Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers about the fifth episode of “House of the Dragon,” which premiered Sept. 18.
“House of the Dragon’s” fifth episode is actually significant for logistical reasons, essentially marking the end of the chapter before the show time jumps ahead, featuring older versions of some characters and somewhat shuffling the deck.
Yet the hour could generate as much buzz for a brutal death that occurred, inviting discussion of old concerns and wounds about the way that LGBTQ characters are treated – and more to the point, killed off – in TV dramas.
The strides made in terms of greater inclusion have coincided with debate about how those characters are portrayed and the fates that they meet, giving rise to a much-discussed trope known as “Bury Your Gays.” The phrase refers to a history in which gay characters have disproportionately died as a plot device, creating the impression they are more expendable in the eyes of storytellers.
Given that, the “Game of Thrones” prequel potentially waded into controversy with its most recent episode, subtitled “We Light the Way,” which again demonstrated, among other things, that in Westeros not much good ever happens at weddings. (The series plays on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.)
As part of the plot, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) agreed to a marriage of convenience to Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate) – a royal merger designed to fortify their respective lines’ hold on power, where they can indulge their “appetites” elsewhere.
Knowing that Laenor is gay, Rhaenyra – having been reminded by her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) that marriage is merely a political arrangement – reassured him that they would essentially live separate lives, allowing him to continue his relationship with Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod). Rhaenyra, meanwhile, had been dallying with a knight of her own, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).
At the wedding feast, Joffrey let it be known to Criston that he is aware of the knight’s relationship with Rhaenyra, which clearly unsettled and disturbed him. When the event chaotically erupts in violence a short while later, Criston is on top of Joffrey, brutally pounding him to death during the melee. He then flirts with taking his own life, before Rhaenyra’s budding political rival, Alicent (Emily Carey), intervenes.
Martin’s vision is of a medieval world where life is often cheap. That includes everything from orgies to incest, and from the horrors of childbirth to securing regal succession even if that means marrying off under-age girls.
Still, introducing the relationship between Laenor and Joffrey only to dispatch the latter so quickly and horribly almost immediately prompted questions on Twitter on Sunday night about whether the “Bury Your Gays” trope applies here. Notably, past discussions of the practice have often surrounded science fiction and fantasy series, including “The 100” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and more recently, BBC America’s dark spy thriller “Killing Eve.”
It’s also worth noting that during “Game of Thrones’” heyday some asked if the show had a “gay problem,” as Vulture put it in a 2016 piece citing the number of LGBTQ characters who, up until that point, had met a violent end.
The arc of Laenor’s character doesn’t conclude with the latest episode. How that story unfolds could potentially offset or soften this latest turn of events in the eyes of those who would criticize it.
For now, though, based on the high-profile nature of the franchise that magnifies almost everything about the series, “House of the Dragon” could face some near-term heat.
HBO declined a request to address the episode.