House of the Dragon episode 5 spoilers follow.
It’s safe to say that no one in Westeros will ever die of old age. There are far too many dragons and killers and ripped out wombs for that to happen. It’s a miracle anyone even survives beyond birth, to be quite frank. But within this realm of constant peril, it seems that some people are far more likely to die than others.
Enter the queers. The gays of thrones, if you will.
game of Thronesas it’s more widely known, has always had a long history of killing pretty much everyone, yes, but when it came to LGBTQ+ characters, there was always a homophobic subtext that became impossible to ignore.
In a world where everyone dies, queer men like Oberyn Martell, Loras Tyrell and King Renly noticeably suffered a more grisly death than most still. LGBTQ+ women didn’t fare much better, aside from Yara, who miraculously marched that Pride flag right to the very end while every other queer character dropped like flies around her. And even she faced her (un)fair share of struggles too.
But that’s okay, right? Queer people should be able to live and die just like any other characters on TV. Right? Well, yes, but there remain specific examples, even in 2022, where the mistreatment and cruelty that queer people suffer grossly outweighs what happens to their straight counterparts.
Kind of like real life, really.
cue House of the Dragona show where gays can defy all odds and live happily in love together, but only for a scene or two, because straight people.
After teasing (queerbaiting?) something more between Rhaenyra and Alicent in episode one, House of the Dragon became far more preoccupied with incest than queerness, allowing it to thrive in ways that LGBTQ+ love cannot. It’s worth pointing out here that claims of historical accuracy don’t really fly in this regard when there are actual dragons flying around too.
But then, a few episodes later, a young Laenor Velaryon swooped down on one of those dragons like a rainbow bursting through the clouds, ready to spread queer joy everywhere. How lovely.
But this joy isn’t allowed to thrive openly, so it’s not until Laenor’s heavily-coded chat with Rhaenyra that we learn the young king-to-be has developed a taste for meat “different” to the kind that other men might enjoy.
Yep, he’s a sausage man, and that’s a problem in Westeros, because… well, for no good reason actually. This is a fictional world where homophobia doesn’t have to be a thing.
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Still, that doesn’t stop Laenor from tonguing his lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth every chance he gets… which isn’t for very long, it turns out.
Their brief make-out scene, noticeably tamer than the full-blown incest that Targaryens are so fond of, is quickly overshadowed by what comes next, so soon after we’ve just been introduced to the show’s first happy queer couple.
After plans are made for Rhaenyra to be Laenor’s beard, thereby giving her a chance to continue her own secret dalliance with Ser Criston Cole, everyone attends a splendid celebration meal in the main court. It’s a beautiful day, a wonderful time to be alive, in fact, which is why you know someone’s insides are about to appear on their outsides, Red Wedding style.
Joffrey, overcome with the gay need to gossip, tells Criston that he’s well aware of the knight’s relationship with Rhaenyra. Is he being a bit smug, or does he see them both as kindred spirits, bound to the future thrones by their secret lovers? Insert “Why not both?” meme here.
But Criston isn’t having it. Overcome with the straight need to punch things, Rhaenyra’s lover grabs Joffrey in front of the court and proceeds to pummel his face in with metal-plated gloves until it’s smushed to a pulp. It’s like an elephant stepped on someone’s McDonald’s takeaway, but instead, it’s Joffrey’s face.
Surprisingly enough, Joffrey doesn’t survive this bout of otter-on-twink violence. Laenor is left behind to mourn the death of his lover just briefly before he’s forced to go through with the ceremony and marry his beard anyway.
The phrase “I want that twink obliterated” really took on a new meaning this week.
But why did Joffrey have to die like this? Kill the gays, by all means, but when the gay in question is one of the first and only queer people on the entire show, murdering them in such a cruel, sadistic way reinforces harmful, dated tropes.
It also doesn’t help that Joffrey’s time on the show is so brief. All too often, queer characters are introduced into the service of straight characters, and this is absolutely a prime example of that.
Despite Solly McLeod’s best efforts, Joffrey isn’t much of a character in his own right during his brief time onscreen. Instead, he’s there specifically to die at the hands of Criston (and his toxic masculinity), thereby moving other chess pieces like Laenor, Rhaenyra, and even Alicent into the necessary places ready for next week.
Joffrey’s a meat puppet and nothing more, yet it’s unfair of the show to literally reduce him to such as his body is dragged out of court.
Efforts to make us sympathize with Criston at the end only emphasize what’s wrong with this storyline further. Why should we feel anything but resentment for a character whose insecurities led to such a specifically homophobic form of violence?
Morally dubious characters are the bread and butter of this franchise so there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with exploring that with Criston, but the issue is how House of the Dragon frames that morality here in a dubious way of its own.
And that’s even more palpable when you consider the wider context surrounding Joffrey’s death. In the source material, Criston seriously injures Joffrey during a tournament that’s held in honor of the wedding. It’s not until later on that he dies of injuries sustained during this bout, and crucially, Laenor is with him by his side.
So that means the House of the Dragon team must have read Fire&Blood and thought to themselves, “This death is far too lenient for someone like Joffrey. Let’s up the cruelty and rip him apart from Laenor at the end while we’re at it.”
And by “someone like Joffrey”, we mean a friend of Dorothy. A gay man, if you want.
Oh, and this isn’t the first time that the game of Thrones franchise has pulled a stunt like this either.
In the original A Song of Ice and Fire books, Loras Tyrell suffers some serious injuries, it’s true. But in the show, Loras is instead jailed and tortured in a medieval form of conversion therapy before he’s eventually blown up, exploding like Oberyn’s head did in the mountain’s grip.
And yes, that last sentence refers to yet another disproportionately cruel death for the gays, in case you were wondering.
You’d think that House of the Dragon would have learned more from the mistakes that game of Thrones once made, yet here we are still having the same old conversation again in 2022.
That’s not to say all hope is lost, though.
If Laenor survives these outdated tropes long enough to become a fully realized character, there remains some scope to move past all this and embrace queerness beyond flashes of peen in the brothel or this tired ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope.
And maybe, just maybe, Laenor may even make it to old age, or at least whatever passes as old age in the lethal realm of Westeros.
House of the Dragon season one airs weekly the US on Sundays on HBOand on Mondays in the UK on SkyAtlantic and NOW. Season 2 has been announced. game of Thrones seasons 1-8 are available on DVD and Blu-ray.