The daughter of Lord Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, she died as she lived on her own terms.
I already wrote about Laena Velaryon in a short post exploring her relationship with Daemon Targaryen, but I wanted to do a second one concerning her death. Whilst the time jumps in House of the Dragon are understandable, they could also be frustrating when it comes to truly fascinating characters like Laena, whom we saw too little of. Her father Lord Corlys Velaryon sailed through the known world and raised House Velaryon through heretofore unknown heights of power and wealth. Her mother was Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who pressed her claim to the Iron Throne with none other than her grandsire King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, and who later in the Dance would prove her fierceness as a dragonrider (no spoilers). Laena met the infamous Prince Daemon Targaryen, decided that she wanted him, and traveled far into Essos on dragonback with him. 'My brave girl', Daemon murmured, as he faced the possibility of living a life without her, and that she was, brave and self-assured, a woman who lived a life of her choosing, and died as she wanted, a dragonrider.
The very first episode of House of the Dragon already showed the peril unique to women, childbirth, in the horrific scene of Queen Aemma Arryn's death. Grand Maester Mellos presented the King with an impossible choice, do nothing and both the Queen and her unborn child will die, or cut the babe out of her and save the child. Viserys, intent on his belief that his son would sit the Iron Throne, gave his consent to cut open his terrified wife, without her consent. Note that she was not asked, this was, appallingly, presented as the husband's choice alone. Queen Aemma died, and the much longed for son, Prince Baelon, followed her a few hours later. A drunken Prince Daemon gave a speech in a brothel about the heir for a day, which got him exiled the first time (but not the last, getting exiled was Daemon's thing, along with that forehead lean).
In a terrible irony, now that he himself was a husband and a father, Daemon faced the same choice his brother did. The babe would not come out, and the healer told Daemon they could cut the babe out. Daemon asked if the mother would survive, and of course the answer was no. Again, note that the husband was asked, not the woman whose life was in peril. Daemon shook his head; he was not his brother, obsessed with having a male heir, he refused to put his wife through that horror. But when he turned back toward the bed, Laena was gone.
In Fire and Blood, Laena had a difficult labour as well, and she gave birth to a malformed son who died within the hour. Weakened and grieving, she developed childbed fever, Daemon few to Dragonstone to fetch the more experienced Maester, Gerardys, but he was too late. From Fire and Blood: 'During her final hour, it is said, Lady Laena rose from her bed, pushed away the septas praying over her, and made her way from her room, intent on reaching Vhagar that she might fly one last time before she died. Her strength failed her on the tower steps, however, and it was there she collapsed and died. Her husband, Prince Daemon, carried her back to her bed.'
That was gut wrenching to read, and in a way I am glad the show changed it. At this stage in their relationship, Laena was doing her best to keep their family together though she knew that her husband had grown depressed. She wanted to go home to Driftmark and have her daughters take their place in Westerosi society, as they were born to. She very clearly expressed what she wanted to her husband, who only wanted to drown his sorrows in silence. Daemon did not give Laena what she wanted, to birth her child where she was born, in her father's castle in Driftmark. It was not surprising, though heartbreaking, that near the end of her life, she did not trust her husband enough to help her enact her final wish. I don't even think she saw Daemon's response to the healer's suggestion of cutting her open. Laena wanted to die a dragonrider's death, and with her last strength she hauled herself out of bed and walked toward Vhagar. No final words to her husband; from the little that we saw of Laena, she seemed like a woman who would have spoken what she needed to speak of to her husband when she needed to, so that on her final moments there was nothing left unsaid. She faced death as she faced life, without fear and on her terms.
What made the scene even more emotional was Vhagar, that huge, ancient dragon who was a veteran of countless wars, who has burned thousands and who now had to burn her rider. One of the most amazing aspects of House of the Dragon was how they presented the dragons not just with their own specific design and movement, but also personalities. Dragons were not just weapons of mass destruction, they were magical creatures bonded to their riders. How that bond works, no one is quite certain. In one scene in Fire and Blood, we saw a dragon mourning another dragon (I won't name them because spoilers). In Game of Thrones, we saw Drogon absolutely shattered at Daenerys's death. Even before that, there were scenes when it was as though Drogon somehow sensed Daenerys's emotions and acted accordingly. The same could be said of Syrax with Rhaenyra and Caraxes with Daemon.
Vhagar did not immediately follow the Dracarys command. Laena kept repeating it, however, bloodied and in tears. We could only imagine that with their bond, Vhagar must have felt her pain, and finally relented. I do wonder if Vhagar's pain here affected her decision regarding her new rider later on, but that is a spoiler and a discussion for another day.
Laena Velaryon, we lost you too soon, but with the very compressed time, the show did right with her. She will live in her daughters Lady Baela and Lady Rhaena, but we will never see her like again.