Soon after the end of Episode 6 of House of the Dragon, I received a flurry of emails—all asking what in the world was up with Larys Strong’s embrace of patricide and fratricide in “The Princess and the Queen.”
So that’s where we’ll begin this week’s mailbag: with a bunch of Larys questions grouped together. To appear in future mailbags, message me at @zachkram on Twitter or email@example.com each week after the Dragon episode airs.
Clayton asks, “Why does Larys think that getting rid of his brother (and father, too, presumably?) is a good result for Alicent?”
Alex asks, “By taking out his brother and father, doesn’t Larys eliminate two of the people who could ACTUALLY prove/make proper noise about the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children?”
Dan asks: “Is it just me, or is Larys just a too-obvious Littlefinger, seemingly leaning into the sinister clichés intentionally? Is that maybe an actor/director thing, and not based in the source material?”
Let’s start with the Harrenhal fire, because that’s a book mystery the show answers definitively. “The cause of the fire was never determined,” Fire & Blood says. “Some put it down to simple mischance, whilst others muttered that Black Harren’s seat was cursed and brought only doom to any man who held it. Many suspected the blaze was set intentionally.”
In George R.R. Martin’s original telling, various characters suspect different candidates who might have ordered the blaze. Corlys could be the culprit, lashing out at the man who had cuckolded his son. (More on that relationship in a moment.) Others think it might be newly single Daemon, attempting to open up a vacancy at Rhaenyra’s (bed)side. Even Viserys is the subject of rumors, because some believe he would be motivated to “remove the man who had dishonored his daughter, lest he somehow reveal the bastardy of her sons.”
Larys is also suspected in the book, but he’s not viewed as a strong (no pun intended) candidate because his only apparent motive is that he becomes the lord of Harrenhal with his father and brother dead. In a world where kinslaying is the ultimate taboo, that’s not a sufficient justification for his aggressive action—and that’s even before considering the fact that Larys lives in King’s Landing and doesn’t appear to care about Harrenhal anyway.
This is where Dan’s question fits: Larys’s villainy seems almost over the top, given how little the audience understands him at this point. We gained insight into Littlefinger during his conversations with other schemers, namely Varys—yet thus far, Larys has really only conversed with Alicent, whom he is clearly attempting to manipulate to his own as-yet-uncertain ends. He doesn’t yet have a foil.
I’m still interested in the character—I’m on record as loving Westeros’s schemers!—but I fear he’s verging on caricature, coming off as a blurry photocopy of Littlefinger so far. For now, the best I can do is repeat the Fire & Blood quote I referenced to describe Larys last week: “The enigma that is Larys Strong the Clubfoot has vexed students of history for generations, and is not one we can hope to unravel here.”
Maybe he desires chaos not as a ladder, as Littlefinger did, but as a final destination—taking after a different fictional villain who just wanted to watch the world burn.
But assuming that Larys has a clear, practical goal in mind with his schemes, let’s speculate about why he might think the older Strongs’ death would benefit Alicent. Most immediately, Otto Hightower—who is back in the trailer for Episode 7—could reenter the picture as King Viserys searches for a replacement as his hand. Given that Alicent seems to be effectively running the Red Keep these days, she could have enough influence to give her dad his old seat back—even if Viserys still harbors resentment stemming from the self-serving impulses that convinced him to fire Otto back in Episode 4.
Moreover, while Harwin could theoretically “make proper noise about the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children,” as one question asks above—though why would he try to deprive his son of the throne?—Alicent doesn’t have the luxury of banking on that possible outcome. The realities of the situation require a more aggressive short-term play. If Alicent wants the throne for her son, she needs to destabilize Rhaenyra’s claim before Viserys dies and the princess assumes the throne. If the succession progresses to the point that Rhaenyra’s eldest son, Jacaerys, is the ruler-in-waiting, it will be too late to stop him.
Remember what happened in Game of Thrones after King Robert died and was succeeded by Joffrey, a Baratheon in name only. Stannis had proof, courtesy of Ned Stark, that Joffrey wasn’t actually Robert’s son—but it didn’t matter, because Joffrey held all the trappings of royal legitimacy: He lived in the Red Keep, commanded the Kingsguard and City Watch, and benefited from the realm’s most powerful alliances.
Thus, the scandalous allegations against Joffrey were, for all intents and purposes, dismissed. As Cersei demonstrated to Littlefinger in the first episode of Season 2 of Thrones, power is power, and knowledge alone cannot combat control of trained men with swords.
But right now, Rhaenyra doesn’t enjoy the same level of control that Joffrey and Cersei had. After her move to Dragonstone, Rhaenyra has effectively zero allies in King’s Landing proper, other than Viserys himself.
So given (a) Viserys’s declining participation in the realm’s day-to-day affairs, (b) Alicent’s more assertive direction of the Small Council’s affairs, (c) Otto’s potential to return as hand, and (d) Rhaenyra’s trip to Dragonstone, Alicent and Otto could become the realm’s de facto rulers in short order. Then they might find greater opportunity to pounce while Viserys is still alive, and his choice of heir still has some wiggle room.
Jon asks: “Where was Corlys during this whole thing? Seems like he would’ve been the most aggrieved about the paternity of the children.”
I agree—show me more Corlys and Rhaenys! Corlys has been missing from two of the last three episodes, and Rhaenys has been absent for three of the last four.
But let’s imagine why Corlys wasn’t leading Alicent’s charge to investigate the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children. Mostly, it’s possible that he believes things are still looking up for House Velaryon, and he doesn’t want to mess with success.
Corlys’s daughter married a Targaryen as well. Laena and her daughter Baela added two more dragons to the Velaryon count, including Vhagar, the biggest and baddest beast around. And Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey still carry the Velaryon name—which they could lose if investigated, so Corlys might prefer to maintain a transparent sheen of legitimacy rather than strip it away.
Yet there’s another factor for Corlys to consider regarding his ostensible grandsons’ lineage. Rhaenyra’s children aren’t just in line to rule the Seven Kingdoms—they’re in line to follow Corlys and Laenor as the head of House Velaryon and the castle High Tide, too. That concern hits closer to home, and if it’s an open secret that Laenor isn’t their father, Corlys might not be the only prideful Velaryon reluctant to cede control of the family’s future to Rhaenyra’s children.
The next episode is titled “Driftmark,” the name of the island where Corlys lives. Maybe he, or another Velaryon, will have his say then.
Adam asks: “What happens to dragons once their human counterpart dies? Do they just roam around until another human can tame them?”
Given the opportunity to live out their natural lives, an individual dragon survives much longer than its human. Balerion, Aegon the Conqueror’s mount, lived more than 200 years. Therefore, many dragons take multiple riders over their long lives; Balerion, the Black Dread himself, took three: Aegon the Conqueror, Maegor the Cruel, and Viserys. (Technically, a fourth Targaryen rode Balerion as well, but the tale of Princess Aerea is so spooky and twisted that we’ll save it for another time.)
Beyond Balerion, a trio of dragons we’ve seen in Dragon have already seen their humans die. Daemon is the second man to ride Caraxes. Rhaenys is the second woman to ride Meleys. And Laena is the third person to ride Vhagar.
Between riders, dragons in Westeros tend to hang out in the vicinity of Dragonstone—if not on the island itself—because of the volcano that’s located there. Remember Viserys and Laena’s awkward conversation in Episode 2, when the king said that Vhagar had been spotted at nearby Driftmark. And that pattern holds for dragons we haven’t seen yet on the show, too: Fire & Blood says that at this point in the timeline, Vermithor (the dead King Jaehaerys’s mount) and Silverwing (the dead Queen Alysanne’s) have “lairs in the smoky caverns of the Dragonmont above the castle.”
That’s not to say that all dragons follow this path. Dreamfyre eschewed Dragonstone, instead making her home in the Dragonpit in King’s Landing after the death of her first rider, Rhaena (Viserys’s great-aunt). Some wild dragons don’t accept riders in the first place. And a dragon could run away from human civilization as well, as Drogon appeared to do after Daenerys’s death in the final episode of Thrones, and as another dragon in Fire & Blood does when its rider dies and it flies to a remote island in the middle of a lake, where no humans can try to ride it again.
Chris asks, “What was the calculus to do this incredible cast change mid-season 1 instead of bringing Season 1 to a close with last week’s story line and start Season 2 with the new cast?”
The issue is that there isn’t enough story to fill out 10 full episodes before the big time jump. Before Dragon premiered, I made a giant outline for myself, which listed all the key events that the book details. And in the entire time between Rhaenyra and Laenor’s wedding and Laena’s death, I noted only one bullet point other than the birth of various babies: Rhea Royce dies (which happens earlier in the show than in the book) and Daemon remarries, this time with Laena Velaryon. That’s it—the only occurrence of note over this entire decade (or six-year span, as it goes in the book).
As I noted before the season, one of the challenges of the Dragon adaptation versus that of Game of Thrones is the relative lack of material. The first season of Thrones tracks with the series’ first book, which is nearly 700 pages long. Depending on where in the story Dragon ends its first season, the corresponding portion of Fire & Blood is only about 50 pages.
Moreover, Thrones never needed a time jump because the entire A Song of Ice and Fire saga to date spans about three fictional years. (The show stretched this out a bit longer, to roughly one fictional year per TV season.) Dragon, on the other hand, spans 28 years in its first season alone, counting the opening prologue featuring the Great Council at Harrenhal.
And most of those pages are concerned with the particulars of palace intrigue, with very little compelling action along the way. Could Dragon have built out the Crabfeeder to supply more thrills in the Stepstones? Maybe—though the Crabfeeder was a boring blank slate on the page, and it would have been difficult to tie him and the remote Stepstones into the central story of Rhaenyra, Alicent, and Viserys in King’s Landing.
Perhaps the show could have invented more action scenes instead; it did so with Episode 3’s royal hunt and boar attack. But the main thrust of the Targaryen civil war happens, well, once the war actually begins, so it wouldn’t make much sense to add a bunch of filler material before the meat of the story.
Once Season 1 ends and we can see the entire chronology laid out with a bird’s-eye view, we’ll have a better ability to judge in retrospect how the showrunners navigated the tricky time demands of the lead-up to the war. Should they have spread the first five episodes across a full season? Should they have condensed it to one prologue episode instead? Was the Goldilocks middle actually the right choice, despite its sometimes awkward byproducts? As of now, it seems imperative that House of the Dragon get to the good stuff, and that means making war.
Riley asks: “Do we have more significant time jumps ahead of us, perhaps in future seasons? Still a lot of growing to do for the kids (and adding future kids).”
The Ringer’s House of the Dragon team debated this very question internally after Sunday’s episode, because we’re not quite sure how Dragon will handle the remaining time it needs to traverse before the conclusion of Season 1. Our best guess is that the 10-year jump between episodes 5 and 6 won’t be the last time jump of the season—but it will be the most significant. Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke are here to stay, at least, and the showrunners haven’t given any indication that another major leap is coming.
Yet some amount of time must pass within the next several episodes. Rhaenyra’s and Alicent’s kids will be recast at some point, and the Targaryens still have more marriages to celebrate, more children to birth, and more dragons to tame before war commences.
The Episode 7 trailer, which depicts an apparent funeral for Laena, doesn’t give any indication of a time jump after her death at the end of Episode 6. Maybe we’ll skip another few years between 7 and 8, but that’s just a tentative guess.