This post is my way of getting past the fact that we lost Laena before truly getting to know her in House of the Dragon.
The short answer is, for me, yes. But perhaps it did not start that way.
The last time we saw Daemon Targaryen before The Princess and the Queen, he was not exactly in a good place. His brother had banished him to the Vale after he falsely admitted to sleeping with Rhaenyra in the middle of a brothel. He did go to the Vale, but it was only to murder the wife he did not want (poor Rhea Royce). He crashed Rhaenyra's wedding to Laenor Velaryon, where he told Ser Gerold Royce that he intended to press his claim to Runestone as Rhea's heir. There, he also met Laenor's ethereally beautiful sister Laena, who appeared interested in him. When all hell broke loose at the wedding because of bloody Criston Cole, we saw no more of Daemon.
In the books, Lady Jeyne Arryn, ruler of the Vale, denied Daemon's claim to Runestone and warned him that he was unwelcome in the Vale. By this time, Daemon did not really have much going for him. There was not much point in returning to live in King's Landing, even if his brother allowed it. He was already so far away from the succession, with Rhaenyra having been declared heir and Alicent giving birth to more Targaryens. Stepstones was fun when it was a place to be conquered; now that it was only rocks and crabs, there was no reason for Daemon to remain there. Where else could Daemon go that befit his station as brother to the King?
In Fire and Blood, the now 22-year-old Laena had been betrothed to the son of the Sealord of Braavos since she was 12. Her father Lord Corlys Velaryon, however, had come to rue this betrothal. The Sealord died before the wedding could happen and the son turned out to be a wastrel who squandered the family fortune. It was difficult to get out of the betrothal, however, so Corlys just kept delaying the wedding. When Daemon set his eyes on Laena and asked Corlys for his daughter's hand in marriage, he also removed the impediment that was the previous betrothal; Daemon insulted the boy so badly, he had no choice but to challenge Daemon in a fight. Of course Daemon prevailed.
Laena was a very suitable match for Daemon. They were both blood of old Valyria and riders of powerful dragons (Laena with Vhagar, Daemon with Caraxes). It was Laena's interest in Daemon (depicted in the show) that arrested Daemon's descent; he went from a homeless man to husband to the daughter of Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys. Their adventurous spirits and dragons meant they could travel the world (they did in Fire and Blood too, to Pentos, Old Volantis, Qohor, Norvos, then back to Pentos again, before returning to Driftmark). Their high birth in Westeros meant politics and responsibilities; in Essos, that meant the doors of the wealthy were open to them. It was a good life for the couple, but they were not going to remain young forever, and Laena was more honest about the pull of home than Daemon.
Why didn't Daemon want to come home? In Fire and Blood, Daemon married Laena without Viserys's permission, and their flight away from Westeros was a prudent move. Going by what the show showed alone, home to Daemon would have meant Driftmark, where he would be under Lord Corlys and Princess Rhaenys. In Essos, even in Pentos where Daemon would practically be a glorified employee of the Prince of Pentos, the transaction was straightforward -- dragon protection in exchange for a very comfortable life. Driftmark meant having to navigate the complexities of family where Daemon would not be the top man. He would feel needed in Pentos; in Driftmark, he would be the son in law who did not really bring much to the marriage.
That is one possibility. The other possible reason is that Daemon has been in love with Rhaenyra this whole time, that he worried he would not be able to remain faithful to his wife whom he loved too, with Rhaenyra so close by. If this were the case, won't Laena have sensed this?
This is how the relationship between Daemon, Rhaenyra, and Laena was described in Fire and Blood: 'Whilst Princess Rhaenyra misliked her stepmother, Queen Alicent, she became fond and more than fond of her good-sister Lady Laena. With Driftmark and Dragonstone so close, Daemon and Laena oft visited with the princess, and her with them.' One of the changes I've seen fans get upset about was switching the deep friendship Rhaenyra and Laena shared in the books with a deep friendship between Rhaenyra and Alicent that only existed in the show. I am all right with the change, though I wish we had seen more of Laena and her relationship with Daemon. Since we didn't, let's just speculate.
My take is that Daemon and Laena were attracted to each other, perhaps Laena more so because she met Daemon at a time when his deeds were already legend. To Daemon, Laena was a lifeline, a stunning, adventurous, wealthy lifeline, a woman that he liked and, as they spent more time together, fell in love with. Theirs was a very grown up love, seeing each other through clear lenses and choosing each other every day anyway. Laena knew that Daemon would have preferred a different life, perhaps one closer to the Iron Throne and the Targaryen tradition of marriage within the family, but she also knew her husband's quiet longings did not diminish her or the life they shared as husband and wife. At the end of the day, Daemon chose Laena and Laena chose Daemon. 'He's trying his best,' Laena told their daughter Rhaena, and that was how she knew Daemon loved them. Daemon did not try, he just did. Yet here he was, staying away from trouble for a decade, spending his time in the library, tutoring their daughter Baela in High Valyrian. Daemon Targaryen, who once went on a suicidal mission against Craghas Drahar and the entire Triarchy, calmed himself down and became a loyal husband and father. He tried to be worthy of Laena and their children. It could only be because he loved her and them. Him loving another does not change that.
Do I feel some loss over the fact that the show chose not to explore what likely was a very interesting relationship between Rhaenyra, Laena, and Daemon that was hinted in the books? Yes, but I understand and respect the complexity of their work. Part of the fun of being immersed in a world as rich as the one George R.R. Martin created is exploring these roads not taken and seeing where one's imagination can take you. Part of me will always feel sorry that we saw too little of Laena, but that's true for many characters in Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. I have done my story exploration as a fan here, and my hope is that it will help me move on.
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