House of the Dragon: Why Harrenhal Is Important to Game of Thrones History

House of the Dragon Episode 6 made the passage of time and burden of legacy a major thematic focus of its story – and no location in Westeros knows more about the burden of legacy than Harrenhal. Harrenhal is a location that plays a pivotal role in George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones saga; in House of the Dragon we now learn some of pivotal history of Harrenhal that helped shape its place in Game of Thrones history: 

What Is Harrenhal? 

(Photo: The Fall of Harrenhal by Rene Aigner)

Harrenhal is the biggest, grandest, castle in all the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros – but also the most cursed. It was built in the Riverlands by Harren "The Black" Hoare as a vain monument to himself – a forty-year project that broke the backs of thousands of slaves from the surrounding Riverlands and the Iron Islands. 

However, on the day Harrenhal was completed, Aegon "The Conqueror" Targaryen first landed in Westeros; Aegon tried to come to terms with Harren Hoare, but the lord thought his masterwork castle impenetrable. Aegon's dragon Balerion The Black Dread melted the five grand towers of Harrenhal to slag, killing Harren Hoare in the process. Harrenhal would then be passed down to different families, but few would last long there, and even fewer ever prospered there, and the legend of Harrenhal's dreaded curse only grew... 

House of the Dragon Reveals A Major Secret of Harrenhal History

(Photo: HBO)

In the Targaryen era of House of the Dragon, Harrenhal becomes the family home of House Strong and was the site of King Jaeherys' great council to choose Viserys as his successor. The patriarch, Lord Lyonel Strong was an advisor to King Viserys I, and became his second Hand of the King, replacing Otto Hightower after his banishment from court.  House Strong is the fourth house to occupy Harrenhal, and like those before them, the infamous castle only brings them doom. 

MAJOR SPOILERS: In House of the Dragon Episode 6, "The Queen and the Princess" the secret of Princess Rheanyra's secret affair with Ser Lyonel Strong's son (and City Watch Captain) Ser Harwin Strong begins to unravel with the birth of their third son. When the court begins to openly whisper that Rhaenyra's children are bastards rather than true royal heirs, Ser Harwin is banished in shame back to Harrenhal along with his father. We learn that Ser Lyonel's other son Larys "Clubfoot" Strong conspires with some hired goons to set fire to Harrenhal, killing his father and brother. The mysterious fire at Harrenhal would go on to only reinforce the legend of the curse, well into the time period of Game of Thrones, nearly 200 years later. 

Why Is Harrenhal Important to Game of Thrones? 

(Photo: HBO)

In Game of Thrones, Harrenhal and its curse are once again a central metaphor for shifting powers of Westeros, and the dark karma that can steer it. It is held by King Robert at the start, but is given as a prize several different times throughout the series: to Janos Slynt (City Watch commander that helps betray Ned Stark – and is eventually executed by Jon Snow); Tywin Lannister uses it as his base during the War of the Five Kings after Robert's death; Arya Strak must survive being Tywin Lannister's prisoner there, and escape with Jaqen H'ghar; Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth must also survive Harrenhal when Roose Bolton and his savages (Locke) have it, and Littlefinger gets Harrenhal from King Joffrey, only to be executed before he ever inhabitants it. 

By the end of Game of Thrones, Harrenhal remains undefeated in its curse, and is left uninhabited. In fact, the only one who ever seems to prosper there is "The Mountain" Ser Gregor Clegane, who terrorized the Riverlands during the War of Five Kings, killing, pillaging, and raping his way across the countryside, from his base at Harrenhal. If not that's proof of its cursed nature... 

House of the Dragon airs new episodes Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.