House of the Dragon’s game of succession is finally playing out in earnest, and as one might expect, heads are going to roll — at least metaphorically (though it being a Game of Thrones joint, probably also literally). In episode 7, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith) make a strong play to, uh, ally themselves, and it comes at the cost of Laenor Velaryon (John MacMillan).
But as Macbethian as the whole scheme is, it’s ultimately far more kind than almost any other Game of Thrones plot we’ve seen — though delightfully it’s a little unclear who exactly is responsible for the end result.
[Ed. note: This story contains spoilers for House of the Dragon through episode 7.]
After Rhaenyra proposes to Daemon, suggesting that they do as their ancestors did and wed to better shore up her claim to the throne, he immediately points out that the plan would mean getting Laenor out of the way. The episode shifts into montage mode as the plan comes to life: Daemon meets with Ser Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan) and offer to pay for a life overseas if he pulls off a murder with witnesses. Laenor finds Qarl in the great hall of High Tide. Daemon kills a guy on the stairs. Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Ser Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) find the charred remains of what appears to be their son in the fireplace.
In this game of thrones, Laenor appears to have paid the worst price — at least until we see he is, in fact, alive and well, disguised (by shaving off his signature platinum locs) and sailing into the metaphorical sunset with his lover, Qarl.
While Rhaenyra and Daemon’s cryptic voice-over makes clear the intention of getting Laenor out of the way so they can (re)merge their bloodlines, the actual execution of the plot is left a bit open to interpretation: Do Rhaenyra and Daemon actually conspire to kill Laenor only for him to be saved by his would-be assassin (and bedmate)? Or do they hope to not only spare him, but give him a safe life away from what they know will be a bloody and tedious war?
The “objective truth” here will color the coming war, which is not going to set anyone up as a perfect hero. (If that sounds like a spoiler… have you been watching the show?) Rhaenyra’s story might be (thus far) better plotted than Daenerys’ descent into madness. But just because her actions — both so far and to come — are understandable doesn’t make them much easier to take. And somehow arranging for your cousin-husband to be out of the picture so you can marry your uncle is already pretty close to the line. It seems unlikely that she would have her new beau (I cannot overstate this: her uncle) enlist the help of her husband’s lover for an assassination attempt, but stranger things have happened.
If anyone comes out looking great it’s Mushroom, one of the three narrators in George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the “historical” source material for the HBO series. Though his account is often taken less seriously as he is a court fool, House of the Dragon’s commitment to a single, true timeline for the events of the novel it’s based on has confirmed parts of his account.
And here Mushroom’s testimony bears out: In the book, he says Qarl killed Laenor on behalf of Daemon, while Martin’s in-universe author follows up to say there’s no evidence of that whatsoever. Sure, some details got changed (in Fire & Blood Qarl killed Laenor in a quarrel at a fair, for reasons unknown, and he escaped for good). But if episode 7 of House of the Dragon teaches us anything it’s that we all deserve to celebrate a partial victory, even if it’s just abandoning your life and your title so you can live across the narrow sea in peace.