In Episode 7 of House of the Dragon, the rift between Alicent and Rhaenyra grew much deeper after Alicent’s son Aemond mounted Vhagar and Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys took his eye. And that wasn’t the only blood spilled in “Driftmark.” Let’s start this week’s breakdown with a history of the most powerful dragon in the realm:
Deep Dive of the Week: The History and Power of Vhagar
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Aemond mounting Vhagar. As Otto says, the ancient dragon is worth 1,000 times the price that Aemond paid for her in the form of his eye. Vhagar is certainly the largest and oldest dragon in the realm, and she might be the nastiest and most badass as well.
What do we know about Vhagar? Let’s start at the beginning.
Vhagar hatched on Dragonstone in 52 BC—that is, 52 years before Aegon’s Conquest. At some point, Visenya Targaryen claimed the dragon, becoming a dragonrider like her brother Aegon and sister Rhaenys. She went on to utilize Vhagar in the Conquest, spilling the first blood of the war when she set Castle Stokeworth ablaze shortly after landing in Westeros. From there, Visenya took Vhagar to accompany the Targaryen fleet as it pushed north toward Gulltown, burning the Arryn fleet when it resisted. Later, along with her siblings and their dragons Balerion and Meraxes, Visenya and Vhagar would burn thousands in the battle known as the Field of Fire.
The Field of Fire spelled the end of House Gardener, the lords of the Reach before the Tyrells, and put the writing on the wall for the rest of Westeros. By the time Visenya and Vhagar flew to the Trident to face the northmen, who were marching south, King Torrhen Stark was bending the knee, giving up his crown in exchange for his life and the lives of his family and bannermen. Visenya then flew to the Vale and got the Arryns to surrender when she landed in their sky-high fortress and showed them that no castle was impenetrable for a dragon. Vhagar may not have been the most fearsome dragon at this time—that honor belonged to Balerion the Black Dread—but she was far more than Westeros was equipped to handle.
Vhagar’s war tales don’t end there. In 10 AC, after the death of Rhaenys and Meraxes in Dorne, Visenya, along with Aegon, flew south and burned Dornish strongholds for the next two years. This period became known as the Dragon’s Wroth—though it could not bring Dorne (which remains independent even by the time of Viserys’s reign) into the realm.
Things quieted down for a bit as Visenya and her dragon both grew older and the realm became more peaceful. Vhagar lit the funeral pyre for King Aegon when he died in 37 AC, and continued to shuttle Visenya around the continent when the need arose. But she wouldn’t see battle again until 42 AC, when King Aenys died and his brother Maegor—Visenya’s only son—decided to usurp Aenys’s son Aegon’s throne. The Faith of the Seven bitterly opposed Maegor, and when many lords across Westeros were hesitant to pick a side (and surrender a hostage to Maegor, as he demanded), Visenya rose on Vhagar and burned the Riverlands castles of House Blanetree, House Terrick, House Deddings, House Lychester, and House Wayn in a single night. Then she did the same to House Broom, House Doggett, House Falwell, House Lorch, and House Myatt in the Westerlands. Visenya would have burned the Starry Sept of Oldtown as well, if the High Septon hadn’t mysteriously died the night before her arrival and Martyn Hightower hadn’t opened his gates to her at the last moment.
Visenya died in 44 AC, after roughly half a century as Vhagar’s rider. After Visenya’s passing, Vhagar remained riderless for 29 years, splitting her time between Dragonstone and the Dragonpit in King’s Landing. It wasn’t until Baelon Targaryen—Viserys’s father—mounted her in 73 AC that Vhagar once again saw battle. When the Dornish attempted to sail a fleet to the Stormlands in 83 AC, Vhagar was there—along with Vermithor and Caraxes, the latter of whom is now Daemon’s dragon—to burn the fleet and send the Dornish back to Sunspear. And after crown prince Aemon Targaryen was killed by a Myrish pirate in 92 AC, his brother Baelon brought Vhagar down upon the Myrish ships in vengeance.
Balerion died in 94 AC at around 200 years old, the only dragon known to have died of old age. That left Vhagar as the largest dragon in Westeros. And with crown prince Baelon as her rider and King Jaehaerys aging, the Iron Throne looked like it would pass to a powerful dragonrider. But Baelon died of a “burst belly”—likely a burst appendix—in 101 AC, leaving Vhagar riderless once again. This is where House of the Dragon picks up, as it’s Baelon’s death that prompted the Great Council that opened the show. In Episode 2, Laena Velaryon asks King Viserys about Vhagar’s whereabouts, and at that time the king knows only that Vhagar has made a home for herself somewhere across the Narrow Sea. We don’t get to see Laena mount Vhagar (though Fire & Blood tells us she was a dragonrider by age 12), but we know that at some point she does so, becoming the latest rider of the last living creature to have seen Aegon’s Conquest.
Laena’s time as Vhagar’s rider is mostly uneventful. Fire & Blood tells us that Laena loved to fly with her husband Daemon and niece-in-law Rhaenyra. In the book, Laena goes to Vhagar to attempt one last flight when she realizes she won’t survive a difficult childbirth, but she’s unable to make it to the dragon in time.
It’s not clear exactly what goes into mounting a dragon, but a dragon must feel comfortable with its new rider. Approaching a dragon that doesn’t want to be ridden is a death sentence—something that Quentyn Martell learns all too well when he tries to ride Viserion in A Dance With Dragons and Rhaegal bathes him in dragonfire. This is why Aemond must approach Vhagar at night: Fire & Blood tells us that his parents would never have allowed him to go near “an old, bad-tempered dragon who has recently lost her rider.” Aemond easily could have lost much more than an eye.
Aemond claiming Vhagar before Rhaena could get to her is a massive power shift. This gives the greens—as Rhaenyra calls them in this episode—a truly powerful and battle-tested dragon on their side. Aegon has a mount in Sunfyre and Helaena one in Dreamfyre, but those dragons are young, as Fire & Blood implies that they hatched shortly after the births of the prince and princess, respectively. In the short term, Vhagar is worth way more than the both of them combined.
What happens to Seasmoke now?
Fire & Blood left room for plenty of ambiguity about a great many things, including Laenor’s death. Here’s how it’s described in the book:
Ser Laenor Velaryon, husband to the Princess Rhaenyra and the putative father of her children, was slain whilst attending a fair in Spicetown, stabbed to death by his friend and companion Ser Qarl Correy. The two men had been quarreling loudly before blades were drawn, merchants at the fair told Lord Velaryon when he came to collect his son’s body. Correy had fled by then, wounding several men who tried to hinder him. Some claimed a ship had been waiting for him offshore. He was never seen again.
The circumstances of the murder remain a mystery to this day. Grand Maester Mellos writes only that Ser Laenor was killed by one of his own household knights after a quarrel. Septon Eustace provides us with the killer’s name and declares jealousy the motive for the slaying; Laenor Velaryon had grown weary of Ser Qarl’s companionship and had grown enamored of a new favorite, a handsome young squire of six-and-ten. Mushroom, as always, favors the most sinister theory, suggesting that Prince Daemon paid Qarl Correy to dispose of Princess Rhaenyra’s husband, arranged for a ship to carry him away, then cut his throat and fed him to the sea.
Given that Corlys collects Laenor’s body and there’s no mention of a fire or anything else that would have rendered it beyond recognition, I think it’s safe to say that Laenor dies in the book. That makes the staging of his murder—as well as Rhaenyra and Daemon’s being in on the plot—one of the biggest deviations from Fire & Blood thus far. It also leaves us with a big problem: what to do with Laenor’s dragon, Seasmoke.
It’s one thing to fake a death for other humans; it’s another to convince a dragon that its rider is dead. As I detailed last week, dragonriders share a deep bond with their dragons. It’s not quite to the level of warging, but there are multiple instances in the larger A Song of Ice and Fire story of dragons being able to sense when their riders are in danger, most famously when Drogon arrives in Meereen to save Daenerys from assassination.
Laenor’s fake death puts us in uncharted waters, as far as A Song of Ice and Fire lore goes. We’ve never seen a rider abandon a dragon before. To this point, doing so would have seemed almost unthinkable.
Yet if Seasmoke follows Laenor to Essos—or wherever he’s going—it would raise questions. The dragons that don’t have riders tend to stick around Dragonstone—where the volcanic mountain Dragonmont provides a warm, comfortable environment for them. It wouldn’t be unprecedented if Seasmoke flew off, but it would be a bit odd. Besides, what would the now-bald Laenor say to those in Essos who ask why a dragon follows him around? It would give him away instantly.
Assuming Seasmoke remains on Dragonstone, it’s not clear whether another rider will be able to claim him. While plenty of dragons have been claimed multiple times in their lives—just like Aemond did with Vhagar in this episode—it’s generally believed that no one can claim a dragon while its rider still lives. As Daenerys mentions in A Dance With Dragons, “It is said that even Aegon the Conqueror never dared mount Vhagar or Meraxes, nor did his sisters ride Balerion the Black Dread.”
So the question becomes: Can Seasmoke sense that Laenor lives? And if he can, does Laenor need to die for Seasmoke to become open to a new rider, or is abandonment enough?
Which Dragons were on Driftmark?
Laena’s funeral means a large convention of dragons. We get five of them in one shot here:
Which dragons were these?
The easiest to identify is the one directly over Castle High Tide. With those supplementary wings jutting out of its legs, that’s Caraxes, Daemon’s mount, who we’ve seen many times already.
On the right are two yellow dragons. The one still in the sky is Syrax, Rhaenyra’s dragon. You can make her out on Syrax’s back, too, which confirms this dragon’s identity, as Rhaenyra doesn’t arrive at the funeral until the next scene. Sitting on the rocks in the foreground is Sunfyre—Aegon’s mount. Sunfyre is supposed to have shining golden scales and pink wings. The scales aren’t quite as brilliant as the book describes, but as a young dragon maybe he just hasn’t hit his glow-up phase yet.
The middle dragon is hard to identify. It might be Seasmoke, Laenor’s mount, though Seasmoke looked lighter colored to me when we last saw him (and in Fire & Blood he’s described as “pale grey”).
The dragon flying highest overhead could be almost any dragon other than Vhagar, leaving several candidates. The first is Dreamfyre, a slender, blue-and-silver dragon that serves as Helaena’s dragon, though supplementary material for House of the Dragon tells us that Helaena rarely rides her. Dreamfyre must be present on Driftmark, though, because we see three dragons flying back toward King’s Landing when the royal court leaves:
These dragons have to be Vhagar, Sunfyre, and Dreamfyre. There are no other dragons belonging to the group that heads back to Westeros.
The remaining contender to be this dragon in the sky is Meleys, Rhaenys’s mount. Meleys has red scales and pink wings that have earned her the nickname “the Red Queen.” This dragon doesn’t look very red, but that might just be because of the lighting and distance.
There are a few additional dragons in the mix as well. We saw Jacaerys’s dragon, Vermax, in last week’s episode, but he’s still much too small to be one of the dragons shown on Driftmark and likely didn’t make the trip from King’s Landing’s Dragonpit. The same is true of Arrax, the dragon ridden by Lucerys, whom we have yet to be introduced to. Similarly, Moondancer is the dragon belonging to Baela, but it’s not clear whether she is large enough to ride yet.
As of now, that accounts for every dragon-and-rider pairing in the realm. They were all present on Driftmark.
Who is the heir to Driftmark?
In this episode, Corlys talks to Lucerys about eventually inheriting Driftmark—though the boy isn’t all that interested in taking over as the Lord of High Tide. Later, Rhaenys floats the idea that Baela could be the heir—bypassing Laenor’s sons on account of the fact that they clearly aren’t trueborn children. Even this skirts the fact that Jacaerys, as Lucerys’s older brother, should have a claim to Driftmark. That’s just getting set aside by most of the characters because Jacaerys is in line for a much more important inheritance: the Iron Throne.
As if the water here wasn’t already muddy enough, things got more complicated this episode after Laenor’s “death.” He was truly next in line for the Driftwood throne, and whether his clearly bastard-born children would follow him would be more his problem than Corlys’s or Rhaenys’s. Now, the angst over the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children is much more immediate. Corlys is an old man; he should be in his late 60s or early 70s. If he dies, what happens?
This isn’t a matter of simple debate between one of Rhaenyra’s boys or Daemon’s girls, because an additional party could have a claim: Vaemond.
Vaemond is Corlys’s brother, whom we previously saw in the Stepstones with Corlys, Laenor, and Daemon in Episode 3 and again in this episode, when he gave the eulogy for Laena. As he did so, he had some pointed words for the other Valyrian speakers in attendance: “Salt courses through Velaryon blood. Ours runs thick. Ours runs true. And ours must never thin.”
While he was saying this, he was looking directly at Rhaenyra and her children—the children who should be in line to inherit Driftmark. But Vaemond’s subtle barb hints that he has other plans.
Where will House Velaryon’s loyalties lie now?
An episode ago, House Velaryon was tied to princess Rhaenyra through Laenor, with an additional connection through Laena and Daemon and the latter’s close relationship with his niece. Now, that’s all up in the air.
Corlys and Rhaenys will still obviously take a great interest in their grandchildren—Baela and Rhaena with their Velaryon blood, and Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey with their Velaryon names. But when plotting the Laenor scheme with Daemon, Rhaenyra mentions that there could be whispers that the newly married pair was behind the plot. In her view, this could benefit them, because Rhaenyra’s enemies will wonder what they’re capable of. But it’s not clear that she considered the downside—that Corlys and Rhaenys could believe she murdered their son.
To be fair, it’s not like the Velaryons have many allies among the greens. The last time Otto and Corlys spent much time together they butted heads constantly, and Corlys and Rhaenys may feel some resentment about their daughter’s dragon being claimed by Aemond so soon after her death. For those reasons, it’s difficult to see a path that leads Corlys and Rhaenys toward Alicent and Otto.
But it’s still hard to see them joining hand in hand with Rhaenyra and Daemon if they suspect the two were behind Laenor’s death. Either Rhaenyra tells her in-laws the truth, or she deals with the repercussions that could come with a softening of their support.
Otto returns as hand
With Lyonel out of the picture, Viserys has gone back to an old adviser as hand: Otto.
This choice shines a light on Viserys’s weaknesses as a king. The most sensible choice appears to have been Rhaenyra. In picking her, Viserys could have prepped his daughter for the task of taking over as Westeros’s ruler. He also could have reinforced her legitimacy as his chosen heir. At this point, it’s been years since the lords of Westeros swore fealty to Rhaenyra, and many castles and lordships have probably changed hands in the ensuing time. Rhaenyra needs to make herself known to the powers that be. But bringing her back to King’s Landing also would have meant conflict with Alicent, and it’s this reason that is cited in Fire & Blood to explain why Viserys looked elsewhere.
Fire & Blood also tells us that Viserys considered Daemon but soon decided against asking him. In this episode Viserys offers Daemon an unspecified spot at court, but Daemon just as quickly refuses. Grand Maester Mellos—still alive in the books, if not on the show—apparently “suggested bringing in some younger man, and put forward several names,” but this, too, Viserys ignored. Instead he chose familiarity in Otto.
We don’t know of any changes with Otto since we saw Viserys dismiss him, some 10 years ago in the show’s timeline. He had already proved too self-interested to be hand, and his conversation with Alicent in this episode—the closest he’s come to showing genuine affection for his daughter, and all after she tried to slice out a child’s eye—shows that he remains largely motivated by seeing his grandchildren on the Iron Throne.
Viserys is weaker than ever, and he’s returning to King’s Landing surrounded by all the least trustworthy people.
The greens are very … green
Of all the terrible things Alicent and her kids did in this episode, one small one shouldn’t go unnoticed: The Targaryen children dressed in green for a funeral even though one of House Targaryen’s colors is black.
These kids were draped in green last episode as well. It’s reminiscent of how, in Thrones, Cersei’s children frequently dressed in Lannister red, rather than the yellow of House Baratheon. Alicent’s children aren’t bastards, of course, but their clothing choices reveal who has the most sway over them.
The Valyrian Wedding
Rhaenyra and Daemon seem to wait all of 10 minutes after Laenor’s death before getting married themselves. Surely some amount of time passed, and Fire & Blood tells us it is half a year before the two marry. That’s a quick turnaround that will surely raise questions about Laenor’s death and Daemon’s relationship with his niece when she was still a child.
There’s also something interesting about the unique ritual that Daemon and Rhaenyra undergo for their wedding. Unlike most of the Westerosi weddings we’ve seen so far, this is a very small affair, with only Daemon’s and Rhaenyra’s children present. Daemon and Rhaenyra don eccentric clothing before cutting their hands and lips with dragonglass and smearing blood over their faces as they wed. What is going on here?
This isn’t a Westerosi wedding. It’s a Valyrian one. It should come as no surprise at this point that Valyrians were obsessed with blood and bloodlines, as long before the reign of the Targaryens the dragonlords of Old Valyria married brothers to sisters. But we don’t know much about Valyrian weddings other than one specific wedding from Fire & Blood: the one between then–Prince Maegor and his second wife, Alys Harroway. Of that wedding the book says only this:
The wedding was performed on Dragonstone, under the aegis of the Dowager Queen Visenya. As the castle septon refused to officiate, Maegor and his new bride were joined in a Valyrian rite, “wed by blood and fire.”
Like Daemon and Rhaenyra, Maegor and Alys were wed basically in secret, owing to the fact that Maegor’s first wife, Ceryse Hightower, was still alive. Maegor’s marriage to Alys set the realm on fire (er, metaphorically, which isn’t always the case with the Targaryens), prompting his brother King Aenys to exile him and the High Septon to denounce the marriage as sin and fornication. It set the stage for what would be Maegor’s own bloody rule and long war with the Faith of the Seven.
To be compared to Maegor is to be in bad company, to say the least. And while the marriage between Daemon and Rhaenyra won’t be quite as unpalatable as the one between Maegor and Alys, it’s safe to say that it won’t go over well—especially as it seems to confirm the rumors about Daemon and Rhaenyra from so many years ago. Styling their marriage in the Valyrian custom also confirms how Daemon and Rhaenyra see their union—as a partnership of dragonriders determined to use the fire in their bloods.
Helaena the dreamer
In order to avoid book spoilers, I had to hold my tongue about one electric revelation from last week’s episode. But now it can be revealed: Helaena is a dreamer!
In Episode 6, Alicent assures her son Aemond that he’ll have a dragon someday. Helaena mutters to herself that “he’ll have to close an eye.” It happens so quickly—and is so unexplained—that it’d be easy to miss. But now that the show has covered Aemond claiming Vhagar and losing an eye in the process, we can confirm that Helaena has the same type of prophetic dreams that Targaryens such as Viserys and Aegon the Conqueror had.
This is a particularly exciting revelation, because Helaena is probably the most underdeveloped character in the books. All we know about her personality comes from this line:
Though plumper and less striking than most Targaryens, Helaena was a pleasant, happy girl, and all agreed she would make a fine mother.
Helaena having prophetic dreams is entirely an invention of the show, though it’s probably inspired by the fact that her dragon is named “Dreamfyre.” Also invented for the show is her obsession with insects and her apparent discomfort around other people. Helaena was a flat character in the books, but the show appears poised to give her much more depth.
Family Tree Watch
With the marriage of Daemon and Rhaenyra, the Targaryen family tree has become a true tangle. I did my best here:
This episode also revealed that Aegon and Helaena are betrothed to each other, in true Targaryen fashion. But since they aren’t married yet we’ll leave them unconnected for now.
Next Time On …
Here’s the preview for Episode 8:
We’re getting another big time jump, with child actors once again being replaced as characters move into young adulthood. And the Hightowers are building their strength in King’s Landing. But where is the king himself?
An earlier version of this piece misstated who took Aemond’s eye.