This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 6.
The sprawling fantasy world created by George R.R. Martin embraces the supernatural at every turn. As such, the two continents of Westeros and Essos are home to creatures such as dragons, ice zombies, and mystical red witches. And yet, there is no such thing as ghosts on Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon.
At least we think there isn’t…
Through eight seasons of Game of Thrones and six episodes of House of the Dragon, no ethereal specter has returned to the land of the living to haunt its old environs. When someone comes back from the dead in this world (which has become an increasingly frequent occurrence) they maintain the body that originally guided them through life.
Still, the lack of any real ghostly evidence doesn’t stop the people of Westeros from believing in ghostly curses, haunted houses, and things that go bump in the night. The most prominent example of a perceived-to-be haunted location on the continent is undoubtedly the enormous, twisted castle called Harrenhal in the Riverlands.
Once the newly-constructed homestead of Harren the Black, Harrenhal is now a ruined husk that can’t seem to keep an owner for too long. In House of the Dragon episode 6, the scorched stone walls reject poor Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) and his son Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). While the fire that claimed the lives of the pair was in reality started by the youngest Strong son, Larys (Matthew Needham), in the annals of history the Strong family will be just another example of the lives claimed by this very haunted abode.
With that in mind, let’s explore how Harrenhal came to be, how it gained its spooky reputation, and what it means for House of the Dragon going forward.
Have We Seen Harrenhal on Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon?
Harrenhal has appeared as a setting several times throughout both Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. In fact, House of the Dragon‘s very first scene is set in Harrenhal. The immense castle serves as the venue for King Jaehaerys Targaryen’s Great Council of 101 AC, in which the Seven Kingdoms’ preference for primogeniture succession is established. We see Harrenhal a second time in episode 6 when a fire deep within the castle’s walls kills both Lyonel and Harwin Strong.
In Game of Thrones, Harrenhal is first referenced in season 1 in episode 6 when Lady Catelyn Stark encounters a knight from the castle at the Inn at the Crossroads. The location is mentioned several other times that season before finally appearing onscreen in season 2. Throughout season 2, virtually all of Arya Stark’s scenes take place at the crumbling castle.
After the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2, King Joffrey I grants Harrenhal to Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish. He owns the castle until his death, at which point Harrenhal has no known steward.
Who Built Harrenhal?
As its name implies, Harrenhal was commissioned by a great lord named Harren Hoare. Before Aegon’s Conquest, House Hoare was the dominant house in both the Riverlands and the Iron Islands. Harren, often styled as Harren the Black for his cruelty, was a terrible, vain tyrant who wanted to do something big with all of House Hoare’s wealth. He settled on the idea of building the grandest castle in all the Seven Kingdoms right at the north shore of the God’s Eye lake in tremendously fertile lands.
The project took nearly 40 years and used up many of the resources of both the Riverlands and Iron Islands (not to mention countless human lives as well) but eventually it was completed around the year 3 or 2 BC. What is “BC” in this context, you ask? Oh, just the historical period known as “Before Aegon’s Conquest.” Perhaps you can now see where this is going.
When Aegon the Conqueror descended upon Westeros and demanded that all petty kings and lords bend the knee to him, Harren the Black was not inclined to do so. He had the biggest castle in the world now – well-stocked, and surrounded by fertile land. No army could possibly hope to impregnate the massive, well-fortified walls of Harrenhal. As Harren soon found out, however, a man with a dragon doesn’t need an army at all.
Aegon’s own mount, Balerion the Black Dread, torched the five towers of Harrenhal, literally melting the mortar of the castle and killing Harren and his entire line. House Hoare was extinguished in an instant and their home of Harrenhal would take on a grotesque, melted appearance that would forever mark the location as cursed .
What Happens to House Strong?
House Strong wasn’t the first house after the Hoares to be “gifted” Harrenhal. The first occupants after Harren was House Qoherys. Their bloodline died out during the reign of King Aenys. Next up was House Harroway. Their bloodline was forcefully extinguished by the monstrous King Maegor I. Then there was House Towers. Their bloodline, say it with me, became extinct when Lord Maegor Towers died without an heir in 61 AC.
Ultimately House Strong was the fourth family after the Hoares to serve as Harrenhal’s stewards (not counting King Jaehaerys’s sister and Maegor’s widow Queen Rhaena, who was allowed to chill in Harrenhal during her later years). King Jaehaerys granted Harrenhal to his faithful ally Ser Bywin Strong. House Strong returned the favor by allowing the king to host the Great Council of 101 inside Harrenhal’s ruined, but still sufficiently massive walls.
And that’s about where we pick up during House of the Dragon. Lyonel Strong, Harwin Strong, and Larys Strong are all known residents of Harrenhal…or at least they were. For, as we see in episode 6, Larys opts to kill his father and brother to help Queen Alicent in her time of need and to secure himself as the sole inheritor of Harrenhal. That should go well for him though as nothing bad ever happens to the Lord of Harrenhal.
New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.