Everything was looking overwhelmingly grim for Laenor Velaryon inof . But in a surprise end twist, Rhaenyra Targaryen's husband took a more fortunate path. The exact steps to this point weren't totally clear, although in hindsight they were foreshadowed in a couple of conversations beforehand.
Let's discuss the exact details of what happened in the spoiler-packed section below.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Was the plan all along for Laenor to escape?
Initially, several signs pointed to Daemon really wanting to have Laenor killed.
In their conversation at Driftmark's port, Daemon and Rhaenyra agree that in order to be wed to each other, Laenor has to be out of the picture. "We could not marry unless Laenor were dead," says Daemon, to which Rhaenyra responds, "I know." It seemed as though Rhaenyra was willing to betray Laenor, despite Laenor saying he would fully commit to her, what with his lover Ser Qarl returning to the fighting in the Stepstones.
Before Rhaenyra says anything else, we cut to Daemon apparently making plans with Ser Qarl, a "knight of remarkable skill," to murder Laenor. While Ser Qarl says Ser Laenor has been "kind" to him, it isn't 100% clear that Qarl is loyal to Laenor. Daemon appears to be flirty with Qarl, stepping right into his personal space. Qarl might just betray Laenor in exchange for enough gold to start a new life across the Narrow Sea.
When Daemon kills a servant of a similar appearance to Laenor, it isn't immediately clear for what purposes. This is all while we hear his explanation at the port to Rhaenyra that, to be truly powerful, she must rule by cultivating fear in her subjects.
Cut to Ser Qarl fighting Laenor because he always "looked down" on him. Only later do we discover this is all misdirection. The dead servant is dressed up to look like Laenor, his face charred in the fire so that he's mistaken for Corlys Velaryon and Rhaenys Targaryen's son. Meanwhile, Qarl and Laenor escape across the Narrow Sea, where they can live (hopefully) in peace.
Did Daemon and Rhaenyra intend to save Laenor?
In the end, it's revealed that Daemon and Rhaenyra had genuinely arranged for Laenor to survive (this is confirmed by co-showrunner Ryan Condal in HBO's episode 7 behind-the-scenes featurette).
"Fire is a prison. The sea offers an escape," Rhaenyra says in the same port conversation. "The Velaryons are of the sea."
These statements seem to foreshadow her wish to free Laenor from his duties to his family -- duties that don't allow him to live his true life as a gay man. Rhaenyra says she believes Laenor to be an "honorable man with a good heart ... a rare thing." She supports his true identity and appears to want the best for him.
By faking his death, she frees him to be with Ser Qarl, away from the shackles of King's Landing. Meanwhile, she firms up her claim to the Iron Throne by marrying her uncle Daemon -- keeping ties strong within the Targaryen family.