her children, was slain whilst attending a fair in Spicetown, stabbed to death by his friend and companion Ser Qarl Correy. The two men had been quarreling loudly before blades were drawn, merchants at the fair told Lord Velaryon when he came to collect his son's body. Correy had fled by then, wounding several men who tried to hinder him. Some claimed a ship had been waiting for him offshore. He was never seen again."
The book's historical account continues to explain that the circumstances of Laenor's murder had remained a mystery, like a modern-day cold case with different theories. Jealous lovers' quarrel turned murder. Assassination paid for by Daemon to clear the path towards marrying Rhaenyra (this is the story put forward by Mushroom, the court fool who was spotted at the wedding welcome feast in episode five). The historical account says Qarl was known for extravagant taste and therefore it's believable that he'd slay the future king consort for a hefty reward and ship to Essos.
In 'House of the Dragon,' Laenor and Qarl are in on the plan, and a random servant at court is killed to fake the king consort's death
The final minutes of the episode show how Rhaenyra and Daemon conspired to fake Laenor's death, leaving Rhaenyra formally widowed and in need of a new husband.
Daemon approached Qarl at the docks of Driftmark, and said he could have gold and security in Essos in exchange for a "a quick death, one with witnesses."
As we know from episode six, Daemon has spent plenty of time in Pentos and traveling to other places in Essos, accumulating gold and allies. "There are places across the Narrow sea where it doesn't matter what a man's name is," Daemon tells Qarl. "Only how much gold he possesses."
After that, we see the plan carried out. Daemon sneaks up on a castle servant and breaks his neck. Then Laenor and Qarl acted out a confrontation in the main hall of High Tide (the castle where Lord Coryls rules). They made sure to have a witness who ran for help.
By the time Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys arrived, all they saw was a burned corpse wearing Laenor's clothes and a witness attesting to Qarl's attack and escape.
After Laenor is successfully smuggled away, Rhaenyra and Daemon marry each other — forever uniting their children under the name Targaryen.
This continues the trend of new perspectives for Rhaenyra's story that make her the more sympathetic protagonist
In "Fire and Blood," the male bias in recorded history paints both Rhaenyra and Alicent in an unflattering, cruel light. "House of the Dragon" has rounded out their characters, adding things like Alicent's discomfort as a young girl in the company of Viserys (her childhood best friend's father) or the double standards Rhaenyra's teenage years were molded by because she was a girl.
But after the jump ahead by 10 years, "House of the Dragon" is showing how Alicent has grown brittle and cruel and hypocritical where Rhaenyra has grown protective and tender and strong. We're given fewer reasons to cheer for Alicent, and instead she acts as a righteous counterpoint to Rhaenyra's disregard of customs.
The show-added scenes for Alicent are things like her striking her children or accidentally allying herself with a kinslaying murderer like Larys.
Meanwhile, the added scenes for Rhaenyra show her caring about Laenor and her duty to the realm when it comes to Aegon's prophecy and the title her King father has bestowed on her with the lords of Westeros sworn to obey it. We see the intimacies of her wedding and consensual sex life and childbirth, while all those moments weren't included for Alicent.
To add to the pro-Rhaenyra slant of "House of the Dragon," this episode also made the reveal that Rhaenyra tried to have children with Laenor more than once. She didn't skip straight to adultery with Harwin Strong, but tried to "do her duty" with Laenor. They needed to produce heirs, and quickly, in order to keep the succession vultures at bay.
With just three more episodes to go in season one, fans will have to wait and see how the scales tip towards Team Greens (Alicent and Otto) or Team Blacks (Daemon and Rhaenyra).
New episodes of "House of the Dragon" air Sundays on HBO at 9 p.m. ET. For more, read our breakdown of the best details you might have missed in the latest episode.
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