Just like the Hightowers, House Velaryon came to Westeros before the Targaryens did. History tells us that they have always been trusted allies of the Targaryens since the reign of Aegon the Conqueror. As much as they would have liked their own blood to sit on the Iron Throne, they knew they didn’t have that choice. The Targaryens were dragon riders. No matter how wealthy or powerful a house was, it had to ultimately bow down in front of the mighty dragons. The Targaryens were also well aware of this fact. They knew that they were able to conquer and make everybody swear allegiance to them only because they had the dragons by their side. That is why they worshiped the fire, as they knew that without it, they were nothing but ordinary people. Constraints can bind actions, but there is nothing that can limit the mind. All the houses resigned to their fate, but here was a man who wanted to make his own luck. Lord Corlys Velaryon, a.k.a. The Sea Snake knew that even if his house was the most affluent in the Seven Kingdoms, he couldn’t dare to go against the Targaryens. But his mind constantly plotted and schemed. He wanted to stay as close as he could to the Iron Throne. He was well aware of the dynamics that he shared with King’s Landing. He knew that Viserys Targaryen needed him. He knew that no matter how much Otto Hightower hated him, he couldn’t ever advise the king to go against the most affluent house that also had the largest fleet of ships.
Lord Corlys had presumed that Rhaenys Targaryen, his wife, would eventually be chosen as the heir to the Iron Throne. But Jaehaerys Targaryen chose Viserys Targaryen as his successor, and it left the Lord of Tides exasperated. At first, we think that his anger stemmed from the fact that his wife didn’t get what she deserved. But greed often camouflages itself under the veil of integrity. Rhaenys had made peace with that decision long ago. She had understood the very essence of a patriarchal society. She knew that the people would burn the kingdom, but they wouldn’t allow a Queen to sit on the Iron Throne. That’s what she tells Rhaenyra. She tells the fierce little princess that she should stop brewing her aspirations of sitting on the Iron Throne. Rhaenys was a realist, and though she wanted to maintain the grandeur of her house, she was not frenzied with ambition as her husband was. She was always calm and composed because she didn’t desire more than she had. Yes, she did want to maintain her status quo, but in the furtherance of doing that, she was not ready to destroy everything that she held dear. Lord Corlys was not like that. He was ready to put everything at stake to be in power. Lord Corlys Velaryon wasn’t aware of his own sensibilities and always lived a lie that whatever he was doing was for the good of his family. Maybe it all started with that notion. Maybe he wanted to provide for and look after the interests of his family, but eventually, his own greed overpowered everything (the classic “Walter White” character arc). Though Corlys was not conscious of this transformation, his actions provided enough evidence to prove the fact.
His ships were being destroyed by the Triarchy, and he asked Viserys to send the royal army to crush the rebellion. Viserys, under the influence of Otto Hightower, didn’t pay much attention to the wishes of the Master of Driftmark. Somewhere it pinched him. It signified that his position in the small council wasn’t important enough for him to get what he wanted, or rather, needed at that time. This was probably the second time when he was denied something that he thought he deserved. A feeling of discontent constantly brewed inside the ambitious Lord. But he didn’t give up though. It is important to differentiate his greed from that of Otto Hightower. Both the noblemen wanted the best for their family, but Otto was capable of resorting to more conniving means and methods as compared to Lord Corlys, who still somewhat played by the books. Corlys was a diplomat, but Otto was a shrewd conspirator.
Lord Corlys once again tried to rise up the food chain by asking Viserys Targaryen to marry his daughter, Laena Velaryon. After this incident, all the doubts that were there pertaining to his intentions were cleared completely. It is clearly established that Lord Corlys only cared about his own ambitions, and it didn’t matter to him if he had to throw his own kin in the fire to accomplish it. Laena was only 12 when Corlys asked Viserys to marry her. Even being a Targaryen, who are believed to possess barbaric tendencies, Viserys felt a bit weird and uncomfortable with the age gap. Fortunately for young Laena, Vierys put down the offer and married Alicent Hightower. This was probably the tipping point where the desperation of Lord Corlys came to the surface. He united his forces with Daemon Targaryen and left King’s Landing to fight the battle of Stepstones.
When he got both his children to marry the Targaryens, he knew exactly what he was signing into. He knew that somewhere he was pushing them into a pit. He knew that his son was a homosexual and that there was a possibility that his marriage wouldn’t turn out to be a happy one. But Rhaenyra was the heir to the Iron Throne, and he didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity yet again. He got his daughter married to Daemon Targaryen, and he very well knew the kind of man Daemon was. Daemon might have shown strains of affection and empathy, he might have had worthiness embedded deep inside his core (as the series wants us to believe), and he might have had a charm to himself, but none of that should have been able to convince a father who really cared for his daughter. Everybody knew that Daemon had killed his wife in cold blood, but Corlys turned a blind eye to the fact, only to nurture his own political interests. Lord Corlys used his children as political pawns to quench his thirst for more.
After Laena’s death, Rhaenys Velaryon knew that if she didn’t speak now, the unbridled ambitions of Corlys would destroy everything. She wanted to make him privy to his own intentions. She wanted him to stop living in delusion. She wanted him to face the truth and tell him that whatever he did was to fulfill his own dreams and aspirations. Even at his daughter’s funeral, Corlys was more concerned about securing his political position. As soon as he went to Lucerys to give him a pep talk, in the 7th Episode of the “House of the Dragon,” one understands the man’s priorities.
Lord Corlys was an accomplished sailor and had an entrepreneurial spirit like no other. He often said that whatever he did was to create a legacy. But he had already created a legacy for himself. He had single-handedly made Driftmark the wealthiest and most prosperous kingdom. Now it was only his greed that was driving his narrative ahead. He didn’t want to accept that fact, and when Rhaenys came and confronted him, he felt disarmed. He felt exposed when the veil was lifted by his own wife. Rhaenys said that maybe they were being punished for their pride, but the Lord of Driftmark was not ready to end the pursuit of what he misconstrued as a quest for legacy. Lord Corlys and House Velaryon paid the price of that endless pursuit. With Laenor faking his death and deciding to leave Driftmark forever, together with Ser Qarl, the kingdom was left without an immediate heir. Greed poisoned the soul of an honorable man who still had the largest fleet of ships but didn’t know how to come ashore. The Sea Snake was left stranded in the sea, and he had only himself to blame for it.