Time jumps and actor changes weren’t the only jarring elements of HBO’s. Sunday’s episode of prequel series ended with a fiery bang for one character. It was unexpected and not in a good way for some. Let’s discuss in the spoiler-filled section below.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
What decision does Laena make?
Two big choices come up at the end of episode 6.
Similar to Aemma Targaryen, Laena Velaryon suffers a difficult childbirth, unable to push the infant out. The surgeon suggests to Laena’s husband Daemon Targaryen that he could “lay open the womb, try to remove the infant by way of the blade.” But there are no guarantees the baby or the mother would survive.
Unlike Aemma — who dies after King Viserys allows his surgeon to operate on her — Laena realizes what’s going on early enough to take matters into her own hands. Before Daemon can have a say, Laena escapes the birthing room and limps outside, imploring her dragon Vhagar to breathe fire onto her. “Dracarys!” she commands — the High Valyrian (language of the old Valyrian Freehold) word for “Dragonfire.” Vhagar hesitates, visibly confused by his rider’s shocking request. But eventually he seems to understand her pain and helps to end it, incinerating her in a powerful blaze.
Why does Laena kill herself?
Unfortunately, before going into labor, Laena was already in a bad place in more ways than one.
We first meet Laena when she’s 12 years old, having been carted up to King’s Landing as a young bride offered to King Viserys. More than three years after Viserys rejects her, Laena reunites with the King’s younger brother Daemon. Daemon, childless, had just murdered his wife. He immediately takes a shine to Laena.
Ten years later, the pair are married with two daughters. But, as House of the Dragon never fails to remind us, sons are what everyone is after. In a scene before Laena’s death, she and Daemon talk about the struggles in their marriage. Daemon is restless, unable to sleep. They also discuss Rhaenyra, Daemon’s ex-lover, delivering another son. Laena clearly laments she hasn’t produced one for Daemon.
“Perhaps, I too, am not the wife you would’ve wished for yourself … It does not pain me. I have made my peace.”
This scene appears to be foreshadowing what’s to come. Even the scene in which Laena speaks to her youngest daughter Rhaena seems to provide a touch of necessary exposition, making it clear Laena is bound to Vhagar, “the largest [dragon] in the world.”
In the birthing room, Laena overhears the surgeon tell Daemon that she won’t survive a cesarean section to remove the infant. Without being able to see Daemon’s reaction or hear what decision he makes, Laena immediately flees. This suggests she knows Daemon will go through with the surgery, sacrificing her for the smallest chance their child will survive. She thinks Daemon will make the same choice as his brother Viserys.
It appears Laena thinks she’s going to die no matter what and, rather than go through with the surgery and bleed to death, she has the agency to choose her ending, one that no prince or king decides for her. This suggests she sacrifices any chance, albeit a small one, for her son to survive.
Another reading: Daemon wanted to save Laena
Laena’s birthing scene mirrors the same situation King Viserys faced with Queen Aemma. However, in this case, the surgeon doesn’t present Daemon with a strong chance his son will survive a C-section. After Daemon discovers his wife would die from such a surgery, he appears to give a tiny shake of his head, indicating he doesn’t wish to go through with it. He doesn’t want to risk Laena’s life.
On hearing about the birthing complications, Laena potentially feels shame that, once again, she might not be able to produce Daemon a male heir. She decides to end her life, after failing to fulfil the purpose she was brought up from a young age to honor. Taking herself out of the picture, she allows Daemon to be free to take a new wife.
In the book
In George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the book House of the Dragon is based on, Daemon isn’t forced to choose whether to put Laena through a life-threatening C-section. Instead, Laena suffers a tough birth and delivers a boy who, like Aemma’s son Baelor, dies after a short time. Laena becomes severely ill from grief and fever. Daemon orders a renowned maester to save her, but he arrives too late and Laena passes away.
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