Spoiler Warning: If you’re not caught up on House of the Dragon through Episode 7, “Driftmark,” stop reading now!
Fine. You’ve been warned.
I’ll admit I was hopeful when Steve Toussaint’s Corlys Velaryon made his presence known in House of the Dragon. In the first episode, he was introduced as the richest, most powerful man in Westeros, then he was immediately thrust into a story with the show’s main antagonist, Prince Daemon. It appeared that they were making his character and his family central to the plot. Of course, he very quickly faded into the background as we had to spend endless hours hearing about how Princess Rhaenyra wasn’t fit to rule because she’s a woman. And just like that, I knew this show wasn’t going to let House Velaryon be great.
For a very short moment, when Corlys’ children married into the Targaryen family, it felt like they were going to get real storylines. But Episode 7, “Driftmark,” swiftly snuffed out all of my hopes and dreams.
When Corlys’ son Laenor, who is gay, and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, who just wants to be free to live her life, got engaged, they made a deal to “do their duty” then have all the fun they wanted on the side. They’d produce heirs and play the happy couple, while also being supportive friends and equals. I was ready to see them as this amazing, united couple fighting off attacks from Queen Alicent and the rest of the royal court. Unfortunately, other than a few short scenes together, Laenor was a non-issue in Rhaenyra’s story. We also never got a real deep dive into how living as a gay man in a world where that is not accepted affected him. As a result, Laenor is the perfect example of how House of the Dragon repeatedly drops the ball on character development.
The drama often expects viewers to know about these people and their motivations ahead of time, so it can just skip ahead to the intrigue and not do the hard work of world-building. Laenor and his sister Laena are the biggest victims of this pattern. The bold choices their characters make ring hollow because the audience has spent very little time with them. I can’t be shocked or devastated by the actions of strangers who I have no emotional attachment to. There are several minor players who have very little to do with the overall story arc that have gotten more time than the spouses of the show’s two main characters.
Honestly, from their wedding in Episode 5 to the conclusion of his story in Episode 7, Laenor was missing so much that we could have put his face on the back of a milk carton.
Meanwhile, his sister Laena fared even worse. After he killed his first wife, Daemon took Laena as his next bride. This all happens during the 10-year time jump that happened between Episodes 5 and 6, so one minute we see them traveling with their daughters and the next minute Laena is commanding her dragon to burn—a.k.a. “Dracarys”—her rather than die in childbirth. We met Laena three times in her life and she was never allowed to be anything more than a pawn for men to use in their never-ending game of Iron Throne musical chairs. In fact, the first time we saw her, it was as a child when her parents were trying to marry her off to a middle-aged man.
Yeah, that was gross even by Game of Thrones standards.
And just so it’s clear, Laena and Daemon’s children won’t be treated any better. Literally, minutes after Laena was buried at sea, Alicent’s horrible son Aemond claims her dragon as his, stealing that right from her daughter, Baela. And he does it in that smug, entitled white guy way we’re all very familiar with.
Now, back to Laenor for a second: After his sister’s funeral, and a royal brawl involving his wife and kids, he tells Rhaenyra he’ll be a better husband and father. It’s one of his best moments of the series and it really had me thinking things were about to turn around. But yeah, that didn’t happen. Rhaenyra decides she wants to keep the Targaryen line “pure,” which means marrying her uncle Daemon. For this to happen, Laenor has to die. Daemon arranges for Laenor to fake his death, devastating his parents, but clearing the way for him and Rhaenyra to wed in a private ceremony.
Seriously, House of the Dragon, I could’ve done without the incest this time around.
Look, I don’t know if these characters were given such short shrift because they’re from the series’ one Black family, but the history of the universe, with Game of Thrones ending with Missandei’s senseless murder and Grey Worm left to sail off alone, it certainly points to a glaring issue where POC are concerned.
House of the Dragon sidelined its one Black family for several episodes, then killed them and wrote them off in the course of one hour, leaving Black fans to wonder if this universe is worth their time and support.