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What to Know About Harrenhal on House of the Dragon

This post contains spoilers for Episode 3 of House of the Dragon Season 2.

After breaking the trust of his niece/wife/queen by secretly putting a plot in motion that resulted in Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) being blamed for the gruesome murder of a young child, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) chose to get the hell out of dodge rather than face further criticism of his actions in the second episode of House of the Dragon Season 2.

This week, the season’s third installment saw the Rogue Prince arrive at Harrenhal on the back of his dragon, Caraxes, with grand plans of securing the seat of House Strong for Team Black by putting his talent for violence to good use. But upon his arrival, it became clear that Simon Strong (Simon Russell Beale), the steward of Harrenhal in the absence of his grand-nephew, Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), had no intention of putting up a fight. (We also got a brief glimpse of Alys Rivers during this scene, who we’ll talk more about later.)

Reminding Daemon that his nephew, Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), and other grand-nephew, Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), were killed in a fire that mysteriously broke out inside the perpetually damp castle when Larys was the person who stood to gain the most from their deaths, Simon was quick to bend the knee and swear fealty to Rhaenyra.

But while Daemon is now in control of the largest castle in the Seven Kingdoms—and is planning to turn it into a garrison for the Riverlands’ 40,000-some soldiers and use that army to march on King’s Landing—he may come to realize he’s bitten off more than he can chew by claiming the ruined, and supposedly cursed, fortress.

Read More: House of the Dragon’s Searing Second Season Has More to Offer Than Just Fire and Blood

What is the curse of Harrenhal?

Centrally positioned in Westeros and situated just north of the massive lake known as the Gods Eye, Harrenhal is a key tactical location in the Seven Kingdoms. However, the castle has, as Simon put it, been “in somewhat of a state of disrepair” since Aegon I Targaryen’s conquest of the realm nearly 130 years earlier.

Originally constructed by Harren Hoare (a.k.a. Harren the Black, the last King of the Iron Islands and the Riverlands) as a monument to himself, Harrenhal was built over the course of 40 years on the backs on thousands of enslaved people. Unfortunately for Harren, the day the castle was completed was the same day Aegon the Conquerer and his sister-wives, Visenya and Rhaenys, invaded Westeros with their dragons, Balerion the Black Dread, Vhagar, and Meraxes.

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in Episode 3 of House of the Dragon Season 2.Ollie Upton—HBO

Although Aegon was willing to let Harren remain Lord of the Iron Islands in exchange for bending the knee, Harren, who believed his fortress to be impenetrable, made the mistake of refusing to yield. This prompted Aegon to fly Balerion over Harrenhal’s walls and unleash dragonfire, burning Harren and his heirs alive and leaving much of the castle in ruins.

Since that time, tragedy—like the fire that killed Lyonel and Harwin—has befallen every house or individual that has held Harrenhal, leading many to believe the castle is cursed.

What happened at Harrenhal in Game of Thrones?

Those who watched Game of Thrones may remember Harrenhal as the place where Arya Stark was held captive by Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane’s band of torturers, served as Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer, and met Jaqen H’ghar in the show’s second season. During that period in Westerosi history, nearly 170 years after the events of House of the Dragon, superstitions surrounding the castle were still going strong.

Following the withdrawal of Lannister forces, Season 3 of Thrones saw Robb Stark seize Harrenhal for the North and leave it in the scheming hands of Roose Bolton (who then conspired to have Robb killed at the Red Wedding). During Roose’s tenure, Brienne of Tarth and a newly one-handed Jaime Lannister were brought to the castle as prisoners, and Jaime told Brienne the truth about why he had killed the Mad King.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in 'Game of Thrones' Season 3.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones Season 3.HBO

Later in the series, Joffrey Baratheon granted Harrenhal to Petyr Baelish as a reward for negotiating the Lannisters’ alliance with the Tyrells. It then remained in Littlefinger’s possession up until the moment the Stark sisters executed him in the Season 7 finale.

Who is Alys Rivers?

Thanks to Harren the Black’s decision to cut down sacred weirwood trees to use as Harrenhal’s rafters—as well as the castle’s proximity to the sacred island at the center of the Gods Eye known as the Isle of Faces—the veil between the natural and supernatural worlds seems to be particularly thin at the fortress.

In Sunday’s episode, Daemon began experiencing strange visions—including one in which he spoke with a young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) as she attempted to sew the head of the murdered Jaehaerys back on—the very first night he spent there. Cue the introduction of Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin), the woman who appeared to Daemon in the castle’s courtyard and told him: “You will die in this place.”

In George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the A Song of Ice and Fire companion novel on which House of the Dragon is based, Alys, who is rumored to be Simon’s illegitimate daughter, is a healer with strange powers of prophecy. Like Melisandre in Game of Thrones, she’s a mysterious figure who is considered by many to be a witch.

“My particular storyline is quite, for the moment, contained…very wild, but contained,” Rankin told Town & Country of Alys’ role in Season 2. “I want to really ground her and find her humanity—I always try to find my way into that, but she has a lot of power, too…I don’t think we’ve seen half of it yet, so that will be fun.”

If the show stays true to the book, Alys will eventually play an important role in the Dance of the Dragons. But for now, all we’ll say is that anyone who’s able to get into Daemon’s head that easily is sure to be a formidable foe.

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