House of the Dragon’s sixth episode, “The Princess and the Queen,” was a particularly difficult one for almost everybody on the show. The series picked up 10 years after episode 5, and caught us up with its most important characters, many of whom had had a few kids in the interim.
Among these characters was Laena Velaryon, daughter of Corlys Velaryon and Rhaenys Targaryen, and now Daemon Targaryen’s second wife. Viewers knew Laena best as the 12-year-old girl from episode 2 who spoke to Viserys about dragons before pitching him on marriage (which he politely declined). Laena and Daemon wound up having two children during the 10-year time jump, and Laena spends most of the sixth episode pregnant with what would be their third. Amid the drama of an incoming newborn is where the filmmakers decided to change a few details about her fate from the show’s source material, Fire & Blood.
[Ed. note: This article contains spoilers for George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood novel and for House of the Dragon.]
In Fire & Blood, Laena undergoes a particularly difficult labor before giving birth to a stillborn child, much like what happens in the show. However, in the book, she spends several days ill and dying. According to Fire & Blood’s maester author, legend has it that in her final moments, she tried to find her dragon, Vhagar, to fly just one more time, but died on her way.
The show makes all this a little quicker and a little more literal. Overcome with grief over the loss of her son, Laena rushes from the birthing chamber and finds Vhagar. She kneels down in front of the dragon and commands it to burn her alive.
There could be a couple of explanations for this change, or more accurately, this new version of the story. While Fire & Blood plays the part of a history, telling only the most important details of its tale — and even then, doing so with the fallibility of its author and their sources — House of the Dragon is supposed to be a more factual and detailed account of the Dance of Dragons, according to showrunner Ryan Condal. It’s possible that that’s what is happening here — that Laena’s suicide by dragon was simply not recorded by Maester Yandel in the in-universe version of Fire & Blood to help protect the reputation of the Targaryens. But this isn’t the only possible reason for the new scene.
Like many elements of House of the Dragon so far, this isn’t so much a direct departure from the story of the books as it is a literalization of certain themes. While the difficulties of childbirth and women’s roles in Westeros are certainly concepts that are explored in Fire & Blood, the book doesn’t really spend time detailing them (or any other themes), choosing simply to recount events in Westeros rather than think about them.
The show’s changes come most often in the realm of character deaths. While the book most often has them slipping away after several days in the care of maesters and their leeches, House of the Dragon prefers to kill characters with a flourish. Characters like Joffrey Lonmouth, and even Daemon’s first wife, Lady Rhea Royce, were explicitly killed by House of the Dragon’s leads to help move the plot and characters along.
An added benefit of this choice in Laena’s case is that it more strongly defines her character. Though we didn’t spend much time with Laena in the show, seeing that she’d rather end her own life than bear the loss of a child adds an interesting wrinkle to who she was, and helps us better understand House of the Dragon’s very difficult relationship with motherhood, and especially with childbirth.