of HBO's was shocking for a number of reasons. The prequel episode ended with a fiery bang for one character. It was unexpected and not in a good way for some. Let's discuss in the spoiler-filled section below.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
What decision does Laena make?
Two big choices come up at the end of episode 6.
Similar to Aemma Targaryen, Laena Velaryon suffers a difficult childbirth, unable to push the infant out. The maester suggests to Laena's husband Daemon Targaryen that he could "lay open the womb, try to remove the infant by way of the blade." But there are no guarantees the baby or the mother would survive.
Unlike Aemma ---- Laena realizes what's going on early enough to take matters into her own hands. Before Daemon can have a say, Laena escapes the birthing room and limps outside, imploring her dragon Vhagar to breathe fire onto her. "Dracarys!" she commands -- the High Valyrian (language of the old Valyrian Freehold) word for "Dragonfire." Vhagar hesitates, visibly confused by his rider's shocking request. But eventually he seems to understand her pain and helps to end it, incinerating her in a powerful blaze.
Why does Laena kill herself?
Unfortunately, before going into labor, Laena was already in a bad place.
We first meet Laena when she's 12 years old, having been carted up to King's Landing as a young bride offered to King Viserys. More than three years after Viserys rejects her, Laena reunites with the King's younger brother Daemon. Daemon, childless, had just murdered his wife. He immediately takes a shine to Laena.
Ten years later, the pair are married with two daughters. But as House of the Dragon never fails to remind us, sons are what everyone is after. In a scene before Laena's death, she and Daemon talk about the struggles in their marriage. It's a marriage that's "slowly unraveling in the middle of nowhere," according to the episode 6 making-of featurette. Daemon is restless, longing for home (they moved to Essos, across the Narrow Sea) and unable to sleep. They also discuss Rhaenyra, Daemon's ex-lover, delivering another son. Laena clearly laments she hasn't produced one for Daemon.
"Perhaps, I too, am not the wife you would've wished for yourself ... It does not pain me. I have made my peace."
This scene appears to foreshadow what's to come. Even the scene in which Laena speaks to her youngest daughter Rhaena seems to provide a touch of necessary exposition, making it clear Laena is bound to Vhagar, "the largest [dragon] in the world."
In the birthing room, Laena overhears the maester tell Daemon that she won't survive a cesarean section to remove the infant. Without being able to see Daemon's reaction or hear what decision he makes, Laena immediately flees. This suggests she knows Daemon will go through with the surgery, sacrificing her for the smallest chance their child will survive. She thinks Daemon will make the same choice as his brother Viserys and is "unwilling to go the same way Aemma did," says co-showrunner Ryan Condal in the featurette.
"She's a dragon rider. She wants to die a dragon rider's death."
It appears Laena, stuck in an unhappy marriage, thinks she's going to die no matter what. Rather than go through with the surgery and bleed to death, she has the agency to choose her ending, one that no prince or king decides for her. Albeit this suggests she sacrifices any chance, even a small one, for her son to survive.
Another reading: Daemon wanted to save Laena
Laena's birthing scene mirrors the same situation King Viserys faced with Queen Aemma. However, in this case, the maester doesn't present Daemon with a strong chance his son will survive a C-section. After Daemon discovers his wife would die from such a surgery, he appears to give a tiny shake of his head, indicating he doesn't wish to go through with it. Unlike Viserys, Daemon doesn't want to risk his wife's life.
Having moved across the Narrow Sea to Pentos, one of the Free Cities in Essos, Daemon has "tried to remove himself from Westerosi politics," according to Condal, "in a place where it can't affect him and twist him the way that it always did when he was home." From this perspective, it could be said that Daemon also wanted to distance himself from his brother's decision making. He chooses not to sacrifice his wife -- the mother of his two daughters -- for an heir.
On hearing about the birthing complications, Laena potentially feels shame that, once again, she might not be able to produce Daemon a male heir. She decides to end her life, after failing to fulfil the purpose she was brought up from a young age to honor.
Laena also appears to want the best for Daemon. They discuss Daemon wasting all his time reading accounts of "the same dead dragonlords." Laena says, "But you are more than this Daemon. The man I married was more than this." Laena appears to have accepted the idea that she has disappointed Daemon. By taking herself out of the picture, she allows Daemon to be free to find a new wife and have another chance at producing the male heir he desires.
A deleted scene with Daemon and his daughters
A press image labeled to be from episode 6 appears to show Daemon speaking with his daughters on a Pentos rooftop. This scene might also give a tiny ounce of credence to the reading Daemon loved his family, including his wife, and didn't want to see her suffer. However, this scene doesn't appear in the episode.
In the book
In George R. R. Martin's Fire & Blood, the book House of the Dragon is based on, Daemon isn't forced to choose whether to put Laena through a life-threatening C-section. Instead, Laena suffers a tough birth and delivers a boy who, like Aemma's son Baelon, dies after a short time. Laena becomes severely ill from grief and fever. Daemon orders a renowned maester to save her, but he arrives too late. Laena attempts to fly Vhagar one last time before she dies but, fatigued and ill, she passes away before she can reach the dragon.