Why House of the Dragon should have killed Laenor Velaryon

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How Does Laenor Velaryon Died In The Book

In George R.R. Martin’s book F, we are told of the incident where Rhaenyra Targaryen’s husband Laenor Velaryon dies while attending a fair in Spicetown, on the island of Driftmark. We learn he was “stabbed to death” by a knight in his father’s service, his paramour Ser Qarl Quarry. There is disagreement over the reason for the murder; some think it was a lover’s quarrel. One tale has it that Daemon Targaryen paid Ser Qarl to kill Laenor in order to eliminate Rhaenyra’s husband, the better for Daemon to replace him. And it is true that Rhaenyra and Daemon married not long afterwards. But one thing isn’t in doubt: Laenor dies.

House of the Dragon/em>adapts these events in the episode “Driftmark.” It takes some cues form the book — Daemon does visit Ser Qarl clandestinely — and ignores others, but it changes the heart of the matter: on TV, Laenor survives. Although we don’t know the details, we’re given to understand that Rhaenyra, Daemon, Laenor and Qarl all conspired to fake Laenor’s death.

For whatever reason, this change really ticked me off when I first watched it, although I’ve more or less come around by now. Still, my reaction was extreme enough — I rhated it — that I thought it was worth working through my thoughts on paper…or the internet equivalent.

SO. Why should Hh

Because it undermines and confuses Laenor’s character

Let’s start with the man at the center of this business: Laenor Velaryon. H, like Gbefore it, is a show that cares about its characters; they athe show, more or less, so it’s important to get them right. When they act different or “off,” we notice it. For instance, H spends a lot of time setting up the knifepoint confrontation between Rhaenyra and Alicent in “Driftmark.” We’d watched how their friendship degraded over the years and how Alicent grew resentful of what she saw as Rhaenyra’s disregard for the establishment Alicent has spent her life upholding. That all boiled over in the moment that Alicent pulled a knife on her former friend, and it was electrifying television.

Compare that to what happened with Laenor. Right before the twist ending, he has an honest conversation with Rhaenyra where he tells her that his lover Qarl Correy is leaving and that he is going to recommit himself to their marriage and their children, something Rhaenyra needs as the people who would block her claim to the Iron Throne gather their strength. We’re told that Laenor is a good man, a loyal man, and we believe it.

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Would a good and loyal man then agree to abandon his children to go live a life of comfortable obscurity, messing them up even more than they already are? Would he agree to trick his parents into believing that their only son was dead, exposing them to more pain right after they’d lost their only daughter? Laenor, a gay man, was forced to live a lie as Rhaenyra’s husband, so I can understand why he’d want to make a change, but it’s the show’s job to convince us that he wants it bad enough to abandon everything else he wants, like the opportunity to raise his children, to do right by his parents, to ride his dragon Seasmoke, and to become king consort. I don’t think the show did its job.

Like most bad plot twists, Laenor’s fake death isn’t set up well. A good plot twist feels inevitable in retrospect, but we were given — at best — incomplete evidence that Laenor wanted out of his life with Rhaenyra, along with some evidence that he didn’t. The plot twist only works for Laenor’s character if we don’t think too much about what that character is.

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Because it raises questions the show can’t answer

There are some nuts and bolts plot problems here too. The plan, such as we understand it, is for Qarl and Laenor to fake a fight in Corlys Velaryon’s great hall, to count on only one witness being present, and then to run away when the witness goes to get some guards, during which time someone (possibly Daemon) will toss the corpse of a guy who looks like Laenor — I assume he’s been dressed in the same clothes — into the fireplace, where the flames will burn his face beyond recognition.

This plan is kind of silly on its face, since it depends on a lot of factors the characters can’t control. How could they know they’d have enough time to swap out Laenor for the dead rando? How long does it take a fire to blacken a head so badly not even the man’s own parents would recognize him? Would the body have been that far gone in the time it took the guards to get there? And even if the head is char-broiled, might Corlys and Rhaenys have recognized that this wasn’t their son’s body based on other identifying marks? The plan is shaky to the point where it’d take a miracle to pull off. And while miracles do happen, they don’t make for satisfying drama.

Remember when I said that Daemon visits Qarl clandestinely at one point? When that happens, we’re led to believe that Daemon is paying off Qarl to kill Laenor, but later we understand that he’s talking through the fake death plan. But why would Daemon need to talk it through with Qarl at all? If all four of them are in on this plan, you’d figure Laenor would be the best person to explain it to his lover. But that’s not as misleading, so the job goes to Daemon.

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But wall four in on it? Frankly, it isn’t clear if Rhaenyra was in on the plot to fake Laenor’s death or if that was an idea that Daemon came up with on his own after Rhaenyra asked him to murder her husband. Remember: the most important thing on Hare the characters. We need to understand them. This doesn’t help us understand Rhaenyra; it makes it harder.

In short, the plan feels pretty haphazardly put together. It works best if you don’t think about it much, and that’s not the kind of plan I want in this prestige drama about capable schemers. I want a plot that reveals more layers the more you analyze it, not one that falls apart at the barest probing.

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Because the misleading story was more interesting than the one we got

The montage before we learn that Laenor survives leads us to believe that Rhaenyra and Daemon are plotting to kill her husband together, something that wasn’t suggested in F. When I was watching this, I felt a wonderful sense of dread begin to pool in my stomach. We already knew that Daemon is a killer; we watched him murder his own wife Rhea Royce just a couple episodes back. Is it possible that Rhaenyra has the capacity to be just as ruthless? Are they really willing to kill a decent man, a man Rhaenyra loves, the father of her children, in order to shore up her claim to the throne?

It was sick and twisted and very exciting. Knowing what I know about the rest of their story, it made sense to me that Rhaenyra and Daemon would begin their marriage with a murder. This story is an operatic tragedy, and the writers shouldn’t feel hesitant about having their characters commit morally outrageous acts.

But they do. Revealing that Laenor lived felt like a cop out to me. It felt like the show set up a grimly fascinating story about Rhaenyra and Daemon crossing a line together, only to pull back and reveal that they’re not abad people; they’re nice…as long as you don’t think about them tricking Laenor’s parents into believing he’s dead and also killed a completely random guy to take the place of Laenor’s body. Who’s to say that guy didn’t have a family who will miss him? Again, just don’t think about it.

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I fear the writers did this because they didn’t want us to think too badly of Rhaenyra and Daemon. That they want us to like them, which misses the point. Likability has to be the most overvalued virtue in fiction. Fans love Daemon, and he’s a wife murderer who tried to seduce his teenage niece. People love Tony Soprano, Walter White, Saul Goodman, Don Draper, Logan Roy and a parade of other memorable TV monsters. Whether a character is likable doesn’t matter. Whether they’re compelling does, and I maintain that Rhaenyra and Daemon are more compelling characters if they’re willing to kill this good man than if they aren’t.

(Don’t) Bury Your Gays

There may also have been a metatextual reason for sparing Laenor. A couple episodes back, Criston Cole killed Laenor’s earlier lover Joffrey Lonmouth at Laenor and Rhaenyra’s wedding feast, which I think is the worst writing decision the show has yet made; not because Joffrey died, but because of how he died, and what came after (or didn’t). Criston murders this anointed knight in service to House Velaryon in cold blood in front of dozens of witnesses but isn’t punished at all. He’s still on the Kingsguard 10 years later, rather than dead or at the Wall or even stripped of his office. It’s ludicrous, and unworthy of a show as carefully made as this one.

Joffrey’s death also embraces the Bury Your Gays trope, which refers to the habit of TV shows and movies to kill off queer characters early and often, giving the impression that their lives are expendable. I wonder if the writers on Hwere afraid of the blowback they might receive if they killed the only two gay characters on the show a couple episodes apart, and so spared Laenor’s life.

I can appreciate that predicament, but I don’t think this was a good solution. Sparing Laenor’s life opens up all kinds of plot holes. Avoiding potential backlash isn’t a good enough reason to do that, not with the integrity of the story on the line.

What would have been a better solution? To start, they could have written Joffrey’s death in a way that wasn’t plainly ridiculous. Tropes aren’t harmful in and of themselves, and it’s not strange for a gay character to die on a show where people die all the time. But Joffrey’s death scene is so full of holes you could sail a fleet of ships through it. That smacks of disinterest, or worse, disrespect, and tc

They could also include more queer characters so as not to give the impression that they have it out for the gays in particular. In F, it’s heavily implied that Lady Jeyne Arryn is a lesbian. Lady Jeyne has been mentioned on the show but hasn’t shown up yet, even though she has appeared by this point in the book. Bring her in. Or what about the fan theory

There may also be problems with this plot twist down the line. For instance, what becomes of Laenor’s dragon Seasmoke? Vhagar left with the greens when they returned to King’s Landing, since Aemond is her new rider. But Seasmoke didn’t mysteriously leave the island, thus tipping anybody off that Laenor was still alive? What happens later in the story when Seasmoke plays a bigger role, as readers know he does?

Hopefully the show has good answers for those questions. For now, I just know that I didn’t like this twist. What do you think?

Next: Check out new images from House of the Dragon Episode 8

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How Did Laenor Die In The Book

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