This article contains spoilers for “House of the Dragon” episode five and “Game of Thrones.”
Most couples on “Game of Thrones” and its prequel series, “House of the Dragon,” are pretty much doomed from the start. Life in Westeros is hard, even for its most rich and powerful, and marriages are rarely a matter of love. For Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), marriage is entirely political. They will unite two ancient houses and help cement political alliances, forging a new path forward with their offspring. Both of them a bit hesitant to wed because they already have romantic interests, but are able to come to an agreement that should satisfy everyone. They’re surprisingly progressive in a frequently backwards world, opting for a secret open marriage that will allow Laenor to express his true feelings for the Knight of Kisses, Joffrey (Solly McLeod), while Rhaenyra can continue her tryst with Ser Cole (Fabien Frankel).
The duo reminded me of another ill-fated pair from “Game of Thrones”: Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) and Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). Like Laenor, Renly was a gay man who was expected to wed a woman and beget heirs, and like Rhaenyra, Margaery was more than willing to find ways to ensure everyone could have their cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, Westeros is an awful place and love never wins, but you have to give them all points for trying.
King And Queen Of My Heart
Renly and Margaery were a delightful juxtaposition to some of the other couples on “Game of Thrones.” Almost every married pair kept secrets from one another, whether it was Cersei’s (Lena Headey) keeping her affairs with her brother a secret from the King or Ned Stark (Sean Bean) keeping the true nature of Jon Snow’s (Kit Harrington) parentage from his wife, but Renly and Margaery were pretty open and honest with one another. Margaery knew that Renly was in love with her brother, Loras (Finn Jones), and went out of her way to try and reassure Renly that she didn’t mind as long as he helped her produce heirs. Others weren’t as accepting of Renly, and there were plenty of tiny japes at his expense because of his sexuality, because homophobia is alive and well in Westeros. Eventually Renly met a tragic end because of his brother Stannis and Margaery goes on to take part in one of the franchise’s many tragic weddings, but for a brief period they looked like a potential progressive future for the Seven Kingdoms.
There was no real love between Renly and Margaery, at least not in the romantic or sexual sense, but they had one thing most of the other couples in the franchise sorely lack: mutual respect. While “House of the Dragon” is focusing on the feminine perspective, that doesn’t remove the rotten marriages. Alicent (Emily Carey) is basically a caretaker and baby maker for King Viserys (Paddy Considine), for example, while Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) only ever used his wife to gain a bit of property. Thankfully, Rhaenyra and Laenor have at least unique couple to look up to: Laenor’s parents, Corlys and Rhaenys Velarion (Steve Toussaint and Eve Best).
A Potentially Problematic Proposition
While figuring out the nature of their betrothal, Rhaenyra suggests to Laenor that they can have extramarital affairs as long as they make plenty of babies for the line of succession. She, like Margaery, doesn’t really mind that he’s more interested in other men, and she would rather be with Ser Cole or even her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) anyway. There are some potential concerns down the line, as that Old Valyrian blood is strong, and people might ask questions if potential heirs don’t look like both parents, but if Cersei Lannister managed to keep her three incest children off the chopping block for as long as she did despite them looking like little clones of herself and her twin, then maybe people in Westeros don’t understand genetics all that well.
Either way, the way the two talk with one another shows the same kind of mutual care and respect that Laenor’s parents have for each other, and it would do the both of them a lot of good to continue mirroring that pair. Their progressive, potentially lovely plan was unfortunately undone by Ser Cole’s murderous display at the wedding, and they’re going to need to learn to lean on each other if they’re going to survive a future together in King’s Landing.
Perhaps It’s Time For A Change Of Location
While I understand the inclination to continue to tell stories in Westeros, especially this one, because it’s based on history but adds dragon battles, maybe it’s time for a change of location for the franchise. Westeros is basically the Alabama of author George R.R. Martin’s world, where homophobia, misogyny, and incest run rampant, but there are plenty of other great, unexplored locations that deserve their own shot. After all, I love a gritty fantasy series with lots of sex and violence, but the regular inclusion of bigotry is a reminder of real-world misery that I would rather leave behind. While there is a series planned about Nymeria, who united Dorne, there should be a series about later-era Dorne, when it’s a beacon of knowledge, progressive ideals, and great wine. There’s still plenty of backstabbing, secrets, and political posturing in Dorne, but people aren’t condemned for their sexuality and bastards are given the same rights as children born in wedlock. Oh, and women have significantly more rights. Dorne kind of rules, and it’s a shame that we’ve barely seen any of it.
Similarly, there are the Summer Isles, which are described as being almost utopian, and other cultures even the books have yet to explore. Maybe it’s time to leave Westeros behind, or at the very least, take a little vacation to somewhere more enlightened.
New episodes of “House of the Dragon” debut Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.
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