The following story contains spoilers for Season 1, Episode 7 of House of the Dragon, "Driftmark."
House of the Dragon, thus far in its freshman season, has been heavy on scheming, alliances, and politicking, and—outside of a 10-or-so minute, dialogue-free scene of triumph for Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith)—light on actual war, battling and violence.
For some (myself included), that's fine; you can get that other stuff in other fantasy series. What the Game of Thrones world does is bring the human dynamics of something like Succession into a fantasy world. We know what Kendall Roy and Connor Roy are like when they're in modern-day, corporate New York City, but lets see how the schemes of these two-steps-ahead kinds of thinkers play out when dragons, blood alliances, and murder are involved.
Episode 7, titled "Driftmark," featured key roles for both of House of the Dragon's principal puppet masters: Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) and Larys Strong (Matthew Needham). And yet by the end of the episode, neither was involved in what became the show's biggest, most involved, and most significant power play yet: faking the death of one key player in Westeros—Laenor Velaryan (John MacMillan)—to prompt a significant power shift in the favor of both Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy).
Wait, did you say faking the death? Yep, that's right—and in case if you missed that when watching "Driftmark," don't worry. We've got the breakdown right here.
Is Laenor Velaryon Still Alive?
As the end of "Driftmark" made abundantly clear, Laenor Velaryon did not die. Instead, rather, he was seen in a boat with his fellow knight and lover Ser Qarl, rowing off, presumably towards the places across the Narrow Sea where Daemon earlier told Qarl that "it doesn't matter what a man's name possesses—only how much gold he possesses."
You see, there was a bit of trickery in that moment between Daemon and Qarl—at first, it seems like the "gold" of that idea was what caught his attention. But really it was the idea of name being nothing. Daemon sold Qarl on the idea of a life of riches and anonymity—something that it probably wasn't too hard to talk Laenor into either.
Rhaenyra and Daemon both know Laenor is alive, and faked his death.
The ending of the episode is cut in a very, very, very intriguing and smart way; we see a conversation between Daemon and Rhaenyra where they both clearly understand that a war with "the Greens"—meaning the Hightowers and those aligned with them—is coming upon the inevitable death of King Viserys (Paddy Considine). And their best way to take on that growing house, which has now gained the power of a dragon after that little brat Aemond essentially traded his eye for Laena's old dragon, Vhagar, is by combining the Targaryen power.
And that power can be consolidated if Daemon (now without a wife) and Rhaenyra join forces and marry. Yes, they're uncle and niece. Yes, it's gross. We acknowledge this, and yet we must move on.
But Daemon and Rhaenyra cannot marry as long as Laenor is still in the picture. And so despite his recent promise not to return to the Stepstones, and to hang around and be a good husband and father—or, at least, as good as he can be—our Targaryen pairing hatch a plan to remove him from that picture. And while the belief is that they'll be having him killed, the real plan is revealed at the end: they need Rhaenyra to be feared. They need whispers that she did have her husband killed. And so they need people to honestly, truly believe that happened, but also in a way that it can never actually be proven that she was involved.
And so their plan—to burn a body up so badly and claim it was Laenor, complete with an impartial witness who can claim that Qarl was speaking with vitriol to his friend—came into action. Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best) didn't actually lose their last child, but they truly believe that they did. And Daemon and Rhaenyra can now get married, greatly strengthening their house.
To this point, House of the Dragon has depicted Rhaenyra as benevolent despite her position of power; she's not someone who would kill a kind person like Laenor just for her own political gain. She is someone who's crafty and resourceful and would find a way to make things best for both of them.
It's also a nice character-building moment for Daemon, who a few episodes ago we quite literally did see kill a decent person (his first wife) for his own political gain. We're not about to let him off the hook, but he's clearly maturing into a real player in this power struggle, rather than the hot-headed troll he's been for most of Season 1.
The events of Laenor's death play out differently in George R. R. Martin'sFire & Blood.
In Fire & Blood—which is George R. R. Martin's book telling the history of Westeros upon which House of the Dragon is based—Laenor doesn't get quite as happy an ending. In that telling, Ser Qarl does kill Laenor at a fair in Spicetown, with claims that the two men had been quarreling, with some believing that Qarl became jealous that Laenor was becoming enamored with a new, younger, male soldier among their ranks. Mushroom, an unreliable storyteller and historian within Westeros, made the claim that Qarl killed Laenor on Daemon's behalf.
It's also worth considering, though, that since Fire & Blood is essentially a history textbook on Westeros, that it's how the events we saw play out in the show would be recorded. If Qarl and Laenor were involved in a scheme where the latter faked his death, only those in the know would know about that. So, in a way, this is exactly how the events of House of the Dragon would be recored.
Well done, Mr. Martin.
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