House of the Dragon: What the Rise of House Strong Means
The new Hand of the King, Lord Lyonel Strong, and his sons Ser Harwin Strong and Larys Strong have quietly become major players on House of the Dragon.
This article contains House of the Dragon episode 5 spoilers.
When House of the Dragon began, it was like being invited to an extended family reunion full of relatives we’ve never met. Here are five major Targaryen characters, all with silver hair; and here are also the Velaryons, each of the same silver hair, who’ve married into the Targaryens. And though they hadn’t married into the royal dynasty yet, the prospects of Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) and his daughter Alicent (Emily Carey) were clearly signaled to be on the rise by the end of the first hour.
Non-book readers’ attentions were so distracted that many likely failed to pay much attention to Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) as the quietest advisor on the King’s Small Council. Nor have too many been concerned with his sons who’ve been around since the third episode.
That probably changed with last night’s episode, which featured the younger, disabled and limping Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) whispering sweet treasons into Queen Alicent’s ears. Meanwhile big brother Ser Harwin (Ryan Corr) first danced with Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and then rescued her from the mob of courtiers who turned the shindig into a bloodbath.
House Strong has stayed in the background on House of the Dragon up until this point, but with Lyonel now Hand of the King and his progeny making all sorts of acquaintances with the queen consort and princess, the family is clearly on the rise. Here’s what you need to know about this increasingly important clan.
Lord Lyonel Strong
Lord Lyonel has been on the show since the first episode, appearing in every Small Council scene as Master of Laws for King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine). With so much sniping and melodramatic fireworks going off between his fellow counselors Otto Hightower, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), and the hot mess we call Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), you’d be forgiven for not even noticing Lord Lyonel was there.
But from the first, he’s attempted to give the king practical (if sometimes disturbingly medieval) advice. He was the one who told Viserys the hard truth in the second episode that marrying a 12-year-old Valeryon would bring unity to the realm; and he was also the one who first floated the idea of marrying Rhaenyra to Ser Laenor Valeryon (Theo Nate) in the third episode. At the time, Viserys was deep in his cups and sneering that Lyonel was about to propose a match between the Princess of Dragonstone and his son “Breakbones.” After all, Otto just suggested she marry the Hightowers’ grandson (who is also her infant half-brother).
But Lyonel gave Viserys good and true counsel. This shouldn’t be terribly surprising when you know his history. Before becoming Lord of Harrenhal, Lord Lyonel originally studied to be a maester in Oldtown. For several years he went to the equivalent of Westerosi university, obtaining an impressive six links on his chain—which indicated he achieved at least the rank of “acolyte” and would have eventually become a proficient maester if he so wanted. However, he had a change of heart (and perhaps a distaste for celibacy) and decided he did not want that life.
It seems likely Lyonel had an older brother who died considering that he was studying to be a maester, although the full family tree of House Strong is not revealed in the source material for House of the Dragon, George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. What is known is that Lyonel eventually succeeded his father as Lord of Harrenhal. Lyonel’s family claimed that largest, and most ruined, of great Westerosi castles after Aegon the Conqueror melted it, along with King Harren Hoare and his whole family, during the Conquest.
If you recall from Game of Thrones, Harrenhal is the melted wreck that Arya, Gendry, and Hot Pie wind up in when captured by Lannister men. There she becomes cupbearer to Tywin Lannister and sees the seeds being planted for the castle to come into the acquisition of Lord Petyr Baelish (Littlefinger). Hundreds of years before that though, the Strongs ruled and lived in Harrenhal. They came into its possession after Ser Osmund Strong pledged loyalty to Aegon the Conqueror and House Targaryen instead of the Strongs’ then-king, Harren the Black. Osmund Strong would go on to become Hand of the King to Aegon I and oversee the construction of King’s Landing.
It wouldn’t be until two more family lines met tragic ends at Harrenhal that the great King Jaehaerys I Targaryen awarded Harrenhal to Ser Bywin Strong, Lord Lyonel’s grandfather.
Like his ancestor Osmund, who was the first Strong to serve a Targaryen as Hand of the King, Lord Lyonel is quiet and unassuming in countenance, but he’s shrewdly intelligent in matters of governance. Appointing Lyonel as his second Hand was one of the few genuinely sharp moves we’ve seen Viserys make.
Lyonel’s sons are a different story.
Ser Harwin “Breakbones” Strong
Now here’s a fun one. Nicknamed “Breakbones” for his reputed strength and physicality, Ser Harwin is the eldest son of House Strong and quite the character. He first appeared onscreen in House of the Dragon’s third episode, “Second of His Name.” Among all the king’s men he might not have initially made the biggest impression, but it’s worth remembering that while the rest of the courtiers were shocked by the sight of Rhaenyra returning to camp covered in blood and dragging a dead boar, and the Lannister lord look downright disgusted, Ser Harwin laughed in approval.
Harwin seems to have little concern for airs or pretensions. As a captain of the Gold Cloaks, appointed to the position after Prince Daemon’s banishment, we saw him again patrolling King’s Landing when the princess and Daemon were running wild during “King of the Narrow Sea.” When he recognizes the princess in a page boy disguise he warns her to be more careful, she might not be so lucky next time (which turned out to be true). Nevertheless, Harwin kept her secret.
And Harwin proved to be reliable to Viserys’ heir once more when a wedding pre-game turned into a melee during last night’s episode. Ever reliable, one signal from his father sent Harwin into the flailing bodies to find the heir to the Iron Throne, who’d been knocked to the ground.
Without spoiling too much, Harwin does not see the princess as a gateway to the Iron Throne, nor does he pine after her on a pedestal like the incredibly conflicted Ser Criston Cole. Yet he often seems to find his way in her company, something the historical accounts that make up Fire & Blood are quick and frequent to comment on. He may yet prove to be a strong ally to her family going forward. (Sorry, not sorry, about the pun.)
The last of the Strong brood to keep an eye on is Larys, the un-knighted and uncelebrated younger brother of brave Ser Harwin. This is because Larys already has a nickname of his own, “Larys the Clubfoot,” a cruel joke at the expense of his disability that left him handicapped with a twisted foot at birth (hence “clubfoot”). During the great hunt in House of the Dragon’s third episode, Larys can be briefly seen taking his company among the women in the pavilion as opposed to boasting with the men outside.
Among the medieval society of Westeros, this undoubtedly is viewed as a sign of weakness, but for Larys it is a practicality. He can barely ride a horse, much less run down a stag. But he can listen and learn. It is probably during such moments of listening that he ascertained the Grand Maester brewed moon tea (Westeros’ version of the morning after pill) for Princess Rhaenyra. And he used that information to his own advantage by telling the increasingly isolated Queen Alicent about the princess’ nocturnal activities.
Could he have known that Rhaenyra swore to Alicent that Daemon did not touch her—and therefore implicitly suggest she is still a virgin? Well, Larys’ father is the new Hand of the King, and if papa likes to talk, it’s possible Larys knew how such information would be received by a young woman who just saw her father banished from court.
As a second son with a disability, Larys has seemed to decide he can best make his way through the world via courtly intrigue. Chaos is a ladder, as Littlefinger would later say during the events of Game of Thrones, and the tea that is stirreth is the tea that will spill-ith. Larys clearly likes the mess too, as he was the first to smile at Queen Alicent later donning a green dress during Rhaenyra’s wedding celebrations.
If Harwin is finding himself repeatedly in the service of Princess Rhaenyra, we’d suggest to consider Larys only interested in the advancement of himself. And at the moment, that’s putting him on very good terms with Queen Alicent as she increasingly becomes her own woman.