Breaking Down Those Big Deaths In House Of The Dragon Season 1, Episode 6
Warning: Contains SPOILERS for House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6, and the book Fire & Blood.There are three big deaths in House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6, with Laena Velaryon, Harwin Strong, and Lyonel Strong all killed off in shocking fashion. As a Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon is not shy about killing characters: Aemma Arryn died in episode 1; the Crab Feeder was quickly dispatched in episode 3; Criston Cole killed Joffrey Lonmouth in episode 5. This will continue as the show builds to its Targaryen civil war The Dance of the Dragons, living up to its parent series’ motto that “all men must die,” but things go bigger than ever in episode 6.
It’s not just that House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6’s deaths see a trio of important characters killed, but that they will all have a great impact on the story to come. The death of Laena, tragic in its own right, leaves Daemon Targaryen without a wife, their kids without a mother, and Vhagar without a dragonrider. Lyonel Strong dying means vacancies both for Hand of the King and Lord of Harrenhal; Harwin’s death means the real father of Rhaenyra Targaryen’s children is gone, and so too is her sworn protector. With that, the landscape of Westeros will change again.
Laena Velaryon takes her own life by forcing her dragon, Vhagar, to kill her by using the command “dracarys,” in what’s one of the most poignant and powerful dragon moments seen in either House of the Dragon or Game of Thrones. It’s a scene that flips Aemma’s death from House of the Dragon’s premiere episode: there, King Viserys I Targaryen made the decision to give his wife a C-section in order to try and save their child, knowing she would not survive it. Here, Laena’s husband, Daemon is asked the same question, but while he hesitates his choice is rendered moot. It’s admittedly not much of a choice, but Laena takes the decision into her own hands; faced with her husband deciding she will die during childbirth or surviving and losing the baby, and either way little hope of returning to Driftmark as she yearns for, Laena gives herself the dragonrider’s death she wanted (the show had already established that riding dragons was where Laena’s heart truly lay, and where she felt most free), if much earlier than she had thought.
Laena Velaryon dies at a similar point in Fire & Blood’s story, but in a different way. The circumstances are changed – Daemon and Laena’s life in Pentos has cut them adrift much more, whereas in the book they had already returned to Driftmark long before she died. In the book, Laena’s death also comes during childbirth, but she delivers a son who dies just an hour later. Laena suffers from a fever after that, and passes away a few days later, with it believed she was trying to make her way to Vhagar one final time. House of the Dragon gives Laena a degree more agency in the story, allowing her some say in her fate while still reflecting both just how dangerous childbirth was (and still is) for women, and the patriarchal society that led to this situation for Laena (and Aemma and many others).
Laena’s death will have an impact on House of the Dragon in a few ways: aside from the sense of loss felt for the character, it will change the future of Daemon, of House Velaryon, and of her dragon, Vhagar. In the book, Laena and Laenor both die in the same year; not long after that, Daemon marries Rhaenyra and they have children of their own – indeed, it’s speculated Daemon may have arranged for Laenor’s own death, which comes when he’s sparring with his lover Qarl Correy, who is introduced in episode 6.
Rhaenyra and Daemon’s romance has already been set up, and it can be assumed that these events will play out in House of the Dragon season 1’s remaining episodes; from there, Rhaenyra and Daemon will lead the fight for her to be Queen. As for Vhagar, the biggest dragon in Westeros, he will be claimed by a new rider at Laena’s funeral, bonding with Aemond Targaryen (whose lack of a dragon is also very prominent in episode 6), giving the faction that will support Aegon’s claim to the Iron Throne a huge weapon in the war to come.
Following on from Laena, House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6’s deaths are Harwin and Lyonel Strong, both of whom perish in a fire at Harrenhal – one set in motion by Larys, brother of Harwin and son of Lyonel. Larys has already shown himself to be very different to his more honorable father and brother, but also much more cunning. Larys is House of the Dragon’s Littlefinger, a political schemer who’ll play anyone and anything if it serves his own ends. To that, then Larys killing Lyonel and Harwin removes some obstacles – he will now be in line to become Lord of Harrenhal, granting him greater status, wealth, and power – and gives him a lot of leverage over Alicent Hightower.
Part of this may be motivated by the damage done to the Strong name, which has been sullied by the rumors of Harwin fathering Rhaenyra’s children, something Lyonel stood by and allowed to happen. Larys was already distanced from that, being a close ally of Alicent, and is now even more so. But it also appears as though Larys has long been backing what he thinks will be the winning horse (or dragon) in Alicent and her son, Aegon, since his working for her pre-dates Harwin and Rhaenyra’s affair. He’s ultimately working to advance his own position, and now has the Queen in his pocket, by making her an accomplice and burdening her with the knowledge of the crimes; he can use that to be given greater positions (in the book he eventually serves as Master of Whisperers and Lord Confessor – effectively Torturer in Chief – to Viserys and Aegon II).
What Larys wants is something that even Fire & Blood’s historians do not know, and he remains an enigma for centuries. He will later change sides during the Dance, albeit after Rhaenyra’s downfall, so he isn’t purely loyal to the greens, though there’s definitely a strong suggestion he dislikes Rhaenyra (and may be against a woman taking the Iron Throne). But he’s also an agent of chaos who seemingly revels in playing the game of thrones. And if he plays all sides, then he can all but guarantee he comes out on top.
Killing Lyonel and Harwin gives him influence in the realm from Harrenhal, power over the Queen (and so potentially the King too), and a sense of personal satisfaction, with no one any the wiser that Larys Clubfoot would be behind such misdeeds. In the book, Lyonel and Harwin die in similar fashion, but there are various theories about who started the fire. They include Larys, but also Daemon (because he wanted Harwin out of the picture for his own romance with Rhaenyra), Viserys (for dishonoring his daughter), Lord Corlys Velaryon (for Harwin fathering his “grandchildren”), and, as Larys claims, the curse of Harrenhal.
Harwin Strong’s death is a sad one, because he’s someone immediately shown as (relatively) decent, clearing caring for Rhaenyra and their children. It robs them of any reconciliation, but they could never have had a real future where they’d properly be together after all the rumors about them (and his lack of Valyrian blood). Harwin’s death is more important politically, though: if he survived, he would have ruled as Lord of Harrenhal, and supported Rhaenyra in the Dance of the Dragons. Instead, that falls to Larys, who will support Alicent and Aegon instead.
Lyonel Strong’s death will have an even greater impact, because it means Viserys needs a new Hand of the King. That, then, will mean the return of Otto Hightower to King’s Landing (he is given the job again after Lyonel’s death in the book). Though Alicent has essentially been a proxy for him anyway, having Otto back will strengthen the position of the greens (the faction who will support Aegon’s claim), and mean they double-down on efforts to position him as Viserys’ heir. When King Viserys eventually dies, having Otto at court will be crucial in order to ensure the greens move swiftly to replace Viserys with Aegon before Rhaenyra can even make her own move. With one fire and two deaths, Larys Strong has handed a huge advantage to Alicent and Aegon.
House of the Dragon releases new episodes Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO and HBO Max.