House of the Dragon‘s Laenor Velaryon finally realized that when you play the game of thrones duty and happiness are not compatible. It’s the same realization Maester Aemond Targaryen will share with Jon Snow 150 years later. But, unlike Jon who chose duty, Laenor chose love. He faked his own death and fled to Essos. That was only possible because his wife, Princess Rhaenyra, and her uncle Daemon granted Laenor a “kindness” and “set him free.” It’s all part of Rhaenyra and Daemon’s grand plan to strengthen her claim to the Iron Throne on House of the Dragon. But will their plan work? It’s as risky as it is daring.
Rhaenyra and Daemon Set Laenor “Free”
At first House of the Dragon made it seem as though Daemon Targaryen was plotting with Qarl Correy to murder Laenor Velaryon on the orders of Rhaenyra. Ser Laenor’s death was the only way the Princess could marry her uncle. Most of that lined up with Fire & Blood, the book the show is based on. In George R.R. Martin’s unreliable history, Ser Qarl (unquestionably) murders Laenor. Most believe it to be a “lovers quarrel,” though many whisper Daemon gave Correy a large sum of gold to eliminate Laenor.
But that’s not how it played out on the show. It gave us the ole Driftmark switcheroo. Rhaenyra, Daemon, Laenor, and Qarl were in on the House of the Dragon plan for Laenor to “die.” Once alone in Lord Corlys’s throne room, Laenor and Qarl put the dead guard (whom Daemon killed) into Laenor’s clothes and placed him in the fire place. That way the body would burn beyond recognition. And with a witness to the “fight,” the Realm would think Ser Qarl had killed Laenor.
It’s a win-win for both couples. Laenor—whom Rhaenyra said deserved better for being an honorable man with a good heart—is absolved of the duty that has made his life so miserable. Now he and his shaved head are free to live happily with Qarl Correy in Essos.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra and Daemon can marry, as they have always wanted. That gives the isolated Princess a powerful ally she can trust in the coming war of succession. All while finally getting the husband she believes she deserves. But this plan is not without its victims, nor its risks.
Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys Lose Their Last Child
That innocent guard Daemon murdered wasn’t this plan’s only victim. Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys just buried their daughter Laena. Now, as far as they know, they’ve lost their last child. The conspirators, even their own son, decided that for this plan to work, Laenor’s parents couldn’t know.
Was that because they didn’t think Lord and Lady Velaryon would agree to the plan? (Zero chance the legacy-obsessed Corlys would.) Or because they wisely wanted as few people as possible to know about the scheme to preserve the secret? Or did they think they needed a genuinely grieving mother and father to make it all believable? It’s probably a little of each. But no matter their reasons, Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys now only have three bastard grandsons and two legitimate granddaughters left. And “the greens” ambitions put all of those kids in danger.
But this plan also puts Rhaenyra and Daemon at risk on House of the Dragon. And they clearly understand why.
The Daemon-Sized Flaw in Rhaenyra’s Plan
Rhaenyra does not want to rule as a tyrant through terror. However, she also knows the “the realm will whisper” she was responsible for Ser Laenor’s apparent death. Daemon thinks that’s a good thing. They will know the truth, that they did something kind for Laenor. But it’s fine if their enemies believe they’re capable of such depravity. Daemon said, “If the king is not feared he is powerless. If you’re to be a strong queen you must cultivate love and respect, yes, but your subjects must fear you.”
Rhaenyra agrees there’s value in that. “They will fear what else we might be capable of,” she said. There most certainly is merit to your foes thinking you’re willing to do anything to win. But in their quest to be together, these two are missing something obvious: most people hate Daemon.
The Realm didn’t want Daemon—thought to crave the Iron Throne above all else—as heir because they feared he’d be “another Maegor,” the worst, most sadistic, most destructive Targaryen king. Now Rhaenyra has not only married him, she did so immediately following the curious murder of her husband. This union was a questionable tactic to begin with. But the specifics around it make it even worse.
It’s going to be hard for people to love and respect you if they think you killed your husband to marry a depraved monster. So while their union strengthens her claim (a loyal dragonrider by her side) and brings her happiness, it also calls into question both her honor and her judgement. Combined with the question of her own children’s identities, Rhaenyra has created another reason for people to oppose her ascension.
On some level, Rhaenyra knows all of this. She recognizes that by seeking real love to help her perform her duties she opens herself up to nasty accusations along with fair criticism and concern. This plan comes with many risks.
That’s why she told her Uncle-Husband, “We have always been meant to burn together.”
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.