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Harrenhal: The Cursed History Of Westeros’s Largest Castle

By Mohit Srivastava
September 27,2022

Harrenhal is considered the largest castle ever built in the seven kingdoms. George R. R. Martin’s world of Ice and Fire, have had high influences from Harrenhal’s events. Even the live-action HBO adaptations – Game of Thrones (GOT) and House of the Dragons (HOTD), have a high influence from Harrenhal’s events. Due to its bloody history, Harrenhal is considered one of the darkest and most ruinous places. Let us look into its cursed history.

The Harrenhal Castle

An artist’s illustration of Harrenhal

Some of the richest families have taken the holdings of Harrenhal’s castle. The richness is owed to the surrounding lands subject to Harrenhal being some of the most fertile in all of Westeros. Harrenhal is located in the watersheds of both Trident River and Gods Eye lake. However, the castle is so huge that even the most productive farmlands in Westeros fail to fully garrison an entire troop of soldiers holding the castle.

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the castle of Harrenhal is made up of huge walls and five massive towers – the Tower of Dread, the Widow’s Tower, the Wailing Tower, the Tower of Ghosts, and the Kingspyre. The castle spans around three times as much land area as Winterfell. Its Godswood spans around 20 acres. Its stables can hold a thousand horses, and its kitchens are as large as Winterfell’s great hall. The main hall contains some 30 hearths.

The History of Harrenhal

The Burning of Harrenhal by Aegon’s Belarion, the Dread

The construction of the castle was commenced by the grandfather of King Harren Hoare, however, it took forty years to finish its construction. Once done, King Harren gave it his name and called it the “Harrenhal”. Its main purpose, as intended by Harren’s grandfather, was to consolidate their hold on Riverlands. Upon its completion, Harren boasted of the castle’s impregnability. With a twist of fate, on the very day that the ‘last stone was being laid’ and Harren took up his residence, Aegon I Targaryen the Conqueror, invaded Westeros and his dragons raged fire on Harrenhal’s walls.

The huge Belarion, the Black Dread, flew over the massive towers and burned them all. Harrens were roasted alive in the tallest of towers (the tower that eventually came to be known as Kingspyre). The entire House Hoare perished in the dragon’s fire. As a result, the castle was reduced to a charred, melted, black ruin.

The Curse of Harrenhal

Harrenhal as depicted in Game of Thrones

Despite all the grandiosity that Harrenhal was once known for, it was now left decayed over the centuries that followed Aegon’s invasion. To date, it is infested with bats, and even now there are hitherto-unexplored areas in the castle. It has proven shockingly difficult to garrison, despite the fact that the incomes of its lands are enormous.

Once Aegon acquired the castle from House Hoare, he granted it to his bannerman of House Qoherys. They were followed by House Towers, Harroway, Strong, and Lothston. However, all of those who took hold of the charred castle ended up dying out eventually. This evidently came to be known as The Curse of Harrenhal. Commoners even believed in many lores like the tale of Mad Lady Lothston, the flaming ghosts of Harren and his sons, and of servants who go to sleep and are found turned to ashes the following day.

So far in the books, Roose Bolton is the only one who evaded the alleged curse – maybe because he voluntarily withdrew from the castle. Harrenhal is considered an extremely ill-reputed place not only due to the alleged curse: according to Jaime, Harrenhal has seen more horror in its three hundred years than Casterly Rock had witnessed in three thousand.

Harrenhal’s rulers over time and their eventual fate

The Great Council of King Jahaerys I Targaryen in HOTD

Ah, and what a castle it is. Cavernous halls and ruined towers, ghosts and draughts, ruinous to heat, impossible to garrison … and there’s that small matter of a curse. – Petyr Baelish to Sansa Stark

Harrenhal is said to be cursed, as many Houses and individuals who have held the castle have eventually come to bad ends. This is shown across the events of novels of A song of Ice and Fire, as well as in the book – Fire and Blood.

  • House Hoare (1 AC) – wiped out during the burning of Harrenhal by Aegon the Conqueror.
  • House Qoherys (1 AC-37 AC) – wiped out by Harren the Red.
  • House Harroway (37 AC-44 AC) – wiped out by King Maegor I Targaryen.
  • House Towers (44 AC-61 AC) – died out without heirs.
  • Queen Rhaena Targaryen (61 AC – 73 AC) – died.
  • House Strong (73 AC – 131 AC) – executed by Lord Cregan Stark.
  • House Lothston (151 AC onwards) – line ended during the reign of King Maekar I Targaryen.
  • House Whent (for around 30 years – 298 AC) – yielded the castle to Lord Tywin Lannister.
  • House Slynt (298 AC – 299 AC)
  • House Baelish (299 AC)

Note: In the works of George R. R. Martin, the official dating system is based on the War of Conquest. Thus all dates are “BC” for “Before Conquest” or “AC” for “After Conquest” (‘Conquest’ referring to Aegon I Targaryen’s conquer of the seven kingdoms).

Even at the start of HBO’s A House of The Dragon, in its pilot episode, King Jaeherys I Targaryen, called a Great Council in Harrenhal to announce his heir to the Iron throne. And then in episode 6, it is implied that Lord Larys Strong burned his father, Lord Lionel Strong, and brother, Ser Harwin Strong in Harrenhal. He even states to Alicent Hightower that, ‘it passes judgment on all who pass beneath its gates.’