George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood is a dense text, even for those accustomed to his A Song of Ice and Fire series. The book documents over one hundred years of the Targaryen dynasty, from the conquest of Westeros by Aegon the Conqueror to the unfortunate reign of King Aegon III Targaryen, also known as “The Dragonbane.” Its pages contain dozens of characters, events, and more than a few dragons to remember as well. It’s for this reason that when HBO set out to adapt part of the book for the series House of the Dragon that certain measures needed to be taken for brevity. Furthermore, much like the previous series Game of Thrones, the spin-off’s showrunners made certain changes that differ from the source material.
One of these changes is particularly notable and arrives in House of the Dragon’s sixth episode “The Princess and the Queen” (a reference to one of Martin’s works within his Dangerous Women anthology) and concerns Lady Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell). By this point in the show’s timeline, Laena has been wed to Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) as his second wife and has given birth to two girls, Rhaena (Eva Ossei-Gerning) and Baela (Bethany Antonia). She is also an established dragonrider, riding Vhagar, the last living dragon from Aegon the Conqueror’s conquest of Westeros. At this point in Targaryen history, Vhagar is the largest living dragon after the death of Balerion 94 years after the conquest. According to Fire & Blood, Laena loved nothing more than taking to the skies on Vhagar, and her and Daemon even traveled to Essos, making a show of their dragonriding prowess to the people of Pentos, Qohor, Volantis, and Norvos.
Laena’s Death in the Show Is the Death of a Dragonrider
For the most part, HBO follows Laena’s life quite close to how it is depicted in Fire & Blood. However, the most poignant change made to the character is how she meets her unfortunate and untimely death. In the sixth episode of House of the Dragon, Laena finds herself in labor in Pentos, during the tour of Essos. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to deliver her and Daemon’s child. The attending surgeon proposes to Daemon that it may be possible to save the child if they perform a Caesarian Section, mirroring the circumstances of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and his wife, Queen Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) in the show’s first episode. As Daemon mulls over the decision, knowing that Laena is sure to die, she takes matters into her own hands. Refusing to die in the birthing bed, Laena makes her way to the shores of Pentos where Vhagar rests. She shouts out Dracarys to Vhagar, begging him to incinerate her. After contemplation, Vhagar fulfills his rider’s request, and burns Laena alive as Daemon watches on in horror.
It’s a truly shocking and dramatic death in a franchise full of shocking and dramatic deaths to be sure, but it’s also a vast improvement over Laena’s death in Fire & Blood. Compared to her death in Martin’s book, Laena Velaryon is able to die in the manner of a dragonrider on her own terms, showcasing her determination and willpower as well. Additionally, this death sequence creates a parallel between Daemon and his brother King Viserys, placing him in the shoes of his kin when an impossible choice was made. In Viserys’ case, he went through with the Caesarian Section, resulting in the death of his wife Aemma but delivering his son Baelon, who did not survive long after. Daemon mocked Baelon as “The Heir for a Day,” causing significant friction between him and his brother. Now, cruel fate has placed him in the same conundrum, but he seems conflicted where his brother was once decisive. Instead of making a choice, Laena makes her own decision, and it’s a vast improvement from her death in the source material.
How Does Laena Velaryon Die in the Book?
In Fire & Blood, Laena went into labor for a day and a night and managed to successfully give birth to her son. However, the child was malformed and infirm, dying within the hour. Dispirited and drained of strength, Laena begins to succumb to fever, likely from puerperal sepsis, though Fire & Blood names it as childbed fever specifically. Driftmark’s maester as well as Dragonstone’s Maester Gerardys are incapable of helping her. Three days later, after grueling pain and illness, Laena dies in bed in 120 AC (After Conquest), known as the cursed “Year of the Red Spring”. She was only 27 years old.
Laena’s death in Fire & Blood takes an even more tragic turn, as it states:
During her final hour, it is said, Lady Laena rose from her bed, pushed away the septas praying over her, and made her way from her room, intent on reaching Vhagar that she might fly one last time before she died. Her strength failed her on the tower steps, however, and it was there she collapsed and died. Her husband, Prince Daemon, carried her back to her bed. Afterward, Mushroom tells us, Princess Rhaenyra sat vigil with him over Lady Laena’s corpse, and comforted him in his grief.
With Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) indisposed in House of the Dragon dealing with a scandal in King’s Landing, Daemon’s only consolation after his wife’s death is his twin daughters. However, compared to her days of illness and death in a tower in Fire & Blood, Laena’s death in House of the Dragon can be considered and an improvement in most facets. If one assumes that her and Daemon’s child was indeed doomed, then she likely spared her family even more grief by subjecting herself to a fiery death at the hands of Vhagar. With Daemon as the only witness to her demise, Rhaena and Baela were spared watching their mother suffer.
Furthermore, Laena was nothing if not a dragonrider through and through, and a dragonrider’s death is much more fitting for a descendant of Old Valyria. One of House of the Dragon’s overarching themes in its first season is the station of women within Westeros’ patriarchal and feudal power system. The women of the show, from Rhaenyra Targaryen to Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), battle systemic forces and make choices defying cultural expectations. Laena’s death is another perfect example of this, defying the assumption that she will die under the knife or in the childbed. Instead, she dies the death of a true dragonrider of Old Valyria, and her legacy is cemented in fire and blood.