Tall, dark, and with a head full of grey-white locks, Corlys Velaryon (portrayed by Steve Toussaint) is one of the most visually distinctive characters in House of the Dragon, HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel series.
Introduced at the start of the show as a member of the king’s small council, Corlys is the head of a noble house from Driftmark and the husband to Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) — but not much else is given away about his character in Episode 1.
However, House of the Dragon’s Fire & Blood source material reveals that Corlys “the Sea Snake” Velaryon and his family will play an essential role in determining the fate of protagonist Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock/Emma D’Arcy) and her children.
House Velaryon, explained
First, a history lesson. Though both the Targaryens and the Velaryons descend from Old Valyria and the peoples of the Valyrian Freehold, the Velaryons were said to have come to Westeros even before the Targaryens. They settled onto the fertile island of Driftmark, the largest island of Blackwater Bay and neighbor to Dragonstone. Driftmark has two castles, Driftmark and High Tide, and its House arms depicts a silver seahorse on sea-green foam.
Like the Targaryens, members of House Velaryon are of Valyrian descent. This means that its members often have stereotypically Valyrian features like silver-gold hair, pale skin, and violet eyes. In the show, this is changed slightly — the Velaryons are Black or biracial, with Valyrian gold-silver hair and (occasionally) purple or striking, light-colored eyes.
While the Velaryons themselves were never Dragonriders, opting to rule the water rather than the sky, some Velaryons did wind up marrying and having children with Targaryens, leading to some notable dragonriders who bear the name Velaryon.
The Velaryons remained close allies with the Targaryens (and were also allies to House Celtigar, who mostly kept to themselves on Claw Isle). During House Targaryen’s nearly 300-year rule in King’s Landing, several Velaryons held the title of Lord of the Tides and served on small council as Master of Ships. This included Corlys Velaryon (aka, the Sea Snake).
Why is Corlys Velaryon known as the Sea Snake?
We know a lot about Corlys Velaryon’s life. By the age of six, he was already making voyages from Driftmark across the Narrow Sea to Pentos. Corlys designed and built a ship called The Sea Snake, and took nine fabled voyages to Essos on the boat, all of which served to amplify the wealth of House Velaryon. On these journeys, Corlys returned with treasures like silk, spice, jade, gold, elephants, and more ships. By this point in GoT history, House Velaryon was richer than House Lannister, House Hightower, and House Targaryen.
By the time Corlys was 37, he was a celebrated mariner and was considered the greatest seafarer of the Seven Kingdoms. His prosperous voyages earned him the nickname the Sea Snake. Eventually, he was knighted and became the head of House Velaryon, the Lord of the Tides, and the Master of Ships during King Viserys I Targaryen’s rule.
How are the Velaryons important to House of the Dragon’s plot?
This section contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 1, and potentially beyond.
While the Velaryons were not mentioned much in Game of Thrones, they will play a greater role in House of the Dragon. Yes, this is because of Corlys’ allegiance to Prince Daemon Targaryen and Princess (later Queen) Rhaenyra Targaryen, but also because of Corlys’ children.
After the demise of Queen Aemma Arryn (which we see happen in House of the Dragon’s first episode), Corlys and Viserys have a falling-out because Viserys refuses to marry Corlys’ 12-year-old daughter, Laena. Because of this, Corlys betrays the King and makes an alliance with Viserys’ younger brother, the pompous Dragonrider Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), instead.
Together, Corlys and Daemon conquer the Stepstones, a chain of islands located east of Dorne and west of the coast of Essos, marking the border between the Narrow Sea and the Summer Sea. By 109 AC, both Corlys and Daemon have accomplished what they set out to do, and Daemon declares himself King of the Stepstones and the Narrow Sea. (Corlys happily obliges and places the crown on his head.)
But it’s Corlys’ children who perhaps play an even greater role in Westerosi history. Corlys’ son, Ser Laenor Velaryon (played by Theo Nate and John Macmillan in HOTD Season 1), marries Rhaenyra. Corlys’ daughter, Lady Laena Velaryon (played by Nova Fouellis-Mose, Savannah Steyn, and Nanna Blondell), becomes Daemon’s second wife.
During the Dance of the Dragons — the two-year civil conflict for the Iron Throne between Rhaenyra and her half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen — House Velaryon is a strong supporter of the Targaryen princess and her claim to the Seven Kingdoms. The Dance of the Dragons is expected to be an important part of House of the Dragon story.
What transpires afterward in Martin’s writings veers even further into spoiler territory for the show. As such, we’ll stop digging into House Velaryon and the critical part they play in Dance of the Dragons (for now). But we can at least assure that Corlys Velaryon will be a character to keep a close eye on throughout the entirety of House of the Dragon — if the prequel only covers Rhaenyra Targaryen’s contested reign, anyway.
House of the Dragon airs on Sunday nights on HBO.